The following Statement was made on Tuesday 16 June in the House of Commons.
“With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the Government’s negotiations on our future relationship with the European Union.
Yesterday the Prime Minister met the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, via videoconference. The purpose of this high-level meeting, as the political declaration puts it, was to take stock of progress on the negotiations and to agree actions to move forward. All parties agreed that now was the moment to accelerate the pace of these negotiations—in the Prime Minister’s words, to
‘put a tiger in the tank’.
The three Presidents welcomed the Prime Minister’s call for greater pace, focus and flexibility in the negotiations, and the tempo of the talks process has now been escalated.
I am pleased to say that both sides pledged yesterday, in a joint statement that was made public immediately afterwards, that they would intensify the talks in July and, if possible, seek to find an early understanding on the principles underlying any agreement. Our respective chief negotiators and their teams will therefore intensify talks from the end of this month, starting on 29 June. I also welcome the Commission President’s statement yesterday that the EU is available 24/7, and we will be too. Meetings will take place every week in July, with a keen focus on finding an early understanding on the principles that will underpin a broad agreement. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, the faster we can do this, the better. We are looking to get things done in July. We do not want to see this process going on into the autumn and then the winter. We all need certainty, and that is what we are aiming to provide.
Yesterday’s high-level meeting followed the second meeting of the withdrawal agreement joint committee, which took place on Friday 12 June, again via videoconference. I am grateful to the Vice-President of the European Commission, Maroš Šefčovič, for the very constructive way in which progress was made under his chairmanship. In that meeting, I set out our plans to implement the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, and updated the EU on our ongoing work to protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK. This is a priority for the UK Government. I also sought assurance, for our part, that the EU intended to meet its obligations under the withdrawal agreement around the protection of the rights of our nationals currently living in the EU. We have concerns in this area, and we will continue to press the EU to ensure that our citizens’ rights are properly protected.
If we are to make the progress that we all want to see in our negotiations on the future relationship, we all need to be both clear-eyed and constructive. Our EU partners agreed yesterday that during the four full negotiating rounds completed to date, we have all gained greater clarity and understanding of our respective positions. Discussions have been productive and legal texts have been exchanged, even as both sides have had to deal with uniquely difficult challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
But as my right honourable friend the Paymaster-General advised the House last week, following the fourth round of negotiations it is still the case that there has been insufficient movement on the most difficult areas where differences of principle remain. We are committed, in line with the political declaration, to securing a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU built on the precedents of the agreements that the EU has reached with other sovereign states, such as Canada, Japan and South Korea—and we are ready to be flexible about how we secure an FTA that works for both sides. The UK, however, has been clear throughout that the new relationship we seek with the EU must fully reflect our regained sovereignty, independence and autonomy. We did not vote in June 2016 to leave the EU but still to be run by the EU. We cannot agree to a deal that gives the European Court of Justice a role in our future relationship, we cannot accept restrictions on our legislative and economic freedom—unprecedented in any other free trade agreement—and we cannot agree to the EU’s demand that we stick to the status quo on its access to British fishing waters.
There must be movement, and the clock is ticking. The transition period ends on 31 December. That was a manifesto pledge on which the Government were elected, and it was the instruction from the electorate in the 2016 referendum: to leave the single market and the customs union and to grant the opportunities of full economic and political independence. Four years on from the referendum result, no one can argue that this is a rushed or precipitate step. It is delivering at last on democracy. We will manage the adjustment required at the end of the transition period in a flexible and pragmatic way to minimise any challenges and to maximise all opportunities, but the call from opposition politicians to extend the transition period is not in the national interest.
Staying under the EU’s control after this December would mean paying money into EU budgets that we could spend on our NHS, accepting new laws over which we would have no say—laws shaped in the interests of others—and being prevented from taking the actions that we need to supercharge our economic recovery. That would clearly not be in our national interest. There is no intrinsic reason why a deal cannot be concluded in good time. As Roberto Azevêdo, the director-general of the World Trade Organization, confirmed at the weekend, a deal between the UK and the EU can be reached in a timely way
‘if the political will is there’.
The UK’s political will is there. Our position is reasonable, based on precedent, and we still have the time to bring a deal home. That is why the Prime Minister has led the drive to accelerate these talks, to reach agreement, and to ensure that next January we leave the regulatory reach of the EU and embrace the new opportunities that our independence will bring. I commend the Statement to the House.”
My Lords, we should welcome this rare ministerial Statement —indeed, the first since negotiations began—but while I am delighted, of course, to see the Minister, I am surprised that following the PM’s first direct talks with EU leaders since we left the EU, he did not report to the Commons on these, instead choosing to announce the merger of two Whitehall departments.
The Statement before us rehearses old arguments while being shamefully lacking in detail, with more on process than on content. The Statement quotes the WTO director-general as saying that a deal can be reached in a timely way
“if the political will is there”.
It is a shame that it does not give the full quote, in which the director-general suggests that a no-deal Brexit risks extra trouble for the UK during a recession that could be as deep as the great depression. What Roberto Azevêdo actually said was:
“In these circumstances, the less disruption the better, the less turbulence the better. The less turbulence is the closest to where you were before … if you can maintain the degree of integration and relationship that you had before Brexit, it is a less traumatic situation, of course, than if you have to go to WTO terms”,
which would require adjustments that “can be painful”. He said that
“in my view the less changes the better.”
Can the Minister confirm whether Mr Gove had actually read the whole quote before selecting a small part to repeat? Can he also confirm, for all the bluster about not accepting any ECJ role, that trading on WTO terms means answering to its appellate body?
Our concern is with what deal will emerge from the talks. We want the Government to achieve their manifesto promise: no tariffs, fees, charges or quantitative restrictions, across all sectors. Can the Minister indicate whether that is still the aim and whether he judges it to be achievable? Even a free trade agreement means that we will move from a highly integrated relationship with the EU to one in which trading becomes significantly more difficult. More worrying is the Government’s assertion that they would be content with an Australia-type deal, completely ignoring the fact that Australia does not have a deal with Brussels, so that must be code for no deal.
Tony Barber suggests in the FT that Ministers are trying to disguise the seriousness of no deal by playing on some positive image of Australia as a prosperous, easy-going country, while an FT editorial opines that even
“a bad … trade deal is better than no deal”
—although any deal struck before December will be so modest as to fall short of the comprehensive accord for which the Government had originally aimed.
Some things are urgent whatever is agreed, such as in manufacturing or food, where the trade associations call for special rules to maximise commerce between the UK and the EU. Similarly, mutual recognition of professional qualifications and rules of origin needs sorting urgently.
It is no good relying on advertising. We have just learned of a £4.5 million “shock and awe” advertising campaign to spur businesses to prepare for the end of the transition. Businesses cannot prepare for the unknown. An advertising blitz without substance is yet more money down the drain—perhaps even worse than on the side of a plane. Until they know what tariffs, rules of origin declarations, certificates and checks are needed, how the new borders will work or even where they will be, businesses simply cannot prepare. The reality is that a hard border for physical goods, involving customs duties and checks, probably cannot be introduced by the end of December—hence the six-month leeway the Government have announced, but without any sense of clarity.
Nowhere is this uncertainty more harmful than over Northern Ireland. Can the Minister tell the House what talks are taking place with Northern Ireland businesses and others trading across the Irish Sea?
Finally, the Department for International Trade established a Strategic Trade Advisory Group with trade unions, consumer bodies and trade organisations for other trade negotiations. Even at this late stage, could the Government involve these groups now as we enter the new, intense round of EU negotiations?
My Lords, I thank the Minister for this opportunity to question him on the Statement. The Prime Minister wants a “tiger in the tank” Brexit, which is no doubt better than a no-deal dog’s dinner Brexit, but was described by European Council President Charles Michel as a “pig in a poke”. Given farmers’ fears that they are going to be sold down the Swanee, the use of so many animal metaphors is interesting.
The alarm in the farming community and among consumers ought to cause retreat from the gung-ho, “let them eat chlorinated chicken” approach to the prospect of a US trade deal, which requires the sacrifice of our current EU standards of food safety, environmental protection and animal welfare. Worryingly, however, the Government are reported to want to enforce this by undermining the EU system of protection of specialist local foods—Cornish pasties, Melton Mowbray pork pies and so on—known as geographical indications, presumably to keep the US happy. There is obviously a tussle going on in government about food standards and protections. Can the Minister tell us the exact current state of play?
It is worth noting that Mr Gove used the term “comprehensive” about the deal sought. That, at least, is part-way to the notion in the political declaration, which was “ambitious” and “comprehensive”, and seems to improve on the stance adopted since February of minimalist objectives for a skinny deal. Is there a dawning recognition, even in No. 10, that unless it makes more of an effort there could be no deal, which in a reverse of previous insouciance it now wants to avoid? Also, perhaps it realises that a comprehensive deal is actually easier to negotiate, because it gives room for mutually acceptable trade-offs.
The EU is preoccupied with Covid and its proposed recovery plan. The UK economy shrunk by 20% in April and will be in no condition whatever to cope with a no-deal shock to business and jobs at the end of the year. It finally seems to have begun to scare No. 10 that the potential disruption—to manufacturing supply chains in areas such as cars and aerospace, to produce supply chains in medicines and food, or to Northern Ireland in particular—might make it somewhat unpopular, on top of its bad ratings, not least from Tory MPs and voters, for its handling of the Covid pandemic.
I think it has begun belatedly to realise that the public is unnerved by buccaneering in government, which is why we have seen in the last few days—coinciding intriguingly with the Brexit summit—a series of dead cat distractions such as the abolition of DfID, a new royal yacht and a union jack plane. I love cats, so I somewhat regret that popular phrase. It seems to be trying to disguise a preparedness to make concessions and compromises in the talks with the EU to maintain suitable British access to its market and programmes. Can the Minister comfort me and confirm that this is the case?
All things are relative in Brexit, since nothing can be as good as EU membership—but with that caveat I welcome what I perceive as a shift. Maybe the Government will even realise that if the “sunlit uplands” of Brexit are so great, the fact that a shock and awe media campaign is needed to prepare for it will strike British citizens as pretty odd.
David Frost told our EU Committee:
“As a policy decision, the Government’s view is that the benefits of having regulatory control … outweigh the cost”.
Has this Government’s obsession with sovereignty led them to forget Mrs Thatcher’s understanding, which she enunciated 45 years ago, of the necessity
“to pool significant areas of sovereignty so as to create more effective political units”?
This insight is also true of effectiveness in fighting crime. It would be bizarre if a Government from a party that lauds itself for upholding law and order refused to guarantee continuity in upholding European values of data protection and human rights in order to ensure access to EU crime-fighting databases and effective extradition.
In conclusion, I hope the Minister can give me some hope that developments this week mean that the Government recognise the need to ditch the symbolism of an empty kind of independence in favour of meaningful access to EU markets for British businesses, including farmers, and solidarity with the EU in upholding European values.
My Lords, I thank both noble Baronesses for their remarks. I was very grateful for the positive tone from the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford. I will start with that first. I do not think that it is correct to characterise what is happening as a change. The British Government have been consistent in their policy and in the statement of that policy that we wish to achieve a free trade agreement and the other things in the suite of agreements we are looking at. That is the desirable goal.
As the Prime Minister said in his statement at the high-level meeting, a preferential trade agreement is desirable and achievable, but it is not essential for either side. We would like to have a deal, but we are prepared for any eventuality. Our position is, as the noble Baroness will know, that the United Kingdom Government are asking for very little—indeed, virtually nothing—that is not precedented in agreements that the European Union has struck with others. Everyone in the Government wishes to go forward with good relations with our partners in the European Union in every way. It is symbolic to have the President of France here in London today, attesting to the deep affection and friendship between our two countries, which will continue irrespective of institutional outcomes.
Both noble Baronesses were a little bit critical of the Prime Minister making a Statement on the reform of Whitehall to improve Britain’s capability to assist people abroad—our friends abroad and those in need. It is perfectly apposite for the Prime Minister to make a Statement on such an important reorganisation—indeed, it must be for the Prime Minister to make such a Statement.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, spoke about there being a lot in the Statement about process, not explicit content. I understand that it is sometimes testing to noble Lords’ patience—indeed, sometimes it is testing to the patience of those of us inside government—that the very fact that this is a negotiation means that one cannot track every tick and comma of a delicate arrangement. Indeed, it is important that the confidentiality and integrity of the process be protected to secure the positive outcome that we want.
Yes, the Statement is more about process than specific content, but process is important. The Statement refers to an acceleration of the process, which I would think would be welcomed by noble Lords opposite me and those on this side of the House. An earnest commitment to try to reach agreement in five successive rounds has been announced; that change of pace is important and should be welcomed. If we cannot reach agreement, it is better that we know that early on, rather than have a prolonged, and potentially bad-tempered, negotiation into the autumn. I welcome the fact that both sides have agreed to this new process; that is important.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, talked about no deal, and was scathing about the Government’s reference to an Australia-style deal. Australia has a range of arrangements with the European Union. I repeat that no deal is not really on the agenda now. We are out of the European Union, and we are negotiating the best possible outcome for trading and other arrangements, for us both. But whatever happens at the end, we will subsist outside the European Union, on the basis of the treaty passed by this Parliament.
Both noble Baronesses rightly referred to the importance of agriculture and agricultural products. I can certainly reassure them that, as has been made clear, the interests and the position of the agricultural industry and the treatment of agri-foods are constantly being considered.
There was criticism of the advertising programme proposed by the Government. This is one of those cases at the Dispatch Box where one feels damned if you do and damned if you do not. Most of the time, I come here to try to assist your Lordships, and am criticised about people being left in the dark about what is proposed. Then, when the Government say that they wish to set up an intensive process of information for industry, relevant to the proposed border arrangements—the programme which will be going forward over the next few months—I am told that this is ridiculous and that we cannot spend taxpayers’ money on an advertising programme.
The parties opposite need to decide whether they wish business and people to be informed, or to complain that they are left perpetually in the dark. We want to treat all interests in this nation as partners in this exercise. That includes business, those dealing with the transit of goods and the border, and the devolved Administrations. In the judgment of the Government, it is important that we keep people informed.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, also referred to the border phasing arrangements. In the light of the Covid-19 situation, it was generally agreed, and welcomed as a sensible proposal, that the system should be phased in during the first six months of next year.
Both noble Baronesses referred to Northern Ireland. Of course, it remains our position that there will be unfettered access for Northern Ireland goods to the United Kingdom. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, rightly said it was particularly important that Northern Ireland business be engaged and consulted. There is a specific business engagement forum dealing with that process, and there is internal and external dialogue—never in this life does one suffer from lack of dialogue.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, asked about data protection. There are of course negotiations in that specific area, and I recently wrote to her noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire about the nature of those negotiations. We hope that there is some evidence of a convergence of opinion between the UK and the EU. I refer her to the letter which I sent, but I cannot go into the specifics of negotiations.
Security of course is important, but it does not have to be part of an overall specific architecture. I refer again to the very welcome visit of the President of France today, which recalled the intensely moving relationship between our countries during some of the gravest days of this great continent in the last century. No one who witnessed the evocation of the events of the past that the events of today referred to could have any doubt that we will always be good partners in good faith to our close allies and friends. So there are issues, as noble Lords know, but I hope very much that we will be able to have a good relationship, whatever form that takes in the future.
I hope that I have answered most of the questions. I do not think that I have to deny being a buccaneer—I am a bit too corpulent to be a very good buccaneer. The Government are not approaching the matter in a buccaneering fashion. This is an extremely important process, but it is also, above all things, a process of delivering the undertaking that we have given to the British people to deliver a United Kingdom that is an independent state at the end of this year. That remains our fundamental position, and it does not change—whatever the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, may seek to divine.
My Lords, we now come to the 20 minutes allotted for Back-Bench questions. I ask that questions and answers be brief so that I can call the maximum number of speakers.
I wish the Government well in delivering a far-ranging, successful set of negotiations that will serve all sides in the long term. It is to be hoped that an eye is being kept in parallel during these complex negotiations on the central necessity of broad relationship-building with civil society, the Commission and the capitals of the 27. If that is the case, will the Minister offer the House specific examples of programmes that are being and will be implemented to ensure that a deep and special relationship will be the outcome, whereby both sides are mutually satisfied?
My Lords, I will preface my answer by saying that some noble Lords will have seen the name of my noble friend Lord Forsyth on the speakers’ list. It is not that he has not turned up; he suffered a close family bereavement, and I know that all noble Lords who may be asking themselves why he is not here will understand that.
The noble Viscount’s question was framed in a manner about the cultural, social and instinctive links that the United Kingdom has with other European nations. Some of those have been institutional links of different sorts, while others have been links that are not in any sense political. I am personally committed, as are the Government, to maintaining the closest possible cultural and societal links between the nations of Europe. The question is what institutions are required to secure that. I submit that the European Union is not one of them; other institutions and arrangements are currently still under consideration.
My Lords, Michel Barnier, in his remarks following the fourth round of negotiations, said that the full legal text of the future relationship was needed by 31 October for planning and ratification reasons. There is no mention of these constraints in the Statement. Does the Minister agree with Monsieur Barnier’s analysis? If not, what is the date by which a full legal text is needed?
My Lords, I shall not go into specific dates regarding the text. We have published texts at appropriate stages of the negotiations. We have said—and the Prime Minister said again at the high-level meeting—that October is too late for us to get serious. If I remember, those were his words. I think that the intensification in the negotiations will help us to answer the noble Earl’s question and others.
The noble Lord, Lord Young of Norwood Green, is not with us, so I now call the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire.
My Lords, Ministers have frequently referred to the Canadian or Australian models as “oven-ready” recipes for a deal. Can the Minister therefore confirm that our negotiators are including arrangements for the provisional application of such a mixed-competence agreement while we wait for national ratification? The Canadian FTA was signed in 2016 but ratification is not yet complete. Does he understand what the Prime Minister means by the Australian model? The Australian Government website tells me that the seventh round of negotiations on a potential agreement took place last month.
My Lords, I am not good at figures but I think that the Australian Government have about 29 different arrangements with the European Union. With regard to the phrase “oven ready”, I am afraid that I like cooking—something that I have enjoyed particularly during the lockdown. Turning to the central core of the noble Lord’s question, the Government are preparing for every eventuality. There is an intense amount of planning on a wide range of fronts, and I assure him that that process is continuing.
My Lords, I am glad to see that my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in the other place said in his Statement that our new relationship with the EU
“must fully reflect our regained sovereignty, independence and autonomy”.—[Official Report, Commons, 16/6/20; col. 685.]
Will the Minister confirm that unnecessary compromises will not be made by Her Majesty’s Government and that they will not be deluded into thinking that, because the EU has moved from a totally unreasonable position to a half-unreasonable position, it is a fair compromise? Going half way is no sensible compromise if you start from a completely idiotic position.
My Lords, I can give my noble friend some assurance. The EU has begun to show some recognition, including of some of the United Kingdom’s positions. The Prime Minister stated at the high-level meeting—I believe that I have his words this time—“I have to be clear that I will never agree to a treaty in which we accept new constraints from the EU on our ability to set our own rules in our own way. The British Parliament and people are the best and strongest guarantees of our standards.” I can also assure my noble friend that the Prime Minister again made it clear that there can be no role for the Court of Justice in any part of any agreement between us.
My Lords, has there yet been any agreement in the negotiations on the UK’s access to the various multilingual European databases? They are used many millions of times a year by our police to tackle transnational crime coming into the UK, such as the trafficking of arms, drugs and people. If there is no agreement, what specific contingency plans exist so that tackling this type of crime will not be undermined at the end of the transition period?
My Lords, consideration on security matters is obviously ongoing. The safety and security of our citizens is the Government’s top priority. We obviously hope for a negotiated outcome in every area and have had constructive exchanges with the EU on future co-operation in this area. I do not believe that there is a reason to think that such an agreement should be beyond us.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the fact that we are negotiating free trade agreements in parallel with the USA and Japan is serving to concentrate the minds of EU negotiators, who are beginning to show more pragmatism. Will not this process of parallel negotiations strengthen our ability to achieve satisfactory environmental and animal welfare standards in all our free trade agreements?
My Lords, as he often does, the noble Lord has made a cogent and powerful point. The United Kingdom Government are obviously negotiating in good faith for a free trade agreement across the board on merit because we believe that free trade is of the greatest possible benefit in improving conditions for people across the world. Of course, if the different parties with whom we are negotiating wish to make cross-calculations, that is entirely a matter for them. However, I can certainly assure the noble Lord—the Prime Minister has been absolutely explicit on this—that our commitment to environmental standards and to standards generally will not be weakened by any of the negotiations that we are undertaking.
My Lords, in his Statement, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster indicated that we all need to be both clear-eyed and constructive in our negotiations on the future relationship. He also indicated that the Government would manage the adjustment after the transition period in a flexible way. Could the Minister give the House one example of how the Government propose to be constructive and where he envisages that they may be flexible?
On implementation, the announcement we have made about the phasing in of import controls and border arrangements is, I would say, profoundly pragmatic. The very fact that we are intensifying the pace of the negotiation, which has faced serious obstacles so far—and those obstacles remain—is an indication of our good intentions. As to how the negotiations might proceed, it is above my pay grade to be a prophet on those matters.
My Lords, my question is very specific. Gibraltar is the only one of our overseas territories in Europe, and with a border in Europe. Can my noble friend reassure us that in the current negotiations, the people of Gibraltar have not been forgotten and are being safeguarded? We all know that a hard Brexit would be a disaster for them. Gibraltar is already suffering, undeservedly, from the Government’s quarantine restrictions, in spite of having been very successful in controlling the spread of the virus, with no recorded deaths—so it is really low-risk. Since the Statement mentions the Government’s welcome support and concern for United Kingdom nationals living in the European Union, where does that leave the people of Gibraltar? I declare my interests as vice-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Gibraltar and as honorary president of the Friends of Gibraltar.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Hayter has laid out the risks facing this country from no deal. Despite all the Prime Minister’s clichés, it is clear from the Statement’s tone and lack of substance that we are nowhere near resolving the fundamental issues necessary for a good deal, and it was clear in the Minister’s tone that he has suggested that he would accept that. The Prime Minister is still arguing that an extension is not in the national interest, so can the Minister explain how the national interest would be better served by a no-deal exit, because that is increasingly the most likely and the most dangerous outcome for the country?
My Lords, I simply do not agree with the characterisation of no deal—in any case, we left the European Union with a deal on 31 January 2020; we are now in a transition period. I greatly respect the noble Baroness and understand the point that she is trying to make, but uncertainty is the worst enemy of business. I point to what was said last week by Dame Carolyn Fairbairn of the CBI, who was not exactly canvassing shoulder to shoulder with me in the Brexit campaign:
“Business does not have any interest in delaying that”—
that is, the transition—
“because that is uncertainty magnified … we have supported the Government’s timetable and most businesses—not all, but most—still recognise the value of getting to a conclusion.”
That is the voice of business, from someone who was very much on the other side of the argument before the referendum.
Did the Minister have a chance to listen to Stephen Kelly of Manufacturing Northern Ireland when he said on the BBC this morning:
“Our firms do not have the money; they have very little time, and they don’t have any of the information required in order to prepare for what happens next year”?
Will the Government heed what Northern Ireland businesses are saying and start working with them now on the technical detail, which the Business Engagement Forum is not covering and which businesses urgently need if they are to be ready for an end to transition?
I did not hear the comments to which the noble Lord refers—that is not because I am under some ban on listening to the “Today” programme; I gave up listening to that when I worked in No. 10 many years ago—but I agree with him that Northern Ireland business is hugely important. It is made up of many small businesses, which makes the task of keeping them informed and supporting them particularly germane. I assure him that we will step up and sustain a process of engagement there. I am sorry that the gentleman concerned felt that it had not started enough. He is not necessarily wrong now, but we will hope to prove him wrong in the weeks and months ahead. I understand the important point that the noble Lord makes.
I hope that the Government succeed in coming rapidly to some conclusion, because planning for every eventuality is something that Governments can do but business, such as the aerospace industry and the motor industry in Wales and the Welsh agricultural sector in particular, cannot plan unless it has the information. Whereas getting some reasonable deal is certainly what all businesses want, leaving without one would be a total disaster. Will the Minister convey to the Prime Minister the wish of the Welsh Government and the First Minister of Wales that a meeting take place to clarify these urgent matters as soon as possible?
My Lords, we regard the relationship with the devolved Administrations as being of great importance and we have appreciated close contact with them in the work going on. We have different views on the way forward, although, as the noble Lord will know, the Welsh people voted to leave the European Union. We are grateful for thoughtful and considered contributions from the Welsh Government and Welsh business. There have been many opportunities to discuss arrangements, both in public and in private, but I assure the noble Lord that the interests of Welsh business and particular sectors of it continue to be well understood and well addressed and are of central concern to the Government.
My Lords, on this auspicious day, with President Macron visiting our Prime Minister, we are forced to focus on the past impact of war and, hence, unusually, defence. What is clear is that defence links with France, a country which pulls its weight militarily, remain close; as do our bilateral defence links with countries such as Holland and Norway, plus many other European nations. Overarching all this is our commitment to NATO, the organisation which has ensured European security since 1949. Will the Minister confirm that there have been no discussions or tacit agreements to be involved in some form of EU military force, and that the UK is not being excluded from involvement in broad, pan-European defence-industrial programmes? I quite understand if he is not up to speed on these issues, and would be very happy with a briefing on Privy Council terms.
My Lords, with all the firepower that I see behind the noble Lord, it is hard for me to deny him anything. However, I am not in a position to give him specific answers. The points that he makes about security co-operation and vital defence, which run far outside the European continent in the present, changing world, are of great importance. I will write to him on the specific issue that he raised on defence matters.
Is my noble friend the Minister aware that the People’s Vote campaign has apparently resurrected itself as something called “Democracy Unleashed”? It gives away the fact that the people who now whinge about our negotiations, which I believe are going quite well, and about wanting an extension to the transition period, are the same people who did not want Brexit and who then tried to get the democratic decision of the British people reversed. Can my noble friend confirm absolutely that there will be no extension of the transition period and that we will leave, as we have said we will do, promptly?
My Lords, I will not follow my noble friend too closely in tracing congruities between the members of various movements, although I had noticed the odd one. On a more serious response, the Government will neither accept nor seek any extension of the transition period. Parliament, including this House, has legislated for the conclusion of the transition period on 31 December 2020. The Government have no intention of presenting or supporting any legislation to change that. The transition period will end on the date suggested, and all our efforts should be bent, first, to securing good, lasting arrangements in the intervening period, and, secondly, to ensuring that everything is prepared for things to go smoothly in any eventuality that occurs on 31 December. I can give my noble friend that guarantee: 31 December is in law and it will stay in law.