The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Monday 19 October.
“With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on the Government’s negotiations with the European Union on our future trading relationship and also the work of the UK/EU joint committee established under the withdrawal agreement.
First, on the talks on the new trade agreement, we had hoped to conclude a Canada-style free trade agreement before the transition period ends on 31 December this year but, as things stand, that will not now happen. We remain absolutely committed to securing a Canada-style FTA, but there does need to be a fundamental change in approach from the EU if the process is to get back on track. I have come to the House at the first available opportunity to explain why and how we have reached this point.
We have been clear since the summer that we saw 15 October—last Thursday—as the target date for reaching an agreement with the EU. The Prime Minister and the Commission President Ursula von der Leyen agreed on 3 October that our negotiating team should work intensively to bridge the remaining gaps between us, and we made it clear that we were willing to talk every day. But I have to report to the House that this intensification was not forthcoming. The EU was willing to conduct negotiations only on fewer than half the days available and would not engage on all of the outstanding issues. Moreover, the EU refused to discuss legal texts in any area, as it has done since the summer. Indeed, it is almost incredible to our negotiators that we have reached this point in the negotiations without any common legal texts of any kind.
On 15 October, the EU Heads of State and Government gathered for the European Council. The conclusions of that Council reaffirmed the EU’s original negotiating mandate. They dropped a reference to intensive talks that had been in the draft and they declared that all—all—future moves in the negotiation had to be made by the UK. Although some attempts were made to soften that message by some EU leaders, the European Council reaffirmed those conclusions as authoritative on Friday. That unfortunate sequence of events has, in effect, ended the trade negotiations because it leaves no basis on which we can actually find agreement. There is no point in negotiations proceeding as long as the EU sticks with that position. Such talks would be meaningless and would take us no nearer to finding a workable solution.
That is the situation we now face, and that is why the Prime Minister had to make it clear on 16 October that the EU had refused to negotiate seriously for much of the past month or so. The EU had now, at the European Council, explicitly ruled out a free trade agreement with us, like the one that it has with Canada, and therefore this country should get ready for 1 January 2021 with arrangements that are more like Australia’s, based on simple principles of global free trade.
Now, if the EU wants to change that situation—and I devoutly hope it will—it needs to make a fundamental change in its approach and make clear it has done so. It has to be serious about talking intensively on all issues and trying to reach a conclusion, and I hope it will. But it also needs to accept that it is dealing with an independent and sovereign country now. We have tried to be clear from the start that we would not be able to reach an agreement inconsistent with that status. I do not think that we could be accused of keeping that a secret. Yet the proposals that the EU has discussed with us in recent weeks, which it presents as compromises, are simply not consistent with our new sovereign status—certainly not yet.
While I do not doubt that many on the EU side are well intentioned, we cannot accept the negotiators’ proposals that would require us to provide full, permanent access to our fishing waters, with quotas substantially unchanged to those that were imposed by EU membership. We cannot operate a state aid system which is essentially the same as the EU’s, with great discretion given to the EU to retaliate against us if it thought that we were deviating from it. More broadly, we cannot accept an arrangement that means that we stay in step with laws that have been proposed and adopted by the EU across areas of critical national importance.
In a nutshell, we have been asking for no more than what has been offered in trade agreements to other global trading countries, such as Canada—terms that, of course, the EU said last year it had no difficulty offering to us. We are not even asking for special favours reflecting our 45 years as a member state—during which we paid in every day more than we took out—quite the reverse. But even if this new arrangement is impossible for the EU, I must inform the House that we will be leaving on 31 December on Australian-style terms and trading on the basis of WTO rules.
With just 10 weeks left until the end of the transition period, I have to emphasise that that is not my preferred outcome and nor is it the Prime Minister’s. We recognise that there will be some turbulence, but we have not come so far to falter now, when we are so close to reclaiming our sovereignty. We have to be in control of our own borders and our fishing grounds. We have to set our own laws. We have to be free to thrive as an independent free trading nation, embracing the freedoms that flow as a result. So, it is important that I turn to the preparations that we are now intensifying for the end of the transition period. These apply whether we have a free trade agreement or otherwise, of course.
I am not blithe or blasé about the challenges ahead, particularly given the additional problems that we have dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. However, leaving the EU on Australian terms is an outcome for which we are increasingly well prepared. Ever since the UK decided it would leave the single market and the customs union on 31 December, Government and businesses alike have been working hard to prepare for the new procedures that were the inevitable result. I congratulate businesses on the resourcefulness they have shown so far. We want to work with them so that they continue responding as energetically, flexibly and imaginatively as possible to the challenges of change. We also want to work with them to prepare for the opportunities ahead, including those stemming from our new free trade deals, such as the agreement with Japan struck by the Secretary of State for International Trade, which, of course, grants us far more favourable access to the world’s third biggest economy than we had as an EU member.
I would like to put on record my particular thanks to the road haulage industry, customs intermediaries and others for their constructive engagement with government, including at our extensive round table last week.
This week, the Prime Minister and I will be speaking again to business leaders to discuss preparations for life outside the EU. We will continue to listen to their concerns, and we will redouble our efforts to help them to adjust and prosper. The XO Cabinet Committee—the EU Exit Operations Committee—meets daily and will intensify its operational focus on business readiness. We continue to work closely with our partners in the devolved Administrations because we want to ensure that every part of the UK is ready for the end of the transition period.
In these final 10 weeks, we are intensifying our public information campaign. Every firm will find the information it needs on new rules which govern trade between Britain and the EU at GOV.UK/transition. Today, HMRC is writing to 200,000 traders that do business with the EU to reinforce their understanding of the new customs and tax rules. We are also putting in place IT systems to help goods flow across borders. We are giving business access to customs professionals to help with new ways of working and we have also planned how to fast-track vital goods in the first few weeks to get around EU bureaucracies. We have already published and indeed updated our border operating model. We have announced £705 million-worth of investment in jobs, infrastructure and technology at the border. We have also strengthened our maritime security to protect our fishing fleets and safeguard our seas.
In addition to the steps we are taking, we are also continuing our work with the EU in the withdrawal agreement joint committee. I would like to update the House on its latest meeting, which took place earlier this morning. Coming only three weeks after the last meeting, I am pleased to report that in this forum the approach from the EU is very constructive. There is a clear imperative on both sides to find solutions and we remain committed to working collaboratively with the EU through the joint committee process.
At our last meeting in Brussels I agreed with my co-chair, Vice-President Šefčovič, that we would intensify discussions to implement the withdrawal agreement, primarily around citizens’ rights and the Northern Ireland protocol. Our officials have since held numerous sessions and today in London I reiterated the UK’s commitment to upholding all our obligations under both the withdrawal agreement and the Belfast agreement. We agreed that we will publish a joint update on citizens’ rights and I am pleased to confirm that almost 4 million EU citizens in the UK have now received status under our scheme. We have also discussed our work to implement the Northern Ireland protocol. We are taking steps to implement new agri-food arrangements. We also acknowledge the EU’s concerns about appropriate monitoring of implementation. We now have a better understanding of its requests and the reasoning behind them. We have confirmed that the specialised committee will work intensively to ensure that we can make progress in this area, and with respect to Gibraltar and the sovereign base issues.
A lot remains to be resolved before the end of December, but we have made substantial progress on implementation. I look forward to further engagement with Vice-President Šefčovič in the weeks ahead. I want to put on record my personal appreciation for the constructive tone and the pragmatic spirit with which he and his team have approached our discussions.
In his statement on Friday, the Prime Minister looked ahead to 2021 as a year of recovery and renewal when this Government will be focused on tackling Covid-19 and building back better. We are getting ready to do now what the British people asked of us: to forge our own path and not to acquiesce to anyone else’s agenda. On the negotiations, our door is not closed. It remains ajar, and I very much hope that the EU will fundamentally change its position, but, come what may, on 31 December, we will take back control. I commend this statement to the House.”
I thank the Minister for returning to the Dispatch Box—apparently unbruised by the government defeat of 226—to defend the Statement and Mr Gove’s words in the other place: that, in any negotiation, both sides have to honour their commitments. Had the Prime Minister done so in respect of the withdrawal agreement, he may not have had to face that defeat.
Yesterday’s headlines were, “Talks break down”. As my right honourable friend Keir Starmer said:
“The collapse of these talks is a sign of Government failure.”
He was in fact responding to the Manchester talks, but it is the story of this Government, who could not negotiate their way out of a paper bag. They boast, threaten and bluster, but fail to reach a consensus with their counterparts. They set deadlines: a deal by July, then September, then mid-October—all missed. They criticise the EU for sticking to its negotiating mandate, but meanwhile boast that they will not move from their own negotiating objectives. It seems it is only the other side, and not ours, that has to move. They criticise the other side for not discussing legal texts, despite the fact that the EU published its 441-page legal text in March but it took until mid-May for us to do the same. Even then, the UK blocked early talks on security co-operation—security: the most important issue on which citizens rely on their Government.
The former Home Secretary and Prime Minister hit the nail on the head on Monday, pointing out that security was not even in the Statement and that, without a deal, law enforcement agencies would have no access to vital databases. I cannot re-enact her mocking response to the extraordinary answer that Mr Gove gave, but I will repeat his words and leave it to your Lordships’ imagination. He claimed that
“we can co-operate more effectively to safeguard our borders outside the European Union than we ever could inside.”—[Official Report, Commons, 19/10/20; col. 761.]
That hardly tallies with the words of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, who knows a thing or two about security:
“Without the ability to exchange data and intelligence across frontiers, law enforcement will be increasingly unable to cope … Everything from extradition to notification of alerts, crime scene matches and criminal record searches will be much slower, at best.”
Closer to home, Naomi Long, the Northern Ireland Security Minister, stressed the importance of a security partnership with the EU to stop the politicisation of extradition in Northern Ireland, as was the case before the EU arrest warrant.
Mr Gove’s view that we could not possibly, as the price for using EU security systems, also accept its court on the issue of how we use that data seems remarkable for its short-sightedness. Perhaps the Minister can update the House on progress towards a security and data-sharing agreement.
The Government have taken to saying that we had been offered a Canada-style agreement but it is no longer available. In fact, that was never going to happen. The Commission’s February slide on “Geography and trade intensity” never suggested that a carbon copy of CETA was on offer, simply that the same legal form as the FTAs with Canada and South Korea could be used. What is more, the Canada deal contains level playing field measures of the sort the Government now say they will never accept. If they are now willing to go the Canada way, will they also honour the political declaration that the Prime Minister signed and accept a level playing field?
This trade and security deal is too serious for playing games. Last week, 70 business groups, with more than 7 million employees, urged the Government to return to the table to strike a deal. These industries—automotive, aviation, chemicals, farming, pharmaceuticals, tech and financial services—are desperate for their futures and urge a compromise, as this matters greatly for jobs and livelihoods. As they say:
“With compromise and tenacity, a deal can be done.”
Sadly, yesterday’s perfunctory call with Boris Johnson left them disappointed. Some described it as unbelievably disrespectful to the concerns of business. The Prime Minister apparently asked companies to “end the apathy” and get ready, while Mr Gove described our departure as like moving house—a bit of disruption. Of course, it will not be Mr Gove or other Government Ministers who have to cope with a bit of disruption. There will be people losing jobs, consumers paying more for their food, Kent and Anglesey residents finding their roads blocked by lorries and their verges taken up by portaloos, and citizens’ rights at risk. Small business groups have pressed for transition vouchers to pay for extra preparation. I gather that Mr Gove said he would take that back to the Treasury, so perhaps we could know the outcome of that request.
At least they got a meeting. The SMMT did not even get its letter answered. On Monday, there had been no response to its 1 October letter, so perhaps we could be told whether it has now been answered. Meanwhile, the country’s leading transporter of diesel and petrol faces a 4% tariff on the fuel it imports if we do not get a deal. This will affect the industry itself, but it could also mean increased prices at the pumps, possibly up to 3p a litre. The knock-on effects on industry are evident.
Mr Gove was asked by my honourable friend in the other place how much of the £50 million for customs intermediaries had now been drawn down and how many customs agents had been trained. Unfortunately, she got no reply. So, we ask again: how many of the 50,000 will be in place on 1 January?
Finally, what is the status of the Goods Vehicle Movement Service, given that work on its IT system had not even started a few short months ago? The Government stress that businesses need to prepare, but seem unable to demonstrate that they have done their own work. Perhaps we can have an update on that as well.
My Lords, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster claimed that the UK was “increasingly well prepared” for what he called
“leaving the EU on Australian terms”.—[Official Report, Commons, 19/10/20; col. 756.]
Putting aside the fact that “Australian terms” is just a euphemism for no deal, whereby the UK trades on WTO terms and our exports face tariffs and quotas, the cries of pain from business are audible for all to hear. They are far from having the “high hearts and complete confidence” at the prospect of no deal that the Prime Minister expressed—or indeed at the prospect of the skinny deal that represents the height of government ambition.
The Government have launched a “Time is running out” campaign urging businesses to get ready. But get ready for what? The Government must acknowledge that they are the ones keeping businesses in the dark.
The Road Haulage Association described a meeting with Michael Gove about post-Brexit arrangements last month as “a washout” in which they got “no clarity” on how border checks will operate when the transition period ends. In an interview on Monday, its managing director of policy and public affairs, Rod McKenzie, responding to Mr Gove’s claims, in a Statement, of
“putting in place new IT systems to help goods flow across borders”
“giving business access to customs professionals,”—[Official Report, Commons, 19/10/20; col. 757.]
“It’s a bit of a cheek to say that ... It would be fine to accuse people of having their head in the sand and not having done anything if we knew what we had to do. The problem is the Government has spent not just months, but years, failing to tell the businesses that need to make this work what exactly they have to do…they haven’t prepared the IT systems that will make this work … and they haven’t hired enough customs agents to plough through the mountain of red tape that will be created by this new system.’
Then there is business as a whole. The BBC’s business editor, Simon Jack, tweeted yesterday about how business leaders had described a call with the Prime Minister and Mr Gove as “terrible,”
“unbelievably disrespectful to the concerns of business”
and “more of a lecture”, with the Prime Minister accusing them of “too much apathy”.
There is still no clarity as to what the trading relationship will be. The Government need to acknowledge that business does not have the certainty that it needs. Will the Minster retract the absurd claims that businesses have their head in the sand or are displaying apathy in preparing for Brexit? Will he accept that the Government’s current plan is very far from being “oven ready”, as claimed?
Attentive listeners will detect a bit of a pattern here. It is not just the EU that is getting accused by this Government or their acolytes of being in the wrong. It is business, experts, devolved Governments, mayors, judges, lawyers, the Church, the Civil Service and Parliament—especially, of course, the House of Lords. Gibraltar, Jersey and the Falklands are not exactly brimming with happiness and contentment, either. Perhaps, the Government should examine the mote in their own eye, rather than try to bully, bamboozle and blame everyone else. Their negotiating style has the effect of alienating almost every group they encounter, except, perhaps, rich Tory donors, including Russian ones.
On security, Mr Gove made the truly astonishing claim to the other place on Monday in response to former Prime Minister Theresa May that security would be better outside the EU. Mrs May was seen to mouth “What?” in response to that astonishing and hopelessly untrue claim. The noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, tweeted yesterday:
“If UK loses all access to EU systems from 1 Jan, as looks likely, there is no good Plan B.”
The noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, said:
“Without the ability to exchange data and intelligence across frontiers, law enforcement will be increasingly unable to cope. Everything from extradition to notification of alerts, crime scene matches and criminal record searches will be much slower, at best.”
I remind the Minister that these people are experts. Mrs May was the Home Secretary for several years who masterminded the process in 2014 whereby the UK opted to stay in all the important EU law enforcement measures. The noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, is a former National Security Adviser; and the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, is a former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation.
If the Minister wants to tell me now what precisely is the
“variety of methods and arrangements”
whereby the UK
“can co-operate more effectively to safeguard our borders outside the European Union than we ever could inside,”
“can intensify the security that we give to the British people,”—[Official Report, Commons, 19/10/20; col. 761.]
then I am all agog to hear what those measures are. Otherwise, I shall continue to think it is the fantasy it appears to be. The Government need to get real, stop blaming everyone but themselves, stop talking pie in the sky and get on with the negotiations like an adult, not a tiresome toddler.
How does Mr Gove’s claim, in the Statement, of
“the UK’s commitment to upholding all our obligations under both the withdrawal agreement and the Belfast agreement”—[Official Report, Commons, 19/10/20; col. 757.]
sit with the Government’s efforts to get the power to abjure them in the Internal Market Bill, with which this House expressed its severe displeasure yesterday?
Well, My Lords, after listening to the submissions from the noble Baronesses opposite, I must say I warm to the smooth, diplomatic talk of Monsieur Barnier.
I have always respected the Liberal Democrat Party’s consistency and determination to keep, then get back, the UK in the European Union of which they are so fond. But I listened—I strained my ears—to hear some acceptance in the submission from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, that the British people had set an objective. She asked what the objective is; it is that set by the British people that the United Kingdom shall be an independent nation, free to set its own laws and proceed with mutual respect alongside our European partners. Not one word in the speeches from the parties opposite recognised that. Instead, I heard a litany of criticism of the stance this Government are taking on behalf of the British people. It was not Project Fear—it was, frankly, project invention. I was immensely disappointed by the tone. I think everybody outside this House should take note of the position of the Labour Party: it supports, in no respect, the efforts of the United Kingdom to secure a good deal, and in every respect, parrots the criticisms that come from the European Union.
This Government are intent on securing a good outcome for the United Kingdom. That outcome is the one I have described. I regret the delays and difficulties that have taken place, which were ascribed by the parties opposite entirely to the United Kingdom. In fact, the European Union was willing to undertake negotiations on fewer than half of the days available, it would not engage on all the outstanding issues and, despite what the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, said, it has refused to discuss legal text in any area since the summer. It is almost incredible to me that we have reached this point in negotiations without any legal text of any kind. Then, on 15 October, the EU heads of state gathered for the European Council and made the statement they did, and the response from the Prime Minister to that statement was entirely reasonable and predictable in the circumstances.
As my noble friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and others have made clear, this Government are always ready listen to serious approaches, but they have to be serious. This Government will continue to make preparations, as they have done for months, for whichever eventuality arises, whether it is the Australian outcome or, as we would have preferred, the Canada outcome. That work is ongoing. There is engagement with business, as was referred to in the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster spoke to representatives of business yesterday. Across the board, there are ongoing discussions.
I was asked about the goods vehicle IT; we have discussed that in this House before. We are confident that it is proceeding well. The arrangements for border management have been published and updated.
On security, in the last round, there was discussion of law enforcement, which covered a number of capabilities, including Prüm and mutual legal assistance. Security is of course important, but the whole gamut of relations between us and the European Union is important, and people on both sides have to reflect on how they want to see things go forward. The United Kingdom will adjust to any eventuality.
We note, with interest, that the EU’s negotiator, speaking to the European Parliament this morning, has commented in a significant way on the issues behind the current difficulties in our talks. We are carefully studying what was said, and I can tell the House that my noble friend Lord Frost will discuss the situation when he speaks to Monsieur Barnier later today.
My Lords, we now come to the 20 minutes allocated for Back-Bench questions. I ask that questions and answers be brief, so that I can call the maximum number of speakers.
My Lords, there is a stark difference between the level of information contained in the statements made by the two sides following the joint committee meeting on Monday. Why is it that this sovereign Parliament gets so much less information than the EU 27 Parliaments and the European Parliament? Will the Minister commit that, going forward, a much greater level of information will be given on meetings of the joint committee and its sub-committees?
My Lords, a Written Ministerial Statement was issued. I am sorry if the noble Earl feels that more could and should be said. I always enjoy my engagements with him. The Statement referred to a number of matters discussed in the joint committee on 19 October. In addition to that, if he wants, I can be more helpful: the committee discussed work on the establishment of a list of individuals to sit on an arbitration panel, as required under the WA. Both parties are progressing work to establish a list of suitable arbitrators. As the noble Earl knows, it was agreed to have a further meeting of the committee in November, and other work will continue in the interim. The discussions are obviously ongoing, and I know that he understands, and I respect that, that there are some constraints on what one can share at a time of active talks.
My Lords, following last week’s EU Council meeting, Angela Merkel said:
“We also acknowledge that the UK would like to have a certain amount of independence”.
I emphasise “a certain amount”. Does the Minister agree that until the EU fully understands and respects the fact that we will have 100% independence, the EU alone will be responsible for the lack of a free trade deal, along with the damage that will do to the economies of many of its member states?
My Lords, of course it is essential that that point is recognised. I have made a practice, since I had the honour of taking on this brief, of not criticising the actions of any EU member state or anybody within the EU, and I shall forbear to comment on what any individual European leader may or may not have said. However, my noble friend is absolutely right that our independence, our right to set our laws, to control our own waters, and all the well-known expectations—not requests or demands—of an independent state need to be recognised by the other party.
My Lords, the Statement very clearly says that this country should get ready for 1 January 2021 on arrangements that are more like Australia’s—in other words, WTO rules. Does the Minister agree with the 71 trade associations and professional bodies—along with the CBI, of which I am president—representing 190,000 businesses and 7 million employees, calling on politicians on both sides to carve a path towards a deal, followed by the European business groups from France, Germany and Italy also calling for smooth trading conditions and a solution? Does he agree that now is the time for compromise and tenacity and that a deal can be done? If there is a deal, there will be a platform on which to build, for security, movement of people and all other parts of our relationship.
Questions and answers should be as brief as possible, please, so that we can get through more people.
My Lords, I apologise to the House if I have infringed. I say then to the noble Lord that, whatever the outcome of the negotiations, the UK is leaving the single market and the customs territory, and everybody will have to make arrangements to act in those circumstances.
My Lords, what a mess we are in. Do the Government accept that they won a large parliamentary majority last December on the basis of an “oven-ready deal” that had two elements? A withdrawal agreement that ditched the Northern Ireland backstop and substituted a customs border in the Irish Sea was the proposal of the British Prime Minister, not the European Union. The second element was a political declaration that set out the terms of the future EU relationship, including clear commitments to a level playing field on state aid, workers’ rights and environmental standards. These inevitably represent constraints on independence. Is it not the case that if we end up with no deal, it is because the Government have gone back on those commitments made in December and put a price on sovereignty that will result in grave economic damage and increased political insecurity for the British people?
No, my Lords, I do not accept the one-sided strictures being heard once again in this House. The Government have proposed arrangements with the European Union that have precedents in agreements that that Union has reached with other countries of the world. The Government have asked for nothing unreasonable.
My Lords, the Government are set on a Canada-style agreement. Have they studied the Canadian network of agreements with the United States, its close neighbour, which cover border controls, aviation, energy, police co-operation, common standards, road haulage and even fishing in the waters along their border? That is because it is a close neighbour. Do the Government have a strategy for somehow increasing the distance between the UK and the European continent? Or do they accept that after 1 January, we will have to start to negotiate on all these other matters as well with our new neighbours?
My Lords, the United Kingdom is a sovereign nation and has relations with every other country in the world. Of course, our relationship with our European neighbours is important and we will continue to negotiate with them, whether in this process or in whatever circumstances we find in the future.
Can my noble friend confirm that EU negotiators have been gently reminded that, if there is no free trade agreement and, regrettably, tariffs are applied to trade in both directions across the channel, the cost to EU exporters will be getting on for three times the cost to UK exporters, because they largely export highly protected goods to us, which we will be able to obtain far more cheaply elsewhere once we are outside the customs union?
My Lords, we were told by the Front Bench opposite yesterday that the House was sending a signal to the European Union, so I infer that our proceedings are followed closely in Brussels, and I am sure my noble friend’s remarks will have been noted.
[Inaudible.] So can the Minister offer a synopsis of the digital trade outcomes we should expect from negotiations, and confirmation that these are aligned with those in the Japan deal and US negotiations? Can concerns be allayed that many of the just-announced list of trade advisers to the Secretary of State and the DIT are recognised arch-Brexiteers, given the importance of bridge-building to allow continuity in trade with the EU, which is what is urgently required now.
My Lords, I regret that I am not advised on the advisers to DIT; I apologise to the House for that, I was not anticipating that question. I cannot comment on whether they are so-called arch-Brexiteers, but I will respond to the noble Viscount’s question in writing.
My Lords, will my noble friend update the House on what progress has been made in determining who will negotiate with the EU for Northern Ireland, and in what forum, in those circumstances in which the EU proposes changes to the rules of the single market and Northern Ireland is obliged to diverge from the rest of the United Kingdom?
My noble friend asks an important question. Article 15 of the Northern Ireland protocol establishes a joint consultative working group on implementation of the protocol to serve as a forum for the exchange of information and mutual consultation, including the EU informing the UK about planned Union Acts covered by the protocol. The United Kingdom has committed, and I repeat this commitment to my noble friend, to including representatives of the Northern Ireland Executive as part of the UK delegation to that working group.
My Lords, we in this House are trying to help the Government meet their promises to the electorate. In fact, we are doing a “reverse Salisbury”—I thank George Peretz QC for that phrase. I do not understand how a single Tory on the Government Benches can possibly vote against the election manifesto of last year. Can the Minister give details on the issues of environment, animal welfare and workers’ rights? Are we in agreement or disagreement with the EU on them? What are our Government asking for? What is the EU asking for? What blockages are coming from disagreements in the Cabinet?
My Lords, I regret that I found it very difficult to follow the noble Baroness’s question because of the quality of the microphone. I think that at some point she asked about details of the state of play in certain aspects of negotiations, on which I would have to reserve the Government’s position in the normal way. I will examine Hansard, and if there is a way in which I can say anything, I will. I repeat that the Government have been involved in a delicate negotiation; as I told the House, there has been an interesting statement this morning, which we are examining. I reserve the Government’s position.
My Lords, I turn to fishing rights and the rather fraught negotiations surrounding them, where we see President Macron and the French apparently refusing to compromise or give way in any shape or form. Does my noble friend regret, as I do, that some in the media, such as the BBC, and, I regret to say, many politicians who have never reconciled themselves to the vote taken in 2016, are always prepared to side with Monsieur Barnier and the French negotiators on issues such as fishing and are not willing to stand up in any way for British interests as expressed by our negotiators?
My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. I said to the House earlier that I rather heard that in the opening statements from the side opposite. Our position on fishing has been very clear: the waters are the waters of an independent state. We have put propositions on fishing, but the EU has not been prepared to negotiate. Its ask from the start was that life should continue as it was. We are an independent coastal state and whoever it may be—I do not name the BBC—has to recognise that.
My Lords, yesterday’s statement from the Government clearly indicated that it is the intention of the UK and the EU to intensify discussions around the implementation of the withdrawal agreement, particularly around citizens’ rights and the Northern Ireland protocol. How will that happen when it is the Government’s intention to subvert the Northern Ireland protocol through Part 5 of the internal market Bill?
My Lords, that is a false characterisation of Part 5 of the internal market Bill. The Government are not subverting the Northern Ireland protocol; we are acting to implement it. The Government’s proposal, which your Lordships will have to discuss—I do not want to repeat the discussions we had yesterday—is that in certain circumstances we might have to protect our union against interference with free movement in the customs territory. On the joint committee proposals, the statement referred to the meeting that took place recently and the fact that another meeting will take place in November. The record of this Government on citizens’ rights for EU nationals has been outstanding and generous; we and, I understand, the Commission are pressing all member states to reciprocate. I hope very much that that will be the case.
My Lords, as I mentioned at Second Reading of the internal market Bill, people across this country know that we voted to leave and tried to negotiate a mutual and sensible exit in good faith. It seems that the good faith has not been reciprocated. In that regard, does my noble friend share my profound disappointment with the flavour of the EU’s communiqué after last week’s European Council?
My Lords, I stand by the words of the Prime Minister in reaction to that. It was disappointing. I referred to it in my speech yesterday. It seemed to restate the opening position. As we understand it, the communiqué was hardened from the text that was before the Council, which was disappointing. We have expressed our disappointment and set out our position and feelings on the matter. I repeat to the House, because I do not want to make an entirely negative point, that we will carefully study everything that is said by EU representatives. As I have said, there will be further conversations.
My Lords, I turn to customs and tariffs. The definition of goods at risk of onward movement into the EU is a sensitive decision for the joint committee to take. When does my noble friend think it will take that decision? As regards the UK’s listing as an authorised third country for agri-food exports into the EU, what assurances is the EU asking for to proceed with third-country listing of the UK and what assurances have we offered?
My Lords, we are more hopeful. The position on third-country listing was extraordinarily disappointing. The statements and threats made in that respect were unacceptable. Goods at risk is an area of discussion in the appropriate committee. I will not foresee the outcome of those discussions.
My Lords, I congratulate the Minister and noble Lords on all supplementary questions having been asked and answered.