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EU Withdrawal Negotiations

Volume 613: debated on Tuesday 12 July 2016

5. If he will ensure that the Scottish Government are included in negotiations on the withdrawal of the UK from the EU. (905812)

11. If he will ensure that the Scottish Government are included in negotiations on the withdrawal of the UK from the EU. (905818)

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said, we must ensure that the interests of all parts of the United Kingdom are properly taken into account as we progress these negotiations. So, as we prepare for talks with the European Union, we will fully involve the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Governments as well as the Mayor of London, the overseas territories and other regional interests. Officials of the new EU unit, which I mentioned a few minutes ago, will be making contact with counterparts in the devolved Administrations.

While that answer is encouraging, it does not exactly give a lot of detail—much like the plans of the Brexiteers as they went into the referendum. What formal role will the Scottish Government and the other devolved Governments have in the process of formalising Brexit?

As we do with other matters, we will consult the Scottish Government both formally and through informal dialogue, including at senior official level on an ongoing basis.

The Scottish Government have been clear that EU nationals must be a priority. Given their net financial contribution, does the Foreign Secretary agree that EU nationals should be more of a priority than new nuclear weapons? Any new Chancellor should be especially mindful of that.

I am unsure whether the two issues need to be prioritised. They can both be pursued in parallel. The decision to renew our nuclear deterrent is quite separate from the negotiations that we will be having with the EU, including negotiations to ensure the rights of EU nationals living in the UK and the reciprocal rights of UK nationals living in EU countries.

Regardless of whether the Scottish Government are involved in the negotiations, will the Secretary of State confirm that the negotiations are purely about us leaving the EU and not some sort of renegotiation of our terms of membership that will result in a halfway house where we are half-in and half-out of the EU?

Yes, I can confirm that. The next Prime Minister has made it clear that Brexit means Brexit: we will be negotiating our exit from the EU. However, we will of course also seek to negotiate an agreement between the United Kingdom and the EU 27 to regulate our trade and other relationships with the EU.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that it would be far better for Scotland to play a productive role in securing a new relationship between the UK and the EU, rather than looking to join as a new member, get the euro and put a border across this island?

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. Scotland’s best future is in a strong United Kingdom, trading effectively with the EU. We saw the case for independence during the previous referendum—it did not stack up at $100 a barrel of oil and it certainly does not stack up at $50 a barrel.

19. The highlands and islands currently benefit from an additional €192 million of transition funding. Given the incoming Prime Minister’s haste to get on with Brexit, will the Secretary of State confirm that the UK Government will guarantee that funding? (905826)

Britain is a significant net contributor to the EU, but that contribution includes a significant number of flows to particular regions, areas, projects and bodies within the United Kingdom. We will have to address how the recipients of those flows of funds from Brussels are to be protected in the future and that will be an important part of the negotiations.

20 . Scotland has benefited from access to EU research and a wealth of talented researchers and academics. The Guardian worryingly reported this morning:“Britain’s vote to leave the EU has unleashed a wave of discrimination against UK researchers”.Scottish universities and their staff are concerned. What is the Foreign Secretary’s message to the universities, research staff and workers that benefit from being part of the EU? How will he ensure that Scotland and its interests are protected? (905827)

This issue is not just about Scotland; it is much wider than that. I will say two things. First, as long as we are a full member of the EU and are paying the full sub, we must ensure that there is no discrimination against the UK, UK institutions, UK applicants for funding or UK citizens. Secondly, the point of negotiating an arrangement for Britain’s relationship with the EU 27 after we have left the EU is precisely to protect collaborative research, educational projects and cultural exchanges in addition to our important trading relationships.

May I begin by thanking the Foreign Secretary for welcoming me to this new job? It is right to say that we are compact team, but we have the advantage of being made up of two blessed difficult women, and so we are formidable and up for the task. If rumours of promotion are true, this may be my final session with him before he takes another job. It would seem that everyone is in flux. He has a reputation of being a formidable but approachable Minister to shadow, so I will be sorry if our acquaintance is so brief.

The Foreign Secretary rightly said that he has given assurances that he will consult Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, London and Gibraltar on the Government’s negotiating strategy for Brexit prior to triggering article 50. Will those assurances also apply in respect of Her Majesty’s Opposition, to ensure that the needs and concerns of the communities we represent are reflected as the Government develop their negotiating strategy?

First, I am surprised to hear the hon. Lady saying that she expects promotion. I thought that those in the Labour party who were expecting promotion threw their hat in the ring yesterday—perhaps she is going to be a late entrant to that competition. On the substance of her question, of course there will be extensive discussion about all these issues in Parliament. The Opposition will have an opportunity to present their views, and we shall listen carefully to them.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but I was hoping that I would get greater assurance than that and that there would be formal consultation with Her Majesty’s Opposition prior to the start of negotiations. We must avoid the mistakes made by the outgoing Prime Minister before his resignation. He had no proper consultation with Opposition parties, no proper discussion took place and there was a totally artificial timetable. Had the Prime Minister done those things, perhaps he would have got a better and more inclusive deal, the country might not have voted for Brexit and he might not be stepping down tomorrow. Does the Foreign Secretary not accept that the Prime Minister made a mistake and can he guarantee that those mistakes will not be made by the new Prime Minister?

Perhaps I dare say to the hon. Lady that I might have been a bit closer to those negotiations than she was and I can confidently say that engaging with the Opposition would not have affected the outcome.

I am sorry, but the questions and answers are taking too long. [Interruption.] Order. What we need now is a couple of pithy inquiries, not elongated ones.

The whole of Scotland is deeply concerned about the personal future of the Foreign Secretary, given his apocalyptic statements during the recent referendum. For example, he told Chatham House on 2 March that leaving would take longer to negotiate

“than the second world war.”

Will it take longer to negotiate Brexit than the second world war? How would any future Chancellor of the Exchequer deal with such uncertainty?

I think the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that the concern is this: if a future treaty between the United Kingdom and the European Union 27 is deemed to be a mixed competence, it will have to be ratified by 27 national Parliaments. I believe I am right in saying that the shortest time in which that has been done in respect of any EU treaty is just under four years—that is after taking into account the time it takes to negotiate.

That is a yes then. Did the Foreign Secretary see the poll at the weekend carried out by YouGov across European countries? It showed two things: first, that the UK Government were deeply unpopular in every other European country; and, secondly, that massive majorities of the public in every country surveyed were looking forward to an independent Scotland within Europe. Why are the UK Government so unpopular, and why is Scotland so popular in Europe?

I would have thought if there was one lesson to take from the events of the past three weeks, it was, “Do not read polls”.