With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on the next steps in leaving the European Union.
The mandate for Britain to leave the European Union is clear, overwhelming and unarguable. As the Prime Minister has said more than once, we will make a success of Brexit, and no one should seek to find ways to thwart the will of the people expressed in the referendum on 23 June. It is now incumbent on the Government to deliver an exit in the most orderly and smooth way possible, delivering maximum certainty for businesses and workers. I want to update the House on how the Government plan to reflect UK withdrawal from the European Union on the statute book while delivering that certainty and stability.
We will start by bringing forward a great repeal Bill that will mean the European Communities Act 1972 ceases to apply on the day we leave the EU. It was this Act that put EU law above UK law, so it is right, given the clear instruction for exit given to us by the people in the referendum, that we end the authority of European Union law. We will return sovereignty to the institutions of this United Kingdom. That is what people voted for on 23 June: for Britain to take control of its own destiny, and for all decisions about taxpayers’ money, borders and laws to be taken here in Britain.
The referendum was backed by six to one in this House. On all sides of the argument—leave and remain—we have a duty to respect and carry out the people’s instruction. As I have said, the mandate is clear, and we will reject any attempt to undo the referendum result, any attempt to hold up the process unduly or any attempt to keep Britain in the EU by the back door by those who did not like the answer they were given on 23 June.
We are consulting widely with business and Parliament, and we want to hear and take account of all views and opinions. The Prime Minister has been clear that we will not be giving a running commentary, because that is not the way to get the right deal for Britain, but we are committed to providing clarity where we can as part of this consultative approach. Naturally, I want this House to be engaged throughout, and we will observe the constitutional and legal precedents that apply to any new treaty on a new relationship with the European Union. Indeed, my whole approach is about empowering this place. [Interruption.] Think about it.
The great repeal Act will convert existing European Union law into domestic law, wherever practical. That will provide for a calm and orderly exit, and give as much certainty as possible to employers, investors, consumers and workers. We have been clear that UK employment law already goes further than European Union law in many areas, and this Government will do nothing to undermine those rights in the workplace. I notice there were no cheers for that on the Labour Benches.
In all, there is more than 40 years of European Union law in UK law to consider, and some of it simply will not work on exit. We must act to ensure there is no black hole in our statute book. It will then be for this House—I repeat, this House—to consider changes to our domestic legislation to reflect the outcome of our negotiation and our exit, subject to international treaties and agreements with other countries and the EU on matters such as trade.
The European Communities Act means that if there is a clash between an Act of the UK Parliament and EU law, European Union law prevails. As a result, we have had to abide by judgments delivered by the European Court of Justice in its interpretation of European Union law. The great repeal Bill will change that with effect from the day we leave the European Union.
Legislation resulting from the UK’s exit must work for the whole of the United Kingdom. To that end, although no one part of the UK can have a veto over our exit, the Government will consult the devolved Administrations. I have already held initial conversations with the leaders of the devolved Governments about our plans, and I will make sure that the devolved Administrations have every opportunity to work closely with us.
Let me be absolutely clear: this Bill is a separate issue from when article 50 will be triggered. The great repeal Bill is not what will take us out of the EU, but what will ensure the UK statute book is fit for purpose after we have left. It will put the elected politicians in this country fully in control of determining the laws that affect its people’s lives—something that does not apply today.
To leave the EU, we will follow the process set out in article 50 of the treaty on European Union. The Prime Minister will invoke article 50 no later than the end of March next year. That gives us the space required to do the necessary work to shape our negotiating strategy. The House will understand that this is a very extensive and detailed programme of work that will take some time. The clarity on the timing of our proposed exit also gives the European Union the time needed to prepare its position for the negotiation. The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, said that the Prime Minister had brought, and I quote, “welcome” certainty on the timing of Brexit talks.
We will, as Britain always should, abide by our treaty obligations. We will not tear up EU law unilaterally, as some have suggested, but ensure that there is stability and certainty as Britain takes control on the day of exit, and not before.
People have asked what our plan is for exit. This is the first stage. To be prepared for an orderly exit, there is a need to move forward on domestic legislation, in parallel with our European negotiation, so that we are ready for the day of our withdrawal, when the process set out in article 50 concludes. Therefore, I can tell the House that we intend to introduce the great repeal Bill in the next parliamentary Session. It demonstrates the Government’s determination to deliver the will of the British people, expressed in the EU referendum result, that Britain should once again make its own laws for its own people.
It is nations that are outward-looking, enterprising and agile that will prosper in an age of globalisation. I believe that when we have left the European Union, when we are once again in true control of our own affairs, we will be in an even stronger position to confront the challenges of the future. The Government will build a global Britain that will trade around the world, build new alliances with other countries and deliver prosperity for its people.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and thank him for advance notice of it.
The decisions the Government take over the next few months and years on exiting the EU will define us for a generation, so I look forward to seeing the Secretary of State regularly at the Dispatch Box. However, I have to say that he is not making a very good start. His first statement on 5 September was widely criticised for saying nothing, and this one is not much better. When I first read it, I thought it was the statement he gave last time—a bit of process and no substance—but I congratulate him on a bit of humour in the phrase, “we are committed to providing clarity where we can”.
During the referendum campaign, much was made by the leave side of parliamentary sovereignty. In his statement, the Secretary of State said, “We will return sovereignty to the institutions of this United Kingdom.” Yet it seems that the Government want to draw up negotiating terms, negotiate and reach a deal without any parliamentary approval. That is not making Parliament sovereign; it is sidelining Parliament. That is why Labour is calling for a vote on the basic terms proposed by the Government before article 50 is invoked. Some argue that that is a device to frustrate the process. It is nothing of the sort. It is making sure that we get the best possible deal for Britain; it is making sure that the Government actually have a plan; and it is basic accountability on some of the most important decisions of our lifetime.
Let us remind ourselves that the Government had no plan for Brexit in their 2015 manifesto. In fact, they had a manifesto commitment to
“safeguard British interests in the single market.”
Whitehall famously made no plans for the leave vote, and the Prime Minister did not explain her plans for Brexit before assuming office. Now the Government plan to proceed to an exit deal without a vote in this House, which is wholly unacceptable in any democracy. If there is to be no vote when the terms of negotiation are agreed, at what stage in the process does the Secretary of State propose that the basic terms of the article 50 negotiations, about which he said nothing today, should be debated and voted on in this House?
The Secretary of State makes much of the great repeal Bill, so we are having a conversation and debate now about what will happen at the very end of the process instead of what is happening at the beginning of the process. That Bill will not provide for parliamentary scrutiny of the article 50 negotiating plans; it is about what will happen after exit. Can he confirm that the vote on the great repeal Bill will come after, not before, article 50 is invoked next March?
We accept and respect the result of the referendum, but neither those who voted to remain nor those who voted to leave gave the Government a mandate to take an axe to our economy. Throughout the process, the national interest must come first, but by flirting with hard Brexit the Prime Minister puts at risk Britain’s access to the single market, rather than doing the right thing for jobs, business and working people in this country. In fact, I observe that the words “single market” did not appear at all in today’s statement. So much for putting the national interest first.
We need clarity, and we need answers. Can the Secretary of State assure the House today that the Government will seek continued access to the single market on the best possible terms? Will he also assure us that they will end the divisive and hostile tone of Brexit discussions in recent weeks? This is the defining issue of this Parliament and, quite probably, Parliaments to come. The job of any responsible Government is now to bring the country together, not to drive it apart. I hope that he will take that approach.
I start by welcoming the hon. and learned Gentleman to the Dispatch Box. It is a pleasure to appear opposite him.
I will read to the hon. and learned Gentleman a warning from his own party’s shadow Home Secretary, who has said of his comments:
“We have to be really careful that we’re not seen to be not listening. There will be scrutiny but it is, I think, not helpful to pretend we can reverse the result.”
That is a summary from inside the hon. and learned Gentleman’s own party, which does not really support where he is coming from today.
The hon. and learned Gentleman is a lawyer by training and career. Article 50 is a prerogative power in the view of all the lawyers we have spoken to, and in the view of the Attorney-General, who will be presenting that case in court in the coming week. It will be decided in court, which the hon. and learned Gentleman ought to take seriously.
As for the hon. and learned Gentleman’s comments about parliamentary accountability, my Department has effectively existed since the middle of the summer, and in the two weeks of parliamentary sittings that we have had since, we have had two statements and a couple of debates, and we will have his own debate on Wednesday. We are announcing a major piece of legislation very early, and successor legislation to that Bill will also take place. A new Select Committee will be set up to oversee the Department, and there will be numerous debates over the next two years. At the end of the process, we will follow each and every legal and constitutional convention and requirement that applies to all European legislation and treaties. I cannot see how the hon. and learned Gentleman thinks that is in some way not accountable.
After that has happened, Parliament will be able to amend all European Union law, which it has been unable to do before—a fact that the hon. and learned Gentleman overlooked in his comments about accountability. I am afraid he really has to understand the distinction between accountability—I have a little bit of experience of holding Governments to account—and micromanagement, which is what he is trying to do. We have made our view on the negotiations pretty plain. We have said very clearly that we want to control borders. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree with that? He can nod or shake his head. Does he want to control borders? He is absolutely stationary—no sign. We want to control our laws. Does he agree with that? No sign. We want the most open barrier-free access to the European market, full stop. That is very clear.
What about the economy?
The hon. Lady is shouting, “What about our economy?” That is the answer: we want the most open barrier-free access to the European market. We have heard lots and lots of very unhelpful—misleading, frankly—comments about hard Brexit and soft Brexit. We want the best possible access terms, full stop. The best terms—that is it.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement, and urge him to resist the temptation of advice from a second-rate lawyer who does not even understand the parliamentary process? If he is to advise his opposite number, the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), he might remind him that the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972 will give many opportunities to amend and debate every single aspect of the discussions around the invoking of article 50. In case the hon. and learned Gentleman has not noticed, the Opposition have the device of Opposition days, when they can debate absolutely anything they choose, including the whole issue of the European Union. May I urge my right hon. Friend to get on with the process and not to listen to those who want to bog it down and never let it happen?
With the mild exception of the rudeness about the legal qualifications of the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), I agree with everything my right hon. Friend has said. The simple truth is that the attempt to block article 50 is an attempt to block the will of the British people, full stop. There will be plenty of opportunity for debate in the next two and a half years, during discussions of the Act and the successor legislation, and any number of other debates between now and then.
May I also thank the Secretary of State for coming to the House to try to update us today? I wish him all the best for trying to get through his statement without getting into trouble with his boss, the Prime Minister, this time. He seems to be aiming to do that by not telling us anything. We may be no clearer on whether this is a soft Brexit or a hard Brexit, but we know it is a dog’s Brexit. I will be frank: this Government’s frankly irresponsible failure to provide any details about their plans is having an impact beyond this place. The Fraser of Allander Institute reckons that in Scotland alone there could be between 30,000 and 80,000 jobs lost because of his plans to take us out of the European Union.
My first question is, will the Secretary of State tell us what plans he has to formally involve the devolved Administrations? I noticed that he talked previously about involving them, but now talks about consulting them. The Government have provided us no answers, so I am going to try to make it easy for him. He has had 89 days since he took up his post—three months on Thursday. To stop him getting into any more trouble with the Prime Minister, I am going to make the next question very, very simple. Does he agree with page 72 of the Conservative party manifesto, on which he was elected, that it should be
“yes to the Single Market”?
In fact, I will make it easier: is it his objective to keep the United Kingdom in the single market?
Well, that was longer on length than it was on content. Let me answer both the hon. Gentleman’s comments. He intimated that we were not going to involve the devolved Administrations. That is not the case, as his own leader in Scotland will tell him—indeed, she was called before we announced the great repeal Act to make sure she was aware of it. I cannot remember her exact words, but she said she thought it was very straightforward or common sense—something of that nature.
On our approach to the negotiations, I will not go into the details, but it is very clear. The objectives are simple: to meet the instruction from the British people, which means regaining control of our borders, regaining control of our laws and regaining control of our money, and at the same time getting the best possible access to the European market that we can negotiate—end of story. It is very simple.
By definition, we cannot negotiate taking back control—we have to take back control; that is what we voted for—so I find the Secretary of State’s view very clear and refreshing. Does he agree that the way to deal with the trade issue is to offer to our partners to carry on trading tariff-free on the same basis as at present and to challenge them to say how they want to wreck it?
My right hon. Friend is right that we want them to operate tariff-free, but it is not just tariff barriers. We also have to negotiate non-tariff barriers. It is central to the argument he makes that it is in both Europe’s interest and our interest to have tariff-free and non-tariff barrier based trade. That is where the jobs are. The hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) raised the question of jobs in Scotland. It is jobs in the whole of the United Kingdom that we have to maintain, expand and create opportunities for, and that is precisely what we will do.
There is clearly a mandate for Brexit from the referendum, but there is no mandate for the particular form of Brexit. Three days before he was appointed, the Secretary of State published an article saying it was very important to publish a pre-negotiation White Paper. Can he tell us when he will publish that White Paper? As someone who for many years railed about the importance of the powers of Back Benchers and Parliament against the Executive, can he now give us, with a straight face, an answer to this question: where is the Government’s mandate for their negotiations, either from this House or from the country?
Let us deal with the last question first. I really cannot believe my ears. Here we have the largest mandate that this country has ever given to a Government on any subject in our history. It is very plain. Frankly, I will not take lectures from the right hon. Gentleman on accountability either. We have two things to balance. One is the national interest in getting the right negotiation. I know of no negotiation in history, either in commerce or in politics or international affairs, where telling everybody what we are going to do in precise detail before we do so leads to a successful outcome. What I have said to two Select Committees of this House and the other House—indeed, I said this in the last statement—is that we will be as open as we can be. There will be plenty of debates on this matter. What we will not do is lay out a detailed strategy and a detailed set of tactics before we engage with our opposite numbers in the negotiation.
May I make it very clear that, like everybody on the Government Benches, I was elected on a clear manifesto promise to respect and honour the referendum result? We know that we will leave the European Union, but the comments of the director general of the CBI should cause us all much concern. She has confirmed the fears of many on these Benches that there is a danger that this Government appear to be turning their back on the single market and not valuing the real benefit of migrant workers. Can my right hon. Friend now give assurances to British business that we have not turned our back on the single market and that we welcome migrant workers to this country?
My right hon. Friend was, if I remember correctly, at the Conservative party conference, and she may have heard what I said there. There were two things that relate to this. One is that the single market is one description of the way the European Union operates, but there are plenty of people who have access to the single market, some of them tariff-free, who make a great success of that access, and it is that success that we are aiming for.
The other point I made was that the global competition for talent is something that we must engage in. If we are going to win the global competition in economic terms, we must engage in the global competition for talent. We are entirely determined to do that, but that does not mean, and it is not the same as, having no control of immigration. They are very different issues. We will be going for global talent and we will be going for the best market access we can obtain.
I have always been a great admirer of the Secretary of State for his staunch defence of civil liberties and his staunch defence of the prerogatives of this House. I was a great admirer when he brought forward the Parliamentary Control of the Executive Bill in 1999 and stirringly told us that
“Executive decisions by the Government should be subject to the scrutiny and approval of Parliament”.—[Official Report, 22 June 1999; Vol. 352, c. 931.]
Can he tell us on the basis of what constitutional principle he believes the Prime Minister can now arrogate to herself the exclusive right to interpret what Brexit means and impose it upon the country, rather than protect the rightful role of scrutiny and approval of this House?
Here we go again. The right hon. Gentleman cannot tell the difference between accountability and micromanagement—it really is as simple as that. The simple truth is that there will be debates galore in this House, starting on Wednesday and thereafter, about what the Government’s strategy will be. We will tell the House as much as we can, but not enough to compromise the negotiation. At every turn, right through to the end, we will obey the conventions and laws that apply to the creation, removal and reform of treaties: every single one. This Government believe in the rule of law and that is how we will behave.
Has my right hon. Friend observed that some seem to have forgotten that the European Union Referendum Act 2015 gave the right to make the decision? Furthermore, the sovereignty of the people was given the opportunity to make that decision on the occasion of the referendum itself. As regards the repeal Bill, the sovereignty of Parliament will be maintained, because it will be decided in this House. All the procedures relating to article 50 are Government prerogative and not subject to the decision of Parliament itself at this stage.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. He will remember that the Referendum Bill was carried in this House by a 6:1 majority, which included the vast majority of those on the Opposition Benches. He will also, because he is a constitutional lawyer, understand better than anyone else that Crown prerogative rests on the will of the people—that is the theoretical underpinning of it. There is no exercise of Crown prerogative in history that is better underpinned by the will of the people than this particular exercise.
This is the first time I have ever heard parliamentary sovereignty referred to as micromanagement.
In the past few weeks, we have seen many hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals working here question the welcome they received in this country and their future in this country. We know that many UK citizens living and working abroad in Europe are going through similar turmoil. We have heard now that the Foreign Office has told the London School of Economics that it cannot involve foreign nationals in the work of Brexit as part of a contract. Will the Secretary of State condemn that? Will he reassure the UK citizens living abroad, and will he reassure EU citizens living and working here that they are welcome here in this country? Will he reassure Parliament that, however the Brexit negotiations go, the current arrangement will be maintained?
I am sure the hon. Lady would not willingly give the House information that is not right, so let me first say that the supposed decision or comment from the Foreign Office is simply not true. I am assured of that by the Foreign Secretary sitting next to me and I think the LSE has also said that.
The other point the hon. Lady made, which is one I raised last week, is extremely serious. I will say two things, first not on the legal status, but on the attitude of some people post-referendum—the encouragement of hatred and so on. I condemn that unreservedly and I think everybody in this House would condemn that whipping up of hatred unreservedly. In terms of European migrants here, the intention of the Government is to do everything possible to underwrite and guarantee their position, at the same time as we underwrite the similar position of British migrants abroad. That is what we intend to do—
I will answer that shout from the Front Bench. The answer is as soon as I can get that negotiation concluded with the European Union—full stop. Individuals should not worry people unnecessarily or get them concerned. Bear in mind, five out of six migrants who are here either already have indefinite leave to remain or will have it by the time we depart the Union. It is an important question that I take seriously, and I am determined that we get an outcome that is successful for everyone.
Did my right hon. Friend note the comments by President Hollande that the United Kingdom should be made to pay a price for leaving the EU, presumably by having tariffs imposed on our trade with it? Did he respond to the President that clearly he feels that, in the absence of such punishment, leaving the EU would leave the UK manifestly better off? Such punishment would fall primarily on French exporters, as they export far more to us, whereas our exporters are benefiting from a 14% improvement in their competitiveness—three times the likely tariffs, on average, that may be imposed on them.
My right hon. Friend—and erstwhile Trade Secretary, if I remember correctly—is exactly right. The damage done by a supposed punishment strategy would be primarily to the industries and farmers on the continent who export to this country. I am afraid that Mr Hollande, Mrs Merkel and others will experience pressure from their own constituents that says, “This is not a good strategy to pursue.” In this country, we believe in free trade because it is beneficial to both sides. I do not see the logic in exercising a punishment strategy against one of their strongest and most loyal allies.
EU citizens living here and UK citizens living in the EU deserve to hear as soon as possible from the Government that their rights are protected and will continue to be protected. Within that process, will the Secretary of State also talk to the Home Secretary and recognise that the current system of registration certificates, residence cards, indefinite leave and permanent residence requirements for comprehensive health insurance is incoherent and inconsistent? Unless he gets some consistency into that whole packet, establishing those rights and how we go further will be very difficult.
The right hon. Lady had an opportunity about half an hour ago to make that point directly to the Home Secretary, but I will draw it to my right hon. Friend’s attention. That is the best thing I can do. The simple truth is that I am concerned if people are afraid for their position in this country, and we will put that right as soon as we can.
My right hon. Friend will understand and probably appreciate the irony that the more successful he is in delivering a negotiation that meets the mutual interests of ourselves and the 27, the greater the political challenge for the 27, as it will be seen as rewarding the United Kingdom for Brexit. That opens the rather obvious possibility that at the end of the negotiations they may be blocked, either by a qualified minority on the Council or by the European Parliament. I welcome his undertaking to deliver certainty and clarity where he can, but what plans does he have to enumerate publicly the implications of having no deal at the end of two years of negotiations?
What I say to my hon. Friend at this point is that if the European Union adheres to a punishment plan and it fails—as I believe it would—that would be an even bigger incentive to countries that want to leave than no punishment plan at all. The approach that is being talked about would put at risk the stability of the European Union, which has financial instabilities of its own, and it should take that seriously.
I gently implore the Secretary of State to face the House so that we can all benefit from his mellifluous tones. [Interruption.] Somebody chunters rather ungraciously from a sedentary position or otherwise, “You pays your money and you takes your choice,” but the right hon. Gentleman must be heard.
Last week, the Government were required to publish the submission they put into the court defending their reasons for using the royal prerogative. This is what it said:
“The relief sought…to compel the Secretary of State to introduce legislation into Parliament to give effect to the outcome of the referendum—is constitutionally impermissible. The Court would be trespassing on proceedings in Parliament.”
It is obviously nonsensical to say that to involve Parliament is trespassing on Parliament. Did the Secretary of State really give the instructions to the lawyers for this submission?
I shall be very careful because one has to be careful when we are talking about court cases. The main guidance I gave to the Attorney-General was that a would-be vote in this House on article 50 could have two outcomes. It either lets it through or it stops it. If it stops it, what would be the outcome? It would be a refusal to implement the decision of the British people, creating as a result a constitutional problem to say the least. That was then interpreted by the lawyers as they saw fit.
May I congratulate the Secretary of State on the steady and careful progress he is making at the head of a brand-new Department after being in the job for only 12 weeks? I think he is now dealing with a totally unprecedented constitutional issue and that he should take it slowly and carefully. The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee had the Cabinet Secretary before it on 14 September. He told us that there was no shortage of very talented and highly qualified civil servants queuing up to join my right hon. Friend’s Department and the other new Department of State. However, he also told us that it was only staffed to the level of 80%. Can the Secretary of State tell us whether he is now fully staffed at 100%?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her compliments, but I would say two things to her. First, we need to make expeditious progress. That is, I think, one of the requirements that the referendum lays upon us. Secondly, the staffing is not yet 100% because we have to acquire sets of very specific skills. There have recently been arguments in the papers about everything from passporting to customs and just-in-time systems, and we have to be able to deal with that. These are not normally skills that are widely available in Whitehall, so it will take a little time to get from 80% to 100%.
Does the Secretary of State understand that the conflicting signals emanating from the Government about the type of Brexit that they wish to pursue are creating a great deal of uncertainty among businesses and the people who rely on them for their living, one aspect of which is the fear that we might leave the European Union without an agreement on trade, which would leave these businesses to cope on World Trade Organisation terms? Can the Secretary of State tell the House whether it is his policy, in those circumstances, to seek a transitional agreement to cover the period until such time as a final status agreement on trade and market access is agreed with the other 27 member states?
I am inclined to say that the right hon. Gentleman’s father will be smiling down on both of us. He makes a good point on the effect of the uncertainty. It is partly a problem of the preparation process and that there is less out there. I have said to every single interest group I have spoken to—that includes the CBI, despite the comments made this morning, the British Chambers of Commerce, the Engineering Employers Federation and others, as well as the TUC and others on the other side—that we need to have the hard data about the nature of the problem. For example, there are about nine different sorts of passports and we need to be more specific. We also need hard data about the size of the problem in terms of both money and jobs, and the actions we can take to deal with that. That is why we need to take the time until perhaps March. In doing so, we will try to winnow down the size of the negotiation that needs to be done, and then make it faster than it would otherwise be.
We start with an advantage, which the right hon. Gentleman, being who he is, has probably spotted, in that we will have exactly the same regulatory basis on the day we leave as the rest of the European Union. That is normally the biggest thing that gets in the way of major trade negotiations. I therefore do not expect the circumstance he describes. I will not offer a view, but simply say this: we will do everything possible to protect, enhance and maximise the opportunities for British business. He can draw his conclusion from that.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that sometimes it is very important to pay attention to the liberal elite. He will be aware that, on referendum night, we were told:
“I will forgive no one who does not respect the sovereign voice of the British people once it has spoken whether it is a majority of 1% or 20%...When the British people have spoken you do what they command…Either you believe in democracy or you don’t.”
Those are the words of Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon in the district of Yeovil in the county of Somerset, who is the most elitist liberal I know, which is saying something. I therefore urge my right hon. Friend to be true to the views of Lord Ashdown, the principles of liberalism and the traditions of this House, and to give effect to the British people’s vote. Seventeen million votes were cast on 23 June for Britain to leave the European Union. Attempts by anti-democratic and illiberal voices on the Opposition Benches to thwart the British people’s will will rightly be treated with disdain.
The liberal my right hon. Friend mentions is the mentor of my favourite liberal. I have to tell my right hon. Friend that I consider myself to be a liberal Conservative, so I am not entirely sure that I accept his characterisation of the liberal elite, but I take his point that the referendum was the biggest mandate given to a British Government ever. It is our job to carry it out and we will not allow it to be thwarted.
This summer’s new £5 note is 15% smaller than the old one, but since the referendum the value of the pound in our pocket has shrunk by even more than that because of the Government’s actions. Our constituents did not vote to be poorer. Should not the Secretary of State at least offer an apology?
Will the Secretary of State please clarify for the benefit of Opposition Front Benchers this incredibly simple point: independent countries can trade most successfully with the single market without being a member of the single market?
My right hon. Friend is right that more than 20 countries have had more success in growth terms when trading into the single market than we have had in the past 10 or 20 years. He is absolutely right that it is not necessary to be a member of the single market to trade incredibly successfully inside it.
The press reported over the weekend that hate crime was up following the Brexit vote. In particular, homophobic attacks were up 147%. Given that members of the Secretary of State’s Government and party fostered an atmosphere of division and intolerance, what will they do during the negotiations to ensure that the human rights of everyone in our society are protected?
May I point out, as a director of Vote Leave, that it was made clear in our campaign that leaving the EU meant leaving the single market. My right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) made that clear in an interview with Andrew Marr. Is it not ironic that the remain campaign spent a lot of time telling us, “Oh, if you leave the EU you will have to leave the EU internal market.” Now they are all saying that there must be a way of leaving the EU and staying in the single market, even though all the EU leaders say that that is not possible. I do not expect the Secretary of State to say anything instantly now, but is it not a fact that every advantage is to be taken in moving towards a relationship based on mutual recognition, rather than compulsory harmonisation?
It was my hon. Friend who got me into trouble the last time I made a statement, so I will not offer him a detailed answer. All forms of free trade are beneficial, whether based on mutual recognition, single legal areas or any other free trade mechanism. We will seek to get the best mechanism of free trade that we can, full stop.
May I take the Secretary of State back to the article to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) referred? He promised
“a pre-negotiation White Paper”.
He also said:
“I would expect the new Prime Minister on September 9th to immediately trigger a large round of global trade deals with all our most favoured trade partners.”
Will he update the House and tell us whether the Government are still committed to the pre-negotiation White Paper that he promised, and the countries with which we have triggered trade deals since 9 September?
If I may say so, that is a slight collapsing of what I said in that article, which I remember very well. The simple truth is that on the day we leave the European Union we will be looking to set up a whole series of very beneficial trade deals. That is an enormous benefit of being outside the Union.
I welcome the statement from my right hon. Friend, and I welcome what the Prime Minister said last week about triggering article 50. As someone who is alleged to have voted to remain in the European Union I take that as a matter of process on which I accept a mandate from the British people on 23 June. As for the detail of the negotiation, that is rather different. May I press my right hon. Friend on what he meant by engagement with Parliament, and whether that is the same as influence? It is one thing to come to Parliament and be engaged and tell Parliament what the Government are doing. It is quite another to come and be engaged and influenced by Parliament on things that we still need to clarify.
My hon. Friend—my right hon. Friend; I will not hold the allegation against him—makes a very good point. I point to my own history. For a considerable period—four or five years, I think—I negotiated another treaty with the European Union. [Interruption.] It was Amsterdam. The approach was very simple. We did not disclose the upcoming negotiation, but we talked about what was under way and what the priorities were, and that is how I expect this to pan out in future. There will be large numbers of debates in the House, with the first on Wednesday, and even if we did not want to do it— but we will—the Opposition could have as many debates as they liked on the subject. I do not accept the argument that we are simply not going to talk about this.
Second, there will be a Select Committee whose sole job for the few years for which it will exist will be to scrutinise the Department. As far as I can, I will be open with it, but I will not give away things if that is deleterious to the national interest. This is an important point to remember: it is the national interest that is engaged, whether we want to talk about the outcome, or whether we want to get the outcome.
Will the Secretary of State take steps to achieve an early UK withdrawal from the common fisheries policy, with the re-establishment of Britain’s historic waters, both to rebuild fish stocks in our seas and to revive the British fishing industry?
The hon. Gentleman has raised a very important benefit of leaving the European Union, but I cannot promise him an early departure on that issue alone. We will obey EU law, and all the policies that go with it, until the last day we are in the EU. Thereafter, we will get the benefits that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned, and they will be very sizeable benefits.
Will my right hon. Friend accept from me that it is clear beyond any doubt what the country voted for? He is right to say that our countrymen want to see our country as outward-looking, enterprising and agile, and as a country that will prosper in a very difficult and fraught period in our lives. What will matter, however, is ensuring that our fellow citizens can have absolute confidence in this perilous process, and that Parliament plays its historic role, to which he and I have always attached the most profound importance.
I pay particular attention to my right hon. Friend’s comments. I know that he was a fierce remainer who fought hard for the cause. He has, however, taken on board the fact that it is now our duty to make the will of the British people come into being in the best possible way. He knows my history, so he must take it as read that I will treat Parliament with respect, but I will not give up the national interest in negotiating terms to that end. I will carry out the balancing act to the best of my ability, and I will leave the judgment of whether that it is good enough with my right hon. Friend.
Can the Secretary of State explain how a margin of 4% in a referendum in which Brexiteers themselves confessed that they had voted to leave for a variety of reasons can become what he has just described as an overwhelming mandate for what the Government are currently doing in respect of a “hard Brexit”, with all the damage that that will entail for our economy and our prosperity?
The majority was over a million. This was, I think, the largest vote gained by any Government ever. [Interruption.] I assume that the right hon. Gentleman voted “remain”. It is rather rich for someone like him, who voted the other way, to try to be the arbiter and interpreter of those who voted to leave.
First, we must obey the democratic instruction that we were given. Secondly, I strongly challenge the idea that this will somehow cause an economic downturn. It will not: it will create economic opportunities on a major scale, and that is what we look forward to.
The Government’s negotiating position will leak as soon as other member states are told about it. Does the Secretary of State not recognise that it would be wholly unacceptable for the British public to find out what the United Kingdom’s position is from our counterparts in the negotiations?
Had the Chairman of the Treasury Committee read my evidence to the Lords Select Committee, he would have seen that I gave an undertaking that this House and the other House would be at least as well informed as democratic institutions on the continent, including the European Parliament. That has never been done before, but it will be done now.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s assurance that he will consult the leaders of devolved Administrations, and I assure him that the leader of our party will work with him to ensure successful negotiations for our exit from the European Union. Will he recognise, however, that the rhetoric that we have heard today about parliamentary scrutiny is really designed to do one of two things—either to overturn the referendum result, or to undermine the negotiating position that the Government would take by continual squabbling in the Chamber about the bottom line? Does he agree that the vast majority of people in the United Kingdom now want the Government to go out and ensure that we have control of our borders, the ability to spend our own money, and the ability to make our own laws?
The hon. Gentleman is exactly right. The words that he used were not “52%”, but “the vast majority”. The vast majority of the country wants us to get on with this and to make a success of it, and that is what we will do.
Let me also say to the hon. Gentleman that one of the areas receiving the most attention at the moment is Northern Ireland. We do have issues to resolve on the border, and we will resolve them. We will not return to the old borders—the border style of old. We will maintain the common travel area. Indeed, we will maintain all the benefits that we had in Northern Ireland before we entered the European Union.
Frau Merkel is reported to have been cheered by German industrialists for asserting that Britain will not have access to continental markets unless we are prepared to accept free movement of labour. Will my right hon. Friend tell her that securing our borders was a non-negotiable instruction from the British people? Will he also tell her that if she will not make EU markets available to us, industrialists such as BMW, which has its UK headquarters in my constituency, will not be cheering her if tariffs are imposed on German car imports into the United Kingdom?
I think Mrs Merkel will have read the Prime Minister’s speech last week and will know exactly where our priorities on the control of borders lie. I will not get into tit-for-tat rudeness with our European opposite numbers, because I do not think that that would be successful. I will say, however, that these are the first days of a two-and-a-half-year negotiation, and the first days of negotiations are always tougher than the endgame —[Interruption.] Well, I speak as someone who has done one or two of them, unlike many of the people chuntering on the Opposition Benches. I think we can take it as read that what our European opposite numbers are saying today is not necessarily what they will be saying tomorrow.
I cannot think of any major treaty in history that this country has signed in which the Government have not come to Parliament to get a mandate for their negotiating position. They have done that every single time over the past 400 years. If the right hon. Gentleman really wants to make a success of these negotiations, he needs to gather as much support as he possibly can across the whole country, including among the 48%. That will involve at least a White Paper and preferably a draft repeal Bill before the final repeal Bill.
The Secretary of State is absolutely right to seek success, but the question is: what does success look like? What will actually happen when Britain leaves the European Union? Is he thinking of applying any tests along the journey of the negotiations that he feels we might need to meet, particularly in relation to the state of our economy?
It is hard to have tests along the track of the negotiations; it is the outcome that matters. In response to my opposite number, the hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), I highlighted three of the four main aims that we are after. One is to regain control of our borders. Another is to get back control of our laws. The one I did not list was our aim to keep our justice and security arrangements at least as strong as they are. Finally, and most importantly in this context, the United Kingdom must aim to maintain the best possible open access to European markets and vice versa. If we can achieve all that, there will be no downside to Brexit at all, and considerable upsides.
There seems to be some political forgetfulness here. Does the Minister not recall that the Chancellor has forecast financial bumps along the road? Others fear that they will not just be Brexit bumps, but that a vast sinkhole will open up in the road, into which the British economy will fall in a tailspin. If that Brexit slump occurs, how can the Minister deny the public a second vote on this? Second thoughts are always better than first thoughts, especially as the referendum was conducted on the basis of untruths from both parties. Is he going to honour the pledge to give an extra £350 million a week to the national health service?
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement. In particular, I liked the section in which he said that he wants to give as much certainty as possible to employers, investors, consumers and workers. Half of St Albans’ economically active population works in London, and many of them work in financial services and the knowledge-based economy. What conduit can they have to input into the process through which we are now going, and what assurances can he give me that London and the UK will maximise free trade with Europe while tapping into the growth markets around the world?
Given that my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) is sitting next to me, I am bound to say that London is a massive global city and an extraordinarily successful one. We will do everything necessary to protect, defend and enhance that success in the markets that my hon. Friend mentioned—in the financial services, the digital markets and the intellectual markets. We are looking at all of them right across the board. She should tell her constituents who want to have an input into the process that they should go through their trade organisations or come directly to the Department to tell us where their concerns are and where they think the opportunities are and we will take their comments on board.
My job in the first instance is to bring that decision back to this House. What I have said to those who have expressed concerns about that matter is that we will certainly not be removing employment rights or employment law from British citizens as a result of bringing back that process. That is the situation: we will not be withdrawing employment rights as a result of this process.
I hope you will forgive me, Mr Speaker, for giving the Ladybird guide to the constitution. Her Majesty’s Government are behaving completely correctly and traditionally. It is for the Government to determine treaties, and it is for Parliament to decide whether to bring them into legislation. If Parliament does not like the Government of the day, it can always hold a vote of confidence in that Government to change the negotiating stance. It seems to me that the Opposition may not want that, as they have a record of losing elections at the moment.
I recommend the hon. Lady reads the book, “Flash Boys”, because the major part of that fall was the flash crash. There are lots and lots of speculative comments that will drive the pound down and up and down and up over the next two and a half years, and there is little that we can do about it.
May I ask my right hon. Friend to ignore those people on both sides of the House who cannot bring themselves to come to terms with the referendum result? Will he confirm that there are no such things as hard Brexit and soft Brexit? There is either Brexit or no Brexit. It is rather like being pregnant —a person is either pregnant or they are not pregnant. We are either in the European Union or out of the European Union. Being in the single market would mean keeping EU laws and the European Court of Justice making decisions. It would also probably mean free movement of people and paying into the EU budget. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that would be a betrayal of what the British people voted for in the referendum?
Yes, my hon. Friend is right. That is precisely what is driving our negotiating strategy. Beyond that, I say this to him: the words hard and soft Brexit are designed to deceive. They are not meaningful in any way. We are talking about the best possible trade access. The Labour party does not understand the economics of that, but this party does. We are simply going to get the best outcome for this country, and that will be open trade.
Does the Secretary of State recognise that although 52% of people voted for us to leave, of course with the consequence that we will exit the European Union, the suggestion that the more than 16 million people who voted to remain are some kind of liberal elite is utterly false and divisive? A majority of young voters, a majority of ethnic minority voters and a majority of people in three of the constituent parts of our country all voted to remain, and the job of the Government is to find a deal that serves the interests of everybody—those who voted to remain and those who voted to leave—not to try to sow further seeds of division in our country.
The hon. Gentleman will be surprised to hear that I agree with almost every word he said. The only distinction that I would make is that I consider myself a liberal, as I said earlier. The aim of the Government is to find an outcome that meets the needs of all the United Kingdom; again, it is invidious to talk about one’s own speeches, but that is precisely what I said last week. We need to engage the interests of all citizens of the country, whichever way they voted, in order to get the best outcome for the country.
There has been talk today of vast sinkholes and punishment plans, but surely great nations such as France and Germany act in their own self-interest. Take passporting: what has not been mentioned so far is that 7,000 passports are issued to financial companies in Europe to come into the City of London, and 5,000 passports go in the opposite direction. It is a simple regulatory licensing system, so let us have no more talk about Armageddon for the City of London; a deal can and will be made.
I have been at a bit of a loose end in the past few weeks, but I have been putting my time to good use: I have been reading the Secretary of State’s back-catalogue. In one of the speeches I found, which I can quote for him, as it is invidious for him to quote himself, he recommended—this was just a few years ago—that we have two referendums on Brexit, the second referendum being held only when the terms of the negotiation were fully formed. Did he change his mind only when he saw the result of the referendum?
The hon. Gentleman may have had some time to spare, but he has not used it very well. Indeed, he needs some reading lessons, or maybe reading glasses. Ten years ago—not two years ago; he should get his dates right—when I talked about the possibility of a double referendum, in the early days of our discussions on the matter, I said that we should set up a mandate referendum, laying out exactly what our claims would be, and then if we won that, use it as a lever to get good terms and make a decision thereafter. That is not what the Government did; they put a straight question. If the hon. Gentleman went out on the streets of London and asked people, “What do you think you voted for? Did you vote for a mandate, or did you vote to leave?”, the answer would be that they voted to leave.
I urge my right hon. Friend to ignore the siren calls from the Opposition for a running commentary on our detailed negotiating position, because as everyone knows, that would make for poor outcomes, and it might account for why Labour got rolled over by the EU on so many occasions, including when it came to the sacrifice of our EU rebate. Will my right hon. Friend say a few words on something that has not yet been covered in the statement or questions—that is, on the growing divide in the EU’s position on Brexit between the ideologists in the Commission and the elected politicians, who recognise that if they play hardball and fall back on tariffs, it will cost them much more than it will cost us?
I need no urging to ignore the party that, after all, gave us the Lisbon treaty. My hon. Friend is right with respect to the viewpoint of nation states. This will take time to play out. Some nation states, including Germany, are at present very committed to making the punishment arguments, but I think that will change. Other nation states are already making the counter-arguments, and we will see that group grow and grow as the next two and a half years pass.
Today at airports, holidaymakers are being offered less than €1 to the pound. My hon. Friends the Members for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) and for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) have asked about the 15% decline in the value of sterling since the referendum, but so far the Secretary of State has failed to answer. We have seen huge uncertainty since our decision to leave the European Union. What efforts will the Government make to provide greater clarity for businesses and the economy, and to ensure that the Government are a little more careful with their words, which would help with the volatility and the sharp declines we have seen in the value of sterling in recent weeks?
Can my right hon. Friend confirm that if the Bill to repeal the European Communities Act 1972 is blocked in the other place, the Government will not hesitate to use the provisions of the Parliament Acts to ensure that the Bill reaches the statute book?
The Secretary of State will know that the process for exiting the EU will have two steps: first, the article 50 negotiations, which will be by qualified majority voting; and secondly, the negotiation of a new trade deal, which will require unanimity and ratification by all the Parliaments of the EU. Will he guarantee that businesses will have the reassurance, which they desperately need, of a guaranteed transition period, rather than their falling off the cliff edge immediately after the article 50 negotiations conclude?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, but I am not sure that he is exactly right about the mechanism for the final decision. He talks about what is effectively the next procedure, which is what has happened to the Canadian treaty. We have not yet engaged in the negotiation process, so we do not know exactly how it will work, whether it will be sequential or parallel—well, it will be parallel—and how the linkage between the various components will work. At that point, I will be in a better position to answer his question.
Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to reassure business leaders around the world that, contrary to what is said in some of the commentary, the Government will grasp the opportunity of Brexit to create a low-tax, lightly regulated, open economy that is ready to seize growing economies around the world and create prosperity for our nation?
I was recently contacted by a constituent who is a lecturer at the University of Glasgow. Not only does she have serious concerns about the loss of EU funding for universities and colleges, but her partner is a French national who is unsure about where his future will lie, post-Brexit. Why can the Secretary of State not understand that the Government’s reluctance to outline any future plans is having a real and negative impact on many people across the UK?
First, the Treasury has already made some underpinning promises over the summer about research funding, and they apply to Scotland, so I suggest that the hon. Lady looks carefully at that. As for the concerns of her constituent’s French partner, I have already said that we are doing this as fast as we can, consistent with our responsibilities to not only people in that position, but British citizens abroad.
I wonder whether my right hon. Friend shares my interest in and gratitude for the fact that the Opposition are speaking the language of markets, currency and the FTSE, and showing incredible interest in that. Speaking of markets, I would like him to assure the House and my constituents that if we were to leave the single market, we would be an open, welcoming, friendly and dynamic free trade area.
The point that I have made time and again is that we are seeking the most open, most barrier-free trade in goods and services that we can possibly achieve. Like my hon. Friend, I think it is good to hear those words from across the Floor, even if they are not well understood by those saying them.
When will the Secretary of State reassure businesses based in the UK, and particularly in my city of Sunderland, including the Nissan manufacturing plant, about the potential for tariffs to be paid on every car sold to mainland Europe, as some 80% of cars from the Nissan plant are? Investment has been halted at that plant, and a contract that had already been awarded has been put in abeyance while we wait for reassurances from the Government. When will the Government act on real people’s jobs and reassure companies? That is what is at stake. This is not chatter; it is real people’s jobs. When will the Government act?
Yes, the Department for Transport is on that issue as we speak. They were some of the people I was thinking of when I said that there are many areas where we have a very strong negotiating hand because of our current position. Britain is the strongest target, as it were, for flight arrivals in the entire European Union.
Many hundreds of people in my constituency working in the automotive and pharmaceutical industries are very worried about the transitional phase between now and when we leave the EU. Decisions are being made by their employers now about investments, and the worry is that those decisions will take investment away from south Liverpool, and put it somewhere else in Europe. What can the Secretary of State do to reassure my constituents, and to reassure those automotive and pharmaceutical businesses about continuing to invest here?
The first thing I would say is that, if I remember correctly, after the referendum decision, GlaxoSmithKline confirmed multiple hundreds of millions of pounds of investment in this country, so I do not think the pharmaceutical industry is running away from this country—just the reverse. In Europe, the pharmaceutical industry is predominantly in the UK, for reasons that relate to intellectual property among other things. The second thing I would say is that we are consulting widely; one of the things we are doing is establishing where the fears and concerns are, so that we can deal with them. We are doing that accurately and carefully, in exactly the way the hon. Lady would, as I know from her time on the Public Accounts Committee. That, in the long run, will guarantee the jobs of her constituents.
As a remainer, let me gently say this to the remainers on the Opposition Benches: scupper or delay triggering article 50 at your peril. Workers will not respect you for it; nor will businesses. We must respect the democratic will of the British people. I appreciate the pragmatism surrounding the decision not to involve Parliament in every single minute detail. However, does the Secretary of State agree that Parliament must, constitutionally, be involved in setting out the principles of negotiation—that is, on single market membership and free movement rules—to ensure that when things like the great repeal Bill are put before this House, they receive full support?
I always pay a lot of attention to the people who voted remain, and take seriously the responsibility we have to the people of this country to make this work. My hon. Friend laid down a couple of criteria that are very tight in one sense. I am saying, in terms, that we want the best outcome, but what is the best outcome? The best outcome is open market access; that is the point. How we do it may come down to what the negotiations are about, but I cannot go into great detail. However, I would say to my hon. Friend that the process, from now until roughly two to two and a half years’ time, or whenever it is, will be absolutely full of parliamentary events—unless the Opposition are not doing their job, but they will do their job; unless the Select Committee is not doing its job, but it will do its job; and unless we try to block things we are obviously not going to block. We take parliamentary accountability very responsibly and very seriously, and we will keep Parliament as well informed as we can.
I agree with the Secretary of State that we need barrier-free access to the single market—no tariff barriers and no non-tariff barriers—but we all know there is a tension between delivering that and restricting free movement. On an all-party visit last month, a German employers’ organisation suggested to us that it might be possible to square the circle by agreeing a redefinition of free movement, so that it applied only to people with a firm job offer in the UK. Are Ministers going to pursue that possibility?
As always, the right hon. Gentleman has asked a serious question, and I thank him for it. My job is to bring back control of these issues to the United Kingdom, which can then exercise that control in the way that Parliament and the Government see fit. What they negotiate thereafter is not a matter for me to speculate on, and I certainly would not offer an opinion on what is or is not a good negotiating hand at this point in time. However, I hear what he says.
I satisfied my appetite for voting on this question on 23 June, but like my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), I want some influence over the process. However, if influence has to be measured by holding a Division, as Labour Members appear to believe, they might be reminded that they get a Supply day every week.
The Secretary of State has said that he will provide some certainty and clarity. I have had an email from a general practitioner in my constituency saying that a lady who has lived there for over 40 years is having mental health problems as she is concerned about being deported. Parents have contacted me saying that their children are awake at night worried that they are about to lose their mother or their father who is an EU citizen.
It is absolutely imperative that we have some clarity. A glib individual on the Government Benches claims I should reassure them. I have done that, but they need reassurance from the Government, because I do not have such a power. May we at least have clarification that those who have lived in this country for over five years will have an automatic right to remain? They need it, and it is only right that citizens should have such clarity.
It is perfectly natural for us to want as much detail as possible, but it is more important that the outcome is the success that we need. Does my right hon. Friend therefore agree that we should not tempt him to give details now, but that we should keep as much secret as we can, while our opponents are talking about tariffs and punishments? Should he not do everything he can to play with his cards as close as possible to his chest?
Should we not at least commend the Secretary of State for once again presenting us, at the Dispatch Box, with a full range of cosmetics without a single microbead of substance? Does he realise that his reassurances about the consultation with the joint First Ministers in Stormont, and his indication of his hopes for the profile of the border, do not measure up to a response on the profound implications that the course he is piloting will have for the Good Friday agreement, with its delicate layers of understanding, constitutional foundations and key political premises?
I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman is just wrong. We have already invested a lot of resource in this issue. Indeed, the quotes from the Northern Ireland Secretary on the front page of The Guardian this morning are accurate. We are talking to the Irish Government to determine, as well as we can, a technical mechanism to ensure that we will maintain an open border and underpin the agreement.
I am disappointed that so many Members of this House—I might politely call them the “unreconcilables”—seem intent on using every ploy of parliamentary procedure to undermine the will of the British people, claiming that it is the democratic right of this House. Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the most important principles of democracy is that everyone’s vote counts the same, and that on 23 June, everyone in the country, including Members of this House, had a vote and the result was clear?
After the referendum and three days before his appointment, the right hon. Gentleman wrote in an article that a White Paper outlining the negotiating terms for Brexit should be published. Will he please explain to the House his thinking at the time of writing that article?
The simple answer is this. Throughout the entire referendum campaign, I was trying to think through not so much the retention of the European market, but how we best develop the international markets. Those were my thoughts at that time and, as a Back Bencher, I was entirely entitled to have those thoughts.
Airbus is a wonderful example of European co-operation. The fuselages are built in France and Germany, and the wings in this country. Does my right hon. Friend agree that any politician or bureaucrat who tried to punish such a project, which has created so much wealth and prosperity and so many jobs, would be mad, bad or totally out of touch with the people they professed to represent?
The tone and content of the Home Secretary’s speech to the Tory party conference were profoundly hostile to the recruitment of international students, who are estimated to be worth £40 billion to the economy and represent a valuable growth market. Will the Secretary of State explain whether he backs the Home Secretary, and will he give assurances that in the Brexit negotiation on EU students, he will do nothing to damage their access, our world-class higher education system or the wider economy?
Is it not the truth that the depreciation of sterling since 23 June has provided a massive boost to Britain’s international competitiveness and has been great news for British exporters? Has my right hon. Friend been encouraged or discouraged by the number of countries knocking on our door, willing to make free trade agreements when we leave the European Union?
One of the interesting things today has been the willingness of the Opposition to carp on the downside of every single aspect of Brexit. The simple truth is that those who are talking about the competitiveness of their own industries are not paying attention to the level of the pound. While it has some downsides, it certainly has a very large number of upsides.
As chair of the all-party group on medical research, I am extremely concerned about the impact of Brexit on scientific and medical research in this country. Scientists have always worked collaboratively across borders, but researchers are now worried about funding and about the job insecurity and uncertainty faced by their EU national colleagues. Can the Secretary of State reassure scientists in this country that their research will continue to be funded and that their EU national colleagues will continue to be welcome to work here?
The Treasury has given underwriting guarantees, as it were, for the current round of applications, so that is not to be worried about. This country is a science superpower, so the idea that after our departure from the European Union funding will somehow dry up is for the birds—it is simply nonsense. I have had discussions with the presidents of some of the royal academies, and we will continue those discussions with the aim of ensuring that they do not feel at risk. Some of the comments we have got back indicate that the European Union rules on issues such as clinical research have not exactly been helpful to British science, so there will be an improvement, not just an underwriting guarantee.
Many City of London institutions rely on the financial services passport to do business across Europe. Some say that as many as 20% of their jobs depend on that access. The danger is that, as it would take a year or two to relocate staff, some may take action before the end of the two years. To encourage them to keep those jobs here in London, can the Secretary of State give an assurance that financial service passporting or some equivalent mutual recognition is his priority?
My hon. Friend makes a good point; as there may be something like an 18-month lag, some people might try to pre-empt the decision and, rashly, move early. The Treasury has held a roundtable on this specific issue. It has looked very clearly at various mechanisms of mutual recognition as a fall-back on passporting. Somebody made the point earlier that we issue more passports than we seek. As a result, our negotiating leverage in this area is at least reasonable.
This is the Secretary of State’s second statement on this issue. Frankly, he would have said more if he had said nothing at all. Can we conclude from his statement today that his definition of “taking back control” is that this sovereign Parliament will get no binding say on the negotiating stance, article 50 or even the final deal? What he said today is that of the 28 current members of the European Union, 27 sovereign Parliaments will get a say, but not this one.
First, there have been a number of consultations and discussions with those people. This whole exercise is an all-Government operation. That means that the individual Departments will deal directly with them. Secondly, the Treasury moved unusually quickly to ensure that they knew that their current round of funding was underpinned, for example under pillar 1 of the common agricultural policy. The Government are taking this matter extraordinarily seriously and they have no reason to worry.
I thank the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) for coming to my constituency last week to meet businesses in Fermanagh and South Tyrone. I appreciate the Secretary of State’s point about an open border with the Republic of Ireland, given that four counties of the Republic of Ireland border my constituency, but how does he envisage stopping the smuggling that may take place after Brexit?
That is a very good and difficult question. The simple truth is that we have to make a judgment, as is the case with all borders of that nature. Norway and Sweden have a good example of an open border, as do Canada and America. There are small-scale movements, but big-scale movements can be found and dealt with.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph following the referendum, the Foreign Secretary claimed that we would still have access to the single market and that the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, and those of UK citizens living abroad, would be respected. If that is no longer the case and the Foreign Secretary was confused, will the Secretary of State clear up these issues in the pre-negotiation White Paper that he promised? Can he tell us when that will be published? If, as the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) suggests, the Vote Leave prospectus is to be the basis of the Brexit negotiations, will he tell us when we will be getting £350 million a week for the NHS?
As the Secretary of State knows, large swathes of EU law are intertwined with devolved legislation in Wales, and indeed in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Will he confirm that in the proposed great repeal Bill, and in their actions thereafter, the UK Government will not interfere with Welsh legislation without the formal—I emphasise formal—consent of the National Assembly?
I cannot see the great repeal Bill interfering with Welsh legislation, but as I have said, we will talk at length to each of the devolved Administrations about issues that will affect them as a result of the Bill. We will do that before we draft it, let alone before we publish it.
In their open letter to the Government at the weekend, the CBI and other business leaders said that it was extremely unlikely that the complex negotiations on Brexit would be completed within the two-year period stipulated in article 50. If negotiations have not been completed, what will happen then?
With the best will in the world, the CBI is hypothesising. The simple truth is that we will have an unusual negotiation, because the standards that apply inside the Union will apply to us on exactly the day when we depart. That is one reason why the great repeal Bill will put the acquis communautaire straight into British law, which will make some of the transition issues quicker to deal with. I will deal with that issue if it arises, but at the moment I do not see it arising.
Does the Secretary of State not think that his party’s Back Benchers will see the irony that when they walk through the Lobby to enshrine the great repeal Bill in law in a great act of parliamentary sovereignty, they will in fact be enshrining all the hated European regulations that they have campaigned against for so many years?
Does the Secretary of State accept that sovereignty in Scotland lies with the people and not with Parliament, so it is ultimately for the people of Scotland to decide whether they remain in the United Kingdom or the European Union?
I will make two points to the hon. Gentleman. First, unlike the situation prior to the passage of the great repeal Bill, we will be able to change those European laws. We are not able to do that at all at the moment.
I have forgotten what the hon. Gentleman’s other point was now. [Interruption.] Yes, Scotland. I apologise; I should not have forgotten that. The simple truth is that the decision was UK-wide, and had it gone the other way, he would not be arguing against it.
Some UK legislation for workers goes further than EU rules, but not all of it. It is also clear that European Court judgments have been far more worker-friendly than those in our own tribunals, and certainly more friendly than this Government. If the Government seriously intend to protect workers’ rights, they should adopt my Bill, which is intended to maintain EU standards for workers and their employment rights, especially those set out secondary legislation. Failing to do that would leave the door wide open for future Governments to eat into hard-fought and hard-won rights through statutory instruments. The Secretary of State claims to be a champion of workers, so will he consider introducing stand-alone legislation at the earliest opportunity to continue the protection of Britain’s workers?
I hear what the hon. Lady says, but I have given an undertaking that there will be no reversal of the protection of workers’ rights, as has the Prime Minister. Indeed, my right hon. Friend has gone beyond that and said that there will be an expansion of that protection.
As it stands, the steel and ceramic industries are covered by 52 separate trade defence instruments that the EU provides for this country. In negotiations taking place in conjunction with the Brexit negotiations, the Government wish to support market economy status for China. Which of the 52 trade defence mechanisms does the Secretary of State desire to keep in order to maintain the British steel industry?
On Saturday I met a constituent who is a member of academic staff at the University of Nottingham, one of many EU citizens living and working in our city and helping to ensure its future economic success. The Secretary of State says that he wants an outcome to the negotiations that benefits the interests of all UK citizens, and I agree. Does he agree that giving our universities and their EU staff the assurances that they seek is in our best interests—yes or no? If yes, when will he give those assurances?
I have made the point already that we have duties and responsibilities to British citizens abroad as well as to EU citizens here. We seek to give the latter the best guarantees we can as soon as we can, but the answer to exactly when that will be is not solely in my hands.
I hope that the whole House will accept the Secretary of State’s sincerity in seeking to avoid what I think he referred to as fostering divisions and creating hostility in our communities. In that context, does he believe it is appropriate for Ministers to refer to EU citizens living in the UK using terms such as “bargaining counters” and “cheap foreign labour”?
I do not think I have ever referred to them in those terms—in fact, I know I have not. The simple truth is that they are not bargaining counters. One problem that would arise if we divided the two categories of EU citizens here and British citizens abroad would be that we would turn one of them into a bargaining counter, which is precisely what we are avoiding.
Twelve weeks ago the right hon. Gentleman was a champion of the Back Bencher. Today, he says that there is no role for Back Benchers in deciding on the triggering of article 50 or the terms of the negotiation. He says, however, that he respects the role of Parliament. To show that he has not gone over to the dark side completely, will he confirm that there are no plans to include in his great repeal Bill shortcuts to repealing any protections that currently exist under EU law, and that such a change in law would require the full parliamentary process?
Certainly any further changes in law will require parliamentary process. On article 50, the right hon. Lady is right that I have fought hard for the rights of Parliament with respect to the Executive, but I would never put Parliament in a position of being in a clash with the British people. That is what an article 50 vote would do.
Yesterday on “The Andrew Marr Show”, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), who is not in his place today, said:
“The reason the pound keeps zooming south is that absolutely nobody has the faintest idea what exactly we’re going to put in place”
for the single market. I rather got the impression from the Secretary of State earlier that he did not agree with that statement. If he does not, to what does he attribute the repeated plummeting of the pound since 24 June, and does he agree with the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), who is no longer in his place, that it is a good thing that the pound keeps plummeting?
It is an unwise Minister, particularly one who is not a Treasury Minister, who passes comment on what the right value of the pound is. There are benefits and disadvantages in movements in either direction. If we look at other countries—it is safer for me to do that—we can see that the euro is widely viewed as being undervalued for the German economy and overvalued for the Greek economy. The hon. and learned Lady can decide for herself which she prefers, but the Greek economy is in a worse state than the German economy.
I do not agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke). There will definitely be very large markets for British industry after we exit the European Union. What the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) has seen on the currency markets has been a response to an article about President Hollande’s comments, massively exacerbated by program trading, which is corrected later on.
Just today, the British Retail Consortium has said that if we depend on World Trade Organisation rules, we could see price rises of 27% for meat, 16% for clothing and footwear and 14% for Chilean wine. Those are not some theoretical actions, they are price rises in the real world. Will the Secretary of State accept the reality of the damage that would be done by such price rises, and what will he do to ensure that the BRC’s predictions do not become a reality?
The Secretary of State may be interested to know that this morning Glasgow City Council launched with its partners a report on Brexit and the Glasgow economy; it is a far more comprehensive report than we received today from him. It has six key asks, among them clarity on long-term funding beyond 2020 for higher education and infrastructure. It also calls for the acceleration of the capital for the city deal for Glasgow. Will the Secretary of State confirm whether he intends to go beyond simply consulting local government on the impact of Brexit, and will he engage and actually respond to the concerns of local government, which is responsible for implementing so much of EU law?
We will be engaging with local government—including on that report, I imagine. I say this to the hon. Lady, however: beyond 2020 there will be a new EU budget round. As it stands, it is not at all clear that that will be as generous as the current one. I do not think that she should extrapolate based on today’s numbers.
The Secretary of State will be aware of the importance of the life sciences and pharmaceutical industries to our economy. He will also be aware of the comments of the chief executive of AstraZeneca over the weekend, who warned that if we are not part of the European common approvals process the cost of drugs to the NHS will rise. Is the chief executive of AstraZeneca right on that? If so, that is less money for the NHS, so how much does the Secretary of State think that is going to cost us?
I am not in a position to do those sums for the hon. Gentleman, but I will tell him that that is one of the things that we will seek to get standardised. There will be a number of areas such as life sciences where we have a big interest. We are, after all, the largest life science centre in Europe, so that will be front and centre of our negotiations.
When Carolyn Fairburn of the CBI says that businesses will fear the worst in the event of not knowing the sense of direction of the Government, the Secretary of State should take that seriously. If she has spent the past hour and thirty five minutes listening to his comments she will still be none the wiser about what the Government are trying to achieve with the negotiations. The White Paper that the Secretary of State suggested he would bring forward would be a very good way of providing some certainty to business. He has dodged the question four times, so will he now come to the Dispatch Box and confirm whether it is still his intention to bring forward that White Paper, and if it is not will he tell us why?
First, I spent some time talking to Ms Fairburn a few weeks ago. She knows what the objectives are, and they are the same as I have given here—that we get the best possible access. I suspect that if she is asked she will say that getting the right outcome is more important than talking about the right outcome. That is what we intend to do.
As the last man standing, what chance do I have of actually getting anything out of the Secretary of State? He has spent his whole life planning for this big day in the sun, yet he is like a rabbit caught in headlights. Today’s is his second statement, full of bingo buzzwords—“sovereignty”, “control”, “the right deal for Britain”, “mandate”. We have heard it all before and it adds nothing to the argument. One addition we had is “outward-looking”, which is very ironic in the week after the Tory conference. We hear that he cannot give a running commentary on negotiations; last week we got a running commentary on how foreigners are going to be targeted in future, and then he stands there and talks about divisive nationalism. When will he take control, develop a coherent plan and advise this House about what is going to happen, how he will involve the devolved Administrations and how he will protect the rights of EU nationals living here?