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Brexit Timetable

Volume 628: debated on Thursday 7 September 2017

12. What steps the Government are taking to ensure that the timetable for the UK leaving the EU is met. (900652)

We aim to get the right agreement for the United Kingdom and the European Union. Government officials are working at pace, and we have said repeatedly that both parties will need to demonstrate a dynamic and flexible approach in each negotiation round. Flexibility and creativity are needed from both sides, and we have already said that we are willing to meet as frequently as required. We want to reach an agreement about our future partnership by the end of March 2019. From that point, we believe that a time-limited interim period will be in the mutual interest of the United Kingdom and the European Union, allowing people and businesses in the United Kingdom and the European Union to adjust to the new arrangements.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. Our future trade relations with the European Union are clearly vital, and it is good news that a queue of trade deals is potentially in the offing for when we leave. Given our unique position with the EU, it is surely perfectly possible to conclude a trade agreement by the time we leave in March 2019.

Yes, my hon. Friend is exactly right. The Bill that we will debate later today is designed with exactly that in mind. The unique nature of the free trade agreement that we are seeking to agree with the European Union is that we all start from exactly the same standards. The previous question related to maintaining the same standards for labour law and other matters, but those standards are actually already better. My hon. Friend is right that our unique position is the key to getting a fast, effective and wealth-creating trade agreement.

People and businesses in Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland are confident about the opportunities that lie ahead after Brexit. Can the Secretary of State reassure my constituents that he will ignore some of the ill-judged rhetoric coming out of the Commission about teaching us a lesson and focus instead on securing a deal that works for our mutual benefit?

I think I should say, in the interest of maintaining amity across the negotiating table, that Mr Barnier clarified that he did not intend to say “educate”. He meant that he wanted to bring everybody up to speed on the benefits, as he sees it, of the single market. Both sides want to achieve the best possible outcome and the strongest possible partnership for the future, and that is what we intend to do. It is in neither side’s interest for there to be a cliff edge for businesses or a threat to stability. The UK and the EU will work together to agree provisions for an interim period that will allow people and businesses in both the UK and the EU to adjust in a smooth and orderly way to new arrangements. That will minimise disruption, give as much certainty as possible and meet the wishes of my hon. Friend’s constituents.

Nowhere is the timetable for leaving the EU more important than in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Press reports today indicate that there will be a special relationship in how we work the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Can the Minister give us some idea of those discussions and of what has happened so far?

At the moment, I can talk only to the discussions within the European Union negotiating group. From the beginning we were very keen to start on this as quickly as possible. We understand, of course, that the conclusion we get will be dependent, to some extent, on all the other decisions on borders. How much special arrangement we have to make will depend on how open the borders are generally. We have made very good progress. At the last round in particular, the Commission was concerned that continuing with the common travel area would impinge on European Union citizens’ rights. We have persuaded the Commission that that is not true, and it has basically accepted our argument.

Does the Secretary of State not realise that, every time he speaks at the Dispatch Box, the key wealth-creating areas of this country feel more and more uncertain about their future? We are haemorrhaging people. We cannot recruit people to the City of London and financial services, we cannot recruit people to universities and we cannot recruit people to manufacturing. For goodness’ sake, man, get on with the job.

Perhaps I will organise a visit for the hon. Gentleman to see Mr Barnier himself. We have taken action in all those areas. We have taken action to underpin the funding of universities. In industry, we have seen the Nissan arrangements. We have talked to the financial services sector about what we expect to happen, and we have particularly talked about an implementation period with them in mind—not just them, but them in particular. Plenty of action is being taken to improve the certainty and clarity on where we are going.

18. It is important to be robust on the timetable, but it is also important to be robust in the face of Brussels’ demand that we send more money. We should not be bullied or blackmailed; we should be strong as a nation. (900660)

I hear my hon. Friend loud and clear. We have been very clear that the UK and the EU will have financial obligations to each other that will survive our exit from the EU. The Commission set out the EU position in July, and we have a duty to our taxpayers, as he says, to interrogate that position rigorously, which is what we did line by line in the last round of negotiations.

Order. We had not moved on to a new question. We were on the same question, but two different Ministers appeared at the Dispatch Box. The hon. Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) should feel very gratified to have a dedicated Minister to attend to his particular inquiry. That is something he can tell his grandchildren in years to come.