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Leaving the EU: Diplomatic Co-operation

Volume 636: debated on Tuesday 20 February 2018

14. What assessment he has made of the strength of the UK’s future diplomatic co-operation with its current EU partners after leaving the EU. (903902)

22. What assessment he has made of the strength of the UK’s future diplomatic co-operation with its current EU partners after leaving the EU. (903910)

We are seeking a deep and special partnership with the EU post Brexit. Our existing relationship provides a strong foundation for vital continued co-operation on global challenges. We are working to strengthen, reinvigorate and reshape our bilateral relationships with our European partners, focusing on shared values and interests.

The Foreign Secretary’s 5,000-word speech on Brexit last week was described by one of his ministerial colleagues as follows:

“He is completely in denial about the complexity of the exit and the negative economic…consequences.”

Will the Foreign Secretary clear something up? Is he in denial or is he just wrong?

If I may, I will respectfully resist the alternatives that the hon. Gentleman lays before me. Last week, I was trying to make the point that we now have a massive opportunity to come together—people who voted remain and people who voted leave—to get a positive arrangement and a positive Brexit that will be of massive benefit to people both in this country and in the whole of the European continent. If we are ambitious and positive, I have absolutely no doubt that we can pull it off.

The Foreign Secretary claimed last week that it would be “intolerable” for the UK not to set its own regulations after Brexit. The next day, a Harvard survey of UK importers and exporters found that the last thing that they want is the dual regulatory burden of having to comply with both UK and EU rules. Will the Foreign Secretary tell us who is right?

I think that the Harvard survey is right: nobody wants two sets of regulations to be imposed on the UK economy. That is why the Prime Minister was completely right—wasn’t she?—at Lancaster House and, indeed, in Florence and in sundry other places when she said that Brexit means taking back control of our money, our borders and, above all, our laws. That is what we are going to do.

Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity to praise the work of Her Majesty’s diplomatic service? Is he content that our embassies in the 27 remaining EU countries are sufficiently resourced to represent the United Kingdom effectively after Brexit?

I am so glad that my hon. Friend asked that question because we are not only upgrading seven ambassadorial posts in the 27 other EU countries, but increasing our staffing across the network in the EU by 50.

Yes we are. Again, I am getting some negativity from a sedentary position on the Opposition Benches. In addition to beefing up our relations with our EU friends and partners, we will open 15 embassies in Africa.

It has been pointed out that the Foreign Secretary’s Brexit speech last week was 5,000 words long, but it did not once include the words “Northern” or “Ireland”. That is perhaps the biggest problem that the Government need to tackle, yet the Foreign Secretary did not even mention it. Will he belatedly take the opportunity to explain in simple terms how it is possible for the UK to diverge from the EU in regulations, tariffs and other aspects of trade while retaining the current arrangements on the Irish land border? Will he enlighten us? What is the plan?

As the right hon. Lady knows very well, there is no reason whatsoever why we should not be able to exit the customs union and the single market while maintaining frictionless trade not only north-south in Northern Ireland, but with the rest of continental Europe. That is exactly what the Government will spell out in the course of the coming negotiations.