With permission, Mr Speaker, I will update the House on the progress in the negotiations to leave the EU and on the Government’s planning for no deal. Since I last updated the House, our negotiations with the EU have continued and intensified, and we were engaging constructively with our EU counterparts over the recess break. Let me take the main areas of the negotiations in turn.
On the withdrawal agreement, while there remain some differences, we are closing in on workable solutions to all the key outstanding issues, building on the progress made during the summer on issues such as data and information, the treatment of ongoing police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters, and ongoing Union judicial and administrative procedures after the date of exit. We have also been discussing our proposals on the linkage needed between the withdrawal agreement and the future relationship, and the EU is engaging constructively.
On the Northern Ireland protocol, we remain committed to the undertakings we made in the joint report back in December to agree a backstop in case there is a delay between the end of the implementation period and the entry into force of the treaty on our future relationship. That was agreed to avoid any risk of a return to a hard border in the intervening period, but we will not accept anything that threatens the constitutional or economic integrity of the United Kingdom. Creating any form of customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, which is what the EU had proposed, would put that at risk and that is unacceptable. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, it is not something that she, nor any British Prime Minister, could agree to. We are engaging with the EU on our alternative proposals that preserve the integrity of the UK. They will be in line with the commitments we made back in December, including the commitment that no new regulatory barriers should be created between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK unless the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly agree.
On the future relationship, we continue to make progress on, for example, both the internal and external security arrangements for future co-operation, although there is still some way to go. As the House will know, the Prime Minister presented our proposals on the economic partnership to EU leaders at the informal Salzburg summit. We understand that the EU has raised some concerns, particularly around the distinction between goods and services under the common rulebook and with respect to the facilitated customs arrangement. We continue to engage constructively with the EU, and we continue to press our case. The UK’s White Paper proposals are the best way of ensuring that there is continued frictionless trade in goods after Britain leaves the EU while fulfilling the joint commitment to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and respecting the referendum.
The negotiations were always bound to be tough in the final stretch. That is all the more reason why we should hold our nerve and stay resolute and focused, and I remain confident that we will reach a deal this autumn because that is still in the best interests of the United Kingdom and the European Union. It is the best way of protecting trade between Britain and the EU—trade which underpins jobs across the continent. It is the best way of ensuring that we continue to co-operate seamlessly on security matters and to tackle crime and terrorism to keep UK and EU citizens safe. It is also the best way to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland that would adversely affect communities living there or separating Northern Ireland from Great Britain, which we will not countenance. To achieve those aims, the UK has brought forward serious and credible proposals. We continue to engage with the EU to press our case and to better understand the nature of their concerns. Equally, it is time for the EU to match the ambition and pragmatism that we have shown.
While we intensify our negotiations to secure the deal we want and expect, we are also expediting preparations for no deal in case the EU does not match the ambition and pragmatism that we have shown. As the Prime Minister stated on 21 September after the Salzburg summit, the Government have made it clear that we will unilaterally protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK in the event of no deal. To the 3 million here, we say, “You are our friends, our neighbours, our colleagues. We want you to stay.” We will set out the details as soon as is practical, and we now urge the EU and all its member states to step up and give UK citizens on the continent the same reassurances. It is time, on both sides, to provide all our citizens with that comfort and confidence.
Since I last updated the House in September, we have published 52 more technical notices in two further batches. They inform people, businesses and other key stakeholders of the steps they need to take if we do not reach a deal with the EU. They cover a wide range of sectors, building on other work that has taken place across Government over the past two years to prepare the UK for Brexit irrespective of the outcome of negotiations. They acknowledge that there are risks to a no deal scenario, but they also demonstrate the steps we will take to avoid, mitigate and manage any potential short-term risks and disruption. Overall, we have now published 77 technical notices, which form part of the sensible, proportionate measures we are taking to prepare the country for every eventuality.
Our most recent batch of technical notices were published on 24 September; they are set out in a written ministerial statement today. There are 24, and they range from aviation—the advice for airlines on the impact of no deal and the actions for them to consider to maintain services on the day we leave the EU—through to car insurance and the arrangements to ensure that green cards will be available free of charge from insurance companies to enable UK drivers to continue to drive on the continent. The publication of the technical notices enables further engagement as part of our no deal planning. For example, our earlier technical notice on VAT set out the VAT changes that companies will need to prepare when importing or exporting goods from the EU, when supplying services to the EU, or when interacting with EU VAT IT systems. It was welcomed by the British Chamber of Commerce, and we are grateful to them and all of our stakeholders for their constructive ongoing engagement on that necessary planning.
More broadly, on 17 September I met with the British Chamber of Commerce, the CBI, the Institute of Directors, the EEF and the Federation of Small Businesses, as part of the Government’s business advisory group, to make sure that we are explaining our negotiating proposals and no deal planning, and listening to UK businesses of all sizes and across all sectors. We will keep providing people and businesses with the advice that they need as we negotiate our exit from the European Union.
We also keep working with the devolved Administrations on all aspects of our planning for exit. I attended the Joint Ministerial Committee on 13 September. It has now met 12 times, and our last meeting was a valuable opportunity to give the devolved Administrations a full update on the negotiations, as well as to discuss the necessary no deal planning. We continue to listen very carefully to all their views. Mr Speaker, that is the way, with a concerted effort on all fronts, that we have put ourselves in the best position to make the very best of Brexit, and I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. It is always good to see him in his place, but may I politely point out that it would have been much better if this statement had come from the Prime Minister? It is no good hiding behind the badging of the Salzburg summit as informal. It was the Prime Minister who pushed for Brexit to be on the agenda at Salzburg; it was the Prime Minister who was there to lead the negotiations, and it was the Prime Minister who failed to secure a breakthrough. So it should be the Prime Minister, not the Secretary of State, in Parliament this afternoon explaining what went wrong.
After all, while the Prime Minister was negotiating in Salzburg, the Secretary of State was busy writing gimmicky letters to me about Labour policy. The image of the Secretary of State writing gimmicky letters on the very day of the Salzburg negotiations speaks absolutely for itself. It would also have been better if today’s statement contained details of substantive progress. Instead, it is like groundhog day. We get the same old story. The Secretary of State pretends that everything is going according to plan; it is just a question of dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s; everything will be all right in the end; and if it isn’t, we just crash out with no deal, stockpile food and medicines and declare that to be a great success.
I know that the Brexit Secretary will be tempted in reply to me to do what he usually does—to read out his pre-prepared attack lines about me and the Labour party. Can I urge him to resist that temptation and respond to the very serious questions to which this House and the country deserve answers? First, this Secretary of State repeatedly assured Parliament, including from that Dispatch Box, that a deal would be reached by the October Council—his words. Well, that is next week. The statement contains no such statement today, so can he, first, update the House on when he now expects a deal to be put before Parliament?
Secondly, it is all very well the Secretary of State saying that we are
“closing in on workable solutions”
and listing the areas of agreement reached months ago, but we have been here before—many times—and that overlooks the fact that the remaining bit is the hard bit of agreeing the backstop in Northern Ireland. A solemn commitment to a legally binding backstop in Northern Ireland in all circumstances was made last December. Ten months later, all we are hearing is that the Government will publish updated proposals on the backstop at some unspecified date. There are nine days to go, so when will that be? There is no answer in today’s statement and we need an answer. Can the Secretary of State take the opportunity now to scotch rumours that the Government are not even intending to publish a backstop proposal by next week? [Interruption.] I am being repeatedly asked what I would do. I would happily swap sides at any stage, and a lot more progress would be made in the negotiations. [Interruption.]
Order. I have had reason to say to you before, Mr Spencer, that I am quite worried about you. I always regarded you as a rather laid back, gentlemanly farmer, but you seem to have mutated into something altogether more vociferous and aggressive. I cannot believe it is what you are eating. Calm yourself, man!
On the backstop, it is being reported that the Government are now willing to accept an indefinite UK-wide customs union as part of the Northern Ireland backstop offer—of course, it will not actually be using the words “customs union”. So can the Secretary of State set the record straight: is a customs union now the Government policy, at least for the Northern Ireland backstop—yes or no?
Thirdly, the Secretary of State repeatedly told Parliament that the final deal this House votes on would include a “clear blueprint” for the future relationship with the EU. In recent days, the Government have been emphasising just how precise this will be, yet it is nowhere to be seen. The Chequers proposals have been widely rejected by the EU and by MPs from across this House, and there is growing concern now that the Government are heading for no deal, as recent warnings from businesses, including Toyota and BMW, underline. If it is not no deal, will it be a vague deal asking us to jump blindfolded into the unknown? Labour will not support that. So will he take this opportunity to rule out a vague or blind Brexit?
For all the warm words, the reality is this: the Government have had 18 months yet they have not even concluded the terms of the withdrawal agreement and they have barely started negotiating the details of the future relationship with the EU. A responsible Government would realise the fix they are in. Instead, this Government simply repeat the mantra, “It’s Chequers or no deal.” It is not so much “nothing has changed” as “nothing can change”. This is not a necessity; this is a political choice, and it is deeply irresponsible. No Government have the right to plunge the country into chaos as a result of their own failure. Time is running out, but there is still time to change course, and I urge the Secretary of State to do so.
I thank the shadow Brexit Secretary—for his opening remarks at least. He asked a number of questions. First, let me say that the Prime Minister would not normally update the House on an informal summit; that was not the practice under the previous Labour Governments, as he probably well knows. He asked me about the October Council. We have always been clear that we would aim for the October Council but there would be leeway that it might slip into November—we are still clear on that. The October Council next week will be an important milestone. We expect that to be a moment where we will make some progress. Of course, as I have said already in my remarks, we need the EU to match the ambition and the pragmatism that we have shown.
The shadow Secretary of State asked whether we were signing up to an indefinite customs union for Northern Ireland; no, that is categorically not correct.
So what are you doing?
Had the hon. Gentleman been paying attention, he would have heard me set that out clearly in my statement.
The shadow Secretary of State talked about investment into this country, so I was surprised that he did not welcome Rolls-Royce’s recent decision to increase its investment in the UK or Unilever’s decision to maintain its duel UK-Dutch structure.
The shadow Secretary of State referred to my letter asking him some of the most basic questions on Labour’s policy on the substance. He has almost become the prince of process: he argues about protocol and procedure but cannot answer a single question on the substance. In reality, we got some answers at the Labour party conference. We had the shadow Secretary of State saying that Labour would whip a vote against any deal outside the customs union that the United Kingdom strikes with the 27 EU member states. Let us be clear: if all 28 Governments agree on a deal that works for the UK and for the EU, the Labour Front-Bench team, at least, would vote against it—they would try to veto it.
Worse still, the leader of the Labour party, the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn)—I am glad that he is present to answer for this—has opened the door to a second referendum. That is a thinly veiled ruse to reverse Brexit altogether. It is now clear to every voter that the Labour leadership team have trashed their promise at the general election to deliver on Brexit; they have allowed political opportunism to consume what is in the national interests; and they have demonstrated, yet again, that they are just not fit to govern.
Our opening offer from the Chequers meeting is that we will join part of the single market, so long as we do not comply with all its rules as they are at the moment, and that we will join the customs union, so long as we are allowed to have an exception that allows us to put holes through the tariff wall with our own third-party agreements with other countries. The other EU leaders have been signalling for months that that is unacceptable, and so far it has not got us very far.
As our chief negotiator, will the Secretary of State assure me that he now expects that, as with all international organisations, the EU will indeed move a little nearer to our position, just as we move a little nearer to its position as a matter of compromise? Will he reject as quite ridiculous the arguments from some quarters that we can resolve this serious international dispute by tearing up Chequers and moving even further away from the EU’s minimum requirements for anybody to have an open trading relationship with the continent?
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his comments. Our proposals deliberately deliver on not only the referendum result but the manifesto commitment that all Conservatives stood on at the general election, which was to exit the customs union but secure the best possible trading relationship and preserve the integrity of the whole United Kingdom. As my right hon. and learned Friend said, we have clearly set out the ambition and pragmatism of our proposals and it is now quite right to expect the EU to move in our direction. If the EU does match that ambition and pragmatism, I am confident that we can still reach a deal.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for the advance sight of his statement—both the advance copy of today’s statement, which I received a few hours ago, and the statement that he made on 4 September, which was basically an advance copy of today’s statement, because very little seems to have changed since then.
It was nice to spend some time listening to Ministers from a united, competent Government who very much have the citizens of their nations at heart and to listen to political disagreements being heard and debated in a respectful and consensual manner—but then I had to leave the Scottish National party conference early to come down here, and everything has changed.
We still do not know what the Government intend to propose to the European Union in respect of Northern Ireland. We know the litany of what they are not going to do—it has to be thrown over every time to keep the Democratic Unionist party on side—but we do not know what is being proposed on Northern Ireland. We are running out of time and need answers very quickly indeed.
There was a brief update on the EU’s response to the trade package in the Chequers proposal. The EU did not raise concerns about it, it said that it will not be acceptable to its member states. It is not going to happen. Chequers has been bounced. The Government should take it off the table and try again.
May I gently correct the Secretary of State and say that the single, simplest and easiest way to achieve everything that the Government say that they want to achieve through Brexit is to stay in the customs union? We welcome the progress and the commitments that have been made on citizens’ rights, but the rights of those citizens would never have been under threat had it not been for the unilateral decision to come out of the single market. If they are that worried about the rights of future generations of citizens, they should stay in the single market. Why cannot we do that? It is because of an unnecessary, dogmatic, unilateral decision that was taken by the Prime Minister almost before the negotiations had even started. From day one, the approach has been dictated by hardliners who, if they are lucky, constitute one in five of the parliamentary Conservative party; they could not manage one in 10 of the membership of the present House of Commons. Those Members would happily go for a hard no deal Brexit, although they say that that is not what they want—I am talking about those who are serried, appropriately enough, to the far right of the Secretary of State right now. An entire dogmatic approach is still being driven by a tiny minority of this House. We could almost say that the tail is being allowed to wag the dogma.
What assessment have the Government made of the cost to every business in the UK of complying with the avalanche of technical advice that they are now being expected to follow? Has any assessment been made of that, and, if it has, will we be allowed to see it this time? Will the Secretary of State confirm that, whatever some who prop up this Government may tell him, peace in Northern Ireland is not expendable, it is sacrosanct and it is not negotiable under any circumstances whatsoever?
Will the Government reject once and for all the demands of the hard-line minority? Will they accept that it is now time to listen pragmatically and constructively to the compromises that were offered almost two years by the Scottish Government and to the compromises being offered by others in this House right now? Will he agree to talk to those who might have an answer before we all crash off the cliff edge together?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his call for sensible and respectful debate and agree with him that every effort needs to be made to preserve our precious Union. One thing that is very clear in this House, notwithstanding all the differences that we have, is that we will not allow any proposals from the EU to draw a customs line down the Irish sea.
The hon. Gentleman asked about Northern Ireland and our proposals. Our White Paper proposals on the economic partnership will provide the long-term sustainable answer to this question. As well as preserving frictionless trade with our EU partners, they will, in the process, resolve the concerns around the Northern Irish border. At the same time, we remain committed to the joint report in December, which would be for a limited, finite and temporary backstop.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about economic analysis. That will be made available in time for the meaningful vote. Finally, he asked about staying in the single market and the customs union. The reality is, as he well knows, that if we stay members of the single market and the customs union, we would not be leaving the EU.
I am astonished that my right hon. Friend has written to his opposite number attacking Labour policy. Nobody here knows what Labour policy really is, so perhaps he can share those letters with us to help us understand it better.
Did my right hon. Friend read the recent paper by two former Northern Ireland Secretaries of State, Lord Trimble and my right hon. Friend’s predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), explaining how practical solutions are available right now to resolve any issues around having a hard border in Northern Ireland? If he read it, does he agree that that paper demonstrates that there is now no need for a backstop proposal?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his questions. The search for a Labour party policy on the EU and on Brexit continues, but on the reports that he mentioned—there have been various reports on the technical solution to Northern Ireland—they have provided very important, useful additional insights. The reality is that we have committed, on top of the technical solutions, to agree a legally binding backstop with the EU, but it will have to be temporary and it will have to meet the conditions that we have set out and that the Prime Minister repeated in her statement after the Salzburg summit.
The more no deal technical notices that the Secretary of State published over the summer, the more he confirmed as correct the judgment of the Select Committee that a no deal Brexit would be chaotic and damaging. My question, however, relates to the outstanding issue in the negotiations, namely agreeing a legally operable and sound backstop to keep an open border in Northern Ireland. Given that the backstop, if it is used, will have to last until such time as another agreement is reached that achieves the same outcome, can he please explain to the House how on earth a backstop could be limited by an artificial time limit?
The point is that we hope the backstop will never be used. If it is required, it should be for a temporary, limited period. The right hon. Gentleman asked how that can be guaranteed. In fact, there are limits to the extent to which the EU can rely on article 50 for the backstop—there are very real legal concerns on the EU side—but of course we expect that there is no deal until we have the whole deal. That includes not just the withdrawal agreement and the protocol on Northern Ireland, but clear steps and a clear pathway to the future relationship, which will provide the lasting, sustainable answer on the Northern Ireland issue by ensuring that we have frictionless trade.
Given the vote to leave and the promised future control over our laws in this Parliament, why are UK voters and businesses being confronted indefinitely with binding EU rules on goods that are made behind closed doors by 27 other member states, with no effective parliamentary lock? Or will the Secretary of State explain now how the parliamentary lock that is being put about would actually work in practice, rather than in theory?
I do not accept that characterisation of the White Paper proposals. There would be not just technical consultation, but consultation on any legislative proposal in advance. My hon. Friend is right to say that we would be taking an up-front decision to sign up to the common rulebook on industrial goods and agrifood in order to maintain frictionless trade. There would be a parliamentary lock, but we would have to be mindful—as the White Paper sets out—of the consequences of exercising that lock.
The Secretary of State rightly ruled out a hard border in Northern Ireland and a customs border in the Irish sea, but is it not now time to be honest with people about what that means? He appeared to be ruling out a customs union in the backstop. Is he also ruling out a common external tariff in the Irish backstop—yes or no?
We have been very clear that the arrangement needs to be time-limited. We would not accept an arrangement that drew a customs border down the Irish sea. It needs to be limited so that we can bridge to the future relationship, which would give us all the advantages of free trade that we want to take advantage of, including export opportunities from Latin America to Asia, and the reduction of the cost of living here at home.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that if we just leave without signing a penal and one-sided withdrawal agreement, we will have £39 billion to spend on our priorities, which would be a huge boost to our economy and public services—a true Brexit bonus? How can an agreement be better than that?
My right hon. Friend is certainly right to point to the countervailing opportunities that a no deal scenario would have, but it is only responsible to be very clear—as we have in our 77 technical notices and our wider planning—that the no deal outcome is sub-optimal because there are risks and short-term disruptions, including a buffeting to the UK economy and all those other things. I am confident that we could get through that, but it is by far and away a superior outcome to get a good deal with the EU that is good for the UK and for the EU, that preserves our trade and security co-operation, and that at the same time liberates us to trade more energetically with the growth markets of the world.
If the Tories want to know what Labour policy is, they should read the excellent motion that was passed recently at our party conference. Does the Secretary of State agree that any withdrawal agreement must include precise guarantees that Britain and the EU will enjoy frictionless trade in the event of Brexit, as the No. 10 Downing Street spokesman said yesterday?
The right hon. Gentleman will know that our proposals are set out very clearly in the White Paper. That is what we are pursuing. He is right to say that the negotiations have been tough, but you do not throw your hands up in despair; you knuckle down and hold your nerve. We will keep pursuing and pressing our case. What I cannot do is accept the case that the right hon. Gentleman makes for reversing the referendum. That would be a democratic outrage and it is not something that we will countenance.
I welcome the deliberative approach to Brexit that protects businesses and endeavours to make sure that frictionless travel will continue across the board, but may I ask the Secretary of State what his plans are in the event of a no deal for security matters? I remain very concerned about the somewhat gung-ho approach to a no deal, given that security matters are not yet in place to ensure that our country remains safe from terrorists and from organised crime and that the EU has the same benefits from our efforts?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her remarks. I am confident that in the medium to long term we will resume all the kinds of co-operation that one would expect, but it is right that in a no deal scenario we could not rely on the EU continuing that in the short term. One thing that could be said is that in that scenario there would be countervailing opportunities, for example—she talked about security—preventive checks at the border and the ability to deport when we are beyond the free movement rules that we are bound by under the EU.
May I return to something that the Secretary of State said in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), because he did not quite respond, and I think that it is an important point? Yesterday, we heard from a No. 10 spokesman that there must be “precise” guarantees that Britain and the EU will enjoy frictionless trade after Brexit. Will the Secretary of State confirm that those guarantees will be a condition in the withdrawal agreement?
I am not sure that I am going to allow or let the Opposition set conditions on the UK’s policy—[Interruption]—no, when it has been clearly set out in our White Paper. We want to pursue the frictionless trade with the EU that we have right now, and that is what our proposal will deliver, but it requires the EU to meet us halfway to match the ambition and pragmatism that we have shown.
If the backstop comes into operation, the UK will effectively be within the rules of the single market and the customs union and ultimately the European Court of Justice. Three times, the Secretary of State has said that that arrangement will be temporary, but it will be open-ended. What will be the exact legal process by which we will end this, and what will be the incentives for the EU to end this arrangement, as it is happily taking large sums of public money from the British taxpayer?
We have made it clear that it would be temporary and finite. The reassurance that I can give my right hon. Friend in advance of the publication of our proposals is that it is very difficult for the EU. From its perspective, there is a difference in the way in which customs union is described, because, for it, it would normally include free movement and the rules on that, which in the case of the backstop would not apply. There will be a lot of pressure on the EU, both legally and as a matter of policy, to end the backstop, and we will not agree to anything that does not include a clear process and steps to exit. [Interruption.] No, I am afraid that the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) does not.
The idea that the sort of proposals that are floating about from the EU side and, indeed, some officials from our side in Brussels are necessary to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland is complete rubbish. There is already infrastructure on the border, and there are financial, fiscal and other differences because it is an international border. Of course it can be managed.
May I draw the Secretary of State’s attention to what the Prime Minister said in her commitments to Northern Ireland on 6 December? She said that there would be no new borders within the United Kingdom and that the whole UK, including Northern Ireland, would leave the customs union and the single market. On 17 December, she agreed that nothing would be done to create any border, constitutional, political, economic or regulatory, between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. Does the Secretary of State stand by that, because he needs to understand that, as a democratic Unionist party, we will not tolerate anything that separates Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom on customs or the single market as we leave the European Union? We have been clear about that from day one. It is why we had the debacle in December—let us not repeat that mistake.
I listened carefully to the right hon. Gentleman. He registered his position very clearly. We intend, as he knows, because we have been engaging on this issue, to honour all the commitments that we made in December, and we will not do anything that would be a threat to the economic or constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom.
I am sorry to see the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin) looking mildly anguished.
No? Well, I am heartened to hear it. We must hear from the voice of Harwich and North Essex, Sir Bernard Jenkin.
I commend my right hon. Friend and the Government for being absolutely determined to avoid any new infrastructure at the Northern Ireland border. Can he explain what the Government’s policy will be if we leave the European Union with no deal, and therefore there is no backstop and we have a customs frontier? Will the Government implement the technical measures to maintain an invisible customs frontier? Will he rule out any new infrastructure at the border between the north and the south?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. We have been clear that we will see no return to a hard border under any circumstances. That has been made clear to not just all parties in Northern Ireland but the Commission in Brussels.
Let me try again, because the Brexit Secretary is trying to shimmy his way out of this. Yesterday, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said:
“There can be no withdrawal agreement without a precise future framework” on trade. Is that true—yes or no?
Any decision to exit a backstop agreement must be one for Her Majesty’s Government, must it not?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that we could not allow any third party—in this case, the EU—to have a lock on the process and that it could not last indefinitely.
I commend the Secretary of State for his frank answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall), because it sounded as though he was finally ruling out the notion of a blindfolded Brexit and the idea that there would not be precise guarantees of frictionless trade in the withdrawal treaty on the future relationship. When he brings the motion before the House, if that is exactly what is presented, will he make sure that we have full details about the trade relationship for the future?
First, there is no question of some kind of blindfolded Brexit. We will be agreeing the withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol, and we want to make sure that we have enough detail and enough of the substance in the political declaration on the future relationship, so that this House and the country at large understand the model of economic and security co-operation that we will be pursuing.
My right hon. Friend has rightly paid much attention to the Northern Ireland border, but may I draw his attention to other important borders—notably, the cross-channel border and all the trade that comes through Dover and the roads of Kent every day? Can he assure me that the deal he is looking for will ensure frictionless trade through the port of Dover, so that we avoid any kind of local chaos on the roads in Kent and wider economic chaos in the supply chains of the manufacturing industry throughout this country? That is a very important part of the negotiations.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. He is absolutely right that, as well as on the issue of Northern Ireland, our proposal is designed to guarantee frictionless trade—in particular, for manufacturing businesses that rely on those supply chains. That is a critical element of the White Paper proposals, which is why we are pressing it so hard.
The Secretary of State has said that the backstop has to be time-limited. Can he share with the House which particular date he has in mind and how he came to settle on that date?
We are not in a position yet to give a date. We will publish that when we publish the proposals in the round. What cannot be allowed to happen is for either Northern Ireland or the UK as a whole to linger in an indefinite limbo of the customs union.
The intransigence shown by the EU at Salzburg and some of the other antics there will have reminded every leave voter in the country and a great many others that leaving the EU is the right thing to do. How confident is my right hon. Friend that we will see an outbreak of the spirit of pragmatism that he spoke of earlier, to land a deal later this autumn?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his question. He is right in his summary of the Salzburg summit, but the thing to do in such a negotiation is to keep your cool, hold your nerve and keep doing the professional, statesman-like thing, which is exactly what our Prime Minister has done. In terms of our confidence in reaching a deal, we cannot control the other side, but I think that the prognosis is good, because it is in the EU’s interests just as much as the UK’s interests to get a strong deal on everything from trade to security co-operation, to secure livelihoods and jobs on both sides and, in particular, to keep UK and EU citizens safe.
At the heart of the Brexit promise was that we could gain full control and free ourselves from EU institutions and regulations, while maintaining the same economic prosperity we have enjoyed during 40 years of membership. Is it not time to come clean that both simultaneously are not possible? There is a choice: we can choose Brexit, or we can choose prosperity.
No, I do not accept that sort of binary choice. The one thing we must all do in this House, as democrats, is respect the result of the referendum. We are seeking to achieve the win-win of retaining our strong trading and security links and co-operation with our EU partners and being free to not just take back control of our own laws but trade more liberally with the growth markets of the future, from Latin America to Asia.
Time and again, customs experts from a range of countries in the EU, including Holland and Ireland, tell us that a free trade agreement can be made to work across the Irish border using pragmatic arrangements. When will the Government take the key that has been handed to them in the prison of this negotiation and admit that we can leave on an FTA basis, which would make this a proper, independent country, able to control its domestic regulations as well as its tariffs, so that we can lead the world into a new era of free trade?
I respect my hon. Friend and, as ever, I pay tribute to the work he has done, but he will know, because he was in government—indeed, in DExEU—at the time, that while it may be theoretically possible for us to do that, we cannot do it and have a deal with the EU. The EU is not offering us a Canada or super-Canada FTA without our keeping to the commitment we made when he was in government in December to come up with a legally binding backstop. That is a shortcut to no deal. We have always said that we will be ready if that outcome is forced on us, but the optimum aim and objective that we are working towards is a good deal with the EU. We could not get that if we pursued what he suggests.
Is the Secretary of State aware that I consider myself sent here to secure the health, welfare and future prosperity of my constituents and the people of our country? Is he aware that nothing he has said today has convinced me that we are not heading for a steep decline and a miserable future for our country and my constituents?
All I will say to the hon. Gentleman is that we are ambitious for our post-Brexit relationship with the EU. The economic news from the Bank of England on GDP accelerating in growth terms and rising real wages is important. This is the moment to go into these negotiations with some economic self-confidence and political ambition. If we do that, this country’s best days lie ahead.
The Japanese Prime Minister recently declared that Japan would welcome the United Kingdom into the Trans-Pacific Partnership “with open arms”. Does my right hon. Friend agree that membership of the TPP is highly attractive and should be pursued? Does he also agree that membership of it is virtually impossible for so long as we remain part of the customs union?
My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. We want to pursue trade deals, whether with the US or Asia-Pacific countries, precisely because it is better than purely leaving on no deal and WTO terms. I certainly accept the premise and the assumption underlying his question, which is that we should not allow ourselves to remain in the customs union, because we would then avoid all the opportunities of Brexit that we need to grasp.
My constituents are worried about the political declaration to come from the Secretary of State, because so far all they have heard is warm words and political rhetoric, which does not guarantee their jobs. I want to ask him a simple question. Can he define “frictionless”?
I have listened to the hon. Lady in these debates, and she always makes sensible and constructive arguments, but we have not just given warm words. We have set out in our White Paper, which is 100 pages long, detailed proposals on the frictionless trade that she refers to and on security co-operation. If she wants to give her constituents some reassurance, she can point to that.
The Secretary of State will have heard the clear intention of many colleagues on our Benches to vote down the Prime Minister’s pragmatic deal. Meanwhile, the clock ticks down to 29 March and there is a serious risk that we could crash out with no deal and no transition. The consequences of that would be disastrous and very different from the dodgy prospectus that was set out in the referendum. Particularly if that is the case, will the Secretary of State commit to giving the British people the opportunity to give their informed consent to that final deal? It is not about obstructing the referendum; it is checking that we have informed consent, and no decent surgeon would proceed without it.
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend about the need to pursue a good deal with the EU, and all our efforts are focused on achieving that. I do not accept the premise of her suggestion of a second referendum. I think it would inevitably be aimed at trying to reverse Brexit, and that would create democratic outrage and a huge amount of mistrust in the establishment and the political system.
The Secretary of State mentioned the Joint Ministerial Committee in his statement. An issue of huge importance to Wales is post-Brexit cohesion funding. Following Salzburg, the Prime Minister seemed to indicate that the proposed shared prosperity fund would be the sole responsibility of the British Government. As he knows, economic development is a devolved issue, but the indication seems to be that it would be clawed back by Westminster. Is it not now clear that, for Wales, Brexit means the complete opposite of taking back control?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. It is important to ensure that Brexit works for all parts of the United Kingdom. We continue to engage with all the devolved Administrations on all the devolved issues, including in Scotland, as I set out in my statement, in relation to Scottish and Welsh Ministers and officials from the Northern Ireland secretariat. We want to make sure that we continue to engage in the process that he has described and ensure this great opportunity for the people of Scotland.
I thank the excellent Secretary of State for coming to the House to make this statement. Obviously he would like to get a Chequers deal, but as the European Union has already rejected that—in some ways insulting the Prime Minister in the process, I have to say—and as he thinks that coming out without a deal is sub-optimal, should we not learn from a former great Labour Prime Minister about a third way? Labour Members didn’t cheer that point; I do not know why. If Chequers fails, is not Chequers-plus-plus-plus the way forward?
My hon. Friend knows that we have made it clear that we will listen to the other side, but we need to understand their objections. We are not going to just take the face-value, “Computer says no” approach, when we have put in a huge amount of effort and looked at our proposals in a very innovative way. We will therefore continue to press our case to make sure that we get a good deal, but I hope that my hon. Friend agrees with me that, whatever the view on no deal, it would be a far better outcome for this country if we can secure a good deal, and that is what we are aiming for.
The Prime Minister has said that a Canada-style free trade agreement is nowhere near good enough for the United Kingdom. Does the Secretary of State agree?
I think we should be aiming for the best possible outcome. Our White Paper proposals give us that, and one of the crucial things we need to disabuse people of is the illusion that the EU is offering us CETA-plus or anything else without the legally binding backstop. That is what we are focused on achieving.
Many jobs rely on getting a free trade deal and frictionless trade, but such a trade deal also relies on fair competition between both parties. May I urge the Secretary of State to continue to reassure those in Europe that this country will not lead a race to the bottom in environmental standards, consumer standards or welfare standards, and that this Government are committed to fair competition?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; we want to make sure that we have a pro-competition regime at home. As she will know, in our White Paper we have set out reassurances on a level playing field, and they come as a package with the Chequers deal, so we have also been clear with the EU that there cannot be any cherry picking from the proposals that we have put forward.
The Secretary of State said in his conference speech that he would rather leave with no deal than negotiate any form of deal that involved a customs union. Did he run that past the management at Jaguar Land Rover? How does he think the poor workers at JLR, now enjoying a three-day week and a two-week total shutdown, will respond to such a stubborn, intransigent attitude?
JLR wants the deal that we are pursuing through our White Paper proposals. What it certainly does not want is all the extra additional uncertainty of a second referendum, which the leader of the Labour party has now exposed it to.
Representing the port of Dover, I have given the situation a lot of thought. The reality is that a Canada-style deal could work and could be made to work in a frictionless way if we build on already existing juxtaposed controls, which enable frictionless movement with passport checking. We could do that for goods as well, to ensure that we have a Canada-style agreement and frictionless trade as well. Will the Secretary of State take that forward?
I always listen very carefully to my hon. Friend. He makes his case in a powerful way. I would still suggest to him that if we are looking for the right balance between making sure that we protect our precious Union, preserving our frictionless trade with the EU and also liberating the country to trade more energetically with the growth markets of the future, then the proposals that we have set out are the only credible plans that deliver on all those objectives. That is why we are pursuing them.
In contrast to some of the suggestions coming from parts of the Government Benches about a minimalist free trade-style agreement, the director general of the CBI told the BBC recently that a minimalist agreement would introduce friction at borders, would not solve the Irish border question and would damage our supply chains. Will the Secretary of State say whether he agrees with the director general of the CBI and therefore rule that out as an option?
We cannot rule out leaving with no deal, because we do not have full control of the EU, but I addressed the CBI president’s committee recently, and the hon. Gentleman will know that the CBI is fully supportive and wants to see the Government’s approach as laid out in the White Paper proposals delivered. He should get behind that.
I commend the Secretary of State for his approach to the negotiations, notwithstanding their difficulties. He talked about pragmatism. Businesses in my constituency and across the west midlands are very pragmatic, and the outcome that they want from these negotiations is our being able to do free trade deals around the world, to stimulate exports and improve our prosperity. Can he reassure me that that is still the centrepiece of what we are trying to achieve in these negotiations?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and he is also right to talk about the future opportunities for businesses. It is also right to say that an energetic, global free trade policy is good for consumers at home as well, because reducing prices eases the cost of living for low and middle-income families.
In his statement, the Secretary of State said that the Government are expediting their no deal preparations. He also referenced the technical note on aviation, which advises airlines that they will need to secure permissions from the national authorities of each state they want to fly to, as well as authorisation from the European Aviation Safety Agency. Can he explain how telling airlines that they need to sort it out themselves is making preparations for a no deal?
The technical notices set out our proposals and all the actions that airlines and the aviation industry should take. We cannot control what the EU would do in a no deal scenario, but as it set out earlier this year, this is one area where it would envisage at least some sort of bare-bones agreement. I think that is important for giving people and the industry the reassurance they need.
There has been much talk of the Irish border in relation to Brexit discussions—indeed, it has become a political football. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is to ignore the political reality, which he has restated today in part, that the UK will never enforce a hard border on the island of Ireland, that the Republic of Ireland will never enforce a hard border on the island of Ireland and that neither the UK nor the Republic of Ireland are going to allow the EU to enforce a hard border on the island of Ireland?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right in his depiction of the UK position, and I think it is also an accurate reflection of the Republic of Ireland’s position. I cannot say what the EU would do in that scenario, but it is important that we continue to strive to forge a good deal on the terms that we have set out, which avoids the need for any of that to be even in question.
With respect, can the Secretary of State hear himself? We are just weeks away from needing any deal, but he is no closer to an agreement; there is urgent no-deal planning, civil contingency planning and secret COBRA meetings; security in Northern Ireland is at risk; and businesses and industry are expressing grave concerns. Surely the only real democratic thing to do now is put this back to the people and let them decide.
I think that reversing the referendum would be a big mistake that would create huge distrust in our democratic system. What we have to do in such negotiations, which will be tough in the final stretch, is hold our nerve, keep our calm and recognise that the EU will always try to drag them out. The hon. Lady has ignored a lot of the progress that I set out in my opening statement. What we should not do at this stage is start blinking and panicking. We will hold our course and deliver a good deal for this country.
My part of Somerset has one of the highest degrees of exports to the rest of the world, as opposed to the EU, but for every minute that the rest of the world thinks we might remain in some sort of customs union or common external tariff alignment, the less interest they have in negotiating with us on future trade. When will the Government publish their version of the backstop?
My hon. Friend is right that we need to be clear in our approach. One of the advantages when we secure a deal, as I am confident we will do this autumn, and publish our political declaration is that we will be very clear about the course we are charting, particularly on retaining control over our tariffs, which will put us in a good position to deliver the free trade deals that will benefit his constituents.
Does the Secretary of State have an example of any other process so monumental for our constitution, for our way of life, and for our businesses, jobs, trade and environment, that has taken place over such a minute space of time? Will he not consider whether this is insufficient time for our businesses, universities, healthcare services and so on to prepare for what might turn out to be a no-deal Brexit?
The hon. Lady is right to point out that there are risks. We set out our plans, through our technical notices and through legislation, to mitigate, manage or avoid those risks. The referendum was held in 2016, so this has not been done in a hurry. The reassurance I can give her is that we will pursue as best we can the best deal with our EU friends and partners. The wrong thing to do now would be to open the door to a second referendum, with all the uncertainty that would bring. That is why the decision of Labour’s Front Benchers is so flawed.
Will my right hon. Friend please remind those who are calling for a people’s referendum, particularly in the Labour party, that we have actually already had one, and that it was one of the greatest democratic exercises that this country has ever undertaken?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Furthermore, when we passed the legislation, all parties on all sides agreed and stated that they would respect the outcome. Nothing fuels mistrust in the political system more than when politicians reverse on commitments they have already made. That is likely only to fuel the kind of mistrust in the political system that we need to avoid.
The Prime Minister’s entrance just before her speech at the Conservative party conference was one of the worst examples of restricted freedom of movement that we have seen since the referendum. Is the fact that she has restricted her movement today by not coming to the House to make this statement a sign that Chequers is dead? Can the Secretary of State stand at the Dispatch Box and tell us that whatever we will be voting on will be based on Chequers?
I will pass on to the Prime Minister the hon. Gentleman’s advice to take dancing lessons from him, but I am not sure that she will take him up on that immediately. What I can tell him is that we will continue to chart a course based on our White Paper proposals, for all the reasons I have set out, because it is good for trade, good for jobs and good for maintaining the security co-operation that we want to continue with our EU partners and friends.
I welcome the more positive language coming out of Brussels over the weekend, but does my right hon. Friend agree that, although warm words are all very well, it is time the EU matched that language with actual movement if we are to reach a mutually beneficial deal this autumn?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The time for warm words is over; now is the time for deeds, actions and political decisions. I am confident that we can get there, as I have said, if the EU matches the innovative approach that we have taken. The EU is often at its best when it is innovative, rather than dogmatic and relying on dry legalism. If it can produce the political will to meet us halfway, I am confident that we can get a good deal, in the way he described.
When the Select Committee met Michel Barnier on 3 September, he set out four reasons why the EU could not accept the proposal on the facilitated customs arrangement and the common rulebook for goods. The Select Committee then published its evidence. Why, therefore, did the Prime Minister apparently not know when she went to Salzburg on 19 September that those key elements in her Chequers proposals had already been rejected by EU member states? It has been said that she was insulted, but she should have known that that was their position.
The right hon. Gentleman is right that the EU has at various points set out objections, some of which I do not believe stand up to scrutiny. For example, there is the distinction between goods and services that the EU takes in relation to Ukraine, so that is at least a precedent showing that it can do it if it wants to.
The reality is that if we are in a negotiation, having taken our time to work out plans and think them through, bearing in mind the equities and key interests on the EU side, we will not just throw our hands up in despair when one or other element of the EU says no. We will continue to press them, understanding the EU’s concerns better, as we have set out in our proposals, and make sure that we can deliver a good deal that works for the EU as well as for the UK.
In Redditch, we were fortunate enough to have a visit from the Leader of the Opposition recently. I was unable to attend, as I was busy seeing constituents in my surgery. If he had spoken to my constituents, as I do, he would have found that the vast majority do not support a second referendum, because they believe that it would undermine our democracy. Can the Secretary of State confirm for my constituents that he does not support a second referendum either?
I can happily confirm that neither I nor the Government support a second referendum. Of course, it would be a betrayal not just of my hon. Friend’s voters, but of all those who voted for Labour at the last election and who thought that the Labour party was serious about respecting the verdict in the referendum.
Manufacturing accounts for 12% of jobs in the east midlands, and thousands of them are dependent on just-in-time supply chains. Can the Secretary of State explain to workers at Toyota, Rolls-Royce and Bombardier, and to the thousands more working for their suppliers, how the “countervailing opportunities” of no deal could possibly compensate for the threat to their jobs? If he cannot, why is he prepared to contemplate leaving with no deal but not to contemplate remaining in the customs union?
Remaining in the customs union would not be giving effect to the referendum. The hon. Lady mentioned Rolls-Royce, which has just announced extra investment in its Goodwood plant in Sussex. Many businesses are saying that, regardless of Brexit, this country is an excellent place to come to and invest in, because of the skills and entrepreneurial creativity of our workforce and our people. I hope that she can have a little more confidence in the ability not only of her constituents but of the people of this country to make the best of the opportunities of Brexit.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, particularly his clarity and reassurance towards EU citizens living and working in this country. Contrast that clarity with the response from Labour’s Front Benchers, who have refused to set out what their party’s position is and who are still facing both ways on the issue of a second referendum.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Labour party has no clear or coherent position on any aspect of the substance. The Labour leader’s calling for a reversal of Brexit through a referendum is a betrayal of everyone who voted Labour at the last election.
Jaguar is on a three-day week and Land Rover’s Solihull plant is ceasing production for two weeks. The company, the workers and their union, Unite, are working together, but it is becoming ever more difficult. Will the Secretary of State rule out any deal that does not guarantee frictionless trade and access to the single market, which are vital to the future of the jewel in the crown of British manufacturing—automotive generally and Jaguar Land Rover in particular—and will he disown those on his side who, when faced with industry warnings about the potentially catastrophic consequences of a no-deal or hard Brexit, wrote them off, saying that they were “making it up”?
I agree that we need to listen to businesses. I explained in my oral statement the steps we are taking to make sure we listen to businesses in all sectors and of all sizes. That is an even stronger reason why the hon. Gentleman and other Opposition Members should get behind the Government’s approach. Through the White Paper we can guarantee frictionless trade with our EU partners, while expanding our global opportunities. The one thing that would cause more uncertainty for businesses is the prospect, dangled by the leadership of the Labour party, of a second referendum.
We heard it here today: the Labour party is calling for a second referendum and the Scottish National party is calling for two second referendums. Does my right hon. Friend not agree that while it has always been the case that only the Conservative party has any plan to take us out of the European Union, we are now the only party left in this place that respects the democratic will of the British people?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I do not know what Brenda in Bristol would think about all the proposals from the Opposition parties. The vast majority of the people in this country want to see unity of purpose and for us get the best deal. They are fed up with the political opportunism of those on the Opposition Benches.
In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall), the Secretary of State confirmed what the No. 10 spokesman said: there must be precise guarantees that Britain and the EU will enjoy frictionless trade after Brexit as a condition of the withdrawal agreement. The question is: does he agree with that position?
We made clear in our proposals, first in relation to the question that I answered, that we want to see a well detailed political declaration so that people, when they come to vote on the meaningful vote, have a clear idea of the direction of the economic model and the security model of co-operation. As the hon. Gentleman will know from our White Paper proposals, we are pursuing and aiming for frictionless trade. That is the point of signing up to a common rule book on goods and agri-food, and that is the reason for the facilitated customs arrangement. He should get behind those proposals.
My constituents tell me that they are concerned about the Labour party’s hokey-cokey approach. They also tell me that they have had their people’s vote, in June 2016, and do not need or want a second one. Does the Secretary of State agree with my constituents?
They are absolutely right, as they proved by electing my hon. Friend to this place.
The Secretary of State mentioned that he is confident of reaching a withdrawal agreement in autumn. He also talked about a political declaration having a clear blueprint for a future relationship with the EU. When will the House be able to scrutinise both the withdrawal agreement and the blueprint, and what level of detail will they have?
I thank the hon. Lady for her very important question. The timeframe for scrutiny in this House and the other place is also very important. After the agreement has been reached in all the areas she describes, we will have a period where the documents are laid and a meaningful vote. After that, the legislation implementing the withdrawal agreement would be introduced.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. There has rightly been a lot of focus on one of the land borders affected by the UK leaving the EU, but so far no questions about the second one—the one between Spain and Gibraltar. Will the Secretary of State outline how he is keeping in contact with the Government of Gibraltar on the process of negotiations and ensuring that their views are fully taken on board?
My hon. Friend is right. I met the Chief Minister recently. We are making sure that the Government of Gibraltar are fully involved and fully aware of all the negotiations. We have made good progress together in Madrid. The Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), will be seeing him again next week.
In a letter dated 23 August, the Health Secretary said:
“based on the current cross-Government planning scenario we will ensure the UK has an additional six weeks supply of medicines”
in the event of no deal. However, it was then reported in The Sun that on 8 September that Cabinet Ministers were to be warned of a 12-week disruption at the border in the event of no deal—twice as long as the Health Secretary was planning for. Will the Secretary of State clarify the Government’s current planning assumptions for the length of disruption at the UK border in the event of no deal?
May I give the hon. Lady a bit of reassurance? In both the technical notices and the letter the Health Secretary sent to stakeholders, that has been set out very clearly. I can also give her the reassurance that the stockpiling of medicines and vaccines is a standard part of UK planning in the way the Government engage with the pharmaceutical industry in lots of other areas.
In the course of the referendum campaign my constituents weighed up the arguments on behalf of the leave and remain campaigns and voted overwhelmingly to leave. Since then, there have been siren voices calling for a second referendum. I wonder if the Secretary of State has heard a single argument made since the referendum that was not been made before it, because I have not.
I think at the time, come the end of the referendum, everyone was looking forward to getting a conclusion to it, because it seemed to drag on forever and we had gone around the houses with all the different arguments. The country heard both sides, the claims and the counterclaims, and plenty of controversy. I do not think the people of this country are fools. They made their decision, they knew what they were doing and now it is time to leave.
We welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment that whatever form the backstop, which was foolishly agreed in December, takes, it will not include any customs or regulatory arrangements that treat Northern Ireland differently to the rest of the United Kingdom. However, we are concerned that he still sees the need for a backstop, albeit one limited in scope and time. Will he clarify for the House and for the people in Northern Ireland how such a backstop would be limited? What would it be limited to and how long would it be limited for? Can he also assure us that the comments made by Michel Barnier this week, that Northern Ireland would have to be prohibited from taking part in any trade deals negotiated after Brexit, will not be the case?
I understand the points the right hon. Gentleman makes. He will have seen the statement made by the Prime Minister in the aftermath of the Salzburg summit. We have been very clear that the backstop would need to be a temporary and finite bridge to the future relationship, which would subsume and supersede the need for any backstop at all. Of course it cannot be right to have any distinction, in terms of customs regulation, for any one part of the UK. We proceed as one.