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Leaving the EU: Diplomatic Co-operation

Volume 653: debated on Tuesday 22 January 2019

3. What assessment his Department has made of the effect on diplomatic co-operation between the UK and the EU of the UK leaving the EU on 29 March 2019. (908696)

The Secretary of State says that, but the effects of a lack of co-operation are being felt directly in my constituency. A major European car manufacturer was due to invite 40 international journalists per day to a new Inverness hotel. Now the owner, Tony Storey, tells me that that has been cancelled, costing him £400,000 and priceless exposure for the highlands. What does the Secretary of State say to business owners like Tony and others who are being affected by this Brexit shambles?

If SNP Members want to resolve the uncertainty, it is very simple—vote for the deal that the Prime Minister has negotiated.

It is possible to welcome yesterday’s announcement of the waiving of the settled status fee, which has gone down very well with EU nationals across the UK, including in Chelsea and Fulham, where I have 11,000 EU nationals. Could my right hon. Friend say something about improving and boosting our efforts in Germany? We currently have only three diplomatic missions in Germany. France has seven; Italy has 11. Our future relationship with Germany will be crucial. We have no representation. We have a very good honorary consul in Frankfurt, but it seems that for the European Central Bank, we need more representation in Frankfurt and Hamburg in particular.

I defer to my right hon. Friend’s knowledge of Germany, which is second to none. I would like to reassure him that over the past three years we have had, on average, about one Government Minister visiting Germany every single week, so we do give it the highest priority in our foreign relations, and will continue to do so post Brexit. However, I will look into the issue of consulates that my right hon. Friend raises.

Surely the Foreign Secretary has picked up the fact that morale in the diplomatic corps across Europe is at rock bottom. What will he do to lift the spirits of a corps of professional diplomats who are so disturbed by the lack of leadership from this Government on Europe?

Of course I recognise that we would all like to resolve the uncertainty around Brexit as soon as possible, but we have significantly expanded the diplomatic corps in Europe. Our representation in Brussels—the UKRep office—has gone up from 120 to 150 and will go up to 180 people; we have upgraded our representation across every EU state to senior ambassadorial level; and we are investing, because it matters.

Recently, the former US Secretary of State, John Kerry, remarked on the fact that the British Government are working closely with other European Governments on the Iran nuclear deal. Could the Foreign Secretary give the House further detail on how that will continue after we leave the European Union on 29 March?

Absolutely. We have an independent foreign policy now and we will continue, obviously, to have that post Brexit. The Iran nuclear deal was negotiated with the United States and European countries, and has been successful in preventing Iran developing a nuclear programme. It is not perfect, but it has worked, and that is why we continue to support it and work closely with our partners to do so.

I am sure all Members will want to join me in congratulating the Dáil in Ireland, which yesterday marked the centenary of its first international address and its message to free nations. Ireland, like every other EU member state, sees the EU as a way of strengthening its independence and sovereignty and increasing its diplomatic clout. Shinzo Abe has called on us to take no deal off the table. The Secretary of State knows the deal will not go through. Can he at least take no deal off the table? No deal would undermine our diplomatic clout.

The best way to avoid no deal is to find a deal that can pass through this House. If you take no deal off the table, you remove any incentive for the EU to help us do that, which is why it would be a big mistake and actually make no deal more likely.

The Foreign Secretary is wrong. If we take no deal off the table, we can talk in a meaningful way with each other and with our European partners.

On 17 January I received a written answer from the Minister for Europe and the Americas, saying that we have 550 officials working on Brexit—hundreds of officials, working on a worse deal for the UK. At a time when the FCO and the public services are struggling for resources, is that not a waste of time, a waste of finances and a waste of the good will that we desperately need at this time in terms of our diplomacy?

What makes no deal more likely is if parties like the hon. Gentleman’s continue to vote against sensible proposals that this Government bring to the House of Commons. Any Government have to be responsible and prepare for all eventualities, but the best way to make sure that we do not have that eventuality is to do the preparation.

May I take the Foreign Secretary back to our last debate on Brexit? He gave me an answer that was not exactly convincing, so I thought I would give him another chance. [Interruption.] I am nothing but kindness—it is my new year’s resolution. Four days after the referendum, he said that

“we need to negotiate a deal and put it to the British people, either in a referendum or through the Conservative manifesto at a fresh general election…we will trust the British people to decide on whether or not it is a good deal”.

So can I ask him again why he no longer believes in trusting the British people to decide whether they want the Prime Minister’s deal?

I do. We have had a general election and over 80% of voters supported parties that wanted to leave the EU and end free movement. I will happily take criticisms of our Brexit policy on the chin the moment Labour actually has the courage to have its own Brexit policy in the first place. This morning, the shadow Business Secretary, on the “Today” programme, could not even say whether Labour supported a second referendum or not. That is not policy—it is politics. I simply say to the right hon. Lady that to play politics with Brexit in a hung Parliament is a total betrayal of ordinary voters.

Well, that is not a very convincing answer, is it? It is the same sort of unconvincing answer that we got last time. We always know when Government Ministers are getting a bit desperate when they decide that they need to ask the Opposition what their policy is instead.

The Foreign Secretary said in the very first paragraph of the article that I am quoting that

“we did not vote on the terms of our departure.”

So his entire argument was that we should trust the people to decide the terms on which we would leave. But let me also remind him that in the same article he warned of the danger that

“we could be thrown out with no deal at all.”

So even if he no longer believes that the public should have a say on the final terms of a deal, does he still at least believe that they should have a say if we are risking leaving with no deal at all?

If the right hon. Lady is worried about no deal, there is a very easy way to stop it, and that is to talk to the Prime Minister. The Leader of the Opposition talks without preconditions to Hamas, Hezbollah and the IRA, but not to the British Prime Minister. The reason is that Labour’s objective is not to have a deal but to have a crisis—and what a betrayal of ordinary families that is.