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Contingency Planning: EU Member States

Volume 653: debated on Thursday 24 January 2019

5. What steps the Government have taken to co-operate with other EU member states on contingency planning for the UK leaving the EU without a deal. (908750)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. It is in the UK and the EU’s mutual interest to continue discussions regarding interdependencies in our respective contingency plans. We are pleased to see EU commitments to step up preparations for all scenarios and its recognition of the bespoke preparations needed in different member states. Progress continues to be made. On citizens’ rights, we have called for member states to protect UK nationals’ rights, and countries such as France, Italy and Spain have already taken such action.

Is the Minister as concerned as I am about the EU’s no-deal planning relating to the aviation industry, which would put limits on new flights and new routes by UK airlines and put in place ownership restrictions? Is it not obvious that this is not in the best interests of the EU or the UK? It would, for example, limit the growth of tourism across Europe.

My hon. Friend is extremely knowledgeable in this area, and he is correct to point out that the Commission has indicated exactly what he said. Obviously, we are seeking an ambitious and comprehensive air transport agreement with the European Union in all areas. My hon. Friend should note that nothing has yet been agreed on the Commission’s draft regulations, and we look forward to engaging with the Commission and other member states on the detail of these proposals to ensure that they deliver continuity. The UK has the third largest aviation network in the world. Air travel is vital for both the UK and the EU in connecting people and businesses, and he needs no pointers from me to the statistics demonstrating how important this matter is for many EU destinations for UK tourists.

In a week in which P&O has announced that it is reflagging its entire cross-channel fleet in Cyprus, Sony is following Panasonic in moving its European headquarters from the UK to the Netherlands and Airbus has warned of potentially very harmful decisions if the UK crashes out without a deal, including future investment going elsewhere— I would definitely describe that as sub-optimal— when are the Government going to make their own announcement that under no circumstances will they allow the UK to leave without a deal, so we can stop this slow and damaging haemorrhage?

I thank the Chair of the Exiting the European Union Committee for his question, but it prompts me to ask in reply why on earth he is not backing the deal that delivers the certainty that all the businesses that he named have asked for. He needs to look once again at the deal, and deliver the certainty that businesses across the UK require.

When the Minister meets his opposite numbers in individual member states, does he take the opportunity to stress that they could stand down their plans for a no-deal scenario if the EU collectively showed some flexibility regarding the Irish backstop, so that a deal could then be settled?

Obviously, I look forward to getting a deal over the line, and as the Chair of the Exiting the European Union Committee knows, I believe that leaving without a deal is “sub-optimal”. In all conversations that every Minister has with representatives and Ministers from member states, we are pushing exactly the case that my hon. Friend mentioned.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders has said that no deal would be “catastrophic”, and that plants will close and jobs will be lost. I do not understand why the Government do not rule out no deal, but if they will not, why not hold a series of indicative votes, as recommended by the Exiting the European Union Committee, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), on the different options for going forward, such as staying in the customs union? The Government know that their deal does not have a majority and that we must now move to the next stages. Why will they not do that?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She and I co-existed in the European Parliament for a time, back when I was younger and she was the same age as she is now. She will understand that her constituents voted to leave the European Union, and they expect us to deliver on the result of that referendum. The one way of doing that is by having a deal. Over the course of the referendum she and I have debated all the different difficulties that there will be in getting a deal across the line. We have a very good deal on the table—she should vote for it.

Earlier this week the chief executive of the civil service publicly confirmed what Ministers know and the public suspect, which is that despite the huge amounts of money being thrown at it, the Government will not be fully prepared to exit the European Union in 64 days’ time without a deal. Will the Minister finally come clean with the public and admit that a no-deal exit on 29 March is not just “sub-optimal”, it is simply not a viable option?

This House voted to activate article 50, and the legislation before us means that we will leave the European Union on 29 March. I would very much prefer to leave with a deal, as would the hon. Gentleman, and I think he should vote for it.