With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on our preparations to leave the European Union and the steps that we are taking to be ready for every eventuality.
Some 17.4 million people voted in the referendum in June 2016 to leave the European Union—more than have ever voted for any proposition in the history of our democracy—and this Government are committed to honouring that verdict. The Government are determined to secure a good deal with our EU partners. Negotiations have been led by the Prime Minister, the Brexit Secretary and the Foreign Secretary, and those negotiations have seen significant movement over recent weeks. Until recently, the EU has maintained that the withdrawal agreement was sacrosanct, but now it has acknowledged that it can be changed. Up until this point, the European Union has also said that the backstop was inviolable, but again, European leaders have said that they are not emotionally attached to the backstop and hat there are other ways of ensuring that we can safeguard the gains of the Good Friday/Belfast agreement and also ensure smooth trade flows across the island of Ireland.
I want to commend the Prime Minister and his colleagues for the progress that has been made in those negotiations, and I hope that everyone in the House will agree that it is better for all of us if we can leave the EU with a withdrawal agreement in place, but Government need to be prepared for every eventuality. Since the PM took office, he has created a new Cabinet structure to ensure that, across Government, we take all the steps necessary to prepare for exit. A new Cabinet Committee—XO—has met 48 times and brought greater focus and urgency to our preparations. Our top economic priority is to ensure that we can maintain a smooth and efficient flow of goods and people from the UK into the EU and vice versa. We need to make sure that businesses are ready for changed circumstances and new customs requirements. There are, of course, some goods that require not just customs checks but other procedures—particularly food and products of animal origin—and we have been working with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the relevant sectors to ensure that those businesses are ready.
We take very seriously our responsibility to ensure that the rights of millions of EU citizens in this country are protected, and we are working with our European partners to ensure that UK nationals in EU nations also have their rights safeguarded. The XO Committee has also taken steps to safeguard and enhance national security and the operation of our criminal justice system, to enhance the free flow of personal data across borders, to ensure that we can support the devolved Administrations in their work and, in particular, to support the Northern Ireland civil service in its vital work.
With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to go into a little more detail about how we can facilitate the free flow of goods across borders, and it is in that context that I would like to explain the role of Project Yellowhammer in the Government’s planning. If the UK leaves the European Union without a withdrawal agreement, we will be a third country, subject to the EU’s common external tariff and trading on World Trade Organisation terms, and exports will be subject to new customs and sanitary and phytosanitary checks. These are unarguable facts, they pose specific challenges, and they constitute the base scenario with which we all have to work.
The Government’s Civil Contingencies Secretariat has used these facts to develop a reasonable worst-case scenario of what might happen, including in cases where appropriate mitigations are not put in place and readiness measures are not implemented. That reasonable worst-case scenario and the steps required to mitigate it are the work undertaken under the name Operation Yellowhammer. As the National Audit Office reported in March, work on Operation Yellowhammer has been going on since June 2018. The NAO made it clear then that
“Departments are working on the basis of a reasonable worst case scenario.”
Many of the challenges that Operation Yellowhammer identifies relate specifically to flow at the border. It contains careful estimates of how flow might be affected through a range of factors, including if steps are not taken to help businesses to be ready. That is why this Government have taken significant steps to ensure that businesses are ready. Specifically, we know that in adjusting to this new situation, businesses require support to deal with those new customs procedures, and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has acted to support traders. Importers will have access to transitional simplified procedures, which ensure that businesses have time to adjust to new duties. Businesses exporting to the European Union will need a specific economic operator registration and identification number from HMRC, and HMRC has already allocated EORI numbers to 88,000 VAT-registered businesses that currently trade with the EU and not beyond it.
We have introduced postponed accounting for import VAT and negotiated access to the common transit convention, so that both imported and exported goods can continue to flow across international borders without the payment of any duties until they reach their final destination. We have established new transit sites in Kent and Essex, to ensure that trucks can flow freely, carrying goods into France and beyond to the wider EU. We are also providing tailored information to hauliers and businesses through a range of sites across the country, to ensure the greatest level of readiness. We have funded business representative organisations to share information with enterprises large and small, and they are preparing for exit. We have also worked with the authorities in both Dover and Calais to smooth trade, and I want to take this opportunity to thank the French authorities for the work they have done to ensure the operation of a smart border at Calais, so that compliant consignments should experience no delay.
The steps we have taken are designed to ensure that businesses are ready for exit without a deal on 31 October, but these steps will in any case be necessary for life outside the single market and the customs union when we secure a new free trade agreement with the EU. Thanks to work undertaken under the previous Government, and accelerated under this Administration, many businesses are already well prepared. For any business that is in any doubt about what is required, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is conducting roadshows and visiting businesses in their premises, and gov.uk/brexit provides all the information required.
As I mentioned, there are specific additional requirements for those who are exporting food and products of animal origin, with sanitary and phytosanitary checks. Traders will require export health certificates for food and catch certificates for fish. Hundreds of vets have now been trained to issue those certificates and additional personnel certified to support them. Again, the French authorities have taken steps to ensure the smooth flow of critical produce. They have specifically created a new border inspection post at Boulogne-sur-Mer to ensure that fish and shellfish products can be caught in the UK today and be on sale in the European Union tomorrow.
Of course, as well as making sure that commerce flows, we must safeguard the rights of individuals. That is why this Government have provided the most comprehensive and generous offer to EU citizens in this country, in order to guarantee their rights. It is already the case that under the EU settlement scheme, more than 1 million people have been granted status, and the Home Office is helping thousands of new applicants every day. If any Member of Parliament finds that any of their constituents are having difficulties with that process, I would welcome their getting in touch directly with me and the Home Secretary.
In the same way, we have taken steps to secure the rights of UK nationals in the EU, including access to healthcare after exit, and we will continue to work with our partners in member states to provide further protection for UK nationals. It is important that UK citizens in those countries register with the appropriate authorities. On gov.uk/brexit details are outlined, member state by member state, to enable every citizen to have the rights they deserve.
Also this month, the Government committed to increasing the UK state pension, which is paid to nearly half a million people living in the EU every year, for three years after a no-deal exit. Previously the commitment was solely for the financial year 2019-20. As well as making sure that UK nationals in the EU, and EU citizens in the UK, have their rights protected, we want to make sure that UK citizens can continue to travel in the EU without impediment. That is why UK nationals will have visa-free travel into the EU. We are also talking to member states to understand how people who provide professional services can continue to do so, member state by member state.
On security, it is vital to ensure, as we leave the EU, that we have the right approach to safeguarding citizens. That is why we have been talking to the EU about making sure we continue to have access to law enforcement and national security instruments. It is also important to recognise that, as we leave the EU, new tools will be available to ensure that we can better deal with people trafficking, smuggling and other criminal activity.
On the situation in Northern Ireland, the Government are absolutely committed to the Good Friday/Belfast agreement, absolutely determined to ensure there will be no infrastructure at the border, and absolutely determined to uphold the functioning of the all-Ireland economy. That is why we will have no checks at the border and no tariffs. We wait to see what Ireland and the EU Commission will decide, but we stand ready to work with them to help to safeguard commerce and rights across the island of Ireland.
I do not shirk from the fact that leaving the EU without a deal provides economic challenges, but it is also provides economic opportunities. There is the opportunity to secure new trade deals and become a strong voice for free trade at the WTO; the opportunity to develop new technologies that will help feed the world and enhance the environment; the opportunity to overhaul Government procurement to better support growing British businesses; the opportunity to introduce a fairer, more efficient and more humane immigration system; the opportunity to deal more effectively with cross-border crime; the opportunity to invest more flexibly and generously to support overlooked communities; and the opportunity to strengthen our democratic institutions.
The British people gave us a clear instruction to leave the EU. This House now has a clear choice. Do we honour that instruction, or do we continue to delay and seek to frustrate the British people’s vote? The Government are clear that we must honour that decision. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster for an advance copy of his statement. Let us get to the detail and test what he says.
First, the right hon. Gentleman says that the negotiations have seen significant movement over recent weeks. Will he confirm that three papers were submitted to the EU last week and one was submitted today, but they are what the EU called non-papers, because they are for discussion and do not commit the member state to the policy outlined in them, and at the moment they are being kept secret from the EU27? What is the thrust or gist of those papers? If we are to assess the likelihood of success in negotiations, we need to know.
Secondly, may I challenge the right hon. Gentleman’s statement that many businesses are already well prepared for no deal? At 3 o’clock last Wednesday, I sat round a table with the leaders of pretty well all the business sectors, and the one message they wanted to get across was how concerned they were that businesses were not prepared for a no-deal Brexit. I do not believe those businesses are saying one thing to me and another thing to the Government. Will he therefore clarify what he meant?
The statement significantly and studiously avoids giving any detail of the scenario that we are told the Government’s civil contingencies secretariat has drawn up. On 9 September, just before we were shut down, an order was made that all the documents prepared within Her Majesty’s Government since 23 July relating to Operation Yellowhammer and submitted to Cabinet or a Cabinet Committee should be laid before the House by 11 o’clock on 11 September. The Government are spending a lot of money telling businesses and the country to get ready, and they want to know what they are to get ready for. They need to know what could happen so that they can prepare. On 11 September, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster wrote to the Chair of the Brexit Select Committee,
“I thought it would be helpful to publish the Operation Yellowhammer document based on assumptions drawn up by the last Government.”
I have that document in my hand; it was the only document disclosed. He went on to say,
It is…my intention…to publish revised assumptions in due course”.
Nothing else has been produced.
The document disclosed to the Chair of the Select Committee is dated 2 August. Will the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster explain how it is a document of the last Government, not this one? As he knows, it was leaked pretty well in full to The Sunday Times. Just so that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster does not try to avoid this by saying that he will not comment on leaked documents, I understand that it also went to the Welsh Government. In response to that leak, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said on the Marr show on 1 September that the document
“predated the creation of this new government”
and that its predictions were the “worst possible eventuality.” The impression he was trying to create was that it is an old document and a worst-case scenario. [Interruption.] Thank you—that is exactly the point I want to come on to: the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster went on to say that it is “constantly updated”. Given that the document is dated 2 August, was it produced for this Government, the last Government or both? If it was for the last Government, have this Government produced any documents of their own since 23 July relating to Operation Yellowhammer? It is no good saying, “We are going to produce them.” This Government have been in place for nine weeks, and there are only five weeks and two days to go until 31 October.
If it is an old document and it was produced for the last Government, why did somebody change the title after the leak to The Sunday Times? It used to be branded the “base scenario”. Somebody got hold of an old, apparently irrelevant document and changed the title, so it is now called, “HMG Reasonable Worst Case Planning Assumptions”. Why was it changed if it is out of date and an old document? Who did it?
Will the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster confirm that the rebranded document has 20 substantive paragraphs, each word for word the same as those in the document leaked to The Sunday Times? If it is constantly updated, where are the constant updates? This is the only document we have. Will he confirm that, according to this document, there will be “significant and prolonged disruption” at ports; that the “worst disruption” to the channel straits will last “up to 3 months”; and that there will be “significant queues in Kent” and delays of up to two and a half days at the border for HGVs attempting to use the channel route to France? If the answer is no, what is that based on if there is not another document in existence that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has not disclosed in accordance with the order of this House? The answer is either yes or no, based on a document that has not been disclosed.
Paragraph 18 has not had the attention it should have had. It centres on the impact of no deal on Northern Ireland. I know that this is a matter that the House takes extremely seriously. It sets out the Government’s planned model. It states:
“The agri-food sector will be the hardest hit… Disruption to key sectors and job losses are likely to result in protests and direct action with road blockages. Price and other differentials are likely to lead to the growth of the illegitimate economy.”
It also mentions severe disruption at the border. The document itself concludes that the pressure will be such—[Interruption.] Northern Ireland happens to be extremely important to many people in this House. [Interruption.] We are here to scrutinise the Government; let us get on with it. This document indicates that the Government’s proposed model will come under such pressure that it is unlikely to survive for more than a few days or weeks. The Government’s preferred model for Northern Ireland is unlikely, according to their own assessment, to survive for more than a few days or weeks. A model that will not last more than a week is not a plan. There must be an update. Where is it?
Has the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster received any representations from the energy sector about the impact on oil and gas supplies to the UK in the event of no deal?
Anyone watching today’s proceedings and still thinking that somewhere lurks a clever and cunning plan to get through the chaos of the Government’s making needs to think again. The Government have lost six out of six votes in Parliament and the Prime Minister has lost his majority and his case in the Supreme Court. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said on the radio this morning that the Prime Minister is a born winner. I am glad that he has not lost his sense of humour. However, this is not a game, and for the Government to be five weeks away from leaving the EU without a plan is unforgiveable.
I welcome the shadow Brexit Secretary back from Brighton and to the House of Commons. One thing about the House of Commons is that, whether we lose or win votes, at least they are recorded accurately.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman repeated on several occasions that he believed in constant updates. What a pity he did not update his list of questions in the light of the points that I made in my statement. What a pity he relied on a list that he had drafted many hours earlier.
On the first point, which was about negotiations, there have been detailed negotiations with the European Commission and EU member states. The Commission briefs the EU27 on those negotiations. As a result of those briefings and conversations, we have made the progress that I charted earlier. I hoped that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would have been generous enough to acknowledge that the withdrawal agreement is now in play and the backstop can be replaced by alternative arrangements.
The shadow Brexit Secretary asked about business readiness. He said that he met some business organisations and they kept him up until 3 o’clock in the morning with a single message. I imagine that it was, “Whatever you do, please replace your leader.” [Interruption.] I will treat the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s comments with the seriousness they deserve. The automotive sector, which I met earlier this week, confirmed that it was ready. The retail sector has confirmed that it is ready. Ninety per cent. of the companies measured by value that trade with the EU also trade with countries outside the EU and they are in a position to be ready.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked about the Operation Yellowhammer document, but he seemed to miss the point that the National Audit Office appreciated earlier this year and that has entirely passed him by. Operation Yellowhammer is reasonable worst case scenario. The Government have taken and are taking steps to mitigate it and the XO Committee has authorised more than 300 actions since we started meeting in August to mitigate the consequences. We will update the House on all the steps that we have taken, many of which are listed in my statement and none of which the right hon. and learned Gentleman asked about, from transitional simplified procedures to the application of EORI numbers. The shadow Brexit Secretary asked not a single question about all the things that business needs to get ready. His pretensions to speak for business are exposed as a hollow sham.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman talked about clever and cunning plans. I suppose he was thinking about the Labour party’s position on Brexit. In February 2017, he said that
“politically the notion that the referendum was merely a consultation exercise… holds no water… we in… Labour… have to accept the result. —[Official Report, 31 January 2017; Vol. 620, c. 825.]
Now, in some sort of political equivalent of VAR, he wants to annul that result. Now Labour’s policy is to delay Brexit further, seek an extension of indefinite duration, renegotiate a new deal, then put it to the country in a new referendum, with the deputy leader saying, “Vote remain”, many Back Benchers saying, “Vote leave” and the Labour leader undecided. Labour’s position on Brexit is as solid as a blancmange in a hurricane and as coherent as an apology from Vicky Pollard.
When my right hon. Friend refers to Operation Yellowhammer as a document that was introduced by the previous Administration but is being read and updated by the current Administration, does he also recognise that its purpose was to advise the Government of what more they needed to do to be ready? It was not meant to be an assistant to the Opposition spokesman, who struggles hard to get his lines right. It was there for a purpose, which is being met.
My right hon. Friend hits the nail on the head.
I thank the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster for advance sight of the statement. That allows me to begin by pointing out the glaring omission in what he told the House a few moments ago. He really ought to have started by thanking Lady Hale and her fellow judges in the Supreme Court for the decision they took yesterday because, without that judgment, he would not have had the opportunity to come to the House today and explain the Government’s preparations, and we would not have the opportunity to see in all its glory just how woefully inadequately prepared the Government actually are.
I do not put this down to a lack of effort on the Government’s part. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman’s XO committee is in permanent session, almost, and we know from the right hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd) that the Government are fixated, almost to the exclusion of everything else, on preparations for no deal. The fact that we are so far away from concluding those preparations is simply testament to the enormity of the task and the fact that it is simply not doable in the next five weeks.
As a result, rather than being honest with the House, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is indulging in euphemisms, wishful thinking, banter and jokes. The truth of the matter is that he is trying to sugar coat a disastrous situation, and that begins with the very title of the document. I return to the point raised by the Opposition spokesperson. The First Minister of Scotland has confirmed that the document—the very same document—given to the Scottish Government was referred to as a “base scenario”, yet several days later, when it is published, it is referred to as a “worst-case scenario”. That is an attempt to suggest that there are of course much better scenarios and there is nothing to see and no need to worry.
I ask again, and I do not want a joke in response: who made the decision to change that title and why? There are other things throughout the document that show the degree of sugar feeding as well, but probably one of the most bizarre things that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has just said—he said it just a few moments ago—is that UK citizens would have visa-free travel throughout the EU in the event of a no deal. That is just rubbish. That is nonsense. The very fact of a no deal means that there will not be that—that is what no deal means. This is either an exercise in self-delusion or a wilful attempt to mislead the House, but it is most certainly not the truth. We ought to be hearing the truth.
This is my principal question for the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Surely the time has now come to assess whether it is realistically possible to get a deal to leave the European Union on 31 October. The House has considered this question and come to a judgment that it probably would not be possible, and that therefore it is necessary for the Government to apply for an extension of the process. Will he accept that mandate from this Parliament? Will he act as a member of this Government to make sure that it is implemented, or will he continue to flout the will of the House and proceed with preparations for a situation that is now frankly unlawful according to the law of the land? This is what I want to know: will he commit to discharging the mandate given to him, will he follow the law of the land, and will he confirm to the House whether he has had discussions with the Prime Minister about doing anything other than that?
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his questions, and may I also say that I am grateful to the Supreme Court for the clarity of its judgment. I am also grateful to the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues in the Scottish Government for the extensive work they have done along with colleagues from the other devolved Administrations to help us prepare for a no-deal exit. Only yesterday, I was chairing a committee meeting at which the Scottish Cabinet Secretary responsible for agriculture and rural affairs was, along with other Ministers from the devolved Administrations, actively taking steps to ensure that his constituents were actively ready to prepare for a no-deal Brexit. It is only right that we should record our thanks to the civil servants of the devolved Administrations for that work, too.
I do not shirk the fact that there are serious challenges. We are all aware of them, and we would all much prefer to leave with a deal. The hon. Gentleman asked what preparations are being made to secure a deal. I listed some of the advances that have been made in negotiations earlier, but one thing that I would say is that we have had a chance in this House of Commons to vote for deals before, and it was the choice of his party resolutely not to vote for a deal. We could have—[Interruption.]
The right hon. Gentleman should plough on.
We could have had a withdrawal agreement if only Scottish National party Members had been as good as their word and put the interests of Scotland ahead of narrow sectarian, secessionist and separatist arguments.
The hon. Member also asked about the Yellowhammer document. As I mentioned earlier, the NAO confirmed earlier this year that it was a reasonable worst-case scenario, and it is one that, as I mentioned in response to both the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), we have taken steps to mitigate. Those steps, many of which have been taken in co-ordination with devolved Administrations, extend to everything from the provision of infrastructure to ensure catch certificates for the Scottish fishing industry to the licensing of new people to ensure export health certificates for other areas of agriculture.
Finally, the hon. Member made a point about lawfulness. It is vital that we all uphold the law in this House of Commons, but it is also important that we recognise that we passed a Bill in order to create a referendum in which we said that the people’s verdict would be respected. Our democracy depends not just on respect for the rule of law but on respect for the people’s verdict.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the information he shared with me and other Kent MPs earlier this week about the accelerating preparations for ensuring that freight traffic approaching the port of Dover can run smoothly. I am sure he agrees that avoiding chaos on the roads in Kent will be one of the key indicators of smooth planning for Brexit, however it takes place. Can he give the House his assessment of how well the haulage industry across Europe is responding to the British Government’s information about the paperwork necessary to make sure that the short strait crossing in the channel works as efficiently as possible after Brexit?
It was a pleasure to meet my right hon. Friend and other Kent MPs earlier this week. More than 80% of the hauliers who ply their trade through the short strait come from EU countries, which is why we have created offices in those EU countries to provide hauliers and traders with information, why we have published guidance in more than 10 EU languages, and why we are contacting traders in the UK who use those hauliers to make sure they are ready. Steps are also being taken to ensure that the traffic management in Kent under the aegis of the Kent resilience forum is as effective as possible. That said, further steps do need to be taken, and I hope to update him and the House as they are taken.
How will the British people be safer than ever before if we lose access to EU crime-fighting databases in a no-deal scenario?
Because Border Force will have considerable new powers to intercept people smugglers, human traffickers and those dealing in organised crime.
I call Sir David Roy Lidington KCB CBE.
While completely supporting the need to engage in rigorous contingency planning, as my right hon. Friend is doing, can I ask him also to confirm that in Northern Ireland, in the absence of an Executive, the civil service there lacks the necessary powers to take the mitigating measures that he is rightly putting in place for England, and will he say what plans the Government have to introduce the necessary steps, including legislation, to ensure that guidance and direction are available in Northern Ireland?
I will take a little longer than I would ordinarily want to because I first want to congratulate my right hon. Friend on his knighthood and to thank him for his years of Government service. He was an outstanding Minister in a number of offices. For my part, I particularly recognise that as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster he did so much to prepare us for EU exit and to advance negotiations with the EU.
My right hon. Friend makes a very important point about Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland civil service and the Police Service of Northern Ireland have done an enormous amount to prepare for the contingencies of no-deal exit. We should all be grateful to them for the work they do. He is right, however, that in the absence of a functioning Executive, they lack ministerial direction. It is important that we do everything we can to restore a functioning Executive. If no Executive is in place, we will have to consider in the House and in discussions with our neighbours in the Republic of Ireland what steps might be required to ensure that we can give appropriate support to the Northern Ireland civil service.
Paragraph 18 of the Operation Yellowhammer document states that the Government’s current plans to manage the Northern Irish border after no deal—which are no new checks or tariffs on goods coming in from the Republic of Ireland—are
“likely to prove unsustainable due to significant economic, legal and biosecurity risks and no effective unilateral mitigations to address this will be available.”
That is not a description of a worst-case scenario; it is a description of what is likely to happen because, as the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster knows, Northern Ireland businesses will all face tariffs from the very first day.
Given that, earlier this year, the right hon. Gentleman wrote that the United Kingdom
“didn’t vote to leave without a deal”,
are the Government really prepared to allow their willingness to pursue a no-deal Brexit to jeopardise the peace and security that have been achieved in Northern Ireland as a result of the Good Friday agreement?
I am grateful to the Chairman of the Exiting the European Union Committee for making that point. Let me stress again that Operation Yellowhammer is a reasonable worst-case scenario. The scenarios that it outlines are those that would happen if no mitigation steps were taken. However, he is right to say that Northern Ireland businesses would face specific challenges in the event of a no-deal exit as a result of having to face a common external tariff. Indeed, agri-food businesses across the UK would face those challenges. There are steps that we can take—economic interventions and others—to help those businesses, and it is important that we do so. It is also important that we continue our conversations with the European Commission and the Irish Government about making sure that the position of businesses and individuals in Northern Ireland is safeguarded.
The right hon. Gentleman made a broader point about no deal. A deal is preferable, which is why I hope that he will vote for one in the future, having not been able to do so in the past.
I very much agree with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster that it is essential for us to agree a deal with the EU, but while we are making those preparations for a no-deal Brexit, can he assure the leaders of the NHS in Cornwall that his plans will include social care services alongside NHS services, because they too are so essential?
My hon. Friend was a very distinguished and effective Minister, and she is absolutely right to focus on some of the challenges that the NHS and, indeed, social care will face in the future. We have taken steps—the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has taken steps—to make sure that we can have all the medicines that we require, both by ensuring that we have unimpeded flow in the short straits and by ensuring that we can procure additional freight capacity.
The broader adult social care sector does also require close attention. In leaving the EU, we must take account of both the impacts on the labour market and the potential impacts of any devaluation of sterling. We are taking a close look at that particular sector, and at the vulnerable people who should be our first concern.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has just claimed that Border Force will have new powers to carry out checks and that that will make us safer, but can he confirm that under no deal it will no longer have most of the information that it needs to carry out those checks, because it will lose access to the SIS II database, which contains more than 70 million pieces of criminal information, whereas the replacement Interpol database has only several hundred thousand?
The Home Office has also told the Select Committee that the border crossing arrangements will remain unchanged in the event of no deal. Given that the Cabinet Secretary, the National Security Adviser, top police officers and counter-terror chiefs have all said that in the event of no deal we will be less safe, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us which of those individuals have now told us we will be safer, and if not, will he withdraw that claim to the House?
The right hon. Lady is right about the Schengen Information System. If we leave without a deal and the EU does not put provisions in place, we will lose access to that database. However, I have had an opportunity to question people who have been involved in national security and individuals who work for Border Force. Appropriate mitigations are place, and, indeed, new powers are available.
Can my right hon. Friend confirm that in the case of our current borders with the EU—our currency borders, VAT borders, excise borders—all the calculations and payments that those require take place away from the border; and so will not customs also be handled electronically, away from the border, not leading to queues?
My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. It is the case that for most companies, the customs procedures that they will now need to engage in will be conducted away from the border, at offices of departure, by authorised consignees, and as a result, with the operation of the smart border that the French put in place in Calais, that should lead to as smooth as possible a flow of trade.
The Irish Government have made it clear that they intend to impose full tariffs on goods coming from Northern Ireland into the Irish Republic, yet without border checks. If that is the case, why is the Minister insisting that no taxes will be imposed on goods coming from the Irish Republic into Northern Ireland? Does he not recognise that, first, that places businesses in Northern Ireland at an unfair disadvantage; that it will lead to a loss of tax revenue; that it will make Northern Ireland a back door to GB; and lastly, that it will put no pressure at all on the Irish Government, who have adopted an intransigent position in these negotiations?
My right hon. Friend of course makes a very strong case for a particular approach, but we believe that the approach we are taking is in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland; and of course what will be in the interests of everyone—including the people of Northern Ireland—is for us to secure a deal, so that these mitigations are not required.
I suspect that my constituents in Gainsborough, who voted 62% to 38% for Brexit, are just fed up with this process carrying on—unless they enjoy root canal treatment every other day—so they are not fussed about what deal we get. They would take any deal—they just want the House to compromise, come together and get a deal. But they tell me that if we cannot get a deal, we have to leave on 31 October. I want an absolute commitment from this Secretary of State at the Dispatch Box that, no matter what, we are leaving on 31 October; otherwise, this Government is dead in the water.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his point. He speaks very effectively and clearly for the people of his constituency. I can confirm that that is Government policy. May I also say that the way in which he shaped his question, in a balanced, thoughtful and reasonable way, recommends him as a successor for your office, Mr Speaker?
Can the Minister confirm that according to the Government the food sector, which employs around 12,000 people across Leicester and Leicestershire, will be hardest hit by no deal, and that people on low incomes will be disproportionately affected by any rises in food prices? Have the Government done any planning on how on earth we are going to support the thousands of food banks in this country, which tell me they are desperately worried that no deal will threaten the supply of surplus food that we, tragically, now depend on to feed the poor?
The hon. Lady raises three important points. The first is whether the food or agrifood sector, in the event of a no-deal scenario, is likely to be the worst affected. It is certainly the case that our agrifood exporters will face the highest tariffs if we leave without a deal, and in this job and my previous job, when at the Dispatch Box, I have not shied away from the consequences. There are risks and challenges; that is why DEFRA has taken steps in order to be able to mitigate those risks and challenges.
The hon. Lady asks about the impact on the vulnerable of a rise in prices. It may well be that some food commodity prices rise; others are likely to fall overall. She makes the point about food banks. It is vital that we support those who work with food banks, but I have seen no evidence or indication so far—I am very happy to talk to the hon. Lady—that the supply of food to food banks would be affected in any scenario, deal or no deal.
I always enjoy listening to my right hon. Friend, but I am always slightly conscious when he moves from answering questions to displacement activity. Can we go back to the issue of base case and worst case? Quite specifically, when were the words “base case” changed to “worst case”—the precise date, please, and who authorised the change? When was it done? That is the first question, because I think the House needs to be able to understand why that decision was made.
The second issue concerns the Schengen database. I am fascinated to hear about these measures of mitigation; I am familiar with the database in my role as Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee. This is undoubtedly a key piece of data for the security of the United Kingdom. What exactly are the mitigations that my right hon. Friend is talking about that will be an adequate substitute for the loss of access to this database on a no-deal Brexit?
It is always a pleasure to hear from my right hon. and learned Friend. In my statement, I drew a distinction between the base scenario, which involves those unarguable facts that we can all agree in this House will be the consequence of a no deal-exit, and a reasonable worst-case scenario. Operation Yellowhammer uses those base facts to draw up what a reasonable worst-case scenario might be. That is the distinction between them.
With respect to the Schengen information system, I would say, in fairness to my right hon. and learned Friend, that that is not the only law enforcement or national security tool that we will lose access to in a no-deal Brexit. There are others as well, but I have had an opportunity to talk to people who are involved in the provision of our national security, and I recognise that there are appropriate steps that we can take.
I am going to remind the Minister that he has yet again not answered the question about when the name on the Yellowhammer document was changed and by whom, so I would like to ask him that as well. Please will he answer the questions that he did not answer from the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) and from the shadow Brexit Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer)? Could he also confirm the existence of Operation Kingfisher and Operation Snow Bunting? There is a bird theme in all this. I do not know whether there is also an operation dodo, covering his plans for a no-deal Brexit, or an operation ostrich, involving the communal sticking of heads in the sand as the realities of no deal dawn—or, indeed, an operation blue tit, upon which I will make no comment. My final question is this: does Operation Yellowhammer still exist, or has it also had its name changed? If he could answer those specific questions, we would all be very grateful.
I am grateful for that ornithological outing from my right hon. Friend. The first thing to say is that Operation Yellowhammer absolutely does exist. It is the reasonable worst-case scenario, and the planning assumptions, as the National Audit Office has outlined, are those which we seek to, and have taken steps to, mitigate. She also referred to Operation Kingfisher, which is the programme led by the Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in order to ensure that we can intervene as appropriate in particular sectors in the event of no deal. I am afraid that there is no operation dodo, although I can well understand why the Independent Group for Change would be interested in such an exercise.
Taxpayers are funding the £100 million Get Ready for Brexit publicity campaign, but the reality is that they do not actually know what Brexit is going to mean. It is difficult for them when the two prime scenarios we are faced with are no deal and a negotiated deal. On no deal, as we have just heard, there are no real details that the Government are prepared to divulge on Operation Yellowhammer. In relation to a negotiated deal, our Government have given papers to the European Union to negotiate a settlement that the British people will have to live with, even though the British people themselves are not being allowed to see what is being negotiated on their behalf. My question to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is: what is the problem? Is there some need for secrecy? If there is, he should explain it, but I do not think the British people want to have a secret Government. They want openness. Or is it a fact that there simply is no plan for no deal and that there is not really a plan for getting a deal? If that is the case, we ought to know about that, too.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for the points she makes. With respect to the preparations for no deal, I listed some of them in my statement. I would welcome any Member of this House who would like to visit the Cabinet Office and the Department for Exiting the European Union to be taken through the extensive preparations that we are taking. As I mentioned earlier, it is the case that on everything from the provision of transitional simplified procedures and the allocation of EORI—economic operators registration and identification —numbers to the traffic management steps that we are taking in Kent, and indeed the information that exists on gov.uk/brexit, there is plenty of information that enables businesses to prepare for no deal. And, as I mentioned in my statement, that preparation will not be wasted in the case of a deal, because we are securing—well, we are seeking to secure—a free trade agreement with the European Union. With respect to negotiations, the Prime Minister, the Brexit Secretary, the Foreign Secretary and I have been clear: we are seeking to replace the backstop with alternative arrangements on the island of Ireland, and in any withdrawal agreement we want to guarantee the rights of EU citizens and move towards a future economic partnership that is based on a best-in-class free trade agreement.
In the Minister’s statement, he rightly praised the work of the PSNI in Northern Ireland. He will know that the new Chief Constable of Northern Ireland warned just a week ago that any deployment by the PSNI to monitor checkpoints or cameras at or near the border would risk his officers being killed by dissident republicans. Can the Minister offer a guarantee to the people of Northern Ireland that that will never happen, that those officers will not be asked to patrol a hard border and that he will not be putting their lives at risk?
I thank the hon. Gentleman because he gives me an opportunity once again to record my thanks to the Police Service of Northern Ireland—a brave group of men and women who do so much to keep not just the people of Northern Ireland but the people of the whole of the United Kingdom safe. We have absolutely no intention of erecting infrastructure at or near the border that would require the PSNI to place its officers at risk. Moreover, I want to underline the point that the threat from dissident republicans remains, whatever future relationship we have with the European Union. It is important that we all remain vigilant and support the PSNI in its valuable work against those who would seek to disrupt the peace process.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Will he update the House on the advice and funding that are available to ensure that businesses, particularly small and medium-sized businesses, are ready for Brexit on 31 October?
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has significantly increased the amount of money available. He has tripled the amount of money available specifically to ensure that customs agents are trained. Money has also been supplied to business representative organisations to ensure that the information that it is necessary should be ready is widely available, in particular to SMEs, which are the backbone of our economy.
May I return to the concerns about lack of access to the Schengen information system and the 70 million pieces of data it contains, compared with other databases that contain very much less data? Will the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster guarantee that no vulnerable person, in particular no vulnerable child who may be missing, abducted or at risk of criminal exploitation, will be put in any danger by the loss of access to that system?
The hon. Lady makes a very good point. We have talked to the EU because it is in the collective interests of the UK and the EU to make sure that law enforcement and national security instruments which work to the benefit of both of us are shared. That is what we seek to do.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments in his statement on the provision of training and resources for the production of catch certificates for seafood. I presume that he is talking from the point of view of DEFRA and England, because the devolved Administration in Scotland, through Marine Scotland, are responsible for catch certificates in Scotland. What assurance has he received from the Scottish Government that adequate resources and training have been and will be provided to allow all catch certificates to be in place in time for 31 October?
I know how effectively my hon. Friend stands up for the fishing sector—the catching sector and the processing sector. I have been talking to the Scottish Government and the relevant Cabinet Secretary, Fergus Ewing, to ensure that we do everything we can. We want to remain closely in touch not just with the Scottish Government but with good constituency Members like my hon. Friend and local authorities to ensure that the resources are there. Of course, if specific concerns have been expressed by Aberdeenshire as a local authority or by individual businesses, I hope he will bring them to my attention.
The chief executive of the Dale Farm dairy co-operative, who speaks for 1,300 dairy farmers across the United Kingdom, says that leaving the European Union without a deal would “wipe out” all profitability in the dairy sector. Cumbrian dairy farmers know that too, yet there is not a single explicit mention of the dairy industry in the Yellowhammer document. Is that because the truth of how badly hit dairy farming in Cumbria and elsewhere will be is so serious that it is not even written down, or is it that the Government have overlooked the interests and needs of Britain’s dairy industry?
No and no.
On Monday there was a welcome announcement by the Department of Health and Social Care that, for up to six months, certain British citizens living in the EU—about 180,000 retirees and others—will have the cost of access to healthcare services in the EU met by the UK Government. What message does my right hon. Friend have for those vulnerable and elderly British citizens living in the EU who might fall ill after the six-month period and who cannot afford health insurance?
I thank my hon. Friend for his outstanding advocacy on behalf of EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU.
On the broader point, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has written in precisely those terms, but we are also taking additional steps, member state by member state, to ensure access to healthcare. The NHS also stands ready to ensure that any UK national can get the treatment they need.
When the Minister appeared before the Brexit Committee on 5 September, he was unable to answer my question about what the reaction has been in Ireland to the UK Government unilaterally reneging on the commitments around the Irish border found in the joint report of December 2017. He did say, though, that he was looking forward to meeting the Tanaiste—the Irish Deputy Prime Minister —and other Irish politicians that weekend. Now he has had a chance to meet them, can he tell us what the reaction is of the Irish Government and of the politicians who represent the majority of the population in Northern Ireland to that unilateral reneging by the UK Government?
To be fair to the Minister, I should warn him that I met the Tanaiste last week on a cross-party delegation in Dublin, so I know the answer. I would like him to tell the House what Ireland thinks of how the UK is behaving.
It is always good to ask a question to which you already know the answer.
I have had cordial conversations with the Tanaiste and, indeed, other Irish politicians about the vital importance of making sure that we do everything possible to underpin the gains made by the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. Those gains are not simply in the economic life of the island of Ireland but, as the hon. Gentleman says, in human flourishing and in stronger cultural and personal relationships. I had the opportunity at the British Irish Association conference to underline this Government’s commitment to strengthening all those relationships.
I thank my right hon. Friend for so clearly setting out the contingency planning he is doing, but I am deeply concerned about the way in which leaked information has sometimes wilfully been used or misinterpreted to cause anxiety among our constituents. Can he reassure parents in my constituency whose children rely on short shelf-life medicines and liquid medical foods, which cannot be stockpiled, that those supplies will not be stopped when we leave the EU?
My right hon. Friend makes two very good points. I understand that, in the political to and fro, people do not always look at the detail in every document, but she is right that it is important for all of us that we do not turn a sliver of a leak into an exaggeration. We face undoubted challenges in leaving the European Union, but one area where the greatest amount of mitigation has been taking place is in making sure that we can continue to provide all our constituents and the NHS with the drugs and medical supplies they need to maintain good health.
As the Minister knows, the Freight Transport Association says that long delays at Dover are inevitable after a no deal because hundreds of non-compliant trucks will continue to arrive. Those trucks will have lengthy inspections in a lorry park in Calais that has only 300 spaces. When the lorry park is full, the ferries will stop. On what grounds does he reject that assessment?
I do not. The Freight Transport Association, the Road Haulage Association and other organisations have been invaluable in making sure that the Government can take steps to communicate with individual hauliers, companies and traders about the steps they might need to take to obviate those risks. If traders ensure their goods have the appropriate transit accompanying documents or movement reference number barcode, they will smooth their passage through Calais without needing to go into any car park at all.
While Scottish Conservative Members actively want a deal, Scottish nationalist Members are actively pursuing no deal, because they have no desire to support any deal put to this House. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is better that the two Governments of Scotland work together? Will he explain what conversations he has had with the Scottish Government? Does he know how much of the no-deal planning and preparation money of the Scottish Government has been spent in Scotland?
It is an interesting feature of this House that whenever a Scottish Conservative Member makes an important and honest point, the decibel level from the Scottish nationalist party Members rises to the sort of pitch normally heard at Parkhead when Celtic scores a goal. The truth is that my hon. Friend is absolutely right: while the Scottish Government have taken some steps to mitigate the consequences, there is more that they can and must do. I salute the work of Scottish Ministers such as Humza Yousaf and the Deputy First Minister, who have taken a pragmatic approach, but it is critical that the First Minister and representatives here live up to their responsibilities to the people of Scotland and support a deal.
The Government are spending £100 million on the Get Ready for Brexit campaign—the largest ad campaign for 70 years, which is clearly intended to provide a party political, partisan drumbeat to the general election that the Prime Minister has twice tried and twice failed to get through this House. An article on Buzzfeed reveals that the data collected through the Get Ready for Brexit campaign is being centrally collected, and I have been inundated by communications from concerned civil servants who are worried about what this Government are asking them to do. When was it decided to collect that data, by whom, and with what purposes? What security is the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster providing to the 15 million citizens who use the gov.uk each week? What help has he given the Information Commissioner, who at my request is now investigating?
I hope that as a result of the hon. Lady’s question, for which I am grateful, more of her constituents and others will visit the Brexit pages on the gov.uk website. The Government Digital Service has done a wonderful job in making sure that we provide information. As a result of the information campaign, which is authored, directed and supervised by civil servants, many more businesses are better prepared. It is the case that we make sure that the data we have is used better to serve our citizens.
One area of risk not mentioned in the redacted Yellowhammer documents relates to the UK oil-refining sector. Since my right hon. Friend and I last spoke about this, have the Government had a chance to develop their thinking on how best to protect UK oil refineries if they are to face new tariffs for selling product into EU markets?
My right hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. If we leave without a deal, refineries in this country will face a new tariff for selling fuel into the EU, which inevitably will have an impact on their business mode. The Business Secretary and I have been in touch with those companies to ensure that we are in a position to support them. It is vital that we recognise that those refineries, as well as being key distribution hubs for fuel, rely on exports to the EU and beyond as part of their current business model, which is why we are so anxious to support them.
Although the Yellowhammer report refers to the channel ports, it does not mention the Welsh ports of Fishguard and Holyhead, even though Holyhead is the second-busiest roll-on roll-off port in the UK. In August, Department for Transport documents marked “Officially sensitive” said that following an abrupt exit from the European Union, two thirds of vehicles would not be allowed into the ports. Why did Holyhead and Fishguard not warrant inclusion in Yellowhammer, or are the five pages crowbarred from the Government’s hands merely dust thrown into our eyes?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the opportunity to say that I was discussing precisely how we can ensure the free flow of goods from Holyhead into the Irish Republic and vice versa with representatives of the Welsh Assembly Government earlier this week. I had the opportunity to visit Holyhead and to talk to the port authorities, ferry companies and hauliers, to bring them up to speed with the Government’s preparations and to learn from them what more the Government could do to help them.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for the detail he has given today, but before he gives Derek Mackay another £52 million, can he find out what has happened to the £92 million he has already had, because Scotland’s local authorities are getting precious little sight of it?
I am disappointed to hear that Scotland’s many excellent councils are not receiving the money the Scottish Government have been allocated to pass on to them. Once again, even though there are many good Ministers in the Scottish Government, with whom it is a pleasure to work, it is a pity that the First Minister consistently puts the narrow political interests of the Scottish nationalist party ahead of the interests of Scottish citizens, for which Scottish Conservative MPs are such effective advocates.
Regarding the preparations for Brexit, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster told “The Andrew Marr Show” on 1 September that there “will be no shortages of fresh food”. He was absolute and resolute. However, the Yellowhammer documents, which we have now seen, reveal that no deal will “reduce availability and choice” of fresh products. My question is, who should the public believe—the Minister or his Department?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. It is important to recognise that, in the event of a no-deal exit, we will have means by which we can ensure that there is a wide choice of products on our shelves and that, thanks to the efforts made by our retailers, we continue to enjoy the choice, range and plenitude of products we have grown used to.
I met local farmers recently. Like me, they generally support Brexit and are frustrated by those in this House who will vote against any Brexit deal, no matter how good it is. However, they want to know what is happening with the Government’s published no-deal tariff. They want to know whether it will be revised, whether the agriculture section will change and whether we will have a debate on it.
That is a very good point. We published a no-deal tariff schedule in March, and it is going to be updated. It is important to recognise that there was specific protection in that no-deal tariff schedule for agrifood, as a vulnerable sector that requires that additional protection.
One thing I would say, and this question gives me the opportunity to do so, is that there are sometimes those who actively embrace no deal and think it would be the best of all possible worlds. I think that is absolutely not the case; it is far better that we have a deal. There are others who say that, in no deal, there will be consequences that are almost biblical in their horror. The truth is that no deal will generate challenges, particularly for the agrifood sector. That is why the Government are taking steps to mitigate them, and those steps are along the lines that I have outlined today. However, there is much more that DEFRA is doing, which the Secretary of State in that Department, and other Secretaries of State, will have the opportunity to acquaint the House and the public with in the days and weeks to come.
Earlier, the Minister said the Government were talking with the industry concerning the effects of EU tariffs on petrol exports. What he did not say is that the UK is proposing to have a zero tariff on petrol imports. That could result in the closure of two oil refineries, the loss of £50 million a year to the industry, the loss of 2,000 jobs and a potential loss of fuel availability. Will he be more specific and say what the Government will do about that?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Where we look at tariff schedules, there are things that we have to balance. One is appropriate protection for sectors, and that is why the agrifood sector, because of the vulnerabilities and the level of the EU’s common external tariff, is one sector that we have sought particularly to protect. However, we also need to have regard to the interests of the consumer and of industry overall. We need to make sure that we keep access to fuel at a level and a price that ensure that our economy continues to motor ahead.
A decisive majority of my constituents expect us to leave the European Union on 31 October, in accordance with that historic Brexit vote. However, they do expect the Government to take care of supplies of medicines and to ensure that our health services are protected. Can my right hon. Friend give assurances specifically on the supply of hormone replacement therapy medicines, which are so important for women?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The availability of HRT medicine has made a dramatic and beneficial difference to the lives of women in this country. It has been a medical breakthrough over the past few decades, which has to be celebrated. It has been the case, even before we have left the EU, that there have been particular problems with HRT supply in certain areas, and that underlines the fact that, occasionally, there can be interruptions in supply of particular medicines, which are completely unrelated to Brexit or other challenges. We are doing everything that we can to ensure that we have a free flow of medical products through the short straits and also additional capacity to ensure that medical products, including HRT treatments, are available as before after we leave.
As the Minister has dodged the specific questions from the right hon. and learned Members for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) and for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), he is giving the House the impression that those Yellowhammer document versions were improperly manipulated by the Government from the ones that were leaked to the ones that were eventually published. May I now ask him very specifically for the fourth occasion: when was the title changed from base case to worst case?
As I have said on more than four occasions, it is the case that the base scenario relates to the unalterable facts; a reasonable worst-case scenario relates to the Yellowhammer assumptions.
In his statement, my right hon. Friend referred to the measures that were taken to ensure that fish caught today along the coast of Cornwall would be sold the following day in the EU. This welcome statement will reassure fishermen in Newlyn, but uncertainty, lack of investment, and concerns over ownership of the quota are already causing problems. Will the Secretary say something to reassure fishermen that we can get on with this, so that they can know exactly where their future lies?
My hon. Friend is a brilliant advocate for the fishing industry. It is the case that, in the event of a no-deal exit, we anticipate that we will be able to negotiate as an independent coastal state at the Fisheries Council in December 2019. It is also the case that, if we do leave without a deal on 31 October, we anticipate that the current level of access to particular stocks should be maintained in a continuity approach.
In response to written questions, the Government had this to say in the event of a no-deal Brexit:
“A system of hardship payments, benefit advances and budgeting loans will be available for those who need them.”
Operation Yellowhammer warns of food and medicine shortages and soaring prices. That will drive thousands of the most vulnerable people in our society into debt—debt with loans—and despair. How will people qualify for these hardship payments and loans, and when will they be made available to them?
It is important to make two points. The first is that Operation Yellowhammer, as I have pointed out, deals with a reasonable worst-case scenario for which mitigating steps have been taken since it was first drawn up. On the second point, of course Government and the Department for Work and Pensions always stand ready, in the event of any change in economic circumstances which has an adverse effect on vulnerable people, to step in and to help. None the less, the steps that we are taking in order to mitigate those impacts will, I hope, ensure that we do not need to intervene in that way.
What assurances has my right hon. Friend been able to give the port of Portsmouth, which is, as he knows, a roll-on roll-off port? He is aware of my concerns about lorries parked on the M27 and the A31 in my constituency in particular. Hampshire County Council has already invested significant amounts of my constituents’ money in preparatory work. Can he reassure me that his Department will see that Hampshire gets its share of this new welcome Government investment to prepare for a no-deal exit if it happens, and, specifically, that the very latest DFT modelling is with the local resilience forum in Hampshire so that it can plan practically and responsibly for whatever scenario comes forth?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Portsmouth is one of our most important ports. It is important for a host of reasons—for the commercial life of this nation, for access to medical supplies and, of course, for access to our Crown dependencies and the Channel Islands. It is the case that we need to work closely with the local resilience forum in Hampshire to ensure that it understands what our modelling assumptions are and take appropriate steps. I know that it is the case that both the Secretary of State for Transport and the Secretary of State at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government have been in touch with the LRF recently, but obviously more work needs to be done.
The recent Operation Yellowhammer report notes that low-income groups will be disproportionately affected by any price rises in food and fuel. What plans have the Government put in place to offset the effect on low-income families in the event a no-deal Brexit on 31 October?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. She is absolutely right that it is the most vulnerable who should be at the forefront of our minds in the event of price rises in any commodity. As I mentioned in response to the hon. Member for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey), one reason that we have taken the overall approach to tariffs that we have is that we want to ensure that the impact of leaving means that we can keep tariffs as low as possible so that we can keep prices as low as possible. Although it may be the case that one or two specific commodities will see price rises, we also anticipate that prices will drop for some other food commodities.
It is essential that we prepare fully to avoid any congestion around the port of Dover that could be caused by lorry drivers arriving without the necessary customs paperwork. Could the Minister therefore please confirm that HMRC in particular is doing all it can in this regard, and specifically that it is recruiting and training sufficient numbers of staff to cope with the process?
HMRC is not only recruiting and training staff for itself; money has also been made available by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ensure that business has the support and staff that it needs to be ready. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the things we need to do is contact those businesses that do the most trade with the EU. There are some 3,000 businesses over a particular size that are responsible for a significant amount of trade with the EU, and HMRC is in touch with them this week to ensure that they fully understand what is required of them by way of customs procedures.
The Minister has said that in the event of a no-deal Brexit, people will have “the food they need”, raising the terrifying spectacle of him deciding what we in the north-east should be eating. What actually puts food on the tables of many people are our excellent manufacturers with their closely-integrated European supply chains. That is why Make UK has said that we stand to lose the most from a no-deal Brexit. What specific financial support is available for north-eastern manufacturers facing a no-deal Brexit?
I would never seek to tell anyone in the north-east what they should eat. Having spent five happy months working in the north-east, I know that the range and quality of cuisine offered to the people of Newcastle and the surrounding area is second to none.
On the hon. Lady’s specific point about manufacturing, I had the opportunity earlier this week to meet manufacturers in the west midlands that represent companies with manufacturing interests across the United Kingdom. One of the things that I underlined there is that money is available through business representative organisations and others to help such companies to prepare. If, in the event of no deal, businesses that are fundamentally viable experience any particular economic turbulence that requires us to step in to see them over that turbulence so that they can survive in the future, we stand ready to do so.
My right hon. Friend is a former DEFRA Secretary, so will he confirm once again the pivotal importance of securing a deal for our British farmers and food producers? May I also gently nudge him on the rather lackadaisical approach to the pressing needs of Northern Ireland in the absence of Stormont—just waiting to see what might turn up, when businesses and individuals across Northern Ireland are now starting to panic as 31 October looms large? This rather lackadaisical approach of “Let’s wait and see what happens” is no longer sufficient.
I absolutely take my hon. Friend’s points. First, I think it has been the case that farmers’ unions across the UK—the Ulster Farmers’ Union, NFU Scotland, the Farmers’ Union of Wales and the NFU in England—have been clear that they would infinitely prefer a deal, as would I. As I had occasion to state earlier and will happily repeat again, the sector that is most vulnerable in the event of no deal is the agrifood sector, which is why we need to be conscious of its concerns.
With respect to Northern Ireland, I hope that nothing I have said suggests or implies that the Government take a lackadaisical approach. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Northern Ireland Secretary, Home Office Ministers and I have made regular trips to Northern Ireland, and are in contact with the Northern Ireland civil service. We are acutely aware of the difficulties that the Northern Ireland civil service would be in under a no-deal situation if the Assembly were not restored. I would also say that we need—and I hope we can get—greater clarity about what might happen on the other side of the Irish border, but that is a sovereign matter for the EU and the Irish Government. I do not make any criticism of them, but obviously it would be in all our interests if we were able to work to mitigate the impacts in the event of no deal.
Eighty per cent. of cheddar cheese is from dairy farms in Northern Ireland. It is manufactured in Ireland and then comes across at Holyhead into other parts of the UK. What assessment has been made of the impact on the dairy industry across Ireland and the UK? Can the Minister rule out food riots as a result of a lack of basics like cheddar?
That was a very serious point but the final twist, I felt, was wrong. [Interruption.] The reason it is a serious point, to be fair to the hon. Lady, is that a significant amount of raw milk from Northern Ireland is processed south of the border. The two most vulnerable agrifood sectors in the UK are sheep meat, across the UK, and the Northern Ireland dairy sector. She is absolutely right to raise that. As for the prospect of food riots, I am afraid that that is precisely the sort of exaggerated language that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) pointed out, does nothing to enable us to focus on the real risks and challenges and the importance of mitigating them.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments that our one united civil service is preparing for Brexit. Can he reassure the House that there will be direct due diligence in Scotland to make sure that companies, community groups and Government agencies are getting the support they need to prepare for Brexit? Can he also confirm how much of the £90 million given to the devolved Administration in Scotland has been spent on supporting frontline services there?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. We are doing everything possible to make sure that the funding is there. If there are community groups and others in Scotland who are not receiving the funding from the Scottish Government that they should, I hope he will bring that to my attention. I know that Scottish Government Ministers would never want to stand in the way of helping Scottish citizens.
The Minister’s statement suggests that progress has been made since the Operation Yellowhammer document was leaked, but it is a little bit difficult to check against delivery, so when will he publish the most up-to-date version?
I have just updated the House on the many, many steps that we have taken in order to ensure that we are better prepared.
On 19 August, I tabled a question asking the Minister to publish his no-deal planning, so I am very grateful for his invitation to MPs to attend his Department to view that. On 9 September, I received an answer to that question saying that due to Prorogation it was not possible to respond. I have also asked that the up-to-date Yellowhammer document be published and that each version of it be published. The written answer to that question was the same—that due to Prorogation it was not possible to respond. Will he now commit to publishing the various versions of Yellowhammer?
I am very sorry that the hon. Lady’s questions were not answered. We will and we have published extensive information about our preparations for exit, and I would be more than happy to direct her to those. However, I would stress that Yellowhammer—a reasonable worst-case scenario—is just one aspect of the preparations that we have undertaken, and it would be wrong to think that it was the only thing that the Government were concentrating on.
The Minister has repeated his assertion that in the event of a no-deal Brexit some food prices will go up and some will go down, but our constituents deserve a straight answer. Will the cost of the weekly food basket of an average low-income family be higher, lower or the same in the event of a no-deal Brexit?
That is a very fair point, but it is one of those questions that it is impossible to answer, because none of us can predict the variety of factors, from fluctuations in exchange rates to harvests to world grain prices, that will all affect the price of food. The one thing that I would say is that the Government are doing everything they can, and everything all of us can, in order to ensure, through application of the correct tariffs and through making sure that we have correct flows at the border, that people can continue to have access to not just plentiful but competitively priced and healthy food.
I should probably declare an interest, as the parliamentary RSPB species champion for the yellowhammer. The Minister has sought to give assurances about the transportation of goods and the status of people in particular but has given little detail on services, so can he answer a question from a solicitor constituent of mine who uses European enforcement orders for legal judgments against companies registered in other EU countries? In the event of no deal, will existing EEOs remain enforceable after no deal, and after no deal, how will people be able to enforce judgments against EU-registered entities?
That is a very good point. I believe it is the case that work is going on with individual EU member states to provide reassurance and guarantees on that, but I will write to the hon. Gentleman about the situation that pertains to the provision of services in each of those member states and the impact it will have on UK businesses and citizens.
He was an hon. Friend, and I very much hope he still is.
He is a very honourable Friend.
It is good to hear it. Not merely an hon. Gentleman, but an hon. Friend—I am sure the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) will rejoice in the fact of that approbation.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster may recall that the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, representing the UK auto industry, described the prospect of a no-deal Brexit as an “existential threat” to their sector. Nobody could complain that they have not made preparations for a no-deal Brexit—they have spent millions of pounds in so doing—but I have not heard them say anything that indicates that they have changed their mind about the severity of the threat they face in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Has he?
I had the opportunity to meet representatives of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and of others in the automotive sector earlier this week, and it is fair to say that the hon. Gentleman makes a very good point in saying that those businesses have undertaken extensive preparations. We heard earlier some doubt from the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) about the extent to which business is prepared. Extensive preparations have been undertaken, but it is the case that in the event of no deal, there will be particular challenges in making sure that we have the effective flow of products to the just-in-time supply chains of these companies. That is why we are taking the steps we are, to ensure that we have effective border flow. The steps that I have outlined and other steps that Government are taking are designed explicitly to ensure that the highly skilled, highly talented and hugely valuable workforces in all those companies can continue to produce the automobiles that are the envy of the world.
Was there a plan equivalent to Operation Yellowhammer back in 2016 to deal with the widely predicted run on the pound and financial catastrophe if the country dared to vote for Brexit, and is there any reason to believe that our current worst-case scenario is any more likely to materialise than that which applied three years ago?
My right hon. Friend makes a characteristically elegant point, and it goes to the heart of this. None of us can predict with absolute accuracy what will happen in the future. During the run-up to the 2016 vote, a number of people made lurid predictions about what a vote to leave might lead to, and those lurid predictions were not found to be true. Government can take and have taken steps to mitigate the impacts of a reasonable worst-case scenario.
Like the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) and my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), I am concerned about the supply of medicines in the event of a no-deal Brexit, especially when a constituent of mine, Des, tells me that his local pharmacy is not receiving certain prescriptions because the suppliers say they are not sure what will happen after 31 October. What would the right hon. Gentleman say to my constituent, and what steps is he taking to ensure the supply of medicines for hospitals and independent pharmacies in the event of a no-deal Brexit?
I am disappointed to hear that Brexit is being cited in these circumstances, because obviously it has not yet happened, and we enjoy the free flow of goods through the short straits and elsewhere. I would be interested to know further details, and I hope that I can put the hon. Lady’s constituent’s mind at rest; it is important that people have peace of mind when we are talking about these important issues. It is the case that appropriate steps have been taken to ensure that we have the maximum level of flow at the short straits. That is why I stressed earlier that business readiness is so important. If all businesses are ready, it means that flow for everyone is easier. It is also the case that the Department for Transport and the Department of Health and Social Care have put in place provision to ensure that there is additional freight capacity specifically for what are called category 1 goods, and those include the medicines that her constituents rely on.
What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of ferry and port capacity in the UK, and in EU ports, for transporting goods to and from the UK after we leave the European Union?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. There are a number of ports through which companies in the UK and the EU can find alternative routes to the short straits to ensure their goods can find a way to market. The British Ports Association and others emphasise that there is significant additional capacity that can be utilised. It is the ingenuity of the private sector that will help us in government to ensure that trade and commerce succeed in the future.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has clearly not complied with the terms of the resolution of 9 September, because he has not provided all the documents. My constituents listening to this statement will feel that the Government are not being clear with them about the impact on food, medicines and security. Is it true that, within the Yellowhammer documents, there are extensive plans to redeploy police from their home constabularies to London, the borders and Northern Ireland?
The hon. Gentleman can reassure his constituents, as I know would always be his first intention, by drawing their attention to gov.uk/brexit on which there is a wealth of information that will provide them with the means to ensure that the businesses for which they work, or that they own, can be ready. Operational decisions about police resources are of course a matter for chief constables.
Given my right hon. Friend’s apparent close and positive relationship with the Scottish Government, will he ask on our behalf how much of the £92 million that has been sent up to the Scottish Government is being given to local authorities, specifically Aberdeenshire? When we ask the question, the answer is not forthcoming.
I am disappointed to hear that. I will use the good offices I have with Scottish Government Ministers to make sure that the money is spent. It is absolutely vital that the money raised by the Exchequer and shared with the Scottish Government is spent for Scottish citizens, especially to ensure that local authorities have everything they need to do their valuable work. In particular, I commend Aberdeenshire Council, which has an inspirational leader and a fantastic team of Conservatives who are responsible for delivering services.
Picking up on the questions from my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) and the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), Primary Care Network Leeds has told me that shortages are already being caused by the stockpiling of HRT and Naproxen, a painkiller, and the health unions say that no deal could devastate the NHS and cause fatal shortages of medicines. Can the Minister tell us now that no one in this country will suffer in their health because of a no-deal Brexit?
Although Opposition Members have rightly raised serious concerns about the possible impact of no deal, it is a shame those concerns have not been accompanied by an awareness of their own role in rejecting a perfectly good deal three times and leading us to this point. If we achieve a deal with the EU, Yellowhammer will not be necessary, so does my right hon. Friend envisage that, between now and 31 October, MPs will get a chance to vote on a withdrawal agreement package?
I sincerely hope so. My hon. Friend makes a very acute point, which cannot be made often enough. If people want to avoid a no-deal exit, there is an easy way of doing so, and that is to vote for a deal. He did so, as I did, on three occasions. Some Opposition Members also voted for a deal. I would encourage them all to vote for a deal in order to ensure that we can leave with one.
Let me be generous to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster: let us imagine that his no-deal preparations are successful and that if we were to leave, we would do so in a benign way. Is he aware that in its “Fiscal risks report”, published in July, the independent watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility, said that a benign no deal would cost the public purse £30 billion a year for the next four years? What preparations have the Government made to plug that £120 billion gap of a benign no-deal Brexit?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. One of the things that I think any forecaster would say is that when someone makes forecasts, of course they look at a variety of different factors, but facts and forecasts can change. The Office for Budget Responsibility has in the past made forecasts, with the best will in the world and the best minds available, and the outcome has not necessarily always been exactly as predicted. Of course, economic forecasts are helpful, but it is always appropriate to balance them by recognising the many other variables in our economy.
We have, understandably, concentrated on the movement and supply of goods in the case, which I hope never happens, of no deal. However, data flow is the lifeblood of businesses and, indeed, public services, and we have heard very little about that. What assessment does my right hon. Friend have of data flows immediately after 31 October in the case of no deal, and what is the state of data adequacy preparations? How long will it take to get there?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. If we leave without a deal, it will be the case that we will have to wait some time before data adequacy is granted. It should be granted, because it is the case that similar jurisdictions outside the EU, like the Crown dependencies—the Channel Islands and so on—have data adequacy ratings. It is also the case, however, that companies can take steps by having standard contractual clauses with their counterparties in the EU in order to ensure the uninterrupted flow of personal data. I encourage companies in that position to look at the information on the Information Commissioner’s website, which can help them.
My constituent Jenny is currently undergoing treatment for cancer and has been seeking reassurances from local health trusts about the continuation of cancer treatment in the event of a no-deal exit from the European Union. As her constituency MP, I have also submitted freedom of information requests, including to Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, seeking the risk assessments in the event of a no-deal exit, but it has not shared that information with me. My constituent Jenny is also concerned about the capacity of UK ports to bring in nuclear medicines in the event of a no-deal exit. What assessment has the Minister made of the capacity of UK ports to bring in important medicines, including for cancer treatment, insulin for diabetics and formula milk for formula-fed babies?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right: we need to make sure that not just individual medicines but medical products, including radioisotopes, are available for the NHS to use. Extensive steps have been taken, not just, as I mentioned earlier, to ensure the smooth flow of goods through the short straits, but to ensure that there is additional capacity at other ports and that that capacity can be provided by a variety of different modes of transport.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is deliberately dodging questions this afternoon, which suggests that he still has not got his head around the House’s scrutineering role over the Government. Perhaps he should refer again to yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling. I would have liked to have asked him a couple of difficult questions about statutory safeguards for EU citizens in the UK in the event of no deal, and about the fact that being determined not to have a hard border in Ireland is no solution at all and that the Government have still not made any practical proposals. Instead, I will ask him a really simple question: for the fifth or sixth time of asking, what was the date on which the Government changed the title of the Yellowhammer document?
I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for reminding me of the vital role that this House plays in scrutiny, which I take exceptionally seriously. It is and always has been the case that we have a base scenario based on unarguable facts and a reasonable worst-case scenario. That has always been the case.
I recently visited farmers in my constituency, including Jim Cowan, to discuss the impact of Brexit on their already fragile business. They and the National Farmers Union are worried sick that farms will close down and are not convinced by the Government’s rhetoric. The Minister has said that they are mitigating the effects on farmers, but how?
There are several steps that we can take. The first and most important is ensuring that we have an appropriate tariff regime, which makes sure that we safeguard the sector. There is a variety of ways in which DEFRA can intervene to help any hard-hit sector. We can also ensure, as the Department for International Trade has been doing, that there are new markets for our farmers’ excellent produce.
I hold the Minister in the highest regard, but I was disappointed that so little about Northern Ireland was reflected in his statement. I pay tribute to him for putting on the record yet again his commitment—indeed, his words were “absolutely committed”—to the Good Friday agreement, but does he agree that actions speak louder than words? The Yellowhammer document dated 2 August 2019 explained and warned about the real risks of the disruption of a no-deal Brexit in Northern Ireland. I will quote a particular sentence that I want the Minister to address. It states that the disruption
“will be particularly severe in border communities where both criminal and dissident groups already operate with greater threat and impunity.”
How is the Minister mitigating that threat? He boasted about conducting roadshows and visiting businesses. If he tells me that he is sending roadshows to Crossmaglen and South Armagh, I will be amazed, but I will welcome them.
I have several things to say to the hon. Lady, for whom I have enormous respect and whose commitment to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and to peace and progress in Northern Ireland is second to none in this House. She is absolutely right. Roadshows and other activities were to ensure that businesses throughout the UK were prepared for exporting. Critically, I had the opportunity to visit border communities with the Police Service of Northern Ireland and others. She is right that one of the big risks of leaving without a deal is the progress that has been made in those communities on either side of the border. That is why it is critical that we all do everything we can to support a deal. In particular, we need to recognise in the language we use as Ministers and in our co-operation with partners in the Irish Government the importance of operating in a way that promotes and underpins peace.
I know that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster understands the importance of my constituency and the port of Holyhead to trade to and from the Republic of Ireland. I was disappointed that, when he visited, he did not arrange to meet me. I could have given him the benefit of my experience of not just serving in this House but working in the port of Holyhead for more than a decade before coming to this place. He did not explain in a previous answer why the port of Holyhead was omitted from the Yellowhammer document. Will he please tell the House why that was the case?
It was a pleasure to visit Holyhead and I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s hard work not just on behalf of his constituents but in that port. I pay tribute to those who work there. Again, I stress that Yellowhammer is a reasonable worst-case scenario, which looks at a particular set of challenges. The Government have taken many other steps, including communication with the Welsh Assembly Government and their Labour Ministers, to ensure that we can support the port of Holyhead in its vital work.
The Minister told us that HMRC has allocated EORI numbers to 88,000 VAT-registered businesses that currently trade with the EU. However, two years ago, HMRC told the Treasury Committee that 130,000 such businesses need them. What has happened to the other 42,000?
Many of them had applied beforehand for EORI numbers.
Operation Yellowhammer states that delays to animal medicines could
“reduce our ability to prevent and control”
What reassurances would the Minister give to livestock farmers such as those in my constituency of Brecon and Radnorshire that Brexit will not have an impact on access to those medicines?
I welcome the hon. Lady to the House and congratulate her on her victory. In the run up to that victory, I had the opportunity to visit her beautiful constituency and talk to farmers, and one of the things that I was able to reassure them of was that vet medicines are part of the category 1 set of goods that are absolutely prioritised for entry into this country because, of course, we want to make sure that we can deal effectively with any threats to animal health.
A few weeks ago, I went with a parliamentary delegation to visit the port of Rotterdam. That port is trying to recruit more than 100 vets to do checks on animals, food and other related products. We were also shown where they are going to build major lorry parks to deal with the knock-on effects of those checks, and they confirmed that that will result in delays in fresh products getting across to the United Kingdom. If there will be delays in fresh products leaving the port of Rotterdam, how can the Minister say that that will not result in a shortage of those fresh products in UK shops?
It is important to state that it would actually be sanitary and phytosanitary checks undertaken in the UK that would delay those products, and we are not undertaking SPS checks in the UK because of our continuity approach.
Picking up on the points well made by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) and the Minister’s response to the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant), I, too, appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman’s comments have been much more thoughtful than many made about Ireland from others on his Front Bench and in the rest of his party. However, his statement today was very banal. Can he specifically tell us what the Government are now doing to enhance those provisions in the Belfast/Good Friday agreement that develop a relationship based on mutual respect, recognising our mutual interest in the people of Northern Ireland? What, specifically, are the Government now doing with the Irish Government?
Talks are taking place at a number of levels. I had the opportunity to meet the Tánaiste and other TDs recently, and the Brexit Secretary, the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have all met representatives of the Irish Government and the Dáil over recent weeks.
One thing I want to emphasise is that, of course, negotiations over our future withdrawal agreement are taking place through the European Commission. The Republic of Ireland, as an EU member state, recognises that, but the strong bilateral links we have are critical. One thing we want to ensure is that not just through the formal relationship we have as a result of a new deal with the EU, but through a plethora of relationships, bilateral and multilateral, we do everything we can to recognise how close a relationship there is between Ireland and this country.
With regard to the earlier exchange about veterinary medicines, which the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster knows a good deal about, it is all well and good saying he would give a guarantee if there was an emergency, but I am led to believe that two operators have already relocated to the EU. What priority will British farmers get not just in the event of an emergency but regarding the normal supply of veterinary medicines? Can he give some guarantees on that?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that. If we maintain effective flow at the border, there should not be any interruption. I would be interested to know from him—I would be grateful if he wrote to me—about the two companies he mentions, as I would want more closely to investigate the situation in which they find themselves.
How many fish lorries—fresh, frozen and vivier—are crossing the channel at the moment? If a no-deal Brexit comes along, how many fish lorries—fresh, frozen and vivier—can be processed by French border teams and at which ports?
It is my understanding that if we have both fresh fish and fresh shellfish, and also, as it happens—I shall explain the circumstances—day-old chicks crossing the border, there are about 70 lorries daily. Those lorries will be prioritised when they arrive at Calais on a specific route to take them to Boulogne-sur-Mer, where a border inspection post will be in place, and if they have the appropriate documentation, the products can be sold so that French consumers can continue to enjoy them.
The Minister said that there would be specific measures put in place at many of the ports. The Yellowhammer report said that there would be limited disruption at ports outside Dover and Calais. In today’s Financial Times a report from the Department for Transport reveals why: the Government believe that two thirds of vehicles will not be compliant with the new checks. The right hon. Gentleman has already acknowledged that Portsmouth, in particular, is critical to the import of medicines from across the EU. Can he tell us why he believes that medical supplies and medicines will not be disrupted in the event of a no-deal Brexit? Will he publish those assumptions in full so that I can look my constituents in the eye and tell them that in just a few weeks’ time they will still have access to life-saving medicines?
The hon. Lady makes a very important point. I would want to stress two things. First, we are currently stress-testing the figure for the degree of readiness. It relies on several calculations. In the past, those figures have been signed off by the Office for National Statistics, but we are testing some of the propositions.
Will you publish the assumptions?
When we are confident that those figures are accurate, of course we will publish and share them. More broadly, I want to emphasise to the hon. Lady that it is not just through the short straits, but through other ports, including Portsmouth, that we will be bringing in the medicines and other commodities we require.
The Secretary of State will be aware of the strategic importance of the Petroineos refinery at Grangemouth in my constituency. What comfort can he give my local community, who know that the redacted paragraph 15 in the Yellowhammer report warns of a potential 2,000 job losses and two refinery closures?
Grangemouth is a vital part not just of Scotland’s but of the UK’s infrastructure, and it is important that we do everything we can to support the workers in that refinery, as we do those in the five other major refineries in the UK.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has obliquely conceded that fresh perishable food supplies will be adversely affected by a no-deal Brexit, but he seems to be dismissive of the idea that this could cause civil disruption. It does cause civil disruption; it has been widely observed in the UK that unexpected disruption to food supplies causes civil unrest. In my experience—and his probably—of working in a supermarket, that can happen. Carrot shortages caused by flooding resulted in the police having to split up fights over carrot supplies in supermarkets. He has to address this seriously. Will he do that? Will he also look at using the fall-back in state aid rules to ensure that businesses are properly compensated for those shortages of vital food supplies?
When I was a food hall porter at British Home Stores in Aberdeen, I never saw any violence when the last lettuce was taken off the shelves, but maybe people are politer in Aberdeen than elsewhere.
On 10 September, the Treasury’s official account tweeted that beer, wine, spirits and cigarettes would all be duty-free for people travelling to the EU if we left without a deal. Does the Secretary of State seriously think that promoting cheap booze and fags is a good use of public money, or does he believe that the hundreds of thousands of people whose jobs could be affected by our exiting the EU without a deal should drown their sorrows to recover from the blow?
The hon. Lady makes a fair point, but we have a responsibility to explain what the duty-free regime will be in the event of a no-deal exit. As I pointed out earlier, a no-deal exit without mitigations would have an adverse economic impact, but we are taking steps to mitigate those and to exploit the opportunities of exit in order to be in the strongest possible position to safeguard jobs in her constituency and to provide new opportunities for the next generation.
We are well aware of the impact of high tariffs on agri-foods, but organic farmers and food producers will not be able to export at all until UK certifiers are approved and registered. That will affect food producers in my constituency and across the UK, particularly those who export across the Irish border. Will that be sorted by the end of next month, or will they just have to accept the impact on their businesses?
The hon. Lady makes a very good point. Food producers will be able to export, but the organic certification under which they secure a particular benefit at the moment will not automatically be granted on 1 November. Some agri-food sectors—not just organics, but seed potatoes, for example—will experience a particularly adverse effect. We are seeking to ensure that the EU recognises that and moves rapidly to mitigate it, but I am grateful to her for having given me an opportunity to put it on the record that yes, the organics sector will be among those that face the strongest headwinds if we leave without a deal.
I read the document on Operation Yellowhammer. Part of it reminded me of a hooded crow masquerading as a swan—otherwise known as a special adviser—but may I draw the right hon. Gentleman’s attention to the part that states that the French authorities have taken steps to ensure the smooth flow of critical produce? He has told us that he has visited ports. Can he also tell us whether any extra reefers have been put in place to ensure that the critical flow of produce continues from those ports to Boulogne-sur-Mer?
We are doing everything we can to ensure that, through the provision of information and additional personnel and resources, we can have that smooth flow.
Paragraph 10 of the document shows that law enforcement agencies and information exchange will be disrupted. Given that that covers child protection issues, drug trafficking, terrorism and international crime, what level of risk increase has the right hon. Gentleman assessed, and is that disruption worth it?
The right hon. Gentleman was a very distinguished Minister, with great experience of criminal justice. He is right—those law enforcement and national security tools are definitely assets—but, having talked to national security and law enforcement professionals, I know that there are steps that we can take, and have taken, to safeguard UK citizens.
The Yellowhammer document states that, in the event of a no-deal crash-out, a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland would be inevitable, but the right hon. Gentleman has dismissed that out of hand. The Government have also pledged to end freedom of movement. We have heard about this mythical technology; can the right hon. Gentleman explain what technology will end freedom of movement by checking people’s passports and visas, and will also check customs arrangements and tariffs on goods moving backwards and forwards between the different markets, without as much as a camera at the border in question?
I think it is the case that we are absolutely committed to there being no hard border. One of the reasons is that—certainly governing the United Kingdom and Ireland, Great Britain and the island of Ireland—we have had a common travel area since 1922, and we are pleased to be able to maintain that. It is not the case that people will require any checks to travel between these two islands.
I wish that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster had been able to join me over a Welsh cake last week in the kitchen at Llwyncelyn Farm, where I met farmers from the Rhondda and nearby. They do not have biblical concerns—they are not worried about plagues of locusts, or anything of that kind—but they have genuine concerns about what will happen to Welsh lamb, because 35% of it is sold in the European Union at the moment, and they fear that if there is a 48% tariff on it, they will end up having to burn carcases. They are also worried that there are not enough UK and national vets in the abattoirs and elsewhere to ensure that they can continue their business into the future. We are relying on migrants from elsewhere in the EU. Will the right hon. Gentleman come to the Rhondda to meet those farmers again, just to make sure that he really has everything in place to protect them if there is a no-deal Brexit?
The hon. Gentleman has made a series of very good and absolutely critical points. One of the sectors that would be most adversely affected by no deal is the sheepmeat sector, and the points that his farmers made to him and he has made here are entirely right. The common external tariff, and the amount of sheepmeat that we export to the EU, will create potential economic disruption. That is why the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has plans to intervene to support farmers in the way to which I alluded earlier.
I believe that we have a significant number of additional vets with the capacity to export health certificates. The hon. Gentleman is also absolutely right about abattoirs. A significant number of those who work in our abattoirs are EU nationals; we value them, which is why I am so pleased that, so far, so many people have been granted status through the EU settlement scheme.
The right hon. Gentleman said in his statement that compliant consignments should experience no delay. However, non-compliant consignments have the potential to cause serious traffic jams and delays.
An issue about which I have been asking for a number of years is the transport of radioactive isotopes, which come through Calais. If they are caught up in delays at Calais owing to non-compliant consignments, they will lose all their useful life. What steps has the right hon. Gentleman taken to ensure that that does not happen? We were previously told that the isotopes would come in through Coventry airport, but we have now been told that that will not happen. What will happen about those radioactive isotopes, which are so important to cancer treatment?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. I would say two things. First, we want to minimise the number of non-compliant consignments of all kinds, which is why we are spending so much on readiness, and why businesses have responded so well. However, radioisotopes and other vital medical supplies are category 1 goods, and as well as ensuring that we have the maximum possible flow over the border, through the short straits, we are providing additional freight capacity. The Department for Transport will update the House on that shortly.
The Yellowhammer report warns of shortages of key drugs and medicines. Can the Minister supply the House with a list of those medicines that are likely to be in short supply? If there is scarcity, what measures are in place to ensure fair and equitable distribution of those scarce medicines across the nations and regions of the United Kingdom?
The first thing to stress yet again is that it is a reasonable worst-case scenario and we have taken steps to mitigate it. In terms of the fair and equitable distribution of medicines across the UK, the system we have, and one I am proud to uphold, is the NHS.
I rise again to mention heat-treated pallets. Twenty-two days ago I asked a question on those, and the right hon. Gentleman confirmed that
“we have been working with the industry in order to ensure that we can mitigate the consequences of that.”—[Official Report, 3 September 2019; Vol. 664, c. 61.]
Since nothing can be exported from the United Kingdom into the EU if it is not on a heat-treated pallet, can he give me one example of the mitigation he has discussed in the last 22 days?
Yes: more pallets.
Operation Yellowhammer highlights that HGVs could be delayed by two and a half days at the border, and although we have heard about medicines and foods and disruption to business, we have not heard about the impact that that will have on lorry drivers. Clearly, there is such inadequate planning that it will be very disruptive to recruitment into the sector, and to the lives of people who work in that industry. What additional steps have the Government taken to support the staff working in the sector?
Again, I stress that we have taken steps to contact hauliers, not just in the UK but in the EU, in order to ensure that they and traders are ready to export; that should significantly reduce the risk of any delays. There are facilities in Kent to ensure that, should there be queueing of any kind, those who are caught in those queues who are hauliers can get the services they need.
The Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and indeed the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster all pledged during the referendum campaign that the rights of EU citizens would be protected automatically after Brexit—in other words, without the need for any application at all. Will he now fulfil that pledge, as recommended by the Home Affairs Committee and the3million, or is he prepared to see tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of EU nationals miss the Government’s deadline and be left without any status in this country at all?
As I mentioned earlier, more than a million people have been granted status. Tens of thousands of people are applying every day, and the process, as far as I know, is working well. The process will continue right up until the end of next year, and we are providing people in this country who are EU nationals with a guarantee of their rights that no other EU nation is matching for UK nationals. It is the most generous offer, and I am delighted that the Home Secretary is presiding over a system that works in the interests of our friends and neighbours.
Because BMW Cowley’s shutdown was brought forward, many workers in my constituency had to choose between missing a rent or mortgage payment and missing a family holiday. So please, can the Minister be specific? Will Operation Kingfisher cover the costs of an additional shutdown if that is necessary because of no-deal chaos? Please tell us: will it be covered or not?
I had the opportunity to talk to executives from BMW, and they explained to me, among other things, the particular challenges that they face. Of course the Treasury will review any requests for support. However, the hon. Lady can obviate the need for that if she, like me, supports and backs the deal that the Prime Minister brings back.
Mark Sedwill, the National Security Adviser and Cabinet Secretary, said in a letter in April regarding no deal:
“'Our national security would be disrupted. The UK would forfeit access to criminal justice levers. None of our mitigation measures would give the UK the same security capabilities as our current ones.”
Can the Minister say what mitigation measures are now in place, or he is aware of, that did not exist when Mark Sedwill wrote that letter? Would Mark Sedwill write this letter again today?
The Cabinet Secretary and National Security Adviser does wonderful work, but I shall not speak for him; he will speak for himself. We have had a significant number of meetings, not just with those in the national security community but with those in policing and other areas, in order to ensure that steps are taken to keep people safe.
Will the Secretary of State please confirm that, as stated on the Cabinet Office website, he has oversight of all Cabinet Office policies, including data protection, elections and the Government Digital Service?
That is the work of the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Oliver Dowden).
The Government’s plans for 0% import tariffs on petrochemicals will see a flood of cheap products coming from Russia and the middle east and make UK producers such as the Lindsey oil refinery uncompetitive. Are the Government planning to cut excise duty in a domestic sector-specific arrangement, and will that result in a loss to the Treasury? If so, how much? Is there a risk to fuel security if we become dependent on volatile regions for supply?
The hon. Lady raises an important point, but I stressed earlier that some prices will rise and others will fall, not just in the event of a no-deal Brexit but in the event of global economic circumstances. If prices fall for consumers, that is good for them and good for business.
Does the Secretary of State envisage using powers available to him under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, and if so, what might he use them for? In those circumstances, can he guarantee that Parliament will remain open to ensure that there is scrutiny of those powers?
I am tempted to say don’t tempt me, but actually I have no plans to use those powers.
Operation Yellowhammer highlights a range of issues. Can the right hon. Gentleman remind me: at what point during the referendum campaign were the public told that there was a possibility of delays at borders, shortages of medical supplies, fuel shortages, food shortages, food price increases, clean water shortages, civil disruption, losing access to the single market for all goods and services or, indeed, reigniting unrest in Northern Ireland? For the life of me, I cannot remember any one of those outcomes being painted on the side of a bus.
I certainly recall many of them featuring in the speeches of those who were campaigning for remain.
I am grateful to the Minister, to the Front-Bench spokespersons including the shadow Secretary of State, and to the 87 Back Benchers who posed questions.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Points of order come after statements—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says that it appertains directly to this statement, and he has an honest face. Of course I take him at his word. Let us hear the fella.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. This relates directly to the question that I specifically put to the Minister when I asked him whether he had overall responsibility for the work of the Cabinet Office. He did not answer that question in the affirmative. He has answered a number of questions today relating to, for example, the Government Digital Service and data protection, but I am unclear, given that he is the Minister for the Cabinet Office, why he is so determined to avoid responsibility in his Department for data protection and for elections. I wonder whether you could assist me in establishing how I can get a straight answer on this question.
The hon. Gentleman can table questions, if he wishes. I heard the Minister for the Cabinet Office, who I think advised the House that the Minister with responsibility for the particular matters to which he referred was the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, the right hon. Member for Hertsmere (Oliver Dowden). It has always been my understanding that the right hon. Member for Hertsmere was one of the Minister for the Cabinet Office’s junior Ministers and that, therefore, overall the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) has top-level responsibility, but if I am wrong I am sure that we will all be disabused of our error.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, for giving me the opportunity once again to underline the division of responsibilities in the Cabinet Office. It is my responsibility to prepare the Government for Brexit, both deal and no deal, but the Minister for the Cabinet Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere, sits around the Cabinet table and has direct responsibility for the issues to which the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas) referred.
I think the position is pretty clear, to be honest. Overall responsibility lies with the most senior Minister. I do not think that the Minister for the Cabinet Office would disavow that proposition for a moment. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was offering greater specificity, but the overall position is, I think, blindingly obvious.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. My point also relates to the specific answer to the question I raised. I asked for an example of the mitigation and received the answer, “Yes I can.” Are we going to end up in the duplicitous situation where we phrase questions to have closed answers from Ministers, or is this supposed to be the opportunity for the Government to explain their position?
I do not think I can arbitrate between the hon. Gentleman in his question and the Minister in his reply. The hon. Gentleman has put his concern on the record. He is a most perspicacious fellow and I feel sure that he will have recourse to the Table Office if he wishes to table further questions. Knowing the appetite of the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) for responding to inquiries, I am sure he will be getting up even earlier in the morning and going to bed even later at night specifically to attend to the inquiries of the hon. Member for East Lothian (Martin Whitfield). The nodding of the head of the Minister on the Treasury Bench is testament to his acceptance of the point I have just made.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During the earlier exchanges, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said on a number of occasions that the retail sector was “ready for Brexit”—I think those were the three words he used. The British Retail Consortium has subsequently said that that is not the case and is incorrect. How can we get the record corrected?
The hon. Gentleman has found his own salvation, and he knows that. I say that as much for those attending to our proceedings as for Members. The hon. Gentleman has found his own salvation, and he has done so through the entirely bogus use of a point of order to get his concern across. He is not the first person to do that and he will not be the last. Whether he is satisfied or not, I do not know, but he will have to make the best of what he has done, given the prodigious character of his efforts today.
People are quite understandably in an inquisitive mood. That is entirely to be expected, particularly when we have not been sitting for some time, but we must now move to the next statement by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.