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House of Commons Hansard
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Preparations for Leaving the European Union
21 October 2019
Volume 666

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With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a further statement on our preparations to leave the European Union on 31 October. Before I do, however, I want to underline the gratitude of Members on both sides of the House to the efforts on Saturday not just of the House authorities, but of the police, as you pointed out earlier. I particularly want to thank the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) and other Opposition Members for the kind words they uttered on the behalf of all Members.

The Government are determined to do everything they can to leave the EU with a deal. The agreement that the Prime Minister concluded at last week’s European Council gives this House the opportunity to honour the votes of the 17.4 million people who voted to leave the EU by doing so on time and in an orderly fashion. Parliament had the opportunity on Saturday to support a meaningful vote that would have allowed us to proceed smoothly to ratification of our deal and exit on 31 October, but the House instead voted in such a way as to put an orderly exit on that date in doubt.

I appreciate and understand the honest intentions and genuinely sincere motives of many of those who voted for the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin). Let me place on the record once more the high personal regard in which I hold him. I know that he always acts in what he believes to be the national interest, and I deeply deprecate the personal criticism directed towards him. However, the House’s decision to request that a letter seeking an extension to article 50 be sent creates no certainty about our exit in an orderly fashion on 31 October.

Before Saturday’s proceedings in the House, European leaders, including the President of the European Commission, the President of France and the Taoiseach, deliberately and explicitly explained that Members should not cast their vote on the assumption that the EU Council will offer an extension. There is no certainty in this matter. Furthermore, no formal response from the EU has yet been received to the two letters sent by the Prime Minister on the evening of Saturday 19 October: the first requesting an extension to the 31 October deadline as required under the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019, and the second setting out the Government’s position that a delay to Brexit would be corrosive, a view shared by the leaders of the EU27.

With no clear agreement yet in this House to ratify our withdrawal agreement and no certainty that an extension will be granted by 31 October, I must take the appropriate steps now to prepare for the increased possibility that the legal default position will follow and that we will leave on 31 October without a deal. The clear advice to me from officials is that we must now intensify contingency arrangements. That is why the Cabinet’s XO Committee met yesterday to agree that Government Brexit preparations now move into their final, most intensive phase, and that Operation Yellowhammer should be triggered.

Let me be clear that no one would be happier than me to turn off those preparations and stand down planning for no deal. I do not think anyone in this House can doubt my desire to see a deal concluded. However, if we are to be certain to avoid a no-deal outcome on 31 October, we must vote for the Prime Minister’s deal, we must ensure that the vessel that brings certainty passes expeditiously through this Parliament and we must avoid attempts to delay, capsize or hole it below the waterline.

In that spirit, I thank the many parliamentarians across the House who have indicated they will be backing the Prime Minister’s deal, which, until he brought it home, many people thought would be impossible to negotiate. The deal ensures that we can leave the EU, and it is entirely consistent with the Belfast agreement and all our other domestic and international obligations. I can also underline that, once a withdrawal agreement has been ratified, the whole House will be involved in agreeing the mandate for negotiations on our future partnership arrangements with the EU, and we will work particularly closely with all parties to ensure that vital protections for workers and the environment are secure.

In underlining the vital role that all MPs will play in securing a strong future partnership, I emphasise that we want business, trade unions and civil society to help shape a bright future outside the EU. It is striking how organisations such as the Chemicals Industries Association, UK Finance, the Country Land and Business Association and the Federation of Small Businesses have welcomed progress on the deal and have asked parliamentarians to end the uncertainty by supporting an agreement. However, as I have explained, in the absence of that certainty, preparations for the risk of no deal must be intensified.

We will now accelerate our efforts to help businesses and individuals mitigate any dislocation and disruption that may ensue. From today, the XO Committee will meet seven days a week to provide strong ministerial focus across the Government. Hundreds of public servants across the UK will have to be redeployed. They will transfer to work in operations centres, ready to identify challenges, work together to resolve problems swiftly and implement contingency plans as required. Government, local resilience bodies and operational partners will be working together, ready to respond 24 hours a day according to need. We are also finalising the latest update of our reasonable worst-case planning assumptions and will share them with the House shortly.

Of course, we must maintain our public information campaign, which, from tomorrow, will reflect the renewed urgency of preparation. The advice will help businesses and individuals appreciate what they must do to prepare given the uncertainty that still unfortunately prevails. I again urge everyone to check the information relevant to their situation on gov.uk and also the comprehensive summary of actions to take contained in the Government’s “No-Deal Readiness Report” published on 8 October.

We are complementing the information campaign with hands-on advice and assistance. The Department for Transport is continuing to give personal advice to hauliers at sites across the UK and the European Union and working with local resilience forums to finalise traffic management plans, ensuring the smooth flow of people and goods across the short straits. In addition, it was announced on 11 October that four operators— Brittany Ferries, DFDS, P&O Ferries and Stena Line—had been successful in their bids to deliver freight capacity for a six-month period from 31 October to 30 April 2020. They will operate over 13 routes and from eight ports in England: Teesport, Hull, Killingholme, Felixstowe, Harwich, Tilbury, Poole, and Portsmouth. I commend my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport for the smooth, effective way in which that extra freight capacity has been secured.

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is stepping up work to deliver its export webinar programme to thousands of firms. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is distributing a farming Brexit advice guide to agriculture businesses. And the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is reaching hundreds of companies at readiness roadshows.

We have help desk capacity in place at all key Departments, with advisers ready to give the direct support required. This will build on the estimated 850 recorded engagements with business by the Department for Exiting the European Union and other Government Departments.

We are taking note of all the comments and feedback left on gov.uk by people who seek advice, and we are passing on details of specific issues of concern to the relevant Government Departments. We are also accelerating our programmes of key policy and legislative decisions to ensure full readiness, including making and tabling secondary legislation. We will be tabling the final statutory instruments to ensure that all critical Brexit-related legislation necessary for day one is in force by 31 October. This includes legislation for the new temporary tariff regime for customs and the legislation for avoiding a hard border in Ireland.

It remains the case that Northern Ireland would face unique challenges in a no-deal Brexit, and we will need to take steps to ensure effective governance and to give direction to the Northern Ireland civil service. In the absence of devolved government—today’s sitting of the Northern Ireland Assembly being a rare exception in the past two years—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has made alternative arrangements for governance. Legislation and guidance have been introduced to empower Northern Ireland’s superb civil servants to continue taking decisions that are in the public interest. Once again, I record my gratitude to the Northern Ireland civil service, to the Police Service of Northern Ireland and to all those who work in public service in Northern Ireland for their unstinting commitment to safeguarding the welfare of all our citizens.

The arrangement in Northern Ireland has been sustainable to date, but leaving without a deal would represent a formidable challenge to the current position. In that case, we would have to start formal engagement with the Irish Government on further arrangements for providing strengthened decision making, which would include the real possibility of restoring a form of direct rule. We would, of course, do everything to ensure that the interests of all communities across Ireland are safeguarded in any arrangements, but we must all recognise that this would be a grave step from which experience shows us it would be hard to return, particularly in the context of leaving without a deal.

Even as we prepare for the challenges of a no deal, we will make the case at every forum we can for leaving with a good deal. Parliament has previously shown determination and a focused resolve to pass laws expeditiously when the occasion warrants. The deal we have secured honours the referendum mandate this House pledged to uphold and allows the UK to leave the EU whole and entire, and it puts in place the pathway to a new partnership with the EU based on free trade and friendly co-operation.

That is why I, again, urge my colleagues in this House—all of us democrats, first and foremost—now to support the Prime Minister’s deal. I commend this statement to the House.

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I thank the Minister for his courtesy in providing me with a copy of his statement 30 minutes ago. I join him in thanking everyone who serves the House for the arrangements on Saturday, and I pay particular tribute to the civil servants who are working under huge stress to prepare for this remarkable event at midnight a week on Thursday. The House hardly needs reminding, but we are right on the edge of a potential precipice.

The Minister has told us that the Cabinet XO Committee will be meeting daily, and I hope he will be able to keep the House fully informed of its further decisions, as and when appropriate. When the Prime Minister appointed him as Minister for a no-deal Brexit, I think the idea was that he would try to avoid such a situation rather than trying to make it possible. His statement fills me with foreboding for the country, because it appears as if the Government really do think that 31 October is a date this House will tolerate. I have to tell him that I do not believe that will be the case. In any event, the Prime Minister himself sent a letter to the European Union—he forgot to sign it, apparently—saying that he will pursue a delay, so 31 October seems to be an artificial date.

I will be brief, as there is still much to do this evening. The Government’s own assessment shows that a no-deal Brexit would be a disaster for jobs, for industry and for living standards. Their own assessment says there will be a 10% loss of GDP over the next 15 years, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies says that a no-deal outcome would result in Government borrowing rising by up to £100 billion, debt escalating to 90% of national income and growth flatlining. None of those is just a number on a spreadsheet, as I am sure he understands. These are real people’s jobs, livelihoods, communities and even family businesses, often built up over generations—all of them are now at risk.

This is not “Project Fear.” It is already happening here and now. Is the Minister aware that the manufacturing trade body, Make UK, has warned that even the prospect of a no-deal Brexit has meant that exporters are already suffering losses? The most deprived regions of the country would be hit hardest by a no deal, and the Government’s own figures show that people on the lowest incomes will suffer the most. [Interruption.] Many people are shouting from a sedentary position, "Vote for the deal." The Prime Minister’s free trade Brexit deal will result in every person in our country being £2,250 worse off, which is why we will not support the deal.

Instead of taking a no deal off the table, the Government are continuing to spend billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on Operation Yellowhammer, and they are probably diverting thousands of civil servants. How much money does the Minister estimate will be spent on this futile project? Surely the money would be better spent on rebuilding our country. Can he confirm that Operation Yellowhammer would not even come close to managing the economic disaster the whole country will face if we crash out with a no deal? That is not to mention the problems facing Ireland.

Operation Yellowhammer shows the disastrous impact of no deal on medical, food and energy supplies, which is why Members on both sides—this is a very important point—have repeatedly shown there is no will in this House to turn for a no deal. It will not happen.

Some have argued that a no deal was really just a negotiating tactic, a ruse to force concessions from the EU, but the Government have now finished their negotiations with the EU. Why, then, have they continued to place this sword of Damocles over the whole country?

The Minister claimed this weekend that the risk of leaving without a deal has increased, but how can that be? The opposite is the case, because the House has voted repeatedly to stop the Government crashing us out with no deal. The truth is that the Prime Minister thinks the only way to get legislation for this sell-out deal through this House of Commons is to bully and blackmail MPs with the threat of a no deal, but he has lost the consent of the House. He double-crossed the DUP, and he has taken a bulldozer to most of our procedures. His behaviour has thrown away the good will of hon. and right hon. Members. More than anything else, he has disposed of the good will of the House in the manner of the Godfather casting confetti at a mafia family wedding.

Even at this late stage, I press the Government to change course. A no deal would damage our country, injure our economy and inflict lasting damage on the nation. Abandoning a no deal might have the inadvertent and, some might say, lamentable consequence of placing the Minister for no deal on the Back Benches. Regrettable as that might be, some of us might think it a price worth paying.

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his questions and, in particular, I am grateful for his kind words about the civil service. One of the many things we have in common, as well as representing constituencies that voted leave and being opposed to a second referendum, is that both of us are huge fans of the civil service and appreciate the great work done by civil servants every day for all of us in this country.

The hon. Gentleman asked me to keep the House informed even as the XO Committee sits every day, and I will do my best to do so. I am certain there will be an opportunity for at least one more statement, and I will be happy to respond to any urgent questions in his or any other Member’s name that relate to our Brexit preparations.

The hon. Gentleman asked about 31 October and suggested that the date is artificial. I fear it is not, as the date is fixed in legislation as a result of the article 50 process and has been agreed with the European Union. One of the important things that all of us in this House need to bear in mind is that EU leaders have made it crystal clear that they want the deal done, and they want it done by 31 October. The reason why the risk of no deal has increased materially is that EU leaders have said we cannot be certain that an extension will be granted. In those circumstances, there is one way to bring certainty, and I know that the hon. Gentleman knows this in his heart. The way in which we can bring certainty is by voting for the Prime Minister’s deal.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the cost of preparation. One thing the Prime Minister has stressed, and which is absolutely true, is that once we leave with a deal, we will be outside the customs union and the single market, and much of the preparation that will have been done in advance of 31 October will enable businesses to benefit from the free trade agreement that we hope to conclude with the EU and the new trade agreements we will conclude with other nations. There is a bright future ahead but it requires all of us to listen to the voice of this country and get Brexit done.

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I thank the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and his colleagues and officials, for all the work they have done to help minimise any potential disruption in Kent. Can he also reassure the House that the security agreement with the EU that will be needed to help protect us against any further vulnerability to terrorism or organised crime will be put in place as soon as possible? Can he say what that timetable might be?

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My right hon. Friend makes a good point. It is the case that we co-operate with EU nations in a variety in forums, not just through the EU; that the security of all benefits as a result; and that many of the shared tools for law enforcement and national security that we have allow EU citizens to benefit from intelligence gathered by our agencies. We hope to conclude a new arrangement as quickly as possible, as part of our future partnership with the EU. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has written to Frans Timmermans, the Commissioner responsible for security, to say that in the event of no deal we continue to share access to tools such as ECRIS—the European Criminal Records Information System—SIS II and Prüm. So far, Frans Timmermans has not indicated that he would collaborate, but we believe it is in everyone’s interests to ensure that we would.

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I thank the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster for advance sight of the statement. It leads me to my first question, which is: what is he not telling us? What does he know that we do not know about this entire process? He must know something, because otherwise I do not understand why he continues to commit hundreds of extremely highly qualified civil servants and to waste hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money in the service of an objective that we have consistently ruled out. He himself said as recently as March that no deal is something that must be avoided, the Benn Act has made no deal illegal unless this House agrees to it and now the Prime Minister has sought an extension to the process from the EU in order that no deal can be avoided. I admit that the Prime Minister has acted with the maximum bad faith and with all the enthusiasm of a petulant schoolboy, but none the less he has written the letter, and the letter has been received and accepted. That means that the only way the scenario that he is planning for can unfold is if this House fails to pass the Government’s withdrawal Bill, which I hope it will, and the EU then declines to extend beyond 31 October. Is Government policy therefore now based on the assumption that the EU will refuse to extend the article 50 deadline beyond 31 October? If it is not, why does he continue with this wasteful exercise?

I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke): how come this date of 31 October has become elevated to the extent it has? The Government have this Halloween fetish now. The only reason 31 October matters—rather than, say, a week, month or year later—is to save face for this Prime Minister. It is a rum day indeed when the Government of the day are more concerned about the vanity of the Prime Minister than they are about making good legislation and doing what is good for the country. Is the truth not that all this talk of Yellowhammer and no-deal preparations is a propaganda exercise, trying to whip up fear and anxiety to drive people into the welcoming arms of the Prime Minister’s deal, in relief and thankfulness? It won’t work, Chancellor.

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One of the many reasons I had hoped the hon. Gentleman would have become deputy leader of the Scottish National party was shown in the way in which he delivered his questions without notes, with great fluency and authority. All of us in this House recognise what a great speaker he is. What a pity, however, that a very well delivered speech got one or two fundamental aspects of the position in which this House finds itself wrong. He asked about the money that is being spent. As I pointed out in response to my opposite number, the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett), this money will be wisely spent come what may, because we needed to make sure that businesses across the country, including in Scotland, are prepared for life outside the single market and the customs union. That money, which the Scottish Government have asked for, has been given to the Scottish Government and they have spent it. If they and the SNP believe there was no point in spending that money, I imagine they would have returned the cheque to the Chancellor of the Exchequer saying “Not required here.” That was not the case, so they clearly do feel, as we all feel, that it is important to make preparations.

The hon. Gentleman made two other points. He asked why fetishise the date of 31 October. That is the date in law that has been passed in this House and by the EU as the date by which we must leave, following the extension of article 50. It is not a date that was chosen by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and it was certainly not one chosen by me. It was a date that this House accepted, following negotiation with the EU, and that is the law. It is also the case that, in law, any extension has to be granted by all EU27 member states. We are sometimes accused in this House of being insular, but the President of the Commission, the Taoiseach and the French President have all made it clear that there is no guarantee that any extension will be issued. All those of us who value relationships with our friends and neighbours in Europe should take heed of what they say; no extension is guaranteed, and no certainty exists. That is why we must back this deal, and I hope that SNP Members, who have done so much to say why no deal is unwelcome, will, at this late stage, repent and recognise that the interests of our United Kingdom are served by their presence in the Lobby supporting this deal.

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There is no such thing as a no-deal exit; if we leave without the withdrawal agreement, there would be all sorts of agreements and arrangements in place. So will the Government do more to tell the country about the 2017 facilitation of trade agreement between all World Trade Organisation members to ensure smooth borders, the government international procurement agreement to allow Governments to transact business, and the customs, haulage and aviation arrangements and agreements, which are all in place. People should stop scaremongering.

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My right hon. Friend makes a very fair point. If we leave without the withdrawal agreement being ratified, we will leave without that deal. “No deal” is sometimes used to cover that specific outcome, and it is with respect to that widely accepted description that I use the term. He is right to say there are other agreements, and there will continue to be agreements, that we have concluded, both with individual EU member states and with the EU overall, which will govern our relationship. However, I am strongly of the view that a withdrawal agreement which has been ratified in this place will be the best possible way in which we can ensure both that we recognise the Brexit referendum vote and that we continue to have free trade and friendly co-operation.

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One of the main concerns that has been expressed about the consequences of leaving without an agreement is the potential for delay for lorries moving across the channel, an issue on which the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has given evidence to the Brexit Select Committee. Will he tell the House what the Government’s latest assessment is of the percentage of lorries leaving the United Kingdom that would have the correct paperwork on 1 November if this eventuality, which none of us wants to see happen, comes to pass, and therefore what kind of delay we might be looking at in those circumstances?

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I will share with the House the revised planning assumptions in Yellowhammer very shortly. It is the case that the level of business readiness has increased, and we expect that a significantly increased number of vehicles will be ready. That obviously has an effect on flow at the border, but we are being deliberately cautious. We are copper-fastening those assumptions and I hope to share them with the House very, very shortly.

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Following on from the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood), I entirely agree that there is no such thing as no deal; there is not leaving with a formal withdrawal agreement and with a whole lot of side deals. Will my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster make a point of publicising those deals to educate the Opposition? Will he inform the House of what further meetings he has planned with the French authorities? They have been bullish that traffic at Calais/Boulogne will flow and that they have made the necessary preparations. Contrary to what the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) said in his question, the lorries do not need paperwork; it is all done electronically.

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My right hon. Friend makes a number of good points. The first is that in the no-deal preparation document, which was shared with the House on 8 October and runs to some 150 pages, we ran through many of the arrangements that have been put in place—some agreed and some the unilateral decision of the EU—to make sure that if we leave without an agreement, we can mitigate the risks in all our interests. It was interesting that on that occasion the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer) did not ask any questions about that document; he asked about other process questions. I am always available to answer questions about those provisions.

My right hon. Friend is right that significant investment has been made by the French Government to ensure that, exactly as he says, electronic information can be exchanged before trucks arrive in Calais, to allow them to move smoothly through the green lane and, if they are carrying fish or shellfish, to move smoothly to the border inspection post at Boulogne-sur-Mer.

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On a recent trip to a pharmacy in Birstall, the staff and I had a conversation about their anxiety about generic drugs becoming more expensive because of delays and tariffs, and also because pharmaceutical companies might not want to launch their drugs in the UK because they are now more expensive. With 81% of pharmacists saying in a recent survey that they are worried that drugs are going to be delayed because of a no-deal Brexit, I asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster directly a couple of weeks ago whether he believed that anyone would die because of a no-deal Brexit. He was robust in his answer and said no unequivocally; is that still the case?

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First, I thank the hon. Lady for her question, because it gives me the opportunity to echo her in saying how much we value the work of local pharmacists and how critical they are to the effective operation of our NHS in providing all our constituents with the treatments that they need in an effective and timely way. Talking of the effective and timely delivery of medicine, it is the case that the freight transport that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has secured is enough for more than 120% of our category 1 priority medical goods needs. It is also the case that the steps we have taken to ensure business readiness and to improve flow over the short straits should ensure that there will not be the shortages or delays about which the hon. Lady is concerned.

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Does my right hon Friend agree that uncertainty has a price, and that price is growing not only in the United Kingdom but, importantly, in the European Union? It is absolutely in the EU’s interests to bring this uncertainty to a close by declining our formal request for an extension and forcing the House to a decision. It was as true on 29 March as it is for 31 October: the only way the House is going to vote for a deal negotiated by the Government in the circumstances of the membership of this House as it is constructed today is if there is a straight choice between deal and no deal. The rhetoric from the Opposition about the unacceptability of no deal will then be called out, we will get the deal, we will have the certainty of a transition period and a proper place to negotiate our future relationship, and 14 months in which to do it. If the EU delays, we are pitched into further uncertainty and further cost.

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My hon. Friend is 100% spot on and I am completely in agreement with him.

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Further to the question from the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), I want to be clear that the Brexit Secretary revealed today that article 271 of the deal would institute exit summary declarations for goods being sent from Northern Ireland into Great Britain. Just to be absolutely clear, that is goods being transferred within the United Kingdom. Will the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster confirm that those plans are being put in place, potentially for 1 November? Is he content with those declarations being put in place, or is there a chance that they will not happen? What has he estimated the cost of administering those declarations will be? How many does he anticipate that there would be?

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If we leave without a deal and that is the situation that prevails on 1 November, no such checks would be required at all.

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No—with your deal!

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I can only answer the question that was asked.

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I wholeheartedly congratulate my right hon. Friend and officials right across Government for the magnificent public information campaign that he is running. I hope he will not mind my saying that it is the campaign I would have dreamed of securing from the autumn of 2017 when I first started asking for one. Will he confirm that he has had adequate discussions with business groups to ensure that businesses are properly prepared?

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That gives me the opportunity to say a profound thank you to my hon. Friend who, as a Minister in the Department for Exiting the European Union, undertook heroic efforts to ensure that we were as well prepared as possible. In so far as we were not well prepared, it was because of other factors, because his own efforts in that regard were focused, public spirited and highly effective.

It is the case that we have had conversations with lots of business organisations to ensure that they are as well prepared as possible. As I have said before, the impacts of leaving without a deal will depend on different economic sectors reacting in different ways.

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Whether we leave with a deal or without one, I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree that children’s best interests must always be protected. Will he say whether the Government will either continue or replicate the arrangements under Dublin III that ensure that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children can come to this country and be reunited with their family members?

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I am absolutely convinced that we will maintain those arrangements.

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I thank my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the Secretary of State for Transport, their teams and officials, and particularly the hard-working civil servants and officials in Kent who have worked tirelessly on this important project to make sure that we are ready. I have had blood-curdling warnings of chaos at Dover and the channel ports and of gridlock on Kent’s roads in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that if the deal goes through, there will not be problems on Kent roads or at the channel ports?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have an opportunity. There have been various different projections—reasonable worst-case scenarios and other projections—in respect of what might happen in the event of no deal. I absolutely assure him that if the House takes the opportunity it now has to vote for the deal, none of those scenarios will materialise and we will be able to move to the next stage of our relationship with the EU, based on free trade and friendly partnership.

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Although I find it difficult to believe, I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman is not familiar, as apparently many Cabinet Ministers are not familiar, with the deal that they have negotiated with the EU, but others have looked at it in detail. I refer back to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie). Article 271 of the deal specifically says that goods leaving Northern Ireland and coming into Great Britain must provide an exiting summary declaration. Is the right hon. Gentleman familiar with that? Will he confirm that that is the case? In that event, are the procedures in place and have businesses in Northern Ireland been fully apprised of the impact that will have on them and on those receiving the goods? This is the deal—his deal.

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The right hon. Lady’s parliamentary colleague, the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie), asked about arrangements on 1 November. We would only need to have different arrangements on 1 November—

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This is your deal!

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I am answering the question. We can have a nice conversation outside, but I will take this opportunity to answer the question before the right hon. Lady comes back. The hon. Gentleman’s question related to events and provisions on 1 November. I note that the right hon. Lady is referring to the deal and yes, it is the case that those provisions would come into effect if we had the deal, but of course we will make sure that they are seamless.

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Order. Progress is very slow and needs to speed up, otherwise people will not get in. It is as simple as that.

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Local businesses in my constituency overwhelmingly tell me that it is not the future form of Brexit that we are arguing about in here that is causing them the most concern; it is the constant and endless delay and confusion—

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Order. That is not a question. I want one sentence. I do not want a speech about the hon. Lady’s opinions about all of this. What I want is a short question—end of.

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Of course, Mr Speaker. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way to avoid no deal is to vote for a deal?

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That was a great question and the answer is yes.

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Operation Yellowhammer documents previously revealed that a no-deal Brexit would affect food provision, and that those on low incomes in the UK would be most affected. Food banks are increasingly concerned about the impact of a no-deal Brexit on their food supplies, so have the Government issued any guidance or undertaken any preparation with food bank providers to ensure that their operations are not severely affected by no deal?

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As it happens, the hon. Gentleman’s question gives me an opportunity to pay particular tribute to the hon. Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall), who came to see me with a representative selection of organisations that run food banks. We had a good conversation about making sure that we can continue to support them in the future come what may. I am absolutely confident that the successful operation of food banks and all the wonderful people who work in them will not be affected by Brexit, whether it is deal or no deal.

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With or without a deal, my right hon. Friend is aware of the fact that I believe there is woefully inadequate provision for the healthcare and pensions of expat UK citizens. I would like to be able to support the withdrawal Bill. Can he give me an assurance that this matter is under active and positive consideration?

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It absolutely is. If we secure the withdrawal agreement Bill, there will be absolutely no need for us to worry about those particular circumstances, but for the reasons that I outlined earlier, we are negotiating hard with individual EU member states. I particularly commend Spain, where we have the largest number of UK expats, for making sure that there will be fully reciprocal arrangements on healthcare.

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Will the Minister confirm that, in a no-deal scenario, no patient will have their treatment delayed or cancelled if they are dependent on radioisotopes?

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Yes, and there is a specific arrangement to ensure that radioisotopes can be flown into East Midlands airport.

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May I offer my sympathy to my right hon. Friend and other colleagues who were subjected to the thuggish behaviour on Saturday? Does he agree that the sooner this deal is done, the better, and that there should be no more delay?

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I completely agree, and I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for everything that he says. He is a model of civility inside and outside this House, and I do hope that the standard of debate across the country can match the standard of debate that he always indulges in.

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Agreed.

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In one response, the right hon. Gentleman confirmed that there is, as yet, no agreement on reciprocal security arrangements for the data that we need to make sure that we can keep our borders safe. What is the Secretary of State doing to make sure that we will still be safe on 1 November?

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The first thing, of course, is promoting a deal. The second thing to say is that there are tried and tested alternatives that we can use to make sure that we keep people in this country safe. The third thing is that, once we leave the European Union, there are a number of things that we can do, which the Home Secretary has outlined, that will allow us to be even safer. There are steps that the Border Force can take, steps that we can take on the border to no longer recognise ID cards, and steps that we can take to increase the criminality threshold for entry.

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Hampshire’s local resilience forum is playing a key role in preparations for Brexit. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that it has the right resources and support to make the success of those preparations?

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My hon. Friend is right. Hampshire LRF attended a meeting of the EU Exit Operations Committee last week, and I was incredibly impressed with the work that it is doing. We will continue to work closely with it.

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If this House passes the Government’s withdrawal Bill with amendments, will the Government take those amendments back to the EU and seek its agreement to them, or in that situation, will they simply try to pursue a no-deal Brexit?

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I think the EU has been very clear that we need to ratify the treaty as agreed. To be fair to the other 27 EU member states, they have laboured long and hard to come to an agreement. If this House were now to say that it did not like the agreement, I think that their patience would be sorely tested.

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Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the discussions that he has had with European leaders and what their view is as to another extension?

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Earlier today, I was talking to Ministers and the Irish Government, and I have been talking to representatives of other EU member states over the course of the past week or so. They are clear: they do not want an extension. They want this done by 31 October. There are many people in the House who admire other European nations, but, on this occasion, they seem curiously deaf to the plea, which is a unified plea across the EU, to get this deal done.

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The Secretary of State has been a long-term supporter of the Union and of Northern Ireland. He must know in his heart of hearts that this is actually driving a wedge between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. The issue of unfettered access to goods for small businesses is going to absolutely destroy that relationship. Can he really say that this is actually good for Northern Ireland?

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I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for her comments. Having worked in Northern Ireland and having so many friends in Northern Ireland, I can absolutely say that its position in the Union is very dear to me, and therefore it is of concern to me that there are people in Northern Ireland, particularly within the Unionist community, who feel heartsore about what they perceive to be the consequences of this deal. In every hour of every day ahead I will be doing everything that I can to provide reassurance and to ensure that we can put provisions in place that will make sure that people in Northern Ireland appreciate that we love them and want them to stay.

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The shadow Minister cites Make UK, but it is clear that endless extensions are hugely damaging to its members’ interests. Is my right hon. Friend aware of any major business or organisation that is calling for yet more delays?

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Not one.

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Very serious concerns have been raised by shellfisheries about no-deal preparations for their sector. The Secretary of State will know that they have to have an aquatic animal health certificate alongside a raft of other red tape for each consignment. Mussel fishermen in my constituency are very concerned about that, because they have been told that they will need to give five days’ notice, but their customers do not order with five days’ notice. Will he ensure that officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will meet me and my constituents to ensure that the problems that are arising will be addressed?

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Absolutely, yes.

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The Government’s Yellowhammer papers, as we have already heard, state that low-income groups will be disproportionately affected by any price rises in food and fuel. What does the Minister suggest I say to the families on low incomes in my constituency of Newport West to reassure them that their plight has been recognised, and what will the Government do to mitigate this disproportionate impact on poorer families across the UK?

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I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising this issue. Across this House, we are concerned, obviously, about the welfare of the most vulnerable in our own constituencies and across the country. I respectfully say to her that, when people say that they are worried about the consequences of no deal, as indeed I am, the thing to do is to support the deal, and I hope that she will.

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I am very grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for calling me to speak. If the United Kingdom were to leave the European Union on 31 October, and on that date we still had no functioning Assembly at Stormont, what are the Government planning for the good governance of Northern Ireland? Will it, or will it not, be direct rule? It is a straightforward question, and I would very much appreciate a straight answer.

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We want the Assembly to be up and running. We recognise that time is short. In those circumstances, we will talk to the Government of Ireland, but direct rule, which I know is a step that no one should take lightly, will be required in order to ensure that the Northern Ireland civil service gets the political and ministerial direction that it needs.

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At 5 o’clock this evening, in the Public Accounts Committee, Jim Harra of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs informed the Committee, when asked about the transfer of goods from Northern Ireland to GB under the agreement the Chancellor is proposing, that

“an export declaration is required for all movement of all goods from Northern Ireland to GB”

in order to ensure that the EU’s obligations are properly discharged. The Chancellor says that he holds the Union very dear. These arrangements make the Union very expensive.

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We will be doing everything we can to ensure that there is unfettered access for goods from Northern Ireland into the rest of the United Kingdom. Deal or no deal, we will also be bringing forward additional steps to ensure that businesses in Northern Ireland are supported and protected come what may.

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I have been contacted by Northern Ireland’s fishing sector, which does not want this Government deal, so can the Minister confirm that Northern Ireland’s fishing sector will have the same opportunities and freedom to fish as the fishing sectors of England, Scotland and Wales in the event of no deal?

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Yes, absolutely. One of the benefits of leaving the European Union is being outside the common fisheries policy, and I know that the fishing interests that the hon. Gentleman represents were and are looking forward to our leaving the European Union. Let me say again that it is the Government’s absolute intention to ensure that we provide all the financial and administrative support required by all of Northern Ireland’s businesses as we leave—whatever the circumstances. The whole enterprise of leaving the European Union is one that we took as one United Kingdom, and it is very important that we pay particular attention to representatives of Northern Ireland as we try to secure the best possible outcome for all our citizens.