Negotiators from the UK and the EU held full and constructive discussions last week via video conference led by David Frost, the UK’s chief negotiator. The talks covered trade in goods and services, fisheries, law enforcement, criminal justice and other issues, in which both sides engaged constructively. There was, however, no movement on the most difficult areas where differences of principle are at their most acute, notably fisheries, governance arrangements and the so-called level playing field.
We have now reached an important moment for these talks. To make progress, we need to accelerate and intensify our work, and the Government are working closely with the EU to achieve that. It is our priority to conclude this negotiation in good time to enable our citizens and businesses to have certainty about the trading terms that will follow at the end of this year and, if necessary, to allow any ratification of agreements reached. We have always been clear that such a deal must of course accommodate the reality of the UK’s well-established position on the so-called level playing field, on fisheries and on the other difficult issues, and fully recognise the UK as a sovereign equal.
The House should also be aware that this Friday, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and I will be at the second meeting of the withdrawal agreement joint committee. We will be able to update the committee about the positive progress the UK is making on implementing our obligations, not least on citizens’ rights and the Northern Ireland protocol, but we will also emphasise that we will not be extending the transition period, and will push the EU on implementing its obligations under the terms of the agreement.
The Government remain committed to our negotiations with the EU and the implementation of the withdrawal agreement and will continue to keep the House updated on developments.
The UK left the European Union in January, and our task now is to build the best possible new relationship with our European neighbours. Our chief negotiator, David Frost, said last week:
“We need to conclude this negotiation in good time to enable people and businesses to have certainty about the trading terms that will follow the end of the transition period at the end of this year”.
We agree, but currently we are in the dark about what this new relationship looks like.
Both the CBI and the TUC are warning about the impact of chaos and uncertainty on jobs and livelihoods. The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry warned this week that, as a consequence of covid-19, the stockpile of medicines has been run down and cannot be rebuilt, in terms of volume or range, by the end of this year. The Road Haulage Association says:
“We are still missing the essential practical information on all new processes and procedures”
as the Government look to introduce millions of extra declarations at the border each year. Does the Minister believe that having 50,000 new customs officers to process those declarations will add to or reduce the red tape for UK businesses?
From freight to farming, fisheries to pharmaceuticals, we need clarity. During the general election, the Prime Minister claimed time and again that the Government had an oven-ready deal. Its fundamental ingredients matter, so will the Minister confirm that the Government still, as they did in December, guarantee that there will be no tariffs, fees, charges or quantitative restrictions across all sectors? Leaving on WTO standards, or even a Canada-style deal, does not guarantee that. Will she also confirm that the Government will safeguard workers’ rights and consumer and environmental protections? There is much concern that that is no longer Government policy. Are the Government still committed to a broad, comprehensive and balanced security partnership, which is essential to bring criminals to justice? Will the Government respect the Good Friday agreement in its entirety?
To conclude, this is not just a deal between the UK Government and the European Union. Through the course of the election, it was the basis of a deal with the British people. We urge both sides to redouble their efforts over the next few days and weeks to ensure that progress is made by the end of this month, so that the Government can honour their commitment to ensuring a good deal for Britain by the end of this year.
I thank the hon. Lady for those questions. At the start of her response, she made a powerful argument for not extending the transition period. If we have learned anything over the last few years, it is that that would only extend the negotiations. I agree that business, our citizens across the EU, and the rest of the world, with which we are also focused on trade negotiations, want to have certainty about the future, so we must press on with that. That is one of the many reasons why we will not extend the transition period.
The hon. Lady is also right to draw attention to the fact that the covid crisis is going on. I know that she is aware of the huge amount of work that was done last year on no-deal preparations, and the tremendous work that civil contingencies and all Government Departments have been doing to ensure that supply chains remain strong, that we can quickly adapt, and that we have stocks of all sorts of goods, including the medicines that we need. These are challenging at times, in the light of what the world is facing, but they are our focus. I assure her of the incredible work that those civil servants are doing to ensure that our citizens have what they need when they need it.
I take a keen interest in those areas as a former employee of the Freight Transport Association. We will shortly be saying more about our border operations. A tremendous amount of work has gone on to improve on our communication with businesses from every part of the UK last year to ensure that is good, and that we are not just giving people the right information, but picking up solutions from the sector, because that will be key to getting it right.
On the hon. Lady’s remarks about rights, animal welfare, security, zero tariffs and zero quotas, our policy has not changed. We will of course respect the Good Friday/Belfast agreement and we expect the EU to do the same.
Regrettably, is not the insurmountable blockage in this entire process the refusal of the EU to accept the UK as a sovereign nation and, therefore, its refusal to countenance a large-scale copy and paste of existing arrangements with the likes of Canada, South Korea and Japan to reach a mutually beneficial trading partnership?
Surprise, surprise: there is no Michael Macavity; when the going gets tough, the tough get gone in this case. It now looks like the Minister for the Cabinet Office will secure the no-deal Brexit he has always coveted. It will be misery heaped on misery, as covid and Brexit appear like the twin horsemen of the economic apocalypse trampling over any prospect of recovery.
Whose fault will that be? Obviously, not the Government’s: “Nothing to do with us, guv. It’s all these nasty, invidious Europeans. How dare they hold the Government to the commitments they’ve already given in good faith? These fiendish Europeans, asking us to deliver on what we’ve already agreed to.” When they sit down to negotiate, it is like watching Scotland’s B team take on Brazil of the 1970s. It is almost cruel to observe them with their screeds of documents and facts, and Team GB with its ill-fitting clown shoes.
We are having nothing more to do with this. Scotland is wanting out of all this. Another opinion poll at the weekend showed a majority for Scottish independence once again. The Union that we covet is not their failed variety; it is the European Union one. Does the Minister concede that we will have no deal, and that there is no way Scotland will be part of that impending disaster?
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is disappointed to see me here today. I am always delighted to see him, and he will know that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster needs no encouragement to come to the Dispatch Box. My right hon. Friend has come to update the House and appeared in front of Select Committees, and he is committed to doing so. I am here because he is unable to attend today.
I am not sure there was a question in the hon. Gentleman’s remarks, but I reassure him of my commitment to working with the Scottish Government to ensure the best possible outcome from these sets of negotiations. I have been changing the format of how that is done, and we have put more time into key areas such as fisheries, to ensure that the Scottish Government have everything they need to contribute. We must ensure that we work together, constructively, and get what our businesses and citizens need.
Given that the German constitutional court recently said that Germany does not have to follow rulings from the European Court of Justice if that goes against German interests, despite Germany being a member of the European Union, would it not be unreasonable to expect the United Kingdom to obey any rulings from the European Court of Justice, now that we are no longer a member of the European Union?
Article 131 of the political declaration states that if a dispute raises a question of interpretation of Union law,
“the arbitration panel should refer the question to the Court of Justice of the European Union…for a binding ruling as regards the interpretation of Union law.”
Given what the Minister just said, do the Government still stand by the commitment that the Prime Minister signed up to in October?
I have received a large number of emails from farmers and constituents in North Devon who are concerned about food standards once we leave the EU. Will my right hon. Friend assure me, and worried constituents, that we will retain our current food standards, and prevent the import of chlorinated chicken and other inferior food?
I refer my hon. Friend to the very good joint letter that was recently sent out by the Secretaries of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and for International Trade. In this we should be trusting the consumer—if people do not want to put their faith in Government, we should trust the consumer, and I think consumers want high-quality, fairly priced food, with high animal welfare standards.
Of course we are working towards a deal on those issues, and many others. On some issues we very much feel that our interests are better served by having separate agreements. The key point is that we cannot keep negotiating for ever, and we must allow our businesses, farmers, and citizens time to implement the decisions taken. That is why we are now at this key stage and have to increase and escalate negotiations. We need to arrive at a deal soon.
The EU is insisting on level playing field guarantees, the extent of which are not seen in any similar agreements and to which no sovereign country could agree. Does the Minister agree that if we are to reach that mutually agreeable and profitable deal, the EU will have to stop cherry-picking?
I thank my hon. Friend for that well put point. The EU’s proposals would bind us into EU law and impose controls over our domestic legal regimes, which cannot be acceptable. It is not in the political declaration and it is certainly not in any free trade agreement that I know of.
Tapadh leibh, Mr Speaker, and thank you for enabling this. During the covid crisis, people are getting a taste of border restrictions and they do not like it. Leaving the customs union and the single market would give businesses more significant Brexit borders. Anybody worth their salt in business and trade negotiations knows the numbers. Given that there is no good Brexit for the economy and that the damage to the economy was reckoned by the UK Government at one stage to be between 6% and 8% of GDP, does the Minister have updated figures for the damage, deal or no deal, to the UK economy, jobs and business, or are we still looking at 6% to 8%?
The Government’s policy is that, over the medium to long term, our approach to Brexit will maximise the economic benefits to the United Kingdom. That needs to be our focus in not just our negotiations with the EU but the work we are doing on rest-of-world trade. There are massive benefits for every part of the UK from that, and that is what we should all be working together to achieve.
The speculation regarding a possible extension of the transition period is concerning the residents of Blackpool, nearly 70% of whom voted to leave the European Union. Does my right hon. Friend agree that extending the transition period at this point would merely prolong the negotiations, prolong the uncertainty for businesses, and delay the moment at which we can finally gain back our control of our borders; and that none of those things are in the best long-term interests of the United Kingdom?
The Minister spoke a moment ago about accommodating reality. May I urge her to accommodate reality on the supply of crucial medicines and other supplies to our NHS rather than false hopes and aspirations, which have not served us well in the current crisis? The pharmaceutical industry said, in an internal memo provided to the Government in May, that after the pandemic ends there will be:
“less or zero product available in the market to allow for stockpiling of a broad range of products.”
Who is right: the pharmaceutical industry or the Minister?
We have heard that Germany thinks it can pick and choose which laws it complies with, yet Mr Barnier still expects us to be subordinate to EU laws. The Minister said that there will be implications for the EU. Does she agree that this not only undermines the negotiations but the EU project as a whole?
The judgment of that court clearly raises issues that are for the EU to consider, and not for me at the Dispatch Box. The key point that my hon. Friend outlines is that we are a sovereign equal in the negotiations. Once the EU accepts that and looks at the negotiations from that perspective, we can make some progress on those remaining tough issues.
On 20 May, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said in the Chamber that the UK was now prioritising the principle of consent—the Government’s interpretation of it. On the same day, in relation to the Command Paper on the Ireland protocol, the Government insisted that the Northern Ireland Assembly should have the final say on the protocol. The Assembly finally gave a say on Brexit when it voted last week to request an extension to the transition period to allow businesses, which are currently in the fight of their lives due to covid, to adapt and to have the certainty that the Minister refers to. If the Northern Ireland Assembly’s consent is so vital, should the Government not listen to what it says?
Many of the issues, including the protocol, will ultimately rest with the people of Northern Ireland through their elected representatives. However, for the reasons that I have already set out, we will not extend the transition period. We believe that it would not be in the interest of any part of the UK to do so. It would just prolong negotiations. Hon. Members on both sides of the House, including those who have recently joined, will know what that looks like, having seen what happened to this country over the past few years.
The people of Stoke-on-Trent, who voted overwhelmingly for Brexit, expect the extension not to happen. A comprehensive free trade agreement could easily be agreed by both parties, without major difficulties, in the time available. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the EU must accept that the UK is an independent sovereign state and an equal partner in these negotiations?
My hon. Friend makes some very good points. Yes, absolutely: we are a sovereign equal and the EU must accept that. She is also right to point out that we are not starting from scratch in these negotiations. There are many precedents being set and the asks we are making are extremely reasonable and are found in many other arrangements that the EU has with other nations.
Farmers and crofters in my constituency and across the country require a minimum of two things from these negotiations: tariff-free access to the European markets, and the protection that their produce gets from the protected designation of origin regimes. Given the Minister’s description of progress in negotiations, how likely does she think they are to get that, and what would she suggest they do if they do not?
We are very aware of the asks of every sector in Scotland. I have been working with all the devolved Administrations to ensure that they are able to feed in. Indeed, those discussions have materially changed the shape of the negotiations. We will continue to do that. They know that I am committed to doing that. Many of the things we are asking for are in everyone’s interests. They are mutually beneficial things, so I remain optimistic.
Financial services are very important to my constituency, and indeed to the country as a whole, given their huge contribution to the Exchequer and the number of people they employ, not only in London but in Scotland and in the north of England. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the interests of financial services will be protected as part of the negotiations?
I can give my hon. Friend those assurances. We are obviously working very hard to deliver for that sector. It is a sector that was not well served—the whole of services were not well served—by our previous relationship with the EU. The asks that we are making with regard to financial services are in other agreements that the EU has, notably that with Japan, so we think it perfectly reasonable that they be extended to us.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. One of the areas that I look after in the Cabinet Office is our communications. We have had a complete overhaul involving every Government Department, including those for local government and for transport, which will be key to the sector that he raises, to improve our communications. Clearly, a lot of policy announcements are yet to happen because they are contingent on decisions that have been taken, but that structure is now in place. I make the commitment that the communications between all sectors and Government will be considerably better than what happened last year.
What assurances can my right hon. Friend give to businesses in the Cities of London and Westminster that both the UK and the EU are keen to have certainty and clarity in any future relationship, particularly to deliver an attractive business and investment environment, since financial and professional services will play a huge part in the post covid-19 economic recovery?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. The City of London is not just vital to the UK’s economic recovery; it is also a key institution for many nations around the world. We must ensure its success, and I assure her that the Government are very focused on that.
I voted for the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill. I want the Government to get a good deal. Delay will only increase uncertainty, but last week it was reported that talks about the oven-ready deal have stagnated. What red lines will the Government compromise on, if at all, to achieve that promised deal?
I thank the hon. Lady for her commitment to helping us deliver a good deal. The key aspect of why we cannot let these negotiations go on is that prolonged uncertainty. We believe that our asks are very reasonable. There are precedents set. They are upholding our rights in international law, and we will continue to ask for them. What is required is for the EU to understand that we are a sovereign equal in these negotiations, and I hope that that happens in the coming weeks.
I welcome the Minister’s comments on speed. We need to give people and businesses notice as soon as possible about the changes that they need to prepare for. On guidance, may I urge her to look at the fact that many businesses have not realised the consequences of coming out of the single market and the customs union? We can start preparing them for that reality. On the Northern Ireland protocol, there are businesses reporting to me that they are now moving jobs to the Republic. What progress has been made on implementing and discussing the checks and other measures that businesses will have to prepare for in Northern Ireland?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that important question. In addition to shortly being able to talk more about border operations and how we envisage things working in the future, we are already in discussion with businesses in every part of the UK. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has led some of those discussions. We have received a great deal of submissions from businesses in Northern Ireland, and those views are being taken into account as we design what the future will look like.
The London mayoral elections have been delayed by a year. The conference of the parties on climate has been delayed by more than a year. Where is the harm in delaying the Brexit negotiations for a year as well, so that we can get it right, by understanding the impact that the pandemic is having and will continue to have at the end of the year rather than going barrelling off the cliff edge? All it would take is a phone call, and we would give people the kind of certainty that we are being asked for by taking the time to get it done properly.
We will not be barrelling off a cliff edge. One of the reasons why we want to conclude the negotiations is to give people time to prepare for the end of the year. The hon. Gentleman is right to point to the fact that the situation we are in with covid has been grave. We need to ensure that our economies recover swiftly, and they will be helped not by perpetuating the uncertainty we saw over the last few years, but by enabling business to get on with it and using our finite resources to facilitate levelling up in the United Kingdom, not paying into an EU budget that we will never see any upside from.
We have recently seen an unacceptable increase in the number of illegal migrants entering this country through unauthorised crossings across the English channel. Does my right hon. Friend agree that being tied to EU rules and regulations during the transition period makes the return of illegal migrants more difficult, which underlines one of the important reasons why we need to end the transition period on 31 December? Will she assure me and my constituents that the UK will rebuff any EU attempt to make a new deal on illegal immigration contingent on us conceding in other areas of negotiations?
All nations have an obligation to combat the appalling and dangerous trade in human beings. Britain has chosen to do that, partly because of our geographic location, by putting in large amounts of funding upstream to create job security and food security and alleviate the need for people to move away from their homes to seek a better life. We will always uphold our obligations and our humanitarian obligations, and we want all other countries to do the same.
When does the Minister hope to be able to offer some reassurance to the west midlands motor industry that the negotiations will protect the industry and will not result in the imposition of a disastrous tariff on UK-manufactured vehicles intended for European export?
That and many other matters are why we want to increase the pace of negotiations. We will soon be able to talk about some of the operational aspects in respect of how we see our border working and many other issues that will be of interest to that sector. In preparation for that we have done a huge amount of work to ensure that we are talking to everyone we need to.
The reality is that a comprehensive free trade agreement, with all the benefits it could bring to both parties, is well within reach. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, rather than discussing an extension with Opposition parties, the EU should focus on securing a deal so that we can reach an agreement by the end of the year?
I do agree with my hon. Friend. It is vital that we get a move on with this; it is in the interests of the UK and the EU that we do so. The EU must accept that we are a sovereign equal in the negotiations; I think we will then make some progress. In fairness to the Opposition, even though they are campaigning on a transition period, they have not quite adopted that as their policy—I suspect because they know it would be crazy to extend it.
Scotland has important trading links with Northern Ireland, but Stena Line is really struggling because of covid-19. The Minister keeps talking about certainty; so that we can look forward with certainty, will she be the first Minister to explain how the invisible border between Northern Ireland and Ireland is going to be maintained? What technology has been invented and will be deployed in time for the end of the transition period? How will she ensure that that does not affect the movement of goods and people between Scotland and Northern Ireland?
The nature of the trading relationship that the UK is now seeking with the EU means that, whatever the outcome of the negotiations, the formalities with which exporters will need to comply will change on 1 January. I urge the Government to step up engagement so that businesses large and small throughout the country are ready for the end of the transition period and all the formalities that will bring.
My right hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point that is absolutely accepted. We hope to be able to start to do that very soon indeed. In advance of that we have, as I have alluded to, done a tremendous amount of work, looking at all the stakeholders that Departments are working with and ensuring that we are talking to all the businesses that we need to, not just the obvious ones that are always at the roundtables. We do a good job not only of communicating that but of listening, because many of the solutions that need to be put in place will be derived from the ideas of businesses themselves.
I am sure the right hon. Lady will agree that we need a good deal. We need a deal in the time that we have set ourselves, but to get that, we need a mixture of trust, competence and integrity. As a new member of the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union, I—and the team—had the privilege yesterday of interviewing Michel Barnier and the Minister’s boss, the Secretary of State. Does it not worry her that I get a real feeling that the trust, competence and integrity are more on the Barnier side than on her boss’s side? Why can we not get a movement in which we look back to the political declaration and stick to its principles?
No one would disagree with that sentiment. Post-covid, it will be essential to get the global trading system moving, and nothing could give greater confidence in that system than seeing a UK-EU trade agreement in place. To enable that to happen, the EU could give Britain a Canada-style agreement. Does my right hon Friend agree that the UK has a right to expect from the EU no less than what the UK itself agreed, as part of the EU, with Canada?
My right hon. Friend makes a very good point, which I agree with wholeheartedly. He is also right to put the focus on rest-of-world trade. Clearly, many decisions that will be taken in the negotiations and the workstreams going into implementing the withdrawal agreement are linked to our ambitions with rest-of-world trade. We must always remember that while the EU side of things is clearly a priority for many in this House, we ought also to be talking about the opportunities that exist with other nations around the world.
I congratulate the Minister on her stance and her determination to deliver Brexit. Will she outline whether there have been further discussions regarding our agrifood and fishing sectors in the United Kingdom, and in Northern Ireland in particular, with special reference to the protection needed to secure our dairy, beef, pork, poultry and fish markets? What have the latest discussions brought about to ensure that that happens?
The last round of negotiations touched on all the workstreams. There was in-depth discussion across all areas, and it was very constructive on both parts, but as I outlined in my opening statement, there are some very tough areas. One of them is fishing and we are asking for our rights, as enshrined in international law, to be upheld. We are not wavering from that point, and the EU needs to recognise that.
In my last exchange with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on 27 February, we learned that we were going to need 50,000 new customs officers by the end of the year. What assessment has the Department made of the annual cost to the UK economy of those officers, and who is going to foot the bill for them?
Our civil servants have been working on the personnel, training and recruitment aspects of this, and on the many other aspects that will need to be put in place. There are regular updates on readiness with our partners and with the devolved nations. I am leading on that aspect. Where there are additional costs to be borne, there is work that needs to be done, and the Treasury is aware of that fact. I am personally keen to see that where we are making investments, whether in personnel or in additional facilities that need to be created, we are also looking at the economic opportunities that will come with that for particular areas. I know that the Treasury is very keen on that, too.
With both sides being confident that a deal can take place by the end of year, the EU ratification process means that, in practical terms, agreement probably needs to be reached by the end of October. Ratification in the UK can take place relatively quickly. What guarantees has the Minister received from Michel Barnier that the EU will not allow a deal to fall because of the time it would take to complete the complex EU ratification processes?
All sides are very aware of the timetable we have to operate in, which is why we want to increase the pace of discussions and focus on those remaining tough issues, but we will not extend the negotiations. We are determined to ensure that any ratification or other practical measures needed can be done by the end of the year. That is critical and the reason we want to conclude the negotiations swiftly.
The Northern Ireland protocol is the sad and inevitable consequence of Brexit and the need to protect the Good Friday agreement, but it is right we do all we can to mitigate its impact. Does the Minister recognise that the greater the divergence by the UK from the EU—or indeed the absence of any trade deal by the end of the year—the greater the impact down the Irish sea in terms of checks and bureaucracy?
The best way to protect the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and to implement the protocol is to take a pragmatic approach that always has at its forefront jobs and the economy in Northern Ireland. That is why it is our policy that there should be no new procedures, no new customs infrastructure and no tariffs on internal UK trade, and that remains our policy.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that even the five months that Monsieur Barnier talked about on Friday for finalising legal texts on an agreement on the level playing field, fisheries and other matters is possible, provided that the agreement reflects the fact that we have left the EU? Is not what is needed here the flexibility in the EU mandate that we saw when the Prime Minister successfully renegotiated the withdrawal agreement?
Last week, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster told me we did not need a Brexit extension, just good will on all sides, but this Government keep making commitments and then ditching them—hardly the way to encourage good will. Will the UK Government finally admit that they cannot deliver on their own commitments and just come clean that the real strategy is to crash out of the EU, leaving the rest of us to pick up the pieces?
No, that is not the strategy. The strategy is to escalate the pace of the negotiations, which the EU is aware is required, and make progress. As I say, in the latest rounds last week we had very constructive discussions on all workstreams, but there remain areas we need to focus on in the coming days and weeks. That is what we need to do. It is in everyone’s interests—not just ours in the UK, but the EU’s—that we secure this deal, and I remain confident that we will get there.
Our historic immigration Bill will end free movement, take back control of our border and pave the way for a new points-based immigration system. Does the Minister agree that as we come through coronavirus it is vital that we have this new immigration system in place so that we can attract the brightest and the best from around the world?
We need flexibility and the ability to respond to what our economy needs. Our immigration system needs to be based on a proper understanding of our own labour market and the needs of each local area, and yes, that will present us with opportunities that we need to be ready to seize.
The CBI says that the coronavirus has left companies with almost zero resilience to a chaotic exit from the single market. Ending the Brexit transition period without a deal would on its own be an act of economic vandalism. To do so in the face of coronavirus would be economic vandalism on steroids. This is no longer about leave or remain; it is about a Government acting responsibly in the interests of their citizens. Will the Minister please put ideology aside and persuade her colleagues that it is time to seek an extension to the transition period?
All that seeking an extension would do is to prolong negotiations. We need to conclude the negotiations and get a good outcome. Not pushing deadlines out will help do that. Then we need to give our citizens and our businesses time to prepare; time to socialise them with the new border operations. That is our plan; that is what is going to happen. All that extending the transition process would do is push negotiations out. We would be back to where the British people do not want to be—to uncertainty and chaos. They want clarity. They want to get a move on and they want to maximise the benefits of being outside the EU.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. It is not just that we have been in this partnership with the EU but the fact that its arrangements with other nations set the parameters for many of the things that we are discussing. This is perfectly doable. It is just a matter of good will and focus, but there is good will, and there is increasing focus.
Time is running out, and there is a real risk of a cliff-edge Brexit, which would come in the context of a health pandemic and the associated economic crisis, with rising unemployment towards the end of the year. Have the Government initiated any planning for the event of a deal not being reached?
It would be prudent and wise for us to prepare for every scenario, just as we have always done. We did so last year and then did not need to implement those preparations. I am confident that we can not only come to an agreement but do so in a timeframe that gives people the time that they need to prepare and to understand. We are very aware of the other things that are going on in the world that form the backdrop to that. Our approach is going to be achingly pragmatic.
The EU says repeatedly that it accepts the fact of Brexit, yet its entire negotiating strategy seems to be geared to keeping the UK squarely in the legal and regulatory orbit of the EU. Does my right hon. Friend agree that unlocking the deal will require flexibility and good will but also fundamentally requires the EU to be realistic and honest about the path that the UK has chosen?
My right hon. Friend makes very good points. The EU needs to recognise that we are now a sovereign equal and negotiate with us on that basis. There are massive opportunities from us coming to a deal. The EU will be aware of those opportunities, and I hope that we can get the focus that we need to resolve the remaining issues and get a move on for their Union and ours too.
The Minister talks about time to prepare, yet the House has no clarity on where or how we will land, and businesses the length and breadth of the UK still do not know what tariffs will apply, which regulations they should follow, what customs processes will apply, how people and data can cross borders or whether professional qualifications will be recognised. Can the Minister honestly look business owners in my constituency and across Scotland in the eye and tell them that they are meant to prepare all of this in the next six months while battling the impacts of a global pandemic?
We are very aware of the backdrop against which these negotiations are taking place. Hon. Members will not have long to wait before they learn more about border operations, but in many of the areas that the hon. Gentleman mentions, we have made progress, and that progress is in the public domain. In other areas, we are simply asking for a reciprocal relationship for things that we currently do for other nations.
As we begin to recover from the coronavirus, while a deal would be very welcome, does my right hon. Friend agree that the UK needs as much flexibility as possible to help rebuild our economy and communities, and that remaining bound by EU law during this time would not allow us to do that?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; we have left the EU. At the end of this year, we will be a fully independent and sovereign nation. Our interests are best served by having that flexibility with rest-of-the-world trade and with the choices we make about our trading arrangements with others, as well as the EU. That is the basis of our negotiating position and it is one that we will hold to.
Is it not now inevitable that both Northern Ireland and Irish companies alike will increasingly look to use the new generation of massive roll-on roll-off ferries for direct links with the mainland in Europe, which will have disastrous effects for bypassed Welsh ports such as Holyhead?
As someone whose constituency is a port, let me reassure the hon. Gentleman that I very much understand the concerns the sector has. It wants information about future operations, and support to put in place any adjustments that need to be made and timely information about them. A tremendous amount of work has gone on with ports, and the organisations they work with and rely on, in advance of announcements about border operations and future arrangements, as he will know, and we will continue to do that. We have to maximise the economic opportunities such investments in UK infrastructure will bring for his constituents and others around the country, and we will do that.
A comprehensive free trade agreement can easily be reached by the end of the year between the UK and the EU for one simple reason, which is that we are starting from the same place. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is time for the EU to get on with it and start negotiating in good faith?
I think that behind the political bluster there is good faith, because not only are we starting out from similar positions, as my hon. Friend points out, but a good deal is in our mutual interests. That is why I have always remained optimistic about the outcome of this process. [Interruption.] Because the EU needs to recognise us a sovereign equal, and I hope that it does.
World trade is forecast to decline by up to a third in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, and that could encourage a move to more protectionist trade policies globally. Given that context, why does the Minister think it is a good idea to rush through major changes to the UK’s trading relationship with the EU, when businesses want more time to recover from the economic shock of coronavirus and avoid a no-deal scenario?
The hon. Lady was cutting out, but I think I have got the gist.
We believe in free trade and do not want protectionist practices, not just because that is in our interests, but because we believe it is in the interests of every nation on earth. I assure her that one reason why we do not want to extend the transition period and we want to conclude the negotiations swiftly is to give businesses and her constituents time to prepare before the end of the year. Our approach to that, on our borders and on many other aspects, is going to be extremely pragmatic and sensible, and once business hears more about it, I think it will be reassured.
Many constituents from across Keighley have expressed to me their frustration at the speed with which the EU is progressing with these negotiations. My right hon. Friend has been clear that we need to see a significant step forward in the EU’s approach if we are to reach an agreement by the end of this year. Can she confirm that the Government are prepared to walk away from these negotiations if adequate progress has not been made, and that we are prepared for that eventuality if needs be?
My hon. Friend makes some very good points. The key aspect to this is, as I have said, the timing. There is no point in our arriving at an agreement at the 11th hour: we have to arrive at an agreement to enable it to be implemented and ratified, but also in order for our citizens and businesses to prepare. That is what is dictating the timetable, and that is why we must have renewed focus. We are talking to the EU about having a change of format—about how we can increase the pace of negotiations, get the focus where we need it to be, and get a deal done for both our sakes.
Easy extradition has made it possible for paedophiles, murderers and violent criminals to be brought to justice in the UK from other countries in the European Union. I understand that the Government have now given up on the European arrest warrant for the UK. Several countries, including Germany, Austria and Slovenia, have made it clear that constitutionally they will not be able to extradite to the UK when we are no longer a member of the European Union. How are we going to make sure that we do not become a protected place for European criminals?
On that issue, but on many other issues related to law enforcement and security, the negotiations have been good and constructive. We were having discussions on those areas last week and making good progress on them. Ultimately, though, having an arrangement, whether it is on other aspects of security or on protecting all our citizens from those who would wish to do them harm, is in our mutual interests. I have said this from the get-go since the referendum, and I am confident that common sense will prevail.
Having a deadline promotes deals, and I have high hopes for the negotiations over the next few weeks. But does my right hon. Friend agree that where there is no sign of a convergence in negotiating positions, an extension of the transition period, four and a half years after the referendum vote, would serve no purpose other than to cost us money, prolong business uncertainty, delay effective control of our borders, and hamper our economic response to the covid crisis?
One of the concerns has always been the potential for a future British Government to deregulate hard-fought workers’ rights. That ought not to be a worry if there is political will, so have the Government met trade unions and the TUC about maintaining and, indeed, improving our employment standards outside of the EU once the transition period ends in December?
Of course, not only the Cabinet Office but many other Government Departments have negotiations with a wide range of stakeholders, including the unions. The British people value the things that the hon. Gentleman has spoken about. They value their rights. They value high standards. They value high environmental standards, and all the other things that many Members care about, because they know their constituents care about them. On these things, including particularly on employment law, the UK has led the pack, so I would say to him: have a little faith. It is his job not to trust the Government, but he should trust the people.
The Minister will understand that many of Scotland’s fishermen voted to leave the European Union to retake control of our fishing waters, so can she assure me that the UK will not compromise on our fishing rights and that the EU will need to accept that the UK will become an independent coastal nation by the end of 2020?
I can give my hon. Friend that reassurance. We want a separate fisheries framework that reflects our rights in international law. Our requests are simple, reasonable and straightforward. We want the EU to recognise those rights, recognise us as a sovereign equal, and come to the negotiating table with renewed vigour to ensure that we can get that agreement and a deal.