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United Kingdom: Single Market

Volume 776: debated on Tuesday 15 November 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to publish a green paper on the cases for and against the United Kingdom remaining a member of the Single Market.

My Lords, the Government will seek the right deal to give UK businesses the maximum access to, and freedom to trade with and operate in, the single market. We have committed to keep Parliament and the public informed of our thinking and we will uphold that commitment. However, we will not risk compromising our ability to negotiate in the national interest, so as to protect the long-term prosperity of the UK.

My Lords, with respect, that answer is not more informative than the oft-repeated statement that “Brexit means Brexit”, which is about as revealing as a statement that breakfast means breakfast —except that the recently leaked memo to the Cabinet Office suggests, and indeed confirms, that the Government’s approach to Brexit so far is something of a dog’s breakfast. The Conservative manifesto said, emphatically:

“We say: yes to the Single Market”.

If Parliament is now to take a role, and I am sure that the Government could benefit in these negotiations from some of the expertise in this Chamber, is it not time for the Government to at least allow us to debate how they see the pros and cons of our relationships with the single market, which is perhaps the most important issue at stake? This is highly relevant to the assurances given to Nissan.

My Lords, we are absolutely determined to have as much debate as we can on these issues; the Government are committed to this. I have had extremely informative conversations with a number of noble Lords on all sides of the House. We have also listened to and read with interest the debates that have taken place. I say again that we are going to seek the maximum access to, and freedom to trade with and operate in, the single market. There is clearly a range of ways in which that might be achieved. Noble Lords will know of the relationships that Turkey, Switzerland and Norway all have with the single market. However, as the Government have said, we are looking at these options but intend to take a bespoke approach.

Does my noble friend recall the Japanese soldiers who were found in the 1950s still fighting the Second World War long after it had finished? Will he gently point out to the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, and the Liberal Democrat Benches that we have already had a government paper setting out the arguments for the UK remaining a member of the single market? It was published during the referendum campaign, and that view was overwhelmingly rejected by the British people.

My noble friend is absolutely right: 17.4 million people voted to leave and we are determined to deliver on that. We are now assessing the options open to us in a methodical and measured way, and we intend to continue to do so. I hope the Liberal Democrats will note that those 17.4 million people expect us to deliver on this. Clearly, they expect the unelected Chamber to contribute to that debate but, obviously, they would look pretty dimly on us if we were to block the measures that we need to take.

When the Minister has the answer to the Question on the Order Paper, will the Government first tell the press, our partners in the EU or the two Houses of Parliament?

My Lords, as we have said all along, we are absolutely determined to keep this House and the other place as informed as possible about our decisions. We stick by that.

My Lords, while many people might agree with the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, that there is ambiguity about the meaning of the word “Brexit”, assuming it is a word, there is no ambiguity whatever about the word that appeared on the ballot paper—namely, “leave”. As far as I can discover, leave means inexorably three things in relation to any organisation: first, that you no longer sit on the executive committee; secondly, that you no longer pay the subs; and, thirdly, that you are no longer obliged to abide by the rules. Will the Minister confirm that those three essential aspects of leave remain the central position of the Government’s negotiations?

The noble Lord makes a very good point. As he and the whole House will know, the Prime Minister has made it clear that we wish to take control of our laws, borders and money, while achieving the best possible access to the single market, and ensuring that we have the means to continue to co-operate and collaborate with our European partners on issues where it remains in our national interest to do so.

Is it not the truth that the Government were so ill prepared for Brexit that the reason they are not revealing their hand is that they do not know what their hand is? They seem to have three hands, with three different Ministers not in agreement and one of them even failing to meet the 27 fellow members of the European Union, whose support we will need in our negotiations. Therefore my question to the Minister is: rather than playing politics, could he—

Listen to the punchline. Could he not treat us all as adults and say that this House and all parties should be involved in this for the sake of the national interest, and that we should have a discussion which incorporates what we want to say rather than saying, “It is all secret and we cannot tell you”? Will the Minister take that approach in the discussions?

My Lords, I certainly treat everyone in your Lordships’ House as adults and listen to, and respect, the views of those on all sides of the House, whatever their views might be. As I have said all along, the Government’s view on this is to continue to engage as far as possible with this House, the other place and, indeed, groups right across society, including businesses and NGOs, and listen to their views. We are doing so in a measured, calm and reasoned way. We will continue to do so and assess the options open to us.

My Lords, clearly, when the Conservative Party offered the emphatic pledge of saying yes to the single market in its manifesto last year, as cited by my noble friend, it had in mind the national interest. Equally clearly, now the Conservative Government are focusing purely on their internal party interest. When will they get back to prioritising the interests and needs of the United Kingdom people and businesses, which means avoiding a destructive hard Brexit?

I am very sorry to say that I totally refute what the noble Baroness says. We are putting the national interest absolutely first and are doing so in a calm and measured way. Quite frankly, if I had turned up at this Dispatch Box four or so weeks after the referendum result and had come out with answers to the very complex challenges that this Government face—among the most serious challenges that any Government have faced since 1945—I think she would have asked us, “Where is all the planning? How has it all been carried out?”.

Let me make this point to the noble Baroness. We are doing this in a reasoned and controlled way. I repeat to her and her party that I hope they stand by the document I see in front of her—the Liberal Democrat plan for Europe—which says that,

“we should not keep rerunning the last referendum in order to get the result we wanted”.

I very much hope that that is the case and that they are not looking to overturn or block the result in this House.

My Lords, the Question refers to a Green Paper. Following that, it is normal to have a White Paper. Is this not just a naked delaying tactic? The British people want Her Majesty’s Government to get on with it.

My Lords, I am absolutely determined to make sure that we deliver on the view of the 17.4 million who in June voted to leave the European Union. As I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, we are doing so in a reasoned and thoughtful way. We will come up with a plan that delivers on the national interest and ensure that we deliver a smooth and orderly Brexit.