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Brexit: Date of Exit

Volume 797: debated on Monday 8 April 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they took to ensure that Parliamentarians were aware that the United Kingdom’s date of exit from the European Union could be changed by a decision of the European Council.

My Lords, various EU treaties outline the role of the European Council in any negotiations to leave the EU. We have been clear that any extension requires agreement from the Council. We sought and agreed an extension with the Council. This was followed by debates in both Houses, which supported the Government’s decision to extend Article 50.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his reply. He will be aware of the growing sense of disbelief at the decision to collude with anti-Semitic Marxists to thwart the will of the people. That aside, I do not recall your Lordships’ House being told during the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 that the Brexit date inserted in that Act was, in effect, purely academic. Why did the Government not make crystal clear the simple fact that the EU could go over our heads and change the date on which Parliament had decided we would leave the EU?

I understand very much the concerns of my noble friend, but there are two processes in play here. There is the Article 50 process, which is a matter of international and European law, and the domestic EU withdrawal Act, which had to be changed to reflect that new date using secondary legislation powers in the Act, which were extensively debated at the time, as he will recall. Following that, there were debates in both Houses that then agreed those dates.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that national sovereignty in a peaceful world order is not something which allows you to tell everyone else to sod off whenever you want, but is the right to negotiate with others on mutually acceptable rules for international order? Can he explain the evident contradiction between what the ERG and the Bruges Group have been saying for the last three years—that we have absolutely no influence over decisions of the European Council—and recent remarks by spokesmen for those two groups that if we stay in the European Union for the next year, we can block it and impose an effective veto on what it wants to do?

I think I need to apologise to the noble Lord: I thought I was here to answer questions on behalf of the Government, but apparently he thinks I am now here to answer questions on behalf of the ERG. I suggest that the best way for him to get answers to his questions is to pose them to the gentlemen who made those statements.

My Lords, when I suggested an extension, the Minister said that there was no need for one. Obviously, now there is. Can I suggest that he takes my advice and goes for a referendum to confirm any deal in the future?

I always value the advice of the noble Lord, but I think in this case we will not be taking that particular piece of advice.

My Lords, could I urge the Minister to make it clear that, if we should leave the European Union this coming Friday, it would be neither catastrophic nor chaotic? It is true there might be some initial problems, but a lot of major issues would be cleared away immediately, and certainty would certainly be welcomed by the whole nation. It would give us a chance for a successful departure from the EU.

My noble friend is right to point out that we have been making extensive preparations across government for no deal, and I think that is a situation we could manage. Nevertheless, we are where we are. The House of Commons has refused to pass the withdrawal agreement and, with its agreement, the Prime Minister has decided that we need to seek a further extension.

The Minister has suggested that he is not here to answer questions on behalf of the ERG. I hope he can answer a question linked to the letter from the Prime Minister to Donald Tusk, in which she writes:

“The United Kingdom proposes that this period should end on 30 June 2019”.

In line with a question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, when did the United Kingdom decide on this date, given that the European Union has already rejected 30 June? I do not believe that this House or the other place voted for 30 June as a preferred date.

The Prime Minister and the Cabinet agreed that date. The Prime Minister made the proposal but, as the noble Baroness will understand, given her extensive experience of European law, this is a matter for negotiation with the European Union. The Council of 28 will decide that on Wednesday.

My Lords, does my noble friend not recall that, when the legislation first went through Parliament, a number of us warned that, if we are to secure an orderly withdrawal from the European Union, it would be better not to fix a date in the calendar but to allow the negotiations to take their course, and that by fixing a date we are putting a gun to our own head? I would be grateful if he would say whether he recalls that. Does he not also agree that, when the country faces a crisis—and we certainly face a crisis now—it is in the British tradition to seek all-party agreement to get out of it?

I agree with my noble friend that there were extensive debates on all aspects of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill at the time—at late hours of the day and night—and the matter of the date was of course discussed. It would of course be preferable to have all-party agreement across the House, if we can, and we are trying to get that.

My Lords, how much collaborative working have the Government undertaken with the devolved nations’ Governments? They may be of a different political persuasion, but they have good working relationships with many countries within Europe, which could be helpful in the negotiations.

I assure the noble Baroness that there are extensive discussions with the devolved Administrations—in fact, I was in a Cabinet sub-committee meeting only last week with the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales. I chair one of the joint working arrangement groups on ongoing EU business, involving all the devolved Ministers. So there is extensive collaboration going on.