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Brexit: Discussions with the European Union

Volume 798: debated on Thursday 20 June 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made in discussions with the European Union about the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union.

My Lords, the UK and the EU have agreed a deal that works for the UK’s economy, security and the union. As noble Lords will be aware, the House of Commons has rejected this deal on three occasions. It is now for the next Prime Minister to seek a way forward that honours the result of the 2016 referendum.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that reply. As he is aware, there are effectively only three months remaining in which to negotiate a variation of the deal that will get past the House of Commons. Will my noble friend take this opportunity to tell the House what discussions are taking place at the level of officials to see what leeway can be achieved regarding the political declaration? We are mindful that each of the remaining candidates is in favour of a deal, and it would be shameful if it fell through because of lack of time to negotiate.

Informal discussions are always going on. The Prime Minister is in Brussels today for the European Council, where she will be having bilateral meetings with several other European leaders.

My Lords, the various backers of Boris Johnson, such as Dominic Raab and David Davis, have backed him on the basis that we must leave the EU on 31 October. However, in the debate on Monday the putative future Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, refused to give such an absolute guarantee. He thought that leaving on 31 October was only “eminently feasible”. Could the Minister tell us what precisely is the Brexit policy of the person who looks likely to be the next Prime Minister?

I wish it was that funny. Could the Minister undertake to explain to Mr Johnson that if there is no deal, there will be no transition period? If he does nothing else, he will have earned his place here as a Minister if he takes this message back, because Mr Johnson does not seem to understand it.

I am fascinated by the degree to which the Opposition want to comment on Conservative leadership elections—I note that nobody is commenting on the Liberal Democrat leadership election at the moment. I and other ministerial colleagues have had discussions with a number of the candidates. We have had some fascinating discourse on the possible options for the new Prime Minister to take forward.

My Lords, in the absence of any progress on a deal with the European Union and, concurrently, of any progress on the re-formation of a Government for Northern Ireland, when will we put the women of Northern Ireland out of their misery and allow our abortion laws to apply there ?

As the noble Baroness will be well aware, that is really not a policy responsibility of my department, so I will pass on that one.

Can my noble friend tell us when the EU will take responsibility for half of this deal, which has been turned down by gigantic majorities in the House of Commons?

My noble friend is well aware that the deal was agreed jointly between the UK Government and the EU. Any solution will also need to be agreed jointly.

Can the Minister assure the House that Parliament will not be prorogued to prevent it expressing a view on the appropriate way forward before 31 October?

Parliament has expressed its view on these matters many times, both in the other place and in this House. I am sure that both Houses will continue to express their views in the future.

My Lords, the Minister expressed some surprise in an earlier answer at the interest that was being shown in the Conservative Party leadership. I am sure he will not be surprised to learn that the interest is due to this being an election for not just the Conservative Party leader but the next Prime Minister. Could he therefore give a slightly better answer on what he anticipates the policy of that upcoming Prime Minister to be?

I take the noble Baroness’s point: I was being slightly facetious in my answer. Of course there is interest in what the policy of the next Prime Minister will be, but I do not know who that person will be yet and therefore I do not know exactly what that policy will be.

My Lords, might there be an opportunity for the House of Commons to indicate what alteration to the present agreement it is seeking? I have not yet seen a detailed amendment proposed in the House of Commons to the existing agreement in the hope that a modification of it could be agreed.

As always, my noble and learned friend makes some wise points, but an amendment was agreed in the House of Commons: the so-called Brady amendment on alternative arrangements to ensure no hard border. That remains the one positive amendment passed, indicating where support in the House of Commons might lie, but of course we need to persuade the EU of the merits of that.

I am always happy to give way to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, for whom the House has the greatest respect. However, as even this House seems to be exhausted by this issue and as discussions appear to be in limbo, what is the Minister doing with his day?

This morning, answering the noble Lord’s question. My time is gainfully occupied. I was in Portugal last week to sign a treaty on reciprocal voting rights to ensure that UK citizens in Portugal and Portuguese citizens in the UK can participate in local elections. We are pursuing a number of such treaties. We are also getting on with no-deal preparation because, as I have repeated many times, that remains the legal default.