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EU: Future Relationship

Volume 802: debated on Thursday 27 February 2020


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement made today in another place by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office. The Statement is as follows:

“With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like now to make a Statement on the Government’s approach to our future relationship with the European Union.

Now that Britain has left the EU, we are entering a new chapter in the history of these islands. This Government have honoured the clearly expressed wish of the British people. Their instruction to us, their servants, to secure our departure from the EU has been followed. The votes of 17.4 million people—more than have ever voted for any democratic proposition in our history—were implemented on 31 January and we are now on a new journey. As a sovereign, self-governing, independent nation, we will have the freedom to frame our own laws, control our own borders, lower all our taxes, set our own tariffs, determine our own trade relationships and ensure we follow the people’s priorities on security, the economy and democratic accountability. Over the next nine months, we will negotiate a new relationship with our friends and partners in the European Union, based on free trade and friendly co-operation. We have today published the approach for those negotiations, and copies of the document, The Future Relationship with the EU, were made available to Members in the Vote Office from 9.30 am.

Talks with the EU on our future relationship begin next week, and it is our aim to secure a comprehensive free trade agreement, as well as agreement on questions such as fisheries, internal security and aviation. We are confident that those negotiations will lead to outcomes which work for both the UK and the EU. But this House, our European partners and, above all, the British people, should be in no doubt: at the end of the transition period, on 31 December, the United Kingdom will fully recover its economic and political independence. We want the best possible trading relationship with the EU, but in pursuit of a deal we will not trade away our sovereignty.

The Government’s vision for the UK’s future relationship with the EU was outlined with crystal clarity by the Prime Minister during the general election campaign, the election result comprehensively confirmed public support for our direction of travel, and in his speech in the Painted Hall in Greenwich on 3 February, the Prime Minister laid out in detail how we will reach our destination. The first principle of our approach is that we wish to secure a relationship based on friendly co-operation between sovereign equals. We respect the EU’s sovereignty, autonomy and distinctive legal order, and we expect it to respect ours. We will not accept nor agree to any obligations where our laws are aligned with the EU or the EU’s institutions, including the Court of Justice. Instead, each party will respect the other’s independence and the right to manage its own borders, immigration policy and taxes.

The second and allied principle of our approach is that we will seek to emulate and build on the types of relationship that the EU already has with other independent sovereign states. We will use precedents already well established and understood to ensure both sides’ sovereignty is respected, and by using already existing precedents we should be able to expedite agreement. We will seek functioning arrangements that the EU will recognise from its many other relationships. So our proposal draws on existing EU agreements such as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Canada, the EU-Japan economic partnership agreement and the EU-South Korea free trade agreement. This approach will enable us to move swiftly towards the goal envisaged in the political declaration agreed last October, in which both sides set the aim of concluding a zero-tariffs, zero-quotas free trade agreement, or FTA.

As well as concluding a full FTA, we will require a wholly separate agreement on fisheries. We will take back control of our waters, as an independent coastal state, and will not link access to our waters to access to EU markets. Our fishing waters are our sovereign resource, and we will determine other countries’ access to our resources on our terms. We also hope to conclude an agreement on law enforcement and judicial co-operation in criminal matters, so that we can work with the EU to protect their citizens, and ours, from shared threats, but we will not allow our own legal order to be compromised, and by taking back full control of our borders we can implement measures to make the British people even safer, and we can tackle terrorism and organised crime even more effectively. We also wish to conclude a number of technical agreements covering aviation and civil nuclear co-operation, which will help ensure continuity for the UK on its new footing as an independent sovereign nation.

Securing agreement on all these questions should not, in principle, be difficult. We are, after all, only seeking relationships with the EU which it has with other nations, relationships that respect the interests and sovereignty of both partners. It is in that light that we should view discussions about what has been termed the “level playing field”. It has been argued that EU demands in this area will make full agreement difficult. Yet there is no intrinsic reason why requirements that both parties uphold desirable standards should prejudice any deal.

The United Kingdom has a proud record when it comes to environmental enhancement, workers’ rights and social protection. In a number of key areas, we either exceed EU standards or have led the way to improve standards. On workers’ rights, for example, the UK offers a year of maternity leave, with the option to convert this to parental leave so that both parents can share care. The EU minimum is just 14 weeks. On environmental standards, we were the first country in the world to introduce legally binding greenhouse gas emission reduction targets through the Climate Change Act 2008. We were also the first major global economy to set a legally binding target to achieve net-zero green- house gas emissions across the economy by 2050.

We will not dilute any existing protections. Indeed, as the Environment Bill, debated yesterday, demonstrates, we wish to go further and faster than the EU in improving the natural environment. We do not need the EU’s permission to be a liberal nation leading the world in the fight against climate change and for social progress. That is why the UK Government seek an FTA with robust protections for the environment and labour standards, but we do not see why the test of suitability in these areas should be adherence to EU law and submission to EU models of governance. The EU does not apply those principles to free trade agreements with other sovereign nations, and they should not apply to a sovereign United Kingdom.

Some argue that we must accept EU procedures as the benchmark because of the scale of UK trade with the EU, but the volume of UK trade with the EU is no greater than the volume of US trade with the EU, and the EU was more than willing to offer zero-tariff access to the US without the application of EU procedures to US standard setting. The EU has also argued that the UK is a unique case, owing to its geographical location, but proximity is not a determining factor in any other FTA between other neighbouring states with large economies. It is not a reason for us to accept EU rules and regulations. You need only to look at the USMCA—the agreement between the US, Canada and Mexico—for an example of a trade agreement that does not require regulatory alignment to one side’s rules or demand a role for one side’s court. Geography is no reason to undermine democracy.

To be clear: we will not seek to dynamically align with EU rules on EU terms governed by EU laws and institutions. The British people voted to take back control, to bring power home and to have the rules governing this country made by those who are directly accountable to the people of this country, and that is what we are delivering.

The negotiations are due to begin next week, led by the Prime Minister’s Sherpa, David Frost, and I would like to end by looking ahead optimistically to the coming months. There is ample time during the transition period to strike the right deal for the UK. We hope to reach a broad agreement ahead of the EU Council’s high-level summit in June, whereupon we will take stock.

We know our proposals are measured and our approach is fair. We know what we want to achieve; we are ready to go. This Government are committed to establishing the future relationship in ways that benefit the whole of the UK and strengthen the union. We are committed to working with the devolved Administrations to deliver a future relationship with the EU that works for the whole of the UK. I take this opportunity to reassure colleagues that our negotiation will be undertaken without prejudice and with full respect to the Northern Ireland protocol. This Government will act in these negotiations on behalf of all the territories for whose international relations the UK is responsible. In negotiating the future relationship between these territories and the EU, the UK Government will seek outcomes that support the territories’ security and economic interests and reflect their unique characteristics. As the Prime Minister committed to do at the Second Reading of the withdrawal agreement Bill, we will keep Parliament fully informed about the negotiations and colleagues will be able to scrutinise our progress in the normal way.

The Government are delivering on their manifesto commitments with energy and determination. This Government got Brexit done and will use our recovered sovereignty to be a force for good in the world and a fairer nation at home. We want and we will always seek the best possible relationship with our friends and allies in Europe, but we will always put the welfare of the British people first. That means ensuring that the British people exercise the democratic control over our destiny for which they voted so decisively. That compact with the people is the most important deal of all. In that spirit, I commend this Statement to the House.”

I welcome the noble Lord, Lord True, to his role. He is the fourth Minister covering Brexit that I have faced. Two retired hurt—one fell out of a helicopter, and I think the other fell out with his political masters—although the last left the field having successfully delivered for his Prime Minister. While I wish the noble Lord well, I obviously hope we will be able to persuade him to listen to views other than just those emanating from No. 10.

Somewhat unusually, the lead negotiator—the Minister calls him a Sherpa—is a civil servant, David Frost. He is not a Minister; he is a civil servant, answerable neither to the Commons nor therefore, via a junior, to this House. We therefore welcome the Minister’s confirmation that he will be Mr Frost’s man in this House and report regularly as the negotiations proceed. Perhaps he will speak, or I can do so via him, to the Chief Whip to ensure we can have a proper debate on this document in the near future.

Today’s Statement is, needless to say, on a crucial and vital issue, but sadly I fear it does not bode well, since it leaves us with a query as to whether the PM really wants a deal, or at least whether he is willing to risk no deal simply to please his friends—whether Trump or the ERG—such that he prioritises a US deal over and above one with the EU. Without an EU deal, we would see tariffs, checks and barriers to trade implemented very fast, by January, in a way that would damage the whole economy. The price of a US deal, even if we got one, would be lower consumer standards, workers’ rights being jeopardised, and environmental concerns being downplayed. What would be the purpose of that?

The only reason seems to be the avoidance of the ECJ—a court—and, as we just heard, this reassertion of so-called “sovereignty”, which was mentioned 11 times in the Statement: a bit of a hang-up there. This is an interdependent world, where the value of currencies, confidence in economies, global interest rates, international tax and wage rates all impact on UK businesses every day. The idea that we live in this independent sovereign world unaffected by anything outside is a figment of the imagination. The best way to confront these global uncertainties is to work closely with our nearest partners and as part of a half-billion market to absorb the ups and downs in world trade and to secure a thriving market for UK goods.

Any idea that a deal suitable for a faraway country—3,500 miles in the case of Canada—would suit the sort of trade that we have with a continent 12 miles away at its nearest is surely pure fantasy. Do the Government understand that the imports and exports of meat, cheese, milk, nuclear medicines, flowers, fruit and vegetables depend on short distances, fast travel and a virtually identical time zone for that easy flow of trade? Or that our car manufacturers need rapid supplies of parts as well as exports of finished products which depend on easy access to the continent? Easy means quick and cheap. No wonder the Treasury predicted that a Canada-style free trade agreement would shrink the economy by up to 6.4%.

The Government seem to accept that there will be customs posts, tariffs and checks, and they even occasionally acknowledge that these will be between Northern Ireland and GB. But those cost money to businesses, to consumers, and to the taxpayer. I hope I have read it wrong, but this Statement seems to smack of a negotiating position which is seeking a very distant relationship with the EU, happy to establish barriers for those businesses trying to continue to trade with our largest economic partner. Despite the warm words which the Minister has just repeated, the Government’s commitments on rights, protections and standards, which were written into the political declaration that the Prime Minister signed, now appear to be at risk because the Minister seems to be saying that because some of ours are higher, we can junk all of the commonly agreed minima.

The political declaration promised that the Government would seek a free trade agreement that was underpinned by provisions that ensured a level playing field—the Prime Minister signed that—and safeguarded workers’ rights, consumer rights and environmental protections. Today’s Statement seems to back-track on both. That is not just bad for the people concerned, be they workers, consumers or those interested in the environment, but it is bad for business, with this new variable and reckless approach to negotiations taking business straight from one set of uncertainties to another. We know what businesses want from our deal with the EU: first, ambitious co-operation on regulation with regard to goods to reduce red tape for exporters; secondly, comprehensive coverage of services to maintain the competitive edge of UK providers—a vital part of our economy and, unfortunately, an element not mentioned in the Statement; and, thirdly meaningful customs facilitation to keep costs and complexities low.

It is no good the Prime Minister’s spinners attacking the CBI, as they did earlier this month, accusing it and others of neglecting their duty to prepare their members for the realities of a Canada-style free trade deal. Briefing from No. 10, referring to the CBI and others, said that they have a responsibility to their members that they are not fulfilling, and individual businesses might consider whether they are getting the best representation from the umbrella groups that they are funding. That sounds to me like Downing Street trying to encourage the CBI to mute its criticism of the Government’s strategy. That is not an open Government willing to listen to the views of others.

Without thriving businesses, we have no chance of levelling up or continuing to grow, so I urge the Minister to engage with representatives of consumers, of industry, of farmers and of the service sector so that real hard economic facts, rather than ideology and wishful thinking, will be the lodestar in the negotiations. Can the Minister confirm to the House that the Governments of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as well as of Gibraltar will be fully involved in all stages of the negotiations so that the interests of all parts of the UK are safeguarded?

My Lords, I, too, welcome the Minister to his new position and look forward to a series of robust exchanges in the months to come. As I was coming down to the House, I was interested to learn that there is now a revised version of the Statement. Perhaps it might be of interest to the House to point out what has been revised. The original text stated that

“as a sovereign, self-governing independent nation we will have the freedom to … lower all our taxes”.

The Minister correctly read out the revised version, which is

“to set all our taxes.”

That seems a wise revision by a Government who are about to produce a Budget which intends to increase spending very considerably. If they were to promise in a wonderfully populist way to lower all our taxes at the same time, it would be a little more Trumpian than even Johnsonian.

I would like to tackle the language and assumptions of the Government’s current approach. This is a very harsh, autonomous independence. As has been pointed out, sovereignty—independent sovereign equality—runs all the way through it, as does the notion of the people’s Government, the “servants” of the people. Saying that

“we follow the people’s priorities”

is the not the language of Churchill or Thatcher. It is the language of Viktor Orban, the Prime Minister of Hungary, or even President Erdoğan of Turkey. This is not constitutional parliamentary language. This is not Edmund Burke. The Conservative Party has to recognise that it is slipping into different territory.

In his speech last week, David Frost started and finished by quoting Edmund Burke, but he also rubbished the idea of shared sovereignty. I recall listening to Geoffrey Howe and Margaret Thatcher talking about shared sovereignty and how we benefit in constructing a multilateral international order by sharing our sovereignty through international treaties and agreements, international organisations and international law. Britain has done a great deal in that regard. The language of the Statement suggests that we reject most of that and that we think we are now dealing with a power—the sovereign European Union—which is threatening our sovereignty and independence.

I have not yet heard any Minister say that in dealing with the United States we will expect the United States to treat us as a sovereign equal. I hope the Minister can assure us that we expect the same from the United States because it would not be desirable to establish our independence from the European Union hostile force—as it clearly in many ways is—by reinforcing our dependence in security, intelligence and a range of other ways on the United States. We see it in current extradition procedures and in the presence of American intelligence operatives in this country, who are not fully covered by treaty arrangements and not fully reported to Parliament. That is a degree of dependence which is certainly an evasion of British sovereignty, if we are going to talk about our sovereign independence.

How are we going to establish our political and economic independence by January next year? If we are going to be economically independent, are we going to ensure, for example, that all our key telecommunications equipment is made inside this country? Are we going to ensure that we have an independently owned steel industry, or at least a steel industry of some sort, or is that not part of economic independence? Do we think that supporting offshore financial centres under British sovereignty is part of independence, given that integration into the offshore world which is the ultimate denial of sovereignty in taxation and other terms? If we are not, that is misleading, populist language. It is wonderful to suggest that we stand for the people, but actually, we do not.

Free trade limits sovereignty. Protectionism is what protects sovereignty. North Korea is in many ways one of the most sovereign countries in this world. Once you open yourself to foreign investment and trade, you limit your sovereignty, and that is what we have done. We are one of the most open countries to foreign takeovers and, as a result, we have limited sovereignty and we have to share it with others. If we are talking the language of sovereign equality, we should remember what that great realist Thucydides said: strong states do what they like, small states—and we are smaller than China or the United States—do what they must.

There is no understanding of Britain’s position in the world now we have left the European Union. We have no foreign policy at present. That is not part of this current populist dimension. How do we approach climate change and how do we deal with pandemics? We have to share sovereignty. I hope, when it comes to the climate change conference, the Government will sign up to new international obligations, which will also limit Britain’s sovereignty. Perhaps it is only signing up to shared obligations with the European Union that we object to and we do not, apparently, object quite so much to signing up with China or India.

Can the Minister also assure us that what I understood the Statement to mean on regulatory divergence is that we demand the principle of regulatory divergence but, in practice, we shall be fairly closely aligned? We are standing up for the ideological dimension that we choose but, when it comes to it, we will probably go along with them. Of course, the alternative, if we do not align with European regulations, will be to align more closely with American regulations, rather than, I suspect, to choose our own.

I hope the Minister recognises that the change of tone from the political declaration we signed last October is very worrying for anyone who cares about our position in the world. He will have read the Times editorial the day before yesterday, which said that if we now suggest that we are not bound by agreements that we signed up to last year on Northern Ireland and on the political direction, no one will be prepared to trust us and we will not be able to get a future agreement. When a not particularly left-wing newspaper, such as the Times, says that about the Government’s approach to their negotiations, we should all be very worried indeed.

I thank the noble Baroness and the noble Lord. Obviously, I thank them for their references to my arrival here. I feel privileged to follow my noble friend Lord Callanan in answering on this subject at this Dispatch Box. He was often stoic and always willing to be open to the rest of the House. I assure both noble Lords who have spoken that I will endeavour to be fully open and I look forward to working with them. I know my noble friend is a hard act to follow and I will try to do that.

I will come to each of the contributions in a moment. I felt that they had something in common. One was, perhaps, slightly more robust but there still seemed to be a lack of recognition on the Benches opposite of the fundamental change in the circumstances in which this nation—and, frankly, this Parliament—operates and, I submit, has a duty to operate. Not only was there a very clear referendum result some years ago, following which this House did not cover itself in glory in the way it behaved, but there has recently been a general election—as referred to in the Statement—in which the British people gave a decisive steer. It is a mandate—whatever people on the other side may feel —and an instruction that, as the Statement said, we on this side feel an overwhelming duty and responsibility to respond to. Everything that this Government will try to do in this House will start from the fundamental fact that the British people have voted to leave and they have voted to be independent and that is the policy that this Government will pursue.

I come to some of the points raised. With respect to the noble Baroness, it was a little like hearing the briefing on the process before Brexit actually happened. The Government are trying to be as open with the House as possible right from the start, publishing this mandate before the negotiations begin. We are in a new phase. Brexit has happened. In the period up until 31 December, we are seeking to reach an agreement with our friends and allies in Europe; that is, an agreement based on full respect and friendly co-operation, and centred on free trade. With great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, it sounded as though he was seeing the Government as inspired by Stalinist socialism in one country. The Government are fully alive to our international friendships and obligations, which stretch right across the world. I repeat that the key position, which this House must understand, is that we want friendly relations and co-operation between sovereign equals, but it must be informed by the decisions taken by the British people—by our mandate.

On workers’ rights and environmental matters, the Statement was unequivocal. The position taken by the Government is that we aspire to the very highest standards in those areas. We had exchanges earlier about environmental matters. There is no question of the Government resiling from that aspiration.

The noble Baroness asked about friction. Our objective is free trade. That was the proposal put forward by our European friends. But, if it turns out that some element of friction—which we hope will be minimal or non-existent—is present, we have made clear the importance of our need to be an independent, sovereign nation. The noble Baroness talked about a different relationship. We do not want a different relationship in the sense of being hostile, as the noble Lord implied. We bear no hostility to our European friends but we do want a free trade agreement as sovereign equals. In that sense, the relationship is certainly different.

Financial services are, of course, absolutely critical. The noble Baroness asked about this. The position is that, again, it is an area of hopeful co-operation. We have a common interest with the EU in establishing an enduring relationship on financial services, based on mutual trust and co-operation. As my right honourable friend said in the other place, that means completing equivalence assessments, one hopes by the agreed June 2020 deadline.

We must not run ahead of the negotiating process—it is yet to begin. It is disappointing to hear in your Lordships’ House the assumption that everything is impossible. I do not agree with that. I am happy to repeat that we will, of course, try to keep the House informed in an appropriate way as the negotiations go forward; yes, we will keep the devolved Administrations informed. Indeed, in the House of Commons, my right honourable friend expressed his gratitude for the valuable recent discussions he had had with representatives of the devolved Administrations.

On language, I was invited to be robust, but I must try to stop being robust now that I am a Minister. I want full co-operation and friendship with the noble Lord, who I enjoyed working with in coalition, but it is a bit rich to be given a lesson on language by a party that went to the last election planning to revoke Article 50 without any reference at all to the British people. To my reckoning, that seemed mildly harsh. I will not go into a philosophical argument about what sovereignty means. Some things the noble Lord said were true; some were not. This Government intend to be a leader on climate change, as we have already demonstrated.

I have tried to answer the questions, but I am sorry to have gone over time. We must accept this as a fresh phase, and I hope the whole House, on all sides, addresses this phase in the positive spirit of wishing to get a good outcome by the end of this year, both for this country and for the European Union. That is the position of this Government and what we will try to achieve.

I warmly welcome my noble friend to his new role, and I warmly welcome the comments he has just made and the whole tone of his speech, particularly its emphasis on the principles of our co-operation with the rest of Europe—in a sense, our European policy for the decades ahead. Does he accept that the Statement might have benefited from a description of what is going on in the EU, where radical change is under way? It is adjusting to a completely new style and emphasis in the digital age. Would he applaud a statement from the 19th century and the famous statesman Leopold von Ranke that

“the union of all depends on the independence of each”?

If we stick to that principle, old though it may be, we will be able to influence our Europe—which we still belong to—constructively in the future, along his lines.

I thank my noble friend and agree with him, but this Government are not going to lecture the European Union on how it should manage its own home. We respect their right, as 27 sovereign nations, to determine their own future, but the points that my noble friend made are germane and important. We will, and I personally will, bear them all in mind.

My Lords, I appreciate that the Minister had a lot of questions to answer, but I wonder if he could pick up the point raised by my noble friend from our Front Bench about integrated supply chains. Can the Minister assure companies such as Nissan that they would not be adversely affected by the Government’s approach, particularly to alignment? I hope also that the Government will try to avoid a triumphalist approach to the negotiations and their dealings with this House. You would never have guessed from the Minister’s Statement that, actually, 16 million people voted the other way. Neither would you have guessed that the Conservative vote increased by only 1% overall at the last election. It seems the Government should approach these negotiations in a spirit of compromise, and keep as close a relationship with the EU as possible.

My Lords, I am not very good at doing triumphalism, and I do not believe that either this Statement or anything the Government have done has that tone. It is not triumphalism but the act of a historian to point out the result of the recent general election. It is not a mark against any party that took part, but a clear outcome of that election was that the British people renewed an instruction. As for the key question about business interests, the Government are continuing our dialogue with business over the coming months, in the usual way. We are fully aware of all the issues involved, but let us not leap forward and assume the worst at every opportunity. The Government will wish to be informed and to inform, but many supply chains successfully exist in areas where there is no customs union—in North America, for example. I do not accept the advice that we must be defeatist and that problems and issues cannot be satisfactorily addressed, at this early stage, when negotiators have not even met yet.

My Lords, can my noble friend assure the House that, if these discussions with the European Union do not lead to a happy conclusion, the no-deal situation will be brought to Parliament for approval?

My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord, Lord True, to his new responsibilities. I look forward to many a True statement. He emphasised the importance of our understanding that the world has changed and that we are in a brave new world that is all fresh. What I am worried about is whether the foreigners will see it that way. I am worried that the foreigners will still believe that the joint commitment in the political declaration to a level playing field perhaps still holds. I am worried that the foreigners—the 27—noting that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Prime Minister are in denial about what the Northern Ireland protocol says and that no work is being done in Belfast or in London on implementing it, may feel that “pacta sunt servanda” is no longer the governing principle here. Will the noble Lord assure me that we still believe that commitments should be honoured? If that is his view, will he please raise it with the Prime Minister?

My Lords, I take particular note of what the noble Lord says. I thank him for his kind remarks. I have the highest respect for his great service to this country. I remember watching from the sidelines in the early 1990s his extraordinary achievements. I think I said at one stage in these discussions that he was the Duns Scotus, the great scholastic who understood everything. I hope he will not regret having to deal with a Dunce Anglius here at the Dispatch Box who has a lot to learn. Look, the negotiations are just yet to begin. People will lay out their positions next week. Again, the noble Lord invites me to run ahead of the position. Each side’s position will be staked out by the appropriate people as the negotiations commence.

Do the Government not appreciate that no one will invest in manufacturing capability in this country, the output for which will be dependent on demand from the single market to a considerable and possibly larger extent, in a climate of regulatory uncertainty where it is not clear whether at any moment our regulations might divert from those in the European single market? It seems to me that the Government either have decided to neglect or have never heard of one of the most elemental requirements of industry in the important area of investment.

My Lords, that argument was put in 2016 and has been put ever since, but in that time the UK has benefited from enormous inward investment and I have every confidence that it will continue to do so.

My Lords, my noble friend’s Statement has exposed the speciousness of the argument that for some reason the UK should be treated as a special case because of our proximity to the European continent. Does he agree that this is actually an indication of the insecurity of the EU? It is a euphemism for saying that we should be punished for daring to leave the EU. This is not exactly a vote of confidence in the future of the EU.

My Lords, I am not going to be critical of the EU. As I have said, we respect its right to conduct itself as it wishes. I repeat: we certainly do not accept the proximity argument that requires that we should be in a customs union. It is not an argument that applies in North America, and I do not believe it applies on the European continent either.

My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord, Lord True, to his place and assure him that we accept that we are now in a different situation. On the point that the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, just asked about, do the Government still adhere to the political declaration that the Prime Minister signed on 19 October last year? I draw the Minister’s attention to paragraph 77, which deals with the point that the noble Lord just raised. It starts:

“Given the Union and the United Kingdom’s geographic proximity and economic interdependence, the future relationship must ensure open and fair competition, encompassing robust commitments to ensure a level playing field.”

That is what the Prime Minister signed up for last October. Can we have it clearly stated that the Government still sign up to that statement? This is a matter of great importance; I think hundreds of thousands of people’s jobs depend on it.

My Lords, the political declaration set out our commitment to discuss open and fair competition as part of negotiations on our future relationship. We are committed to doing so.

I too welcome my noble friend to his post and wish him every success. Does he accept that the hallmark of successful negotiations has to be mutual respect? Can he assure the House that we are not aiming for splendid isolation, but rather mutual prosperity? Does he also remember that the last negotiations, of unhappy memory, were bedevilled by the proclaiming of red lines far too early in the process?

My Lords, I thought I had said in the Statement and afterwards that they will be approached in terms of mutual respect. But mutual respect and friendship—as I think my noble friend will understand from our happy relations in this House—does not always mean absolute identity on everything.

My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord to the Dispatch Box very warmly. May I tempt him to enter into the philosophical discussion? Was not the very point of Brexit that we should reclaim that part of our sovereignty that we lent to the European Union, and does not the sovereignty of a democratic state reside in its ability to make its own laws in its own Parliaments and Assemblies, accountable to its own people? The sovereignty of that people also resides in their ability to have those laws applied and interpreted in their own courts. To reclaim sovereignty is therefore not to advance propositions about power in international relationships or economic independence. It is simply about the right to national autonomy.

That being so, is it not inconceivable that the Government should accept the principle of dynamic alignment, thereby tying a democratically elected Government in this country in the future to accept whatever new regulations and laws might be promulgated by the institutions of the European Union? Should not the EU therefore, if its negotiators really care about the well-being and prosperity of its peoples, move quickly to agree a trade deal that involves no tariffs or quotas, and enables us to pursue the friendly, co-operative and mutually advantageous trading arrangements that surely we all should seek?

Yes, I very much agree with the noble Lord’s analysis but I think that the House, when it has a Minister for a brief time, does not want a philosophical discussion. But I take his side in the discussion that he will no doubt have with the noble Lord afterwards, and agree with what he said. Our objective is to have a free trade agreement; that is what we have asked for and what the EU once offered. It is my hope that we will get there and have the other agreements that the Statement refers to as well. Our approach is based on a precedent that the EU has accepted with other nations. We see no reason why it should not be accepted. The EU has not asked for the kind of alignment that the noble Lord referred to in a number of other agreements that it has already accepted.

My Lords, in congratulating my noble friend and welcoming him to his new position, does he recall the Government— or the leave campaign’s position—at the time of the referendum clearly stating that they were seeking frictionless trade with our European partners? Why have we left that position, and is it not explicit in the Statement he has just read out that the Government intend to leave the negotiating table in June? As my noble friend Lord Garel-Jones asked, is it not incumbent that we should return to this House to discuss that position and the impact that leaving on World Trade Organization rules will have on the British economy?

My Lords, I do not answer for Vote Leave; I was not a member of Vote Leave. I was trying to lead a local authority at the time. Business in this House is a matter for the usual channels. The direct answer to her question is no; the Government intend to procure a successful negotiation and successful outcome, and we hope very much that that view will be shared by our friends and allies in Europe. We will continue the negotiations with a view to a successful free trade agreement and agreement on the other matters covered in the Statement before December.

Like the Minister, who I welcome to his post, I do not want an academic debate about sovereignty, but I do think that, in having a sensible discussion, it is fundamental to recognise the difference between having relationships with other countries via treaties or any other mechanism and a relationship between sovereign states. To have the kind of organisation that exists in the European Union, of which we are thankfully no longer a member—whereby the multi- national organisation can legislate, trumping domestic law, and that can be interpreted by courts outside the control of the nation state and its legislators cannot be removed by the people of the nation state—is a difference in kind. It is not a gradation. It is time that people recognised that and put that particular argument to one side.

My Lords, I profoundly agree with what the noble Lord said. I thank him for what he personally said and reciprocate with my respect for him and, indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, and their strong voices through the past two or three years against the overwhelming view on the other side. I agree with their analysis; I do not agree with that of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace.

My Lords, I warmly welcome my noble friend to his place on the Front Bench. Can he assure the House that, in the negotiations, the highest priority will be given to delivering on the Conservative manifesto commitment to ensure that Northern Ireland businesses and producers will have unfettered access to the rest of the United Kingdom and that that will be enshrined in UK law? Does he also agree that, while Monsieur Barnier might have one interpretation of the protocol, it is not the only interpretation?

My Lords, I accept that point and I can certainly assure my noble friend that the interests of all nations of this United Kingdom will be absolutely paramount, and respected and considered at every stage of negotiations this year.

My Lords, I join others in welcoming the noble Lord to his new position. I have two brief questions. First, we heard in the Statement and we have heard from many other noble Lords on the Government Front Bench that we want to maintain or exceed the current EU standards on the environment and workers’ rights. If that is the case, why is there any problem with signing up to them if we are planning to keep or exceed them?

Secondly, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, referred to the number of times the word “sovereignty” appeared in the Statement. We are focused on issues of national sovereignty but, if the multinational corporations around the world were countries, Walmart would be the 24th largest country ranked by GDP, Volkswagen the 43rd and Amazon—the great tax dodger—the 58th. Can the Minister reassure me on how we will maintain our sovereignty as a solitary nation state up against those giant multinational corporations, when we have found that difficult even as part of a giant union of the peoples of Europe?

My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Howell said, the United Kingdom will never be a solitary nation state. The United Kingdom seeks friendship and alliance with every other nation of the world except those that, by their behaviour, do not merit it. I do not believe that this great United Kingdom is incapable of doing on its own what 135 other nations are capable of doing. I do not accept that we have to be told by an external power or nation what we must do as we cook our eggs in the morning. The British people want to cook their own eggs.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the European Commission responded very warmly in its mandate to what was proposed in the political declaration and that the Statements we have heard since, from the Prime Minister and today, have simply disregarded or hardly mentioned the political declaration, which was approved by so many members of his party? Can he reassure me that we will see a Statement very soon that includes things in the declaration? I am thinking particularly of international security, the CSDP missions that we do and international development.

My Lords, international security will be a separate strand in discussions. On my first outing at the Dispatch Box I am not going to interpose my body between what the Prime Minister has lately said and what the House might or might not want him to say. All I will say—I respect and understand noble Lords’ feelings after what has happened—is that we must all try together, whatever our position, in the interests of this country and the European Union, to assist a constructive, positive and friendly outcome.