EU Exit Negotiations

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:54 pm on 5th September 2017.

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Photo of David Davis David Davis The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union 4:54 pm, 5th September 2017

I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his comments at the beginning and for recognising that not only on Northern Ireland in particular, but on many other issues, the future relationship is indistinguishable from the ongoing negotiations. That is one of the problems in this negotiating exercise and it arises directly because the Commission is seeking to use keeping the first part of the negotiations going as a pressure point against Britain in the future, and I will return to that in a moment because I have a point to make.

On citizens’ rights, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman holds up as being—I have forgotten what his phrase was, but it involved something about red lines. Anyway, citizens’ rights is not the issue that is vexing the Commission. In fact, internal progress has been remarkably effective. He is quite right about the European Court of Justice, but everything else has been going pretty well. I expect that we will conclude most of those issues—in outline, not in text—quite soon. However, what does the right hon. and learned Gentleman actually want the Government to do? The Commission is saying, “Unless we give approval that sufficient progress has been made, we will not go on to the main substance of negotiation: the ongoing rights.” What is it seeking to get from that? It is seeking to obtain money. That is what this is about. Do members of the Labour party want to pay €100 billion in order to get progress in the next month? Is that what they are about? That is what they were saying. I hope that the answer is no, but what we heard from the shadow Brexit Secretary was a beautiful piece of lawyerly argument that ignored the simple fact that this is a pressure tactic to make us pay. We are going to do this the proper way. We are going to represent the interests of the British taxpayer and that means rigorously interrogating every line of the argument on funding line by line. That is the way that we are going to go.

As for the other elements that the right hon. and learned Gentleman talked about, I do not resile at all from the intention to negotiate a first-rate free trade agreement with the European Union in the course of the next two years. That is why we published all the position papers. He tried to rubbish one or two of them, but let me cite one to him: the customs paper. By the way, saying that something is blue-sky thinking is not to rubbish it; it is to say that it is imaginative and forward-thinking. The position papers were designed to make points to our European partners so that they could see what the future might look like under our vision. Let me give him the response of Xavier Bertrand, the president of Hauts-de-France, which includes Calais and Dunkirk—our nearest ports in France. He said:

“We welcome with great interest the initiatives announced by the British government… as they are likely to preserve trade between the UK and France”.

France is supposedly the country most resistant to our arguments and to free trade, but the man responsible for Calais and Dunkirk said that that is the way that we should go and that is the way that we will go.