With permission, Mr Speaker, I will update the House on negotiations between the UK and the European Union in November, reflecting our actions since the October European Council.
Both the UK and EU recognised the new dynamic instilled in the talks by the Prime Minister’s Florence speech. At the October Council, the 27 member states responded by agreeing to start their preparations for moving the negotiations on to trade and the future relationship that we want to see. The Council conclusions also called for work to continue, with a view to being able to move to the second phase of the negotiations as soon as possible. It is of course inevitable that discussions are now narrowing to the few outstanding, albeit important, issues that remain. Last week, our focus was concentrated on finding solutions to those few remaining issues. As we move forward towards the December Council, we have been clear with the EU that we are willing to engage in discussions in a flexible and constructive way in order to achieve the progress needed. To that end, our teams are in continuous contact—even between the formal rounds.
I will now turn to the three key ongoing areas of discussions and outline progress made last week on each of them. We have made solid progress in our ongoing discussions on Northern Ireland and Ireland. Key areas of achievement include continued progress in technical discussions on preserving north-south co-operation, agreed joint principles on the continuation of the common travel area and associated rights, and drafting further joint principles on how best we preserve north-south co-operation under the Belfast agreement to help guide the specific solutions to the unique circumstances in Northern Ireland. Both sides also remain firmly committed to avoiding a hard border, a point on which we have remained clear throughout. We also remain resolutely committed to upholding the Belfast or Good Friday agreement in all its parts and to finding a solution that works for the people of Northern Ireland and Ireland.
We have continued to hold frank discussions with our European Commission counterparts about all those issues, but we have also had to be clear with our counterparts that while we respect their desire to protect the legal order of the single market and customs union, that cannot come at the cost of the constitutional or economic integrity of the United Kingdom. As I have said, we cannot create a new border within the United Kingdom. This is an area where we believe we will only be able to conclude talks finally in the context of a future relationship. Until such time as we do so, we need to approach the issues that arise with a high degree of political sensitivity, with pragmatism and with creativity. Discussions on those areas will continue in the run-up to the December Council.
We have continued to make good progress on citizen’s rights, and both sides are working hard towards resolution of outstanding issues. Last week, to respond to the EU’s request for reassurances, we published a detailed description of our proposed administrative procedures for EU citizens seeking settled status in the UK. As our paper demonstrates, the new procedures will be as streamlined, straightforward and low-cost as possible. They will be based on simple, transparent criteria, which will be laid out in the withdrawal agreement. While there remain differences on the issues of family reunion and the export of benefits, we have been clear that we are willing to consider what further reassurance we can provide to existing families of EU residents here—even if they are not currently living together in the UK. I believe that that paves the way to resolving the remaining issues in this area, and that was acknowledged by the Commission on Friday.
There remain some areas where we are still seeking further movement from the EU, such as voting rights, mutual recognition of qualifications and onward movement for British citizens currently living in the EU27. In all three areas, the UK’s offer goes beyond that of the EU. Finally, the Commission has not yet matched the UK’s offer in relation to the right to stand and vote in local elections, which is a core citizen’s right that is nominally enshrined in the EU treaties. I have been disappointed that the EU has been unwilling to include voting rights in the withdrawal agreement so far. As a result, we will pursue the issue bilaterally with member states.
This week, we have also sought to give further clarity on our commitment to incorporate the agreement we reach on citizens’ rights into UK law. This will ensure that EU citizens in the UK can directly enforce their rights in UK courts, providing certainty and clarity for the long term. We have made it clear that, over time, our courts can take account of rulings of the European Court of Justice in this area to help to ensure consistent interpretation. However, as we leave the EU we remain clear that it is a key priority for the UK to preserve the sovereignty of our courts and, as such, in leaving the EU we will bring an end to direct jurisdiction of the ECJ.
It is not my intention to pre-empt the Committee stage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, but what I say next has some relevance to it. It is clear that we need to take further steps to provide clarity and certainty—both in the negotiations and at home—regarding the implementation of any agreement into UK law. I can now confirm that, once we have reached an agreement, we will bring forward a specific piece of primary legislation to implement that agreement. It will be known as the withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill. This confirms that the major policies set out in the withdrawal agreement will be directly implemented into UK law by primary legislation, and not by secondary legislation under the withdrawal Bill. It also means that Parliament will be given time to debate, scrutinise and vote on the final agreement we strike with the European Union. The agreement will hold only if Parliament approves it.
We expect the proposed Bill to cover the contents of the withdrawal agreement, which will include issues such as an agreement on citizens’ rights, any financial settlement and the details of an implementation period agreed between both sides. Of course, we do not yet know the exact details of the Bill and are unlikely to do so until the negotiations are near completion. I should also tell the House that this will be over and above the undertaking we have already made to table a motion on the final deal as soon as possible after the deal is agreed, and that we still intend and expect such a vote on the final deal to happen before the European Parliament votes on it. There cannot be any doubt that Parliament will be intimately involved at every stage.
Finally, on the financial settlement—[Laughter.] I see laughter on the Opposition Benches, but actually this has been called for by Members on both sides of the House, so I hope that we get Labour party support for once.
Finally, on the financial settlement, the Prime Minister’s commitment in her Florence speech stands—our European partners will not need to pay more or receive less over the remainder of the current budget plan as a result of our decision to leave. The UK will honour the commitments we have made during the period of our membership, and this week we made substantial technical progress on the issues that underpin those commitments.
This has been a low-key but important technical set of negotiations, falling as it has between two European Councils. It is now about pinpointing the further technical discussions that need to take place and moving forward into the political discussions and political decisions. We must now also look ahead to moving our discussions on to our future relationship. For that to happen, both parties need to build confidence in both the process and, indeed, the shared outcome.
The United Kingdom will continue to engage and negotiate constructively, as we have since the start, but we need to see flexibility, imagination and willingness to make progress on both sides if these negotiations are to succeed and if we are to realise our new partnership.
I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance notice of his statement.
This is clearly a statement of two halves. First, the usual “Groundhog Day” report back on the negotiations in Brussels: a round of negotiations; a press conference at the end that leaves us wondering whether the parties were in the same negotiations; then both sides briefing the press in the days immediately afterwards; and then a statement from the Dispatch Box that assures no one, underlining the profound lack of progress.
We want the next statement to be different. We want the Secretary of State to return and inform the House that real progress has been made—a breakthrough, even. Last time we were promised acceleration. What now? And what is the plan if the December deadline is missed?
I recognise some of the difficulties. As the Secretary of State knows, I have some sympathy with the position he has set out on Northern Ireland. As we see from the Northern Ireland Budget Bill, which is before the House today, the political situation in Northern Ireland is fragile. The peace process is too precious to be put at risk by rushing a Brexit deal that does not have the support of all communities. There must be no return to a hard border, and Northern Ireland should not be used by either side in the negotiations for political point scoring—that is an important point.
The second half of the statement is not a report back at all. It is a recognition by the Government that they are about to lose a series of votes on the withdrawal Bill. Labour has repeatedly argued since the Bill was published in July that the article 50 deal requires primary legislation, including a vote of this House—a point that was made forcefully on Second Reading.
Now, on the eve of crucial amendments being debated, we have this statement under the cloak of a report back from Brussels—I do not think it fools anyone. The devil will no doubt be in the detail, but can the Secretary of State now confirm that the Government accept Labour’s argument that clause 9 should be struck from the withdrawal Bill altogether?
Then there is the question of transitional arrangements. It is blindingly obvious to anybody following these negotiations that a final deal with the EU, including a trade agreement, will not be completed by March 2019 and that transitional agreements on the same terms as now are in the public interest. That is what businesses want, it is what communities want and it is what Labour has been calling for, for many, many months. So can the Secretary of State confirm, on the back of the statement he has just made, that the Government will not stand in the way of sensible transitional arrangements on the same basic terms as we have now with the EU? Can he also confirm that the Government will not now be pushing amendments inconsistent with transitional arrangements? And can he confirm to this House that it will get a vote in the event that there is no deal? These questions have been pressing for months. This last-minute attempt to climb down brings them into very sharp focus, and we are entitled to clear answers.
Yet more carping from the right hon. and learned Gentleman. He complains that the negotiations are not making as much progress as he would like, yet he allowed his Labour MEPs to vote against progress this time around. The question he needs to ask himself is, what would he be prepared to sacrifice in order to buy the good will of the European Commission? We are standing up for UK citizens being able to move around Europe, to use their professional qualifications, to vote in municipal elections. Is he seriously proposing that we let them down in the interests of suddenly rushing ahead? We are standing up for British taxpayers and not wasting their money, with a clear position that we will meet our financial commitments but only once we know more about our future relationship. Would he sell them out? We are using Brexit to restore the sovereignty of the British courts—would he let that go, too? Yes, he would, because he would give the European Court of Justice the right to dictate our laws in perpetuity.
Let me come back to the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s description; he says the second half of the statement does not arise from the negotiations. Well, yes it does, because one of the reasons for the Bill I have announced today is to provide European citizens with primary legislation that will put into British law the withdrawal agreement in toto. So this is as near as we can come to direct effect; it comes directly out of the negotiation. I hope that the next time I come to report to this House, we will get a little more support from the Labour party.
We will be debating tomorrow, I believe, a rather unhelpful new clause, first announced in The Daily Telegraph, which bears on the timing of all these processes. May I get my right hon. Friend to set out the Government’s intentions on these final processes and the role of Parliament? Can he give me a reassurance that Parliament will have a legally binding, meaningful vote, in which it will approve or disapprove of any final agreement, or lack of agreement, before we leave the European Union? Will he assure me that there will be time, in whatever circumstances, for the necessary legislation to be introduced, debated and passed, to implement in law, smoothly and properly, whatever it is Parliament has approved once the Government have made their proposals?
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that question. First, yes, we will have a meaningful vote, as has been said from this Dispatch Box any number of times. What I have been saying today is that we are going to add to that, over and above the meaningful vote on the outcome—on the deal—legislation which puts it into effect. In other words, the House will be able to go through it line by line and agree it line by line.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. First, does he not appreciate that it is becoming increasingly clear that the only sensible solution in Northern Ireland is for Northern Ireland to remain in the customs union, and if that means the rest of us remain in the customs union as well, that must be what we do? He has already said that there cannot be a border between the two parts of Ireland, between Northern Ireland and the mainland UK, and between the Republic of Ireland and the European Union, so there cannot be a customs border anywhere between the UK and the European mainland without breaching important international treaties.
On citizens’ rights, I welcome the Secretary of State’s update on progress, but does he not accept that we are now well past the time when our constituents are entitled to absolute legal guarantees and that progress reports are not enough? People are still leaving our businesses, our health service and our social care services because they do not have confidence that there will be a deal in time for them to make their future here.
On the update on the financial settlement, would it be cynical to suggest that things will become a lot simpler when the Chancellor has got his Budget out of the way? Will the Secretary of State tell us what discussions he has had with the Chancellor about what measures might need to be in next week’s Budget to pave the way for a financial settlement in the weeks to come? Or is it the case that there will be no financial settlement in the Budget because the Government know that they could not get a Budget past their own Back Benchers if there was an admission that it included any contribution to the European Union?
Finally, on the announcement of new legislation, the withdrawal agreement Bill, I give credit where it is due: the Secretary of State has done the right thing by announcing this to the House. Some of his Cabinet colleagues could well learn from his example. Will he give us more clarity as to what the Bill will be about? I know that he cannot give us the detail, but when can we expect it to be published? Will it still simply be a question of take it or leave it—their deal or no deal? Will the House be given the opportunity to amend the Bill, as it must have the opportunity to amend any Bill, and thereby have the opportunity to attempt to amend the agreement?
Given that the Prime Minister is now only eight disgruntled Conservative MPs away from facing a vote of no confidence, why should anyone else have confidence in this Government to extricate us from the mess they have created when they are rapidly losing the confidence of their own Back Benchers?
On the question about Northern Ireland, what I have said in terms, which is what I have said here in the House, is that there will be no internal border within the United Kingdom. That is an absolute fundamental because, apart from anything else, the Good Friday agreement—the Belfast agreement—requires the Government of Northern Ireland to operate on behalf of all communities, and at least one community in Northern Ireland would not accept a border in the Irish sea.
As for the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, everybody has accepted that there must be no return to a hard border. Some of that is dealt with by the continuation of the common travel area, which has been around since 1923—in that respect, it is not new. In terms of the customs border, there is of course already a difference between levy and tax rates and excise rates north and south of the border, and we manage without a hard border. That is what we will continue to do.
With respect to the Budget, the hon. Gentleman is optimistic if thinks the Chancellor gives any of us more than a week of advance warning of his Budget. Of course, I have discussed with him the financial aspects of our relationship with the European Union at many meetings.
As for the new legislation, I do not think it is in the gift of the Government to put before the House primary legislation that is incapable of amendment. The nature of primary legislation is that it is always capable of amendment. Of course, we will have the practical limitations of having signed a deal and there may be implications because of that, but the whole thing will be put in front of the House.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend in being clear in his statement that, come
May I take my right hon. Friend back to what he said in his statement about the Bill and the motion? As I understand it, if we had a motion that was voted on but not passed, that would negate the idea of a Bill that could be amended. If there was a Bill and it was amended—as we were always told throughout the Maastricht negotiations and beyond—an amendment could not be accepted at the end of the day because the agreement would already have been made and thus an amendment would alter the agreement. Does not that potentially lead us into a situation in which we have a Bill that changes the agreement, but the other side does not wish to make those changes?
With respect to the first half of my right hon. Friend’s question, if the original motion is put but not passed, the deal falls—full stop; in toto. He is quite right about the second part, but he will remember the Maastricht Bill and, as I remember it, there were quite a lot of amendments and quite a lot of votes on it. The House was able to express its view, but it did so in the light of the consequences.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement that there will be primary legislation to implement the EU withdrawal agreement. That is another recognition by the Government that they need to listen to the House of Commons. The question that I want to ask is about Northern Ireland. It is becoming increasingly clear that there is a contradiction between the Government’s clearly stated desire that there should be no return to a hard border—no customs border—and their determination to leave the customs union and the single market. As their proposals to try to square that circle have so far failed to persuade the Government of the Republic of Ireland about that hard border, what do the Government now propose to do about what is, after all, one of their central negotiating objectives?
May I start by thanking the right hon. Gentleman for his opening comments? At the time we published the White Paper on what was then the great repeal Bill and now the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, I said that we would listen to the House of Commons. Indeed, I said to the shadow Front-Bench team that if any rights were removed, we would endeavour to replace them, and any other changes similarly. On Northern Ireland, the circumstance that we face at the moment is that there is a range of permutations or possibilities depending on what the outcome is with respect to a free trade and customs agreement. If the Government achieve their primary policy of having a tariff-free, barrier-free free trade agreement, then a customs agreement following on from that would be very light touch, in which case it would be relatively straightforward to maintain a relatively invisible border. If that is not the case, I suspect that the alternatives would be expensive but not impossible.
The Secretary of State said yes.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s firm rebuttal of the ridiculous idea that Northern Ireland would be taken out of the rest of the United Kingdom and made to stay in a customs union. Does he also recognise that the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee recently met the head of customs in Switzerland, which is not in the EU, and the one thing that he said over and again was that there was nothing that could stop this from working if there was full co-operation on all sides? Is that not what this is really all about—if the Republic of Ireland do not want to have a hard border, that can happen?
The hon. Lady is exactly right. That is true across the board. We were told that a free trade agreement was impossible to achieve, but the former EU Trade Commissioner, Karel De Gucht, said that, no, it was not impossible if the political will was there. The same is true in this case. If the political will is there, this can be done. I am quite sure that the political will is there both north and south of the border.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that any such withdrawal Bill will take place after the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill has been enacted—in other words after
No, I cannot quite confirm that. It will depend on when the withdrawal treaty is negotiated. It is the intention of the Union to try to negotiate that by October next year. Ideally, it will be before the conclusion.
I welcome the Government coming forward with a separate Bill for the withdrawal agreement. That is something on which I and Mr Grieve have tabled amendments. Can the Secretary of State clarify the timing? He just said that it was only in an ideal world that this withdrawal agreement Bill would come before Brexit day. There is a real problem if the Government think that they can simply use clause 9 provisionally to implement a withdrawal agreement through secondary legislation, while not having the withdrawal agreement Bill until after Brexit day. Will he confirm that the Government will bring the withdrawal agreement Bill to the House before Brexit day, not after?
The right hon. Lady quite rightly corrects me for misspeaking slightly. “Ideal” was perhaps the wrong word. The right words are that it is our principal policy aim—that is what we are trying to do—but there is something that I cannot guarantee: if the Union does not come to a conclusion in negotiations, we cannot actually bring the withdrawal Bill before the House before we have a withdrawal agreement. That is the sequence that I am pointing to.
Well, it is all very interesting. As we know, the Government have now decided to table an amendment to put the Brexit leaving date into law, even though that has not been to the Cabinet and has not been subject to the usual write-around. Will the Secretary of State help us with this? He has told us about this new piece of legislation that will come forward and that we will all be able vote on and amend, and so on and so forth, in the normal way, but only if there is an agreement. Will he confirm that in the event of no agreement—no deal—this place will have no say and we will leave on the date that is in the Bill, without any say from this supposedly sovereign Parliament that voted to take back control?
What I can say to my right hon. Friend is that if we do not have a withdrawal agreement, we cannot have a withdrawal agreement Bill—full stop.
Has not the Secretary of State just given the game away on what a sham this offer is? It is totally worthless to Parliament and essentially tries to buy people off by saying, “Look, we’re going to give you an Act to shape things.” In fact, it is a post hoc, after-the-horse-has-bolted piece of legislation. We might have left the European Union—the treaty and the deal would have been done—and Parliament could do nothing at all to shape the nature of the withdrawal agreement. The Secretary of State has to do much better than this. Parliament must have a say on the withdrawal agreement before we are thrown over the cliff edge.
Let me repeat the probable sequence of events. If Mr Barnier hits his target and I hit mine, we will conclude the withdrawal agreement and associated agreements in the latter part of next year. He is aiming for October next year; that is his stated aim. If we do that, the withdrawal and treaty vote—the simple, in-principle vote—will first come to the House. As soon as possible thereafter, the withdrawal agreement Bill will come before the House. That is the sequence. It will be in plenty of time and we will be able to amend it at the time.
Imagine the outrage there would be in Europe if the European Union decided to try to detach Catalonia from Spain. But what is the EU doing today? It is saying that it will have to detach Northern Ireland from the single market and customs union of the United Kingdom. Will my right hon. Friend say that the Conservative party is nothing if it is not the Unionist party and that there will be no amendment, no truck, no surrender and no appeasement regarding keeping Northern Ireland in the single market of the United Kingdom?
I say to my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour that I have made it plain that we will have no new borders within the United Kingdom.
I greatly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement in respect of there being a statute for us to implement the final deal, but if that is the case—unless my amendment were to be now accepted—it must be right that clause 9 becomes redundant. I do not see how it is acceptable that we should implement Brexit by means of clause 9 to have a statute after the date of our departure. My anxieties are greatly heightened by the extraordinary amendment tabled by the Government on Friday. If we run out of time, surely the answer is none of the suggestions that have been put forward; in fact, the answer is that the time has to be extended under article 50, so that all parties are able to deal with it. That is the mechanism provided, and surely that is the mechanism that the House and the Government should be following.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his welcome of the Bill, but the extension of article 50 can be done only by unanimity, and that is its weakness.
This does not make any sense. The Secretary of State has said on any number of occasions that a deal could be done right at the last moment. For the reasons just explained, will he be clear? He cannot hold that position—that a deal could be done right at the last moment—and support this amendment from the Government to nail down the specific date.
If I may say so, “any number of occasions” was one occasion—in front of the Select Committee, when I was asked the explicit question what could happen to the negotiation in extremis. Since I was pointing to previous examples, it is hardly a statement of either intent or expectation—it certainly is not. As for the rest of the hon. Lady’s question, this is pretty straightforward. We are aiming to hit October. Mr Barnier is aiming to hit October. I hope that we both do. I certainly hope that we hit the target of being well before the departure date. The reason for the amendment to the Bill is that it reflects what European law tells us.
I have spoken to Sir James Dyson. I do not necessarily agree with his tactical advice, but he is a brilliant exponent of what a great success this country can be when its engineers get stuck into the job.
May I invite my right hon. Friend to remind the House that 498 right hon. and hon. Members voted for the withdrawal Bill, in the full knowledge that, two years after notification had been served, we would be leaving the European Union? Is it not a little disappointing that they seem to be backtracking on their commitment to honour their promises to the British people?
My hon. Friend makes his point clearly. The simple fact is that everybody has known March 2019 is departure date ever since the article 50 Bill was passed.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s retreat today in the face of impending votes on the withdrawal Bill, but why is he intent on holding a gun to this House’s head by presenting us with a choice only between the deal he negotiates and no deal at all? Surely, a meaningful vote and meaningful legislation would give this House the possibility of asking the Government to go back and amend the deal, including, as Mr Grieve said, by extending the timetable, if that is what is required?
Nobody is holding a gun to the House’s head. What I will say to the right hon. Gentleman is that the decision being put before the House was put there by 17.5 million voters.
Will my right hon. Friend reassure those of us who increasingly believe that our strongest chance of ever achieving a deal is to be able to demonstrate to our EU counterparts that we are capable of managing exit without a deal that he will shortly publish a comprehensive and convincing account of how this country will manage affairs in the absence of any deal whatever?
What I have said to the House many times over is that what my right hon. Friend alludes to is not the primary policy of this Government—the policy of this Government is to obtain a free trade deal—but he is quite right: in the event that such a thing did not happen, we would be able to make a good future for Britain. It is not the best future, though; it is not the best choice in front of us.
In Brussels last week, senior EU officials were very clear with members of the Select Committee that a transitional deal under article 50 means remaining in the single market, remaining in the customs union and remaining subject to the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice. Is it not about time that the Secretary of State explained that to his Back Benchers, so that Members such as Mr Duncan Smith can avoid embarrassing themselves on legal matters on the radio? Will he also clarify that parts of the Bill, such as clause 6, will have to go if there is to be a transitional deal?
The hon. and learned Lady makes the mistake that, I am afraid, many metropolitan media commentators make, which is to assume that everything they are told in Brussels is the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
I am sure that the Secretary of State will wish to join me in congratulating his friends the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the rekindling of their bromance. I wonder, though, whether they understand that the European Parliament has stated clearly that a transition deal
“can only happen on the basis of the existing European Union regulatory, budgetary, supervisory, judiciary and enforcement instruments and structures”.
Does the Secretary of State believe that Conservative Members understand that that will be the basis of the transitional arrangements?
First, let me say to the hon. Gentleman a milder version of what I said to our Scottish nationalist colleague, Joanna Cherry: he should not take just what the European Parliament says as the end of the exercise. However, he is of course right in one respect: a transitional arrangement will look very like what we have now, but it will not be membership, and it will allow us freedoms that we do not have now. It is critical to remember that as well.
We have always known that the EU is desperate for the UK’s money, but it has now become so strapped for cash, it seems, that over the past few days it has resorted to the diplomacy version of aggressive begging. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that the Government will not be intimidated by the threats and blackmail of the European negotiating team, because the Government will not be forgiven in a time of austerity if they pay more than is legally due for leaving the EU? Does he agree on that basis that we do not need to pay £10 billion a year net for a £90 billion trade deficit, because we can have one of those for nothing?
When I recently met residents in Forkhill in south Armagh who were very badly affected during the troubles, they had no solution to the question of the Ireland-Northern Ireland border, and nor has anyone else who I have met since. Can the Secretary of State set out how it is possible for us to leave the customs union and for there still to be a frictionless, no-touch, no-control border between Ireland and Northern Ireland?
We have published a whole paper on the subject. There is a whole range of options available for the country, including using trusted trader schemes, using electronic pre-notification and using exemptions for small businesses. There is a whole series of them that we have talked about at length—the right hon. Gentleman just has to read them.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on the progress made in the past couple of weeks, but may I emphasise how important it is that we move on to the next stage in December? Businesses are really concerned that we have that moving on within the next two or three weeks. Can he reassure us on that?
Yes, of course that is what we are aiming to do. One point that has become very clear in the negotiations is that matters such as the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland are soluble once we get on to the next stage, but really cannot be advanced as we stand. For many reasons, both economic and political, we want to make that advance as soon as possible.
May I ask the Secretary of State about arrangements during the implementation period of two years or so after March 2019? The Prime Minister has already told us that the writ of the European Court of Justice will continue to run. The Secretary of State told the Select Committee that he hoped that, subject to a positive Council conclusion in December, the arrangements for the implementation period would be agreed by March 2018. Michel Barnier said the same to the Select Committee last week. Does that not put huge pressure on everybody involved to achieve a successful outcome to the December Council?
I hope so. The right hon. Gentleman refers to “everybody involved”, and one of the major successes of the October Council was the fact that the Commission team—the so-called taskforce 50—was told to prepare for that. A moderately complex policy has to be put in place. It has a number of mildly contentious areas, so the team needs to be ready for it. The process is under way, and if we get the decision in December, we will deliver, I hope, on what I said to the Select Committee.
Did my right hon. Friend understand, as I did, that the Opposition spokesman expressed sympathy for the Government’s position on the question of the Irish border, and identified that the Irish Republic’s success in getting the 27 members of the European Union to line up with its position on the customs union has placed the talks in an impossible position that, if this is not resolved over the next two weeks, may very well mean that they do not go forward? As my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin made clear, we therefore need to prepare.
To be fair to the Labour spokesman, I think he was agreeing with the position laid out by the Government and that the issue is incredibly sensitive. I think he is being very responsible in that regard. My hon. Friend is right in one respect: if this process does not start early, and does not deliver a free trade area and a customs agreement, it will be much more difficult to resolve the border issue. We will still do so, but it will be much more expensive, much more difficult and politically more problematic. The best way to proceed is with fast progress in the next few weeks.
Tens of thousands of businesses in this country, including supermarkets, and importers and exporters who work across the whole European Union, rely on their ability, under EU law, to have one certificate of insurance for their lorries that will enable a lorry to go from Aberystwyth to Krakow or anywhere else in the European Union. Those businesses will soon be securing new insurance certificates, which will last for a further year. In other words, by the end of March, they need to know what the situation will be so that they can take out certificates of insurance for after Brexit, as the Secretary of State suggests. When will they have that certainty?
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and, in particular, the fact that there will be a Bill in this House. Will he confirm that that will be based on a treaty that we have signed with 27 other countries, and that although we could amend it here, the reality is that we cannot force 27 other countries to offer something that they are not prepared to offer?
Of course it would be quite difficult to do that. As with any treaty, when this treaty is carried into British law, the House will be able to amend it, but it will have to take account of the consequences of so doing.
The Secretary of State said here today that Brexit “cannot come at the cost of the constitutional or economic integrity of the United Kingdom.” We know already that Brexit is indeed costing the economic integrity of the United Kingdom, but it now seems that the de facto policy of the United Kingdom Government is to partition Ireland, as they cannot leave the single market, and especially the customs union, without doing so. Does he have any idea when the EU27 might agree to the two-year extension period begged for by the Prime Minister in Florence to delay that position from arising? Perversely, framing the argument like that might strengthen the pleading for two more years.
First, it is very strange to talk about harm to the integrity of the United Kingdom when we have the highest employment we have ever had in our history and the lowest unemployment in my adult lifetime. As for the transition period, it is not for negotiation, but to allow countries, Governments—our Government and EU Governments—and, most importantly, companies to accommodate changes in knowledge of what the deal is.
How much detail does my right hon. Friend expect the deal to include on our future trading relationships with the EU? Does he share the view communicated to the Select Committee several times last week in Brussels that this deal is actually separate from the free trade agreement that will come later, and which will take longer and be more difficult to agree than the interim deal we are talking about this afternoon?
I am afraid that I do not agree with Michel Barnier, if it was he who said that to the Committee. How can I put this? The ambitions of the Commission on this are lower than they should be. The simple truth is that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and we need to have something that is pretty binding before we are going to sign off the withdrawal agreement.
On that note, the Secretary of State made it clear in his statement that the implementation period and its details would be part of the legislation. Will the Secretary of State confirm that it is therefore absolutely clear that if the trade deal is not finalised by next October, there will be no guarantee whatsoever that such a Bill will come before Parliament until after March 2019 and until the trade deal is finalised with the EU?
The Bill cannot be brought before Parliament before the withdrawal deal is struck, but I remind the hon. Lady that the Government have undertaken to provide a vote on the whole deal before we even come to that.
In June 2016, the people of this country voted to come out of the EU, to end free movement, to stop paying the EU billions of pounds, to make our own laws in our own country and to be judged by our own judges. Are the Government going to deliver that by March 2019?
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and the fact that he says he will not accede to the demands in the leaked EU paper that Northern Ireland should stay in the customs union and the single market, given the constitutional and economic implications of such a proposal. Does he agree that it would be in the interests of the Irish Government not to allow their future relationship with the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to be dictated by EU negotiators, who have less interest in the needs of a small country such as the Republic of Ireland than they do in the European project?
It is not for me to tell the Irish Government what they should do, but I would say that they share with us a determination to maintain no hard border. They obviously have an economic interest in the outcome because we are their biggest trading partner. They must have a very strong interest in a similar outcome to the one that we are seeking, and I hope they will reflect that in their conversations with the Commission.
I commend my right hon. Friend for his announcement that the implementation of the withdrawal agreement will be the subject of specific primary legislation. Does this not negate the accusation that the Government are intent on bypassing Parliament, and does it not underline the fact that the Government are intent on restoring our parliamentary sovereignty, which is, after all, the whole purpose of Brexit?
My right hon. Friend is exactly right. By my count, if we include Bills already passed and Bills in prospect, we are looking at 10 pieces of primary legislation that Parliament can vote on, amend and, of course, comment on as a result of Brexit and in delivering Brexit.
The Secretary of State says that any agreement will hold only if Parliament approves it, but he has also said that we will have no opportunity to vote if we have no agreement. That means, does it not, that all this talk about taking back control and giving our Parliament more powers is absolutely untrue? What we are faced with is a choice of putting a gun to our own head and blowing it off.
Clearly the hon. Gentleman was not listening to my answer to the previous question. To deliver Brexit, this House will deal with at least 10 pieces of primary legislation. That is hardly denying Parliament a say in events.
When we had an urgent question on that about two weeks ago, I reiterated to the House the statement of my right hon. Friend Mr Jones, the former Minister of State for Exiting the European Union, in which he said that a meaningful vote is one that allows people to say whether they want or do not want the deal.
Transport and logistics experts are warning of the disastrous consequences of a hard border between Wales and the Republic of Ireland for the ports of Holyhead, Fishguard and Pembroke Dock. How is the Secretary of State ensuring that his decisions as part of the negotiations do not damage the competitiveness of Welsh ports, which employ thousands of people directly and indirectly?
That is precisely why Government policy is to deliver a frictionless trade arrangement between us and the EU27, most importantly the Republic of Ireland.
I made an undertaking to the House about a year and a half ago that I would be more polite than hon. Members have ever seen me in my comments about the Commission, and I will stick to that.
The Secretary of State often uses the words “creative”, “be creative” and “creativity”. Will he and his team come up with a more creative approach to settled status? It is upsetting many of my constituents, who have been resident for many decades and contributed an enormous amount. They feel that settled status suddenly puts them in a different arrangement. They entered with free movement and they feel they had a different treaty relationship, but now the rug is being pulled from under them. Please could he be creative?
We have been quite creative so far. Many of those who have been here a long time are already permanent residents. One of the things the Italian Government persuaded me was worth doing is ensuring that people’s transition to the new permanent residence is completely frictionless, requiring no more than a photograph and a criminality check. We have given those who will still be making the application a two-year grace period beyond our departure, and we published a report last week to show that the process will be simple, straightforward and very cheap. Those things are designed to make people feel more secure, as I hope they do, because I reiterate that we value the contribution of the 3 million Europeans who are in this country today.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that although the UK should negotiate on every issue, if we are to secure this country’s future, nothing should be agreed until everything is agreed, to coin a phrase?
I never thought that I would accuse my hon. Friend of sounding like the European Commission, but that is its favourite phrase, and I stick by that, too.
I call Clive Efford.
I will not comment on the hon. Gentleman’s fitness regime—he is too far away from me to tell. If the House did as he describes, I guess that the Government would take that as an instruction to go back and speak to the European Union. Whether that would deliver any outcome, I do not know.
I warmly welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, especially his confirmation from the Dispatch Box that there will be a separate agreement and implementation Bill. Does he agree with me on two points: first, that any amendment to that effect in the Committee stage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which starts tomorrow, will be unnecessary; and, secondly, that this will ensure we have a meaningful vote, but one that does not undermine our negotiation?
On the latter point, my hon. Friend is right. On the former point, there might well be some minor consequential changes, but I do not think there will be any major changes.
Regarding the financial settlement that will eventually need to be worked out, does my right hon. Friend agree that although the British public will look favourably upon a settlement in the context of a comprehensive and ambitious free trade deal, there will be a genuine reluctance to make such a payment in the event that we are left with nothing by the EU?
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement that there will be a Bill on the withdrawal agreement and its implementation, which will enable vital parliamentary scrutiny. Does he agree that although parliamentary involvement is essential, it is not, and should never be construed as, an opportunity to reverse Brexit, to return the UK to the EU, or to go against the wishes of the British people that were expressed in last year’s referendum?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. It is a meaningful vote, but not meaningful in the sense that some believe—that the decision can be reversed. That is not available to us.
I too met Monsieur Barnier in Brussels last week. I am sorry if I left him for the Secretary of State in anything like a bad mood. I perceive my right hon. Friend’s approach to be fair and reasonable, giving ground where necessary, but this is feeling a little like a one-way street. Does my right hon. Friend share my view that this unreasonable intransigence is becoming as wearing on him as it is on the British electorate?
I am paid to put up with being worn down occasionally. No, I would not say that; my relationship with Mr Barnier has been nothing other than cordial. Of course this is a tough negotiation and it may well get tougher yet.
The primary value of a transitional period is to give British businesses the time to adapt to new arrangements. It is not to extend the talks, because that would merely increase uncertainty and is an appalling negotiating tactic. Will the Secretary of State reassure us that he intends to agree a deal of such specificity that our businesses will know the nature of future arrangements prior to the point of departure?
My hon. Friend goes right to the point. There are three reasons for the transition: one is for the British Government to be able to accommodate and another is so that foreign Governments can accommodate; but, as he says, the most important is to allow British businesses to accommodate in the knowledge of what they are accommodating to.
Every individual and organisation that the Select Committee saw in Brussels and Paris last week stressed that their absolute priority is people and citizens’ rights. Does my right hon. Friend therefore agree that when an agreement on citizens’ rights is reached, it should be announced and committed to in perpetuity by both sides to help 4.5 million citizens to get on with their lives? Does he agree that not to do so would raise the question of who is really putting people first?
My hon. Friend is exactly right. We see—how can I put this?—time pressure being played against us all the time, and we have to resist that properly.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his statement, and particularly for the way he continues to update the House as we move towards delivering the will of the British people expressed on
Yes, my hon. Friend is exactly right. Properly seen, this is a positive-sum negotiation. Only if one side is unwise and does not take the point on free trade will it become a negative-sum one.
We have heard a lot of complaint from Opposition Members about the Government’s generous offer of a meaningful vote on whatever deal the Secretary of State can achieve. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that that is exactly the basis on which the European Parliament will vote, and will he tell the House whether UK Members of the European Parliament will vote on the deal?
I am grateful to the Secretary of State and all colleagues.