Leaving the EU

Attorney General – in the House of Commons on 11th April 2019.

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Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs)

What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on securing an agreement on the UK leaving the EU.

Photo of Geoffrey Cox Geoffrey Cox The Attorney-General

I am extremely grateful for the question. I regularly meet ministerial colleagues to discuss important issues of common interest, including on matters relating to the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU. The hon. Lady will understand that I am unable to talk about the legal content of those discussions, but the Government’s main priority is to honour the pledges made at the time of the referendum by national politicians of all parties and fulfil its outcome. We can do that by ratifying the withdrawal agreement.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs)

The Attorney General has already set a precedent by publishing his legal advice on the withdrawal agreement, so will he commit to publishing his legal advice to the Government should Labour and the Tories reach an alternative agreement?

Photo of Geoffrey Cox Geoffrey Cox The Attorney-General

I made it clear to the hon. Lady and to the House that I am acutely conscious of the need for the House to be as fully informed as possible of all legitimate matters that it should know before taking these important decisions. At any significant event in these proceedings, I shall review that need accordingly.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Justice Committee

Does the Attorney General agree that it is critical that any agreement ensures that our police, prosecution and judicial authorities continue to have uninterrupted access to co-operation and information sharing mechanisms under Eurojust and Europol? That access would be lost in the event of no deal but could be retained in the event of a deal.

Photo of Geoffrey Cox Geoffrey Cox The Attorney-General

I agree with my hon. Friend. That is one of the most important negotiating objectives in connection with our security and law partnership, and it is a matter that we are constantly bringing to the attention of the European Union. If we can ratify the withdrawal agreement, it will be one of the highest priorities.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

During the Attorney General’s podcast interview with Nick Robinson last week I was delighted to hear him say that the Government would consider the option of a second European Union referendum, and yesterday the Prime Minister did not rule out that option when questioned by my right hon. Friend Ian Blackford, so can the Attorney General tell us what recent discussions the Cabinet have had about a second EU referendum?

Photo of Geoffrey Cox Geoffrey Cox The Attorney-General

That is a subtle enticement by the hon. and learned Lady, but I know that she knows that I am not going to tell her about what discussions the Cabinet may have had. What I can say, however, is that the current discussions with the Labour Opposition are being pursued in good faith. There are no preconditions and of course we will listen to any suggestions, whether they be about a second referendum or any other matter, to see whether we can find common ground, in the interests of the country, to leave the European Union as swiftly as possible.

Photo of Nick Thomas-Symonds Nick Thomas-Symonds Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Security)

The Attorney General’s recent podcast is clearly quite popular, because I have been listening to it as well, particularly his comments on the legal implications of leaving the European Union. He said that

“we have underestimated its complexity. We are unpicking 45 years of in-depth integration.”

Which of his Government colleagues did he have in mind when he made those comments?

Photo of Geoffrey Cox Geoffrey Cox The Attorney-General

I have been saying this since 2016, as the Hansard record will witness, and indeed most recently on 12 March. I take the view that we need to take a complex and careful view of how it is necessary for us to extricate ourselves from 45 years of legal integration. The withdrawal agreement does justice to those complexities. It settles matters at a complex level, and that is precisely why it is necessary for us to leave the European Union. I urge the hon. Gentleman to vote for it.

Photo of Nick Thomas-Symonds Nick Thomas-Symonds Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Security)

We know that is the Attorney General’s view, but I did not detect an answer to my question in all that, so let us try asking about something else the Attorney General has said about Brexit, namely:

“It needs a hard-headed understanding of realities.”

When the majority was lost in the snap election, there was no sense of reality when the Prime Minister should have spoken out. The Attorney General was sent on a fruitless pursuit to reopen the withdrawal agreement, which was always impossible, and four months have been spent refusing to accept the reality of not being able to get the withdrawal agreement through this House. Does the Attorney General not agree that it is the failure of the Government to accept reality that has led to the mess we are in?

Photo of Geoffrey Cox Geoffrey Cox The Attorney-General

No, I do not accept that. The withdrawal agreement was the product of two years of exhaustive negotiation. It settles citizens’ rights for millions of British citizens in Europe as well as for EU citizens here. It fulfils the financial obligations to the European Union. It is a complex settlement that requires to be signed before we can leave. I do not accept that it was unrealistic to attempt to get the fruits of that agreement agreed in this House. In truth, as the hon. Gentleman knows, if we are to leave the European Union it is a necessary precondition of our doing so.