We need your support to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can continue to hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Preparations for Leaving the European Union

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:22 pm on 21st October 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster 6:22 pm, 21st October 2019

With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a further statement on our preparations to leave the European Union on 31 October. Before I do, however, I want to underline the gratitude of Members on both sides of the House to the efforts on Saturday not just of the House authorities, but of the police, as you pointed out earlier. I particularly want to thank Lucy Powell and other Opposition Members for the kind words they uttered on the behalf of all Members.

The Government are determined to do everything they can to leave the EU with a deal. The agreement that the Prime Minister concluded at last week’s European Council gives this House the opportunity to honour the votes of the 17.4 million people who voted to leave the EU by doing so on time and in an orderly fashion. Parliament had the opportunity on Saturday to support a meaningful vote that would have allowed us to proceed smoothly to ratification of our deal and exit on 31 October, but the House instead voted in such a way as to put an orderly exit on that date in doubt.

I appreciate and understand the honest intentions and genuinely sincere motives of many of those who voted for the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin. Let me place on the record once more the high personal regard in which I hold him. I know that he always acts in what he believes to be the national interest, and I deeply deprecate the personal criticism directed towards him. However, the House’s decision to request that a letter seeking an extension to article 50 be sent creates no certainty about our exit in an orderly fashion on 31 October.

Before Saturday’s proceedings in the House, European leaders, including the President of the European Commission, the President of France and the Taoiseach, deliberately and explicitly explained that Members should not cast their vote on the assumption that the EU Council will offer an extension. There is no certainty in this matter. Furthermore, no formal response from the EU has yet been received to the two letters sent by the Prime Minister on the evening of Saturday 19 October: the first requesting an extension to the 31 October deadline as required under the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019, and the second setting out the Government’s position that a delay to Brexit would be corrosive, a view shared by the leaders of the EU27.

With no clear agreement yet in this House to ratify our withdrawal agreement and no certainty that an extension will be granted by 31 October, I must take the appropriate steps now to prepare for the increased possibility that the legal default position will follow and that we will leave on 31 October without a deal. The clear advice to me from officials is that we must now intensify contingency arrangements. That is why the Cabinet’s XO Committee met yesterday to agree that Government Brexit preparations now move into their final, most intensive phase, and that Operation Yellowhammer should be triggered.

Let me be clear that no one would be happier than me to turn off those preparations and stand down planning for no deal. I do not think anyone in this House can doubt my desire to see a deal concluded. However, if we are to be certain to avoid a no-deal outcome on 31 October, we must vote for the Prime Minister’s deal, we must ensure that the vessel that brings certainty passes expeditiously through this Parliament and we must avoid attempts to delay, capsize or hole it below the waterline.

In that spirit, I thank the many parliamentarians across the House who have indicated they will be backing the Prime Minister’s deal, which, until he brought it home, many people thought would be impossible to negotiate. The deal ensures that we can leave the EU, and it is entirely consistent with the Belfast agreement and all our other domestic and international obligations. I can also underline that, once a withdrawal agreement has been ratified, the whole House will be involved in agreeing the mandate for negotiations on our future partnership arrangements with the EU, and we will work particularly closely with all parties to ensure that vital protections for workers and the environment are secure.

In underlining the vital role that all MPs will play in securing a strong future partnership, I emphasise that we want business, trade unions and civil society to help shape a bright future outside the EU. It is striking how organisations such as the Chemicals Industries Association, UK Finance, the Country Land and Business Association and the Federation of Small Businesses have welcomed progress on the deal and have asked parliamentarians to end the uncertainty by supporting an agreement. However, as I have explained, in the absence of that certainty, preparations for the risk of no deal must be intensified.

We will now accelerate our efforts to help businesses and individuals mitigate any dislocation and disruption that may ensue. From today, the XO Committee will meet seven days a week to provide strong ministerial focus across the Government. Hundreds of public servants across the UK will have to be redeployed. They will transfer to work in operations centres, ready to identify challenges, work together to resolve problems swiftly and implement contingency plans as required. Government, local resilience bodies and operational partners will be working together, ready to respond 24 hours a day according to need. We are also finalising the latest update of our reasonable worst-case planning assumptions and will share them with the House shortly.

Of course, we must maintain our public information campaign, which, from tomorrow, will reflect the renewed urgency of preparation. The advice will help businesses and individuals appreciate what they must do to prepare given the uncertainty that still unfortunately prevails. I again urge everyone to check the information relevant to their situation on gov.uk and also the comprehensive summary of actions to take contained in the Government’s “No-Deal Readiness Report” published on 8 October.

We are complementing the information campaign with hands-on advice and assistance. The Department for Transport is continuing to give personal advice to hauliers at sites across the UK and the European Union and working with local resilience forums to finalise traffic management plans, ensuring the smooth flow of people and goods across the short straits. In addition, it was announced on 11 October that four operators— Brittany Ferries, DFDS, P&O Ferries and Stena Line—had been successful in their bids to deliver freight capacity for a six-month period from 31 October to 30 April 2020. They will operate over 13 routes and from eight ports in England: Teesport, Hull, Killingholme, Felixstowe, Harwich, Tilbury, Poole, and Portsmouth. I commend my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport for the smooth, effective way in which that extra freight capacity has been secured.

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is stepping up work to deliver its export webinar programme to thousands of firms. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is distributing a farming Brexit advice guide to agriculture businesses. And the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is reaching hundreds of companies at readiness roadshows.

We have help desk capacity in place at all key Departments, with advisers ready to give the direct support required. This will build on the estimated 850 recorded engagements with business by the Department for Exiting the European Union and other Government Departments.

We are taking note of all the comments and feedback left on gov.uk by people who seek advice, and we are passing on details of specific issues of concern to the relevant Government Departments. We are also accelerating our programmes of key policy and legislative decisions to ensure full readiness, including making and tabling secondary legislation. We will be tabling the final statutory instruments to ensure that all critical Brexit-related legislation necessary for day one is in force by 31 October. This includes legislation for the new temporary tariff regime for customs and the legislation for avoiding a hard border in Ireland.

It remains the case that Northern Ireland would face unique challenges in a no-deal Brexit, and we will need to take steps to ensure effective governance and to give direction to the Northern Ireland civil service. In the absence of devolved government—today’s sitting of the Northern Ireland Assembly being a rare exception in the past two years—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has made alternative arrangements for governance. Legislation and guidance have been introduced to empower Northern Ireland’s superb civil servants to continue taking decisions that are in the public interest. Once again, I record my gratitude to the Northern Ireland civil service, to the Police Service of Northern Ireland and to all those who work in public service in Northern Ireland for their unstinting commitment to safeguarding the welfare of all our citizens.

The arrangement in Northern Ireland has been sustainable to date, but leaving without a deal would represent a formidable challenge to the current position. In that case, we would have to start formal engagement with the Irish Government on further arrangements for providing strengthened decision making, which would include the real possibility of restoring a form of direct rule. We would, of course, do everything to ensure that the interests of all communities across Ireland are safeguarded in any arrangements, but we must all recognise that this would be a grave step from which experience shows us it would be hard to return, particularly in the context of leaving without a deal.

Even as we prepare for the challenges of a no deal, we will make the case at every forum we can for leaving with a good deal. Parliament has previously shown determination and a focused resolve to pass laws expeditiously when the occasion warrants. The deal we have secured honours the referendum mandate this House pledged to uphold and allows the UK to leave the EU whole and entire, and it puts in place the pathway to a new partnership with the EU based on free trade and friendly co-operation.

That is why I, again, urge my colleagues in this House—all of us democrats, first and foremost—now to support the Prime Minister’s deal. I commend this statement to the House.