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[Relevant documents: the First Report of the European Scrutiny Committee, The EU’s mandate for negotiating a new partnership with the UK, HC 218, and the Fifth Report of the European Scrutiny Committee, The EU’s mandate for negotiating a new partnership with the UK: Outcome of Select Committee consultation, HC 333]
I beg to move,
That this House, having regard to the constitutional and legal functions enshrined in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, urges the Government to conduct its negotiations with the European Union with the fullest possible transparency to facilitate essential parliamentary scrutiny;
also urges the Government to make regular progress reports on the negotiations, including on stakeholder contributions to the consultation on The Future Relationship with the EU: the UK’s Approach to Negotiations, and to address the issues identified by the European Scrutiny Committee in its Fifth Report of Session 2019–21, HC 333, as matters of vital national interest.
I am delighted to be opening this important debate. In particular, I would like to thank my hon. Friend Sir William Cash. I am sure the House will be aware that, having first been elected in 1984, he has been a distinguished campaigner on a number of issues, including improving the UK’s role in overseas development. Above all, he will be remembered for his commitment to restoring the sovereignty of this House. For more than 35 years he has served on the European Scrutiny Committee, which he now chairs. Having served on it for a brief period when I was a Back Bencher in the 2005 to 2010 Parliament, I can say that his attention to detail, his commitment to this House and his service to the country are things that all of us should recognise and applaud.
The motion we are considering today asks the Government to do three things: to negotiate transparently in order to ease the way for essential parliamentary scrutiny of the Executive; to provide regular reports on the progress of the negotiations; and to address the issues raised specifically by the European Scrutiny Committee about the impact of legislation being passed at European Union level while we are in the transition period, not fully part of the EU but of course subject to its acquis.
With respect to the transparency of our negotiations, it is the case that a Command Paper was published earlier this year outlining the approach that the UK Government would take towards the negotiations. I made an oral statement in this House to outline our approach. Since that time, the UK Government have outlined their approach in detail by the publication of draft texts covering not just our future economic partnership but areas such as fisheries and security. The publication of those draft texts has also been accompanied by my appearance alongside David Frost, the Prime Minister’s sherpa and EU negotiator, in front of the Select Committee of Hilary Benn on the future relationship with the European Union on three occasions, in front of the House of Lords Select Committee covering European affairs on two occasions and, of course, in front of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee on one occasion as well.
The document to which the right hon. Gentleman has just referred makes it clear that the Government want an agreement that involves no tariffs, but in the interests of transparency, will he explain to the House why the Government are prepared to contemplate tariffs being imposed from
The right hon Gentleman is right; it is our intention. Indeed, it is a commitment in the political declaration that accompanies the withdrawal agreement that both sides will work towards ensuring that we have a zero-tariff, zero-quota approach. One of the problems we face is that the European Union is placing an unprecedented demand on the United Kingdom, which is that in order to secure that zero-tariff, zero-quota approach, we accept a suite of commitments—the so-called level playing field commitments—that would place obligations on the UK Government and our institutions to follow EU law in a way that no other sovereign nation would and in a way that no other free trade agreement requires. That takes us to the heart of the UK’s approach.
In all these appearances and opportunities in which the House has allowed me, on behalf of the Government, to explain our approach, we have taken a consistent line, and that is in keeping with the political declaration. We want a free trade agreement with the European Union, and the free trade agreement that we seek is built on precedent. There is nothing novel, outrageous or excessive about our requests, and the free trade agreement that we seek is, as I say, one that builds on precedents from Canada, Japan and South Korea and agreements that other sovereign nations have entered into with the EU.
The challenge that we face, however, is that the European Union argues that, because of the size of our market and our geographical proximity, we should be subject to rules of the club that we have left, which they impose on no other sovereign nation. At the same time, the EU insists that in the hugely important area of fisheries, it should continue to have access on terms that are similar, if not identical, to the common fisheries policy, which so many people in this country recognise as having worked against the interests of our coastal communities and of marine conservation.
It is on that basis that the fourth round of negotiations is currently being conducted. David Frost, our negotiator, is negotiating hard today, and I am sure that Michel Barnier will update us with his perspective on these negotiations tomorrow. We will also be laying a written ministerial statement next week and, of course, should the House require any further updates on the progress of the negotiations, I would be delighted to give them.
Does the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster also accept that another impediment is Michel Barnier’s insistence that the EU’s draconian interpretation of the provisions of the withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol should be implemented? Does he agree that the Government cannot and must not give in to those demands?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making that point. The protocol is part of the withdrawal agreement, but it makes it clear that Northern Ireland is part of the UK customs territory. Also, in the Command Paper that we published recently—which was broadly welcomed, albeit with caveats by political parties, businesses and citizens across Northern Ireland—we made it clear that we would not impose additional physical customs infrastructure and that we would do everything we could to ensure that the Good Friday agreement was upheld in its essentials, and that means that the citizens and the businesses of Northern Ireland should continue to enjoy unfettered access to the rest of the United Kingdom’s internal market, its customs territory and its nation overall.
In these negotiations, there will inevitably be commentary, in the form of shots fired from outside and attempts by some who do not have an interest in us reaching an agreement, to suggest that an agreement is impossible, and certainly impossible within the time allowed. However, there is ample time for us to reach an agreement. The detailed work that has been undertaken by both sides should not be set aside or diminished. All that is required is political will, imagination and flexibility, and I believe that with the advent of the German presidency of the European Union on
Yes, I think it would be a mistake. Different people have sincere views on this matter. For example, the Welsh Assembly Government—Labour—want an extension; the Mayor of London—Labour—wants an extension. The position of the Labour leader is not clear on this matter, but perhaps Paul Blomfield will enlighten us. The Scottish National party is clear in its view that there should be an extension, and the Democrat Unionist party is clear that there should not be. Every party in the House has a clear position—either for or against an extension—apart from the Labour party, although that point might be elucidated.
The reason I think we should not have an extension is that if we did, we would end up paying the EU more money, which we could spend on our own NHS. We would have to pay for continued membership. We would not know how much that would be; we know only that it would more than we currently pay on an annual basis. We would also be subject to rules shaped at European level, although we would have no say, and that would constrain our capacity to respond not just to the coronavirus crisis, but to other coming economic challenges. During that period, the decisions made by the EU27 will be, entirely legitimately, in their interests, and not necessarily in ours. That is why an extension would be unwise and run counter to the clearly expressed view of the British people when they elected my right hon. Friend Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, on a manifesto that clearly spelled out that we will leave the European Union’s transition period at the end of this year.
Before I sit down and allow other Members to make their points, I am conscious that the explanatory memorandums that some Departments have provided to the Committee chaired by my hon. Friend Sir William Cash have not always been as diligent and detailed as they should have been in ensuring that the European Scrutiny Committee can do its valued work. I assure my hon. Friend that I and the Paymaster General have spoken to all Departments to ensure that the Committee’s work can continue. It is vital, particularly during a period when we are not represented at European level, that any new addition to the acquis is scrutinised effectively by the House, and that the House has a chance to determine what response we make.
I look forward to contributions from across the House, and in particular I thank all 23 Select Committees that joined the European Scrutiny Committee in putting forward propositions for the Government to take account of during the course of the negotiations. I am grateful to Members from across the House for the continued and constructive engagement in helping us to secure a good deal.
I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “the UK’s Approach to Negotiations,” to end and insert—
“commends the European Scrutiny Committee on its Fifth Report of Session 2019–21, HC 333, whose Annex draws upon responses from other select committees identifying matters of vital national interest in the EU negotiating mandate;
recalls that during the 2019 general election and the passage of the Withdrawal Agreement Act, Government ministers committed that negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with the EU would be based on the Political Declaration;
notes that in Article 184 of the Withdrawal Agreement the UK agreed to “use their best endeavours, in good faith and in full respect of their respective legal orders, to take the necessary steps to negotiate expeditiously the agreements governing their future relationship referred to in the Political Declaration of
therefore calls on the Government to negotiate an “ambitious, broad, deep and flexible partnership”, including an “ambitious, wide-ranging and balanced economic partnership”
that entails “no tariffs, fees, charges or quantitative restrictions across all sectors”, a deal that would safeguard “workers’
rights, consumer and environmental protection”, including “effective implementation domestically, enforcement and dispute settlement”
and a “broad, comprehensive and balanced security partnership”
underpinned by “longstanding commitments to the fundamental rights of individuals, including continued adherence and giving effect to the ECHR, and adequate protection of personal data”.
I join the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in commending the determined work, over so very many years, of the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee, and I thank him, and members of the Committee, for their report. That is both because of the important issues that the report raises, and because it provides the House with a rare opportunity to debate with Ministers about the negotiations as they reach a crucial stage. There might be issues in the report that Labour would set out differently, and we have shaped those in our amendment. At this stage, however, because of the extraordinary circumstances in which we are currently conducting business, although I will speak to the issues in the amendment, we do not intend to press it to a vote.
Let me begin with the issue on which we agree wholeheartedly with the Committee, and indeed with the motion, which is the central point of accountability. We have consistently pressed for accountability and transparency throughout these negotiations, as we were promised at the outset. The Prime Minister told us on
“Parliament will be kept fully informed of the progress of these negotiations.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 669, c. 150.]
“we will keep Parliament fully informed about the negotiations, and colleagues will be able to scrutinise our progress.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 672, c. 469.]
But it has not worked like that, has it? Indeed, since those negotiations started, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has made no oral statement on them at all. He has only updated the House once when he was forced to do so by an urgent question from my hon. Friend Rachel Reeves. That silence has spanned three months for negotiating rounds, Joint Committee meetings and all the disruption resulting from covid-19. By comparison, during phase one of the negotiations, either the Brexit Secretary or the Prime Minister reported personally to Parliament after every key negotiating round and after each meeting of the European Council.
This week, as the Chancellor has made clear, sees the fourth and crucial round of talks before the Joint Committee and high-level meeting at which progress is to be reviewed. I hope that, in her wind-up, the Minister will give an assurance to the House that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will commit to making a statement to the House on Monday, and that the Prime Minister will update the House in person after the high-level meeting in June. I hope she will also commit to making real efforts to consult the devolved Administrations, because the terms of reference for the Joint Ministerial Committee referred to reaching agreement with the devolved Administrations on the approach to the negotiations and Ministers made repeated promises that engagement would be stepped up, after disappointment was expressed at an earlier stage, once we moved on from the withdrawal negotiations. That has not happened, has it?
I would like to take this opportunity, as the hon. Gentleman is kind enough to give way, to say that the Paymaster General has indeed stepped up engagement with all the devolved Administrations, and we are grateful to them for their work. One thing has come through though: the Welsh First Minister—the Labour First Minister—has been clear that he seeks an extension of our time in the transition period. Is that official Labour party policy?
I am looking forward to addressing precisely that point. I do understand why the Minister is so keen to talk about the process. It is because he does not really want to address the substance of the negotiations. Let me just say a further word on the consultation with the devolved Administrations, because that may be his perspective, but it is certainly not the perspective of the devolved Administrations themselves who feel that the engagement has been cursory, and has not been meaningful either around the negotiating mandate or in updating them on the progress.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree with my colleague, the Brexit Minister in the Scottish Parliament, Mike Russell, that the whole process of involvement with the devolved Administrations has been merely about letting them know what is happening rather than letting them influence what is happening in the negotiations or having any input in decisions on any crucial issues?
I do indeed, and that is a concern that has, I think, been widely expressed by others as well. Indeed, it reflects the Government’s approach to this Parliament. They keep us a little bit informed, with a written ministerial statement here and there, but there is no meaningful engagement.
Parliament must be given the opportunity of holding the Government to account for the pledges they made to the British people in the election to which the Minister referred. At that election, the Conservative manifesto promised an “oven-ready deal”. That deal was the new withdrawal agreement and political declaration that the Prime Minister triumphantly renegotiated in October 2019.
I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman has just said about the fact that we had a clear pledge in our manifesto and that you are well aware of the fact that we won the general election. In the light of that, what is your view on Michel Barnier’s letter to Opposition leaders calling for an extension to the transition period?
Order. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is new to the House and I do not want to upset the flow of the debate, but other Members may not be aware that you should not address someone in the House as “you”. “You” only means the Chair. During these unusual times, standards have been slipping and we must not allow that to happen. I know that I can trust the hon. Gentleman. I do not want to pick him out but he has just given me the opportunity to make sure that, from now on, he will refer to the hon. Gentleman as the hon. Gentleman.
And the question will be answered, but one of the things the hon. Gentleman will learn is that there is no firmer upholder of standards than you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
The hon. Gentleman is right to focus on the mandate that the Government secured in December, and we acknowledge that the arithmetic the general election produced gives them a clear a majority in the House, but instead of talking about process, we should focus on the substance of the mandate. What was that promise? It was not, “Get Brexit done at any price.” It was, “Get Brexit done on the basis of the oven-ready deal.”
That deal promised the British people
“an ambitious, broad, deep and flexible partnership” with
“no tariffs, fees, charges or quantitative restrictions across all sectors”.
It promised to safeguard workers’ rights and consumer and environmental protection, and to include
“effective implementation domestically, enforcement and dispute settlement.”
The Minister talks about deals such as that with Canada as a reference point. He will know that the comprehensive economic and trade agreement contains some provisions for a level playing field with enforcement mechanisms, and in fact negotiations are taking place for those to be enhanced.
Delivering on those promises matters, because the Government have sought to talk down expectations about their ability to achieve the pledges they made to the British people. We face a huge economic hit as a result of covid-19. We must not make that worse through a bad deal on our future relationship with the European Union.
The director general of the CBI said on Tuesday:
“For many firms fighting to keep their heads above water through the crisis, the idea of preparing for a chaotic change in EU trading relations in seven months is beyond them. They are not remotely prepared. Faced with the desperate challenges of the pandemic, their resilience and ability to cope is almost zero.”
One of those firms, Nissan, warned yesterday that tariffs on cars exported to the EU would make its business model unsustainable if we left the transition, for example, on the much-vaunted Australia model—the “no deal exists” model. Meanwhile, obviously concerned about progress, the Governor of the Bank of England has urged banks to step up their preparations for the UK leaving the transition period without a future trading relationship in place.
Of course, the deal is not just about goods and services; there are nine other strands to the talks, among which security is critical. At the general election, the public were promised
“a broad, comprehensive and balanced security partnership …underpinned by long-standing commitments to the fundamental rights of individuals, including continued adherence and giving effect to the”
European convention on human rights,
“and adequate protection of personal data”.
However, since the election, the Government have rowed back on their commitment. On
“we may not necessarily have concluded everything on internal security by”
That is of deep concern, as the former Prime Minister, Mrs May, pointed out yesterday at Prime Minister’s questions. Without a comprehensive security agreement, even for a short period, extradition would be slower and more bureaucratic, law enforcement agencies would find it harder to get crucial information for investigations as they lost access to EU-wide databases, and it would be more difficult for UK investigators and prosecutors to collaborate with EU partners.
We have left the European Union. The task now is to build the best possible new relationship for jobs and the economy in all parts of the UK through tariff and barrier-free trade in goods and services, to maintain the security of the UK by retaining existing co-operation as far as possible, and to maintain protection for workers, consumers and the environment. And of course nothing must be done that undermines the Northern Ireland protocol and the Good Friday agreement.
That is what the country was promised at the election. That is the deal that the Government have to deliver. They have said that they will deliver that deal by December. They should confirm today that they remain confident that the oven-ready deal that they pledged to the British people, summed up in the political declaration that they signed with the European Union, will be delivered—not any deal; that deal—and by the end of the year. They should also spell out how they plan to, in the words of their own motion, “facilitate essential parliamentary scrutiny” on their progress.
I welcome the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who has adopted, on behalf of the Government, the motion proposed by the European Scrutiny Committee, which I have the honour to chair. This motion derives from section 13A of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, as provided for by the 2020 Act. I emphasise that, because it was passed on Second Reading in this House by a majority of no fewer than 124 Members.
Under the motion, my European Scrutiny Committee has the duty of reviewing EU laws made and proposed during the transition period that affect UK vital national interests. In pursuance of that, and our report of
The 2020 Act passed following the general election last December, and it contained in section 38 the historic affirmation of the sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament, to rectify the failure of successive Government policies on the EU, including the European Communities Act 1972 itself. Now that we have left the EU as the result of a succession of Acts of Parliament, including the referendum Act itself and the result of the referendum to leave, endorsed by the general election last year, we have a Conservative majority of 81. That endorsed Brexit, and left the other parties floundering in the wake of the democratic will of the British people, in line with the Conservatives’ commitment to our democratic self-government.
My Committee’s report on the EU’s negotiating mandate noted that, on the one hand, the EU recognises the autonomy of the UK, as well as our right to regulate economic activity as we deem appropriate. That is then contradicted by the EU proposing draconian conditions of UK compliance with what the EU describes as
“robust level playing field commitments”.
These include massive EU tax, social, employment and environmental standards, and EU state aid laws, as well as a fisheries deal with the EU enjoying pre-Brexit access to UK waters—not to mention the vexed Northern Ireland protocol.
That protocol was badly conceived by the previous Administration and included concessions on EU jurisdiction and the status of Northern Ireland. There were even reports that Martin Selmayr, the then deputy to Mr Juncker, regarded Northern Ireland as the price that the UK would have to pay for leaving the EU. Furthermore, there never has been a level playing field. For example, the subsidies in relation to steel and coal generally have always been continuously distorted against the interests of the UK.
I can remember raising these questions over 20 years ago in relation to, if I may say to Paul Blomfield, my experience having been brought up in Sheffield, which was surrounded by coal communities and, of course, was the engine of the steel industry of the United Kingdom and the world. It was quite clear that the European Coal and Steel Community was operating on a basis that, for example, gave the German nation £4 billion a year in authorised subsidies, which put it in a hopelessly advantageous position as against us. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard and a list of other great economists have continually made clear the distortions in relation to state aid that have such a devastating impact upon us. We cannot allow ourselves to be drawn back into the framework of state aid prescribed by the European Union.
Indeed, according to The Brussels Times a few days ago, the German economy is receiving 52% of the total state aid approved by the European Commission under the EU coronavirus package. Similarly, the EU insisted on law enforcement and criminal justice conditional on our continuing with the European convention on human rights and personal data law along EU lines. It went further, insisting on an overall governance framework that would include a continuing role of the European Court of Justice. What planet are they living on?
This is encapsulated by the difference in language between the EU and the UK in relation to these negotiations. It speaks about a new partnership. Our White Paper refers to the future relationship. The EU is not a sovereign state. We are, and we have a sovereign Parliament. We have decided to leave, and we have left. It is bound to recognise us as such, but it refuses to do so.
The hon. Gentleman has set out the clear Government policy that they will not accept the adjudication of the European Court of Justice, but in any agreement—and we all hope an agreement is reached—there will have to be a dispute resolution mechanism. It would be helpful if he could tell the House his views on what kind of mechanism that would be and whether there might be a place within that for independent arbitration to deal with disputes. Given that he has just argued that EU member states have got away with state aid to the disadvantage of the UK, is he satisfied that the Government are asking for sufficient reassurance from the European Union that that will not happen in future under any agreement that is reached?
To answer the second point first, I am, of course, very conscious of what is going on in the negotiations. I hear what has been said repeatedly by the Government with respect to maintaining and protecting our vital national interests, and I believe that that will be the outcome—namely, we will ensure that we are not made subject to EU state aid in the way in which we have experienced it in the past. I have made the case. I can say more about it, but I do not need to for the moment.
With respect to the question of arbitration, it refers back in a funny way to my reference to John Bright, who was one of the initiators of the notion of international arbitration in the Alabama case. I will simply say this. I believe that the European Court’s jurisdiction cannot be allowed, but I go further: I think that some form of arbitration may be necessary, but not, under any circumstances, including our being subjugated to the rules and jurisdiction of the European Court.
I will now move on. For our report, my Committee consulted with 24 Select Committees, and we are immensely grateful to all of them for their contributions. The Prime Minister, in a written statement, followed by a Command Paper in February, made it clear—in line with Acts of Parliament that had already been passed, not to mention the outcome of the general election—that there would be no rule for the European Court of Justice, nor any alignment of our laws with the EU, and nor would any of the European institutions, including the Court, have any jurisdiction in the UK. Those statements and policies are entirely consistent with the democratic will of the British people. We asked the Government to publish their draft legal text, and I am glad to say that that has been done.
The timing of this debate is crucial because the Prime Minister will engage in a high-level meeting towards the end of this month. I ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster for the exact date when that will take place, the agenda that will be before the meeting and who will attend on behalf of the EU and the EU27. This, in turn, is crucial, because Germany takes over the presidency on
“Together. Making Europe Strong Again”
I simply add that we were not a minute too soon in leaving the EU.
The Government, in their Command Paper, say that by the end of June there is the opportunity for the
“outline of an agreement…capable of being rapidly finalised by September. If that does not seem to be the case...the Government will need to decide whether the UK’s attention should move away from negotiations and focus solely on…preparations to exit the transition period in an orderly fashion.”
Recent correspondence between our chief negotiator, David Frost, and Michel Barnier indicates that there is no real progress in the negotiations, because the EU is invariably asking for the impossible and, as correctly indicated by David Frost, the EU is not offering a “fair free-trade relationship” but a
“low-quality trade agreement…with unprecedented…oversight of our laws and institutions..”
Our vital national interests, which derive from our democracy and self-government, which is what this debate is about, are paramount.
I was extremely glad to hear what the Leader of the House said at today’s business questions on the issue of the extension of the transitional period, because he used the hallowed words of the late Margaret Thatcher, “No, no, no.” I am delighted to hear similar sentiments expressed by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster this afternoon. Any extension of the transition period, through which Mr Michel Barnier is outrageously trying to seduce remainers, would simply prolong negotiations; as David Frost stated, it would create more uncertainty, leaving us paying far more to the EU and binding us to EU laws, when we have democratically and lawfully decided to leave the EU by our own sovereign decision and our own sovereign legislation.
As for the Labour amendment to this motion, it completely turns the purpose of the “good faith” and “best endeavours” in article 184 of the withdrawal agreement, which places an obligation on the EU to enshrine European sovereignty, on its head. The amendment would betray that and with it the democratic will of the British electorate. In conclusion, I urge the Government to review the Northern Ireland protocol, which raises concerns about EU law and European Court jurisdiction, and the status of Northern Ireland. I look to the Government to ensure that the whole UK leaves on our own terms, because our sovereignty and self-government is an absolute bulwark of our freedom and our democracy.
I should warn the House that after the speech by the Scottish National party spokesperson there will be a time limit on Back-Bench speeches of four minutes; of course, that does not apply to Joanna Cherry.
It is a pleasure to follow Sir William Cash. We disagree about much, but we are both committed to the restoration of sovereignty. He is committed to the restoration of the sovereignty of this Parliament, whereas I am committed to restoring the sovereignty of the people of Scotland, which of course was famously asserted in the declaration of Arbroath, whose 700th anniversary we are celebrating this year. In the June 2016 referendum, people in Scotland voted overwhelmingly to be part of the EU.
That preference has been reinforced in Scotland in two subsequent United Kingdom general elections and in the European Parliament election, yet on
The Scottish National party thinks that it is not and will not be possible to conduct and conclude the negotiations and implement the results within the truncated timescale that has been set. We also think that in the context of an unprecedented global pandemic and a catastrophic economic recession, which might turn out to be the worst in 300 years, it is frankly irresponsible to think that things can be done properly within that timeframe.
That view is widely held by those who have the misfortune to watch and comment upon the British Government’s conduct of the negotiations, which includes the ill-judged and rather petulant letter sent by Mr Frost to Mr Barnier last month. That is widely seen as having been something of a nadir in the British Government’s approach to the negotiations.
I will make a little bit of progress, and then I will give way. It is the view of the Scottish Parliament that it is essential that the UK indicates that it will seek to extend the transition period for up to two years, as provided for in the withdrawal agreement. It is not just the SNP who think that, as the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said. All the parties in the Scottish Parliament, including the SNP, Labour, the Greens and the Lib Dems—all that is, apart from the Scottish Conservatives—believe that there should be an extension. The deadline that is coming fast at us at the end of this month is a very real deadline, because after the end of this month it will not be possible to extend under the terms of the withdrawal agreement, and no other plausible route to an extension has been put forward.
Will the hon. and learned Lady care to recall her party’s policy in respect of the withdrawal agreement and its prognosis for the triumphant renegotiation of that? Does she recall how few weeks it took the Government to obtain that renegotiation with the services of David Frost?
I am not sure I follow that intervention. I am not going to be pulled off my track by it, because I do not want to take up too much time.
The global economy is declining fast and we must do everything we can to give business the best support for recovery from that decline. The next couple of years will be crucial. Ending the European Union withdrawal transition period at the end of this year would subject Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole to an entirely unnecessary second economic and social shock on top of the covid crisis. More jobs would be lost, living standards would be hit and essential markets and opportunities for recovery would be damaged. For the many businesses that manage to survive the covid crisis, this second, Brexit-related shock could be the final straw.
Yesterday, the Scottish Government published a report indicating that ending the transition this year would result in Scottish gross domestic product being between £1.1 billion and £1.8 billion lower by 2022 than if the transition was extended to the end of 2022. That is equivalent to a cumulative loss of economic activity of between £2 billion and £3 billion over those two years. A proportionate impact would be likely for the UK economy, so it is against the background of those figures and projections for the Scottish economy and the UK economy that the vast majority of Scotland’s elected representatives would like to see an extension of the transition period.
I do not expect the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to take what Scotland’s elected representatives vote for remotely seriously. I know that whether he is affecting a courtesy and a concern for our voices, or whether he is putting the boot into us for the benefit of his Back Benchers, Scotland is not his concern, because Scotland returns very few Conservative Members to this Parliament. However, the economic impact of failing to extend the transition will affect not just Scotland, but all the United Kingdom, including those who, in good faith—particularly in the red wall—voted for the Conservative party in England last December. Even if the Government give not a jot for the concerns of Scottish voters and the vast majority of their elected representatives, I am sure that they do give a jot for the concerns of the people who put them where they are. Many of those people, particularly working-class voters in the north and midlands of England, will be most adversely affected by the sort of double whammy of leaving at the end of this year without an agreement or an extension and the covid crisis.
I am coming to an end. I say to the Chancellor that he should swallow his pride and seek an extension of the transition period. For all that has been said about him in this place, Michel Barnier has all the graciousness that the Chancellor affects to have, so I have no doubt that if the request for an extension is made, it will be granted.
For six months before I was elected as the Member for North West Norfolk, I was part of the Brexit unit in No. 10, and prior to that, I advised the former right hon. Member for Aylesbury as he led part of the EU negotiations, including with member states, so I have been blessed with some experience of negotiations, although not as much as my hon. Friend Sir William Cash.
In considering the EU mandate and today’s debate, it is worth reflecting on the process thus far. Back in July, the consensus was that the backstop could not be changed—that the EU mandate was the mandate and the UK had to accept it. Indeed, in meetings I was in with Michel Barnier, he said, “No way—no way can the backstop be changed.” But with clarity on the changes that we needed, energetic negotiations and by marshalling political support for them, the backstop was indeed replaced and a new political declaration agreed that explicitly set a free trade agreement as the desired outcome. Importantly, both sides agreed to get the agreement done by the end of 2020, and we must now retain the clarity that got us to this position.
I welcome the European Scrutiny Committee’s call for transparency on the negotiations. In the past, the EU set out its position while ours could be rather obscure, but anyone can now go on gov.uk and read the detailed text that we have published and the typically straightforward and reasoned letter from my former colleague, David Frost. They set out our proposals on a level playing field to prevent distortions of trade and unfair competitive advantages—proposals that meet the commitments that we made in the political declaration. We also agree to non-regression on labour, the environment and other areas, but as a sovereign nation, we cannot accept the EU mandate on state aid, requiring dynamic alignment on rules over which we have no say. That would be unprecedented in a free trade agreement.
On fisheries, my constituents on the coast want to see us take back control of our waters, but the EU proposals are based on maintaining the same access as under the common fisheries policy. On security, the safety of all our citizens must be the first priority, with an approach that reflects the UK’s leading position as a source of data and intelligence. Now is the time for flexibility in the EU mandate, not the further delay that some have called for—although the Opposition spokesman, Paul Blomfield, was unwilling to answer whether those calling for delay include the Labour party.
Of course, covid-19 has required a huge amount of attention from the Government and member states, as well as the Commission, but with good will, it is eminently feasible to finalise an FTA. Extending the transition would simply prolong negotiations and extend uncertainty. If we learnt anything from the withdrawal agreement, it is that extensions remove the pressure to bring negotiations to a conclusion. I encourage my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to pursue the communications to businesses, who know that changes are coming to customs arrangements, so that they can be properly prepared.
In conclusion, the Commission and member states, as we know, closely follow the debates in this Chamber. This House legislated to end the transition period this year. Government Members are united in delivering on the manifesto that people in North West Norfolk and across the country voted for at the general election. The terms of an agreement that reflect the reality that the UK has left the EU are clear, reasonable and public, so now is the time to work intensively to secure that FTA for the benefit of UK and EU citizens.
May I say at the very start that we support the Government in getting this deal done by the end of this year, and in honouring the commitment that has been made, including in manifestos to the people of the UK?
I could rehearse the things that we in Northern Ireland want to see undone in this withdrawal agreement. Of course, it is most damaging to the Northern Ireland economy and Northern Ireland businesses—it puts burdens on them and puts additional administrative checks on them—and, indeed, it leaves Northern Ireland open to anti-competitive dumping by EU countries. However, I want to widen this today. Many people see the Northern Ireland protocol as something that simply affects Northern Ireland: “It was unfortunate; we had to do it; we had to get a deal through; we don’t like parts of it, but given the special circumstances, it was the best we could do.” The point of the Northern Ireland protocol is this: it is the back door through which the EU is going to continue to undermine the sovereignty of this Parliament.
The Minister congratulated Sir William Cash on the fact that he has worked tirelessly to restore the sovereignty of this House. This withdrawal agreement and the protocol undermine and continue to undermine the sovereignty of this House. It does that through article 10 of the Northern Ireland protocol, which insists that the state aid rules will apply not to Northern Ireland, as paragraph 40 of the Government’s Command Paper suggests, but to the United Kingdom as a whole. Any state aid that the Government of the United Kingdom give to any firm that trades in Northern Ireland, as this therefore has an effect on possible trade by those firms through Northern Ireland into the rest of the EU, will be subject to EU laws, and the final adjudication on that, according to article 12 of the Northern Ireland protocol, will be by the European Court of Justice.
Let me give an example about any support that the Government give. Nissan has been mentioned today. If the Government decide they are going to help Nissan to develop battery cars, as Nissan sells cars in Northern Ireland, other car makers in Europe could challenge that, and the final adjudication on it will be not in the British courts, but in the European Court of Justice. That could extend to almost any activity, and for that reason it is important, if the Government are to live up to the commitment in the third part of their motion, that they address the withdrawal agreement. In the Command Paper, they see the withdrawal agreement as temporary anyway. They see it going along with a future trade arrangement.
Did my right hon. Friend notice the remarks that I made at the end of my speech with respect to the question of the Northern Ireland protocol?
I did, and I appreciated the point that was made. It is important that this is revisited, and not just for the good of the economy and businesses in Northern Ireland. It is essential that it is addressed for the sovereignty of this Parliament and for the freedom of this Government to use fiscal policy, monetary policy and any kind of state support policy for the whole of the United Kingdom.
There is hardly a business in GB that does not trade with Northern Ireland, so either they do not invest in or do not trade in Northern Ireland, or else they will find that they are subject to EU laws, and any Government policy addressed to them would be perceived as giving an advantage. By the way, that advantage only has to be theoretical, according to EU law. The effect does not have to be real, it does not have to affect sales—in theory, it does have to affect sales—and it does not have to be substantial; it can be a very small proportion of help or a very small proportion of the market. This is a huge foot in the door.
I say to the Government that, during the scrutiny of and in the reports on this, we want to see what has been done. The withdrawal agreement must not be seen as set in stone if the Government, in their own Command Paper, see it as temporary anyway, albeit with the consent of the Northern Ireland Assembly. They also have to address the issue of how the withdrawal agreement impacts on sovereignty and on the ability of this Government to conduct their own economic policy in the United Kingdom.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate. It is a great pleasure to follow Sammy Wilson, who has been throughout my time in this place a doughty and courageous advocate for the opportunities of leaving the European Union. I also want to thank my hon. Friend Sir William Cash, whose work on the European Scrutiny Committee is much appreciated: the work in its previous guise, displaying the massive amounts of legislation that came from the European Union over so many years and doing so much to create the view in the United Kingdom that we were losing control of our sovereignty; and now in terms of the overview mechanism, which it does so well.
The hon. Gentleman praises Sammy Wilson, whose analysis of this I thought was fairly sound. What part of that analysis would the hon. Gentleman disagree with?
The right hon. Member for East Antrim has a particular view around Northern Ireland, and we have debated that extensively in this place for a number of months, even years. Where I agree with him is that we needed to leave the European Union, and we have done that. Where I disagree with Mr Carmichael is that he never wanted to leave the European Union in the first place, whereas we delivered on the decision of the British people in 2016.
Like so many others, I voted to leave the European Union in 2016. Leaving it in a way that works for our country—both the opportunities that it can provide and the responsibilities that it creates for us as an internationalist, outward-looking country—is incredibly important. My constituents in North East Derbyshire remain extremely committed both to having left the European Union in January—some of us at some points in the previous Parliament were not actually sure we would quite get there—and to taking the opportunities that will come as a result of that.
I would just gently say to Joanna Cherry, for whom I have a great deal of time and respect, that as someone who represents one of those red wall seats that she was so keen to reference in her speech, I can give her absolute assurances that the hard-working people in that red wall seat who wanted to leave the European Union still want to leave, still wish to get the clarity that is required by the end of December and do not want the double whammy of the Opposition parties, who wanted to frustrate this in the first place and continue to want an extension that would serve no purpose.
My constituents feel so strongly about this because democracy matters. After we made the decision in 2016, it took this place three years to ensure that it would occur. Now we have a great opportunity to build a future partnership, to build something that works both for us and for the European Union over the long term, but it has to be done on the basis of mutual respect, obligation and responsibilities. We cannot fall into the same inane and asinine discussion that we did in Parliament in 2019, where we said, “How can it be possible? We are not able to do it. We cannot possibly expect to be able to do it in the time.” Let us let the negotiation go through, let us allow the space and the opportunity for that to happen and then see what comes from it. I am certainly confident that it is possible. The residents of North East Derbyshire and many of the red wall seats want to ensure that it happens and I know, with confidence in the Government, that it will.
Now that the UK has left the European Union, our focus must be on getting a deal that protects jobs and businesses and allows British firms to trade freely, as well as guaranteeing the supply of goods and services and frictionless trade, which we were promised. The coronavirus pandemic has shown how fragile the supply chain can be both across Europe and globally, and the impact that disruptions can have on people’s lives as well as businesses.
We need a deal that safeguards workers’ rights and environmental standards, and protects the Good Friday agreement as well as maintaining access to medical supplies and ensuring that they are kept intact. Crucially, the deal should reject the sort of tariffs and barriers that make it harder to trade abroad, push prices up and make it more difficult for people who are already suffering.
The deal we strike must protect our citizens’ wellbeing and security. That is the first duty of any Government. Ministers have insisted on sticking to the timetable drawn up before the extraordinary challenges posed by the pandemic. It is striking that recently two thirds of the British people said they agreed with the statement that the Government should request an extension to the transition period in order to focus properly on corona- virus and dealing with its consequences. Ministers’ timetables take no account of the disruption to the negotiations because of covid, nor the dramatic effect on our economy. I do not need to emphasise the Bank of England’s prediction that we face the worst economic slump for more than 300 years, with unemployment set to double this year and youth unemployment set to reach 1 million.
Millions of people coming through the pandemic face redundancy and great uncertainty. Many thousands have lost loved ones. Others face losing their businesses, their homes and, at worst, a deep economic depression. Yet Ministers insist on pursuing the same course of action as before the crisis. When the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill was being debated, Opposition Members argued that it should be sensible and flexibility should be built in to keep our options open, but Ministers rejected that. It is like spotting the iceberg and still steering towards it.
The terrible economic prospects make a successful conclusion to the negotiations even more vital now for our country, security and wellbeing. That conclusion must ensure that even greater burdens are not placed on people and businesses. The signs are not promising. There has been a marked reluctance on the part of Ministers and the Prime Minister to provide regular updates. The Government are fearful of scrutiny, transparency and accountability. The fact that there has been only one statement after we requested an urgent question emphasises that. The chief negotiator said on Twitter:
that we made very little progress towards agreement on the most significant outstanding issues”.
Looking forward, it is crucial that we have a trade agreement that truly ensures frictionless trade and protects our rights, and that we protect ourselves against no deal and crashing out. That means that Ministers need to be responsible, recognise the new reality of the pandemic and the dangers to people’s lives and our economy, and ensure that we exit properly, without disruption and damage to our country.
It is interesting to reflect that if anyone had suggested a year ago that we would embark on a debate on Brexit by lamenting the lack of time and debate we had spent on it in recent months, few would have perceived that as a credible prospect, but that is the somewhat curious position in which we find ourselves. Notwithstanding that, the debate is timely and I give credit to Sir William Cash for his role in persuading the Government to hold it because the end of this month will be the point of no return for any deal between the United Kingdom and the European Union after the end of the year.
I was struck by the hon. Member for Stone’s commending the Leader of the House for quoting Margaret Thatcher saying “No, no, no.” Margaret Thatcher was many things but when she said something, we knew that the rhetoric would always match the reality. The difference between Margaret Thatcher and those in 10 Downing Street and around the Cabinet table today is that there is often a significant gap between the rhetoric and the reality. That was apparent from the very cogent speech we heard from Sammy Wilson, a man who is genuinely committed to the Union that is the United Kingdom. If hon. Members on the Government Benches wish to continue to be known as Conservative and Unionist, they should listen carefully to his words and to what he has to tell us.
We were told quite categorically at the time of the conclusion of the withdrawal agreement that there would be no border checks and no customs checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, yet in the past few weeks it has become apparent that actually there will be such border checks. As somebody who is also committed to the continuation of the United Kingdom as a single unitary state every bit as passionately as the right hon. Member for East Antrim, I take very seriously the risk that that poses.
I would like to hear from the Paymaster General, when she comes to wind up, what the Government’s response is to press reports today that the Government are set to open British markets to food products produced to lower US standards as part of the planned trade deal with Donald Trump. This was the rhetoric we were given in a previous existence by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster: he told us that there would never be chlorinated chicken on our plate. Now, in fact, we hear that as a consequence of the so-called dual tariff process it is quite possible that we will see such products being imported to this country. In fact, we are told that the Secretary of State for International Trade is arguing that these tariffs should only be temporary and that they should be reduced to zero over 10 years, giving farmers time to adjust to the new normal. Again, that is a very different reality from the rhetoric to which we have been treated in the past. For the farmers and crofters in my constituency, it will be a hard reality for them to survive in.
For years, we have done what successive Governments have told us to do. Because we are a long distance from the market, we have not gone for mass-produced food. We have sought to improve and increase the quality of the products we have and put into market with a view to export. Tariffs on those export markets will be absolutely fatal to the agricultural interests of the highlands and islands.
It is a pleasure to follow Mr Carmichael, although of course in any discussion of issues around the EU he does suffer from the disadvantage of his party having campaigned on the most extraordinary anti-democratic position that I have ever seen any party take in this Chamber. Therefore, speaking up for the fishermen of Scotland is, I think, very difficult for him and his party to do with real credibility.
No, I am sorry. The right hon. Gentleman spoke for quite a long time earlier.
The issue today is really all about whether we will be able to achieve the deal with the European Union that so many of us around the Chamber, including the right hon. Gentleman and his distinguished colleagues, want to see. My hon. Friend Sir William Cash said earlier that Michel Barnier is trying to seduce remainers in this Chamber. Of course, there are no remainers left. We have already left the European Union and what matters now is the future relationship.
In that context, it is important that my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General helps in her summary this evening to address the point raised by the Leader of the House earlier when he referred, in answers at business questions, to the importance of ensuring that we leave this transition phase “successfully” by
The example of Nissan’s Sunderland factory is very relevant. The announcement of the closure of its Barcelona factory leaves Sunderland as Nissan’s sole manufacturer for Europe. That is a significant tribute to the productivity record of its factory and workers, but before we celebrate, we have to heed its global chief operating officer, who said that
“we are the number one carmaker in the UK and we want to continue” but that if Nissan is not getting the current tariffs—zero tariffs, rather than the 10% tariffs which would be imposed on vehicles and parts under WTO rules—the business will not be sustainable. He said:
“That’s what everyone has to understand.”
It would be helpful if my right hon. Friend would confirm that the Government are clear about the consequences of no deal at the end of this year, not just for Sunderland, but in the west midlands, and for automotive sector supply chains across the country. Of course this issue is not confined just to that sector. My right hon. Friend knows well the risks to farming, and the potential hazards for farmers who are selling sheep and beef, and particularly barley, across the channel. Explaining to our farmers at the beginning of 2021 that those exports will have significant tariffs attached would not be a welcome start to the year for them.
I have always believed in the commitment of the Prime Minister and the Government to get a deal that would be good for our nation and benefit the EU. Indeed, I defended the Prime Minister last summer when many doubted the strength of that commitment, and I hope nothing has changed to damage it. I hope that the contribution the deal can make to our economic revival, and to “bounce back Britain”, will be strong, because in my view anything that does not do that cannot possibly be seen as a successful outcome. The business of the EU understanding that we cannot possibly accept the jurisdiction of the European Courts as the dispute resolution—my hon. Friend the Member for Stone made that point—was highlighted by the Select Committee, and I hope that success means getting that deal as soon as possible.
It is a pleasure to follow Richard Graham. We have been good friends for a long time, and I appreciate his comments.
The negotiations on our future relationship are crucial for Northern Ireland. As someone who has been involved in the political process for many years, I want the peace process in Northern Ireland to be sustained, but I am concerned that the Northern Ireland protocol fundamentally undermines Northern Ireland’s status as part of the United Kingdom. People talk about protecting and preserving the Good Friday/Belfast agreement, but at the heart of that agreement was an acceptance of the principle of consent, and that Northern Ireland’s status would remain unchanged, save for the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland determining otherwise. The Northern Ireland protocol undermines that key, fundamental element of the Good Friday agreement. Indeed, we voted against the withdrawal agreement because it had the potential to create a customs border within the United Kingdom, which would be unacceptable. We will continue to work with the Government to mitigate that, to ensure unfettered access to the UK market, as promised by the Government, and to diminish and reduce any friction to the absolute minimum.
We continue to have concerns about the Northern Ireland protocol and the potential for tariffs to be applied on trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, as well as about the paperwork and added burden for businesses as a result of entry and import summary declarations. We have concerns about regulatory checks on goods travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, including agri-food and manufacturing. Our fishermen in Northern Ireland may have to make declarations, including customs declarations, to the European Union. On agricultural support, I echo the comments of Mr Carmichael about the risk to our agricultural industry from cheap food imports. That is why we supported amendments to the Agriculture Bill. We will have to apply EU rules on VAT in Northern Ireland, and there is also the issue of state aid—I will not repeat the comments made by my right hon. Friend Sammy Wilson about that issue, which has implications for the UK as a whole.
We need the Government to ensure that the aims set out in the UK Command Paper remain a foundational requirement, and that those commitments are unmoveable and the minimum requirements we will have. Indeed, we want to go further and see greater flexibility demonstrated by Brussels regarding how the Northern Ireland protocol will be implemented. The UK Command Paper, for example, sees no requirement for export or exit summary declarations for trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. We agree with that, but we need to ensure that the EU does not hold a veto on these customs formalities.
The Government give those guarantees, but does my right hon. Friend accept that at the same time, HMRC officials are going around briefing firms in Northern Ireland as to the likely costs of those declarations?
That is why I think it is important that the Government hold to the commitments they made in the Command Paper and, indeed, go further. Businesses need clarity on this, because we have officials in Northern Ireland saying something that appears to contradict what is in the Government’s Command Paper. We need that clarity.
The Government must also honour the funding pledges that have been made in terms of support for Northern Ireland in how the protocol is implemented. I hope that the Minister and the Government will give us more regular updates on what is happening with the Northern Ireland protocol, and in particular the work of the EU-UK Joint Committee, because that is crucial to Northern Ireland.
There is a lot of uncertainty at the moment about the impact of the coronavirus on our economy. We do not want any more uncertainty, and that is why my party is against extending the transition period. But we need clarity and certainty around how the protocol for Northern Ireland will be implemented, and we want the Government to take a minimalist approach to that protocol.
My right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the Paymaster General, as well as David Frost, the Prime Minister’s chief negotiator, are proving to be magnificent midwives for our rebirth as an independent nation. It is important that those in the European Union who are watching today’s debate understand that whichever of the two outcomes they return with, they have the full support and confidence of Government Members.
I am proud that Sussex features heavily in the history of Britain, just as Britain features heavily in the history of continental Europe. Historically, the ports and beaches of Sussex were the embarkation point and occasionally even the receiving point for less good-natured attempts to harness our economies together than these negotiations should prove to be. The Earldom of Arundel, at the heart of my constituency, was created by William of Normandy in 1067, following his memorable visit to Hastings just down the road.
I share this Government’s ambition to get the best outcome achievable for the UK and to continue to have good relations with the EU, but now as a valued trading partner. Having conducted many negotiations in the course of 27 years in business, I know that a deadline is vital to get both parties to close the gap between their respective positions. As my hon. Friend James Wild reminded us, this Government have already shown that they are able to negotiate international agreements with speed and efficiency. The withdrawal agreement was reopened and renegotiated in under three months, despite the assertions of Opposition Members, who stated categorically that that would not be possible.
Not only are the downsides of accepting a bad deal fully priced in, but many British businesses are chafing at the bit for certainty and to utilise our new-found freedoms. They look forward to the ability to make the most of our natural advantages, such as our strong adherence to the rule of law, flexible workforce, sitting between the Asian and American time zones, and English as our own—and the world’s—language. They also look forward to the opportunity to deregulate and to hold Whitehall properly to account for unnecessary red tape, without the helpful alibi of Brussels or, if we are in a different week of the month, Strasbourg to point to.
Of course, we can transform our fortunes as we secure independent trade deals with Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand and the US. Why would the EU not agree a deal with its largest trading partner at least as good as the one it has concluded with Japan? I agree, on this occasion, with the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, when he said of that deal:
a tool that will create opportunities for our companies, our workers and our citizens and that will boost the European and Japanese economies.”
I agree, and if that is true of Japan, 6,000 miles away, how much more true it must be across a mere 60 miles!
To conclude, while I hope an agreement will be reached, we should be excited by the opportunities that lie beyond the EU. That is why I support the Prime Minister and the Government and wish them well in these negotiations.
It is a pleasure to follow Andrew Griffith, who must represent one of the most beautiful parts of the UK. Sadly, I do not share his Panglossian view of where we are with the negotiations.
I tend to agree more with the former leader of the hon. Gentleman’s party, who asked the Prime Minister yesterday about the sorry state of manufacturing at the moment and the risk to car companies such as Nissan, with a possible 10% tariff to be levied if this does not go right. The purchasing managers index is down to 40, indicating contraction. We know that that is, in recession terms, a very serious position for manufacturing. The Governor of the Bank of England has described our economy as potentially going towards a depression rather than just a recession. This feels to me less like a Panglossian rebirth and more like a second punch in the face after covid.
I am very concerned about the sanitary and phytosanitary arrangements, which are not yet pinned down. I hope that the Minister will be able to clarify where she thinks we are on food standards. We have the gold standard at the moment, but we read in the newspaper concerns about the quality of imported food. What is her view of where we are with that negotiation?
Will the Minister also outline whether she believes we are likely to veer away from the excellent environmental protection standards in the European Union in order to save some of our businesses, which will be severely at risk? Will we cut corners on workers’ rights? Has she had conversations with the TUC about protecting the rights of workers? Obviously, statements were made about that in the last Parliament, and it was something that we debated a lot. However, given the way the economy is going at the moment—possibly even towards a depression—will the Government cut corners on important questions such as environmental protections and workers’ rights?
We have talked a lot this afternoon about Northern Ireland. Will the Minister please give businesses there clarity? They are not just important for communities in Northern Ireland; when we go to the shops and buy a bar of cheddar, which is our most popular cheese, we are buying it from farmers in Northern Ireland, so we all have an interest in getting these details right.
We know that the Prime Minister’s promise of an oven-ready deal with no checks at the border in Northern Ireland was a fiction. We now know that new red tape and rules will be introduced for the business community, much of which is small and medium-sized enterprises. Even a small amount of red tape can tip a small business into a problematic area, so please may we have some detail on that in writing, so that Members can disseminate it to those small businesses that are worried about it?
In conclusion, I beg for some pragmatism and not just an ideological approach to this important area. Given that we are in a seriously problematic area for our economy, we need to stop being ideological and be much more pragmatic.
I shall have to be quick. It is an honour to speak as quickly as that, especially with my hon. Friend Sir William Cash here—or, as my family like to call him, the godfather of Brexit.
Funnily enough, the obstacle here is not time—although I know it is for me. It is a fundamental difference of opinion. We have form on this one. We had it before with the EU, when they would not get over the backstop, and we managed to achieve that. I say to our EU negotiators from my experience in business, “Never walk into a negotiation you’re not prepared to walk away from.” I think with that in mind, we will get a deal, there will be no extension and we will see Brexit done.
I have six minutes or less, so I will do my best to answer the points that hon. Members have raised. I want to thank everyone who has taken part in the debate, and I thank Paul Blomfield for not pressing the amendment. We stand fully with our commitments in the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration, but it is not possible to conduct a debate based on selective quotes from that long and complex document. The hon. Gentleman raised issues around scrutiny. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has updated the House at every round of the negotiations—sometimes that has had to be through written ministerial statements—and he has also appeared three times before the Committee on the future relationship with the European Union, on
With regard to the hon. Gentleman’s point on the devolved Administrations, we have worked extremely hard to meet their concerns around ensuring that they are properly briefed and that they can engage directly. There have been material changes to our negotiating position as a consequence of that, and the latest is that we are now, at their request, meeting as a quad as opposed to on an individual basis. We will continue to adapt how we engage, at their request.
I echo the tributes that have been paid to my hon. Friend Sir William Cash and all those involved in the production of the report. There are many reasons for Brexit. The economic benefit is a key one, and he is absolutely right to say that when we deliver on Brexit, we must preserve those economic opportunities. His points on state aid, fishing and no European Court of Justice are well made and well understood. The Government’s negotiating position remains that the mandate is the starting point for the negotiations, and the position outlined in the EU’s mandate is not one that we will ever accept.
Joanna Cherry raised concerns about the transition period. We will not extend the transition period. It would simply prolong negotiations and bring further uncertainty to business and the general public. We have all experienced what that is like, and I do not think we want it again. It is perfectly possible to get a deal in the timeframe. We are working on many precedents and many texts that already exist. It is possible to do that, and we are working very hard to do it.
My hon. Friend James Wild was right to raise the danger of prolonged uncertainty. He is very much across the detail, and I know that he will be fighting to ensure that we deliver on this for his constituents. Sammy Wilson raised understandable concerns around the issue of state aid. I can confirm that we will develop our own separate, independent policy on subsidies, and in doing so, it is one of our key objectives that we will have a modern system for supporting British business in a way that fulfils its interests in every part of the United Kingdom.
My hon. Friend Lee Rowley reminds us of the opportunities that our new freedoms will bring and also that democracy matters. I agree wholeheartedly with those remarks. Rushanara Ali raised understandable concerns about the pressures that businesses and communities are facing because of covid—
I am afraid I am going to make some progress, I am sorry.
I can reassure the hon. Lady that we very much understand those issues. We are taking an incredibly pragmatic approach to the whole transition process and we will engage with businesses and communities thoroughly. Mr Carmichael was reminiscing down memory lane, and I fully understand why he may be sceptical about trusting the Government, but I would say to him and Catherine West that they should trust the people. The British people are full of common sense. They value rights. They value animal welfare. We should trust the consumer on food standards. There are massive opportunities for our farmers for rest-of-world trade. My hon. Friend Richard Graham quite rightly raises the importance of getting a deal, and I can reassure him that we are absolutely working towards that.
Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson rightly raised concerns and the importance of the protocol. Ultimately, it is in Northern Ireland’s hands. Democratically elected politicians will decide its future in a consent vote. Implementing the protocol, therefore, cannot mean a maximalist or an inflexible application of EU law, or new international borders, or unwarranted burdens for Northern Ireland’s people or businesses. I can assure him about the position set out in the Command Paper. We take those obligations extremely seriously.
I am inordinately grateful to the Minister for giving way. In the previous Parliament, it was made clear just how considerable the resource and effort required for no-deal planning was. Can she tell us how confident she is that the Government have the capacity to deal with both the potential of no-deal planning and of covid-19?
I can give the hon. Gentleman those assurances. I will just say, as a quick plug, as it is my Department, that the work that the civil service did last year in terms of those preparations was incredible and has made this country very resilient. We have drawn on much of the work that they did at that time to help us with the covid response. They are stellar individuals and I pay tribute to them for what they did then and for what they are doing now.
Finally, I just want to mention my hon. Friend Andrew Griffith, who gave an extremely confident speech and reminded us why all this will come to pass. It is because it is good for us and it is good for our partners with which we are trying to get trade deals, and, as a consequence, I remain optimistic about our future.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Main Question put and agreed to.
That this House, having regard to the constitutional and legal functions enshrined in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020, urges the Government to conduct its negotiations with the European Union with the fullest possible transparency to facilitate essential parliamentary scrutiny;
also urges the Government to make regular progress reports on the negotiations, including on stakeholder contributions to the consultation on The Future Relationship with the EU: the UK’s Approach to Negotiations, and to address the issues identified by the European Scrutiny Committee in its Fifth Report of Session 2019–21, HC 333, as matters of vital national interest.
I have a short announcement. Further to the House’s decision earlier this afternoon to hold an emergency debate on the matter of the arrangements for the conduct of House business during the covid-19 pandemic, I can announce that the debate will be held at the commencement of public business on Monday and will last for up to two hours.
In order to allow the safe exit of right hon. and hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I will suspend the House for three minutes.