EU-UK Partnership: EU’s Mandate

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:02 pm on 4th June 2020.

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Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Shadow Minister (International Trade) (Brexit and EU Negotiations), Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) (Brexit and EU Negotiations) 3:02 pm, 4th June 2020

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 17 October 2019”;
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 20 December that

“Parliament will be kept fully informed of the progress of these negotiations.”—[Official Report, 20 December 2019;
Vol. 669, c. 150.]

On 27 February, the last time that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster actually addressed or made a statement to the House on these negotiations, he said that

“we will keep Parliament fully informed about the negotiations, and colleagues will be able to scrutinise our progress.”—[Official Report, 27 February 2020;
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?