Exiting the European Union - Statement

– in the House of Lords at 4:57 pm on 5th September 2016.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Bridges of Headley Lord Bridges of Headley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union 4:57 pm, 5th September 2016

My Lords, with the leave of the House I will now repeat a Statement made in the other place earlier today by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.

“Mr Speaker, I thought it would be useful to the House to be brought up to date on the working of my department after the referendum of 23 June.

Our instructions from the British people are clear: Britain is leaving the European Union. The mandate for that course is overwhelming. The referendum of 23 June delivered a bigger popular vote for Brexit than that won by any UK Government in history. It is a national mandate, and this Government are determined to deliver it in the national interest.

As the Prime Minister has made clear, there will be no attempt to stay in the EU by the back door, no attempt to delay, frustrate or thwart the will of the British people, no attempt to engineer a second referendum because some people did not like the first answer. The people have spoken in the referendum offered to them by this Government and confirmed by Parliament, and all of us, on both sides of the argument, must respect the result. That is a simple matter of democratic politics.

Naturally, people want to know what Brexit will mean. Simply, it means the UK leaving the European Union. We will decide on our borders, our laws and taxpayers’ money. It means getting the best deal for Britain, one that is unique to Britain and not an off-the-shelf solution. This must mean controls on the number of people who come to Britain from Europe but also a positive outcome for those who wish to trade in goods and services.

This is a historic and positive moment for our nation. Brexit is not about making the best of a bad job. It is about seizing the huge and exciting opportunities that will flow from a new place for Britain in the world. There will be new freedoms, new opportunities and new horizons for this great country.

We can get the right trade policy for the UK. We can create a more dynamic economy, a beacon for free trade across the world. We want to make sure our regulatory environment helps rather than hinders businesses and workers. We can create an immigration system that allows us to control numbers and encourage the brightest and the best to come to this country.

But I want to be clear to our European friends and allies: we do not see Brexit as ending our relationship with Europe. It is about starting a new one. We want to maintain or even strengthen our co-operation on security and defence. It is in the interests of both the UK and the EU that we have the freest possible trading relationship. We want a strong EU, succeeding economically and politically, and working with Britain in many areas of common interest. So we should all approach the negotiations to come about our exit with a sense of mutual respect and co-operation.

I know the House will want to be updated about the work of my new Department for Exiting the European Union. It is a privilege to have been asked to lead it by the Prime Minister, and the challenge we face is exciting and considerable. It will require significant expertise and a consistent approach. Negotiating with the EU will have to be got right. We are going to take the time needed to get it right, and we will strive to build a national consensus around our approach.

We start from a position of strength. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, there will be challenges ahead. But our economy is robust, thanks in no small part to the work of my right honourable friend the Member for Tatton. The latest data suggest our manufacturing and service industries and consumer confidence are strong. Businesses are putting their faith and money in this country. Over the summer, SoftBank, GlaxoSmithKline and Siemens all confirmed that they will make major investments in the UK. Countries including Australia have already made clear their desire to proceed quickly with a new trade deal for the UK. As other nations see the advantages to them, I am confident that they will want to prioritise trade deals with the UK. But we are not complacent. Our task is to build on this success and strength and to negotiate a deal for exiting the EU that is in the interests of the entire nation.

As I have already indicated, securing a deal that is in our national interest does not and must not mean turning our back on Europe. We are leaving the European Union—we are not leaving Europe. To do so would not be in our interest, or Europe’s. So we will work hard to help establish a future relationship between the EU and the UK that is dynamic, constructive and healthy. We want a steadfast and successful European Union after we depart.

Therefore, as we proceed, we will be guided by some clear principles. First, as I said, we wish to build a national consensus around our position. Secondly, while always putting the national interest first, we will always act in good faith towards our European partners. Thirdly, wherever possible, we will try to minimise any uncertainty that change can inevitably bring. Fourthly, crucially, we will, by the end of this process, have left the European Union, and put the sovereignty and supremacy of this Parliament beyond doubt.

The first formal step in the process of leaving the European Union is to invoke Article 50, which will start two years of negotiations. Let me briefly update the House on how the machinery of government will support our efforts, and the next steps we will take. First, responsibilities: the Prime Minister will lead the UK’s exit negotiations and will be supported on a day-to-day basis by the Department for Exiting the European Union. We will work closely with all government departments to develop our objectives and to negotiate new relationships with the EU and the rest of the world. Supporting me is a superb ministerial team and some of the brightest and best in Whitehall who want to engage in this national endeavour. The department now has more than 180 staff in London, plus the expertise of more than 120 officials in Brussels, and we are still growing rapidly with first-class support from other government departments.

As to the next steps, the department’s task is clear. We are undertaking two broad areas of work. First, given that we are determined to build a national consensus around our negotiating position, we are going to listen and talk to as many organisations, companies and institutions as possible—from the large plcs to small business, and from the devolved Administrations through to councils, local government associations and the major metropolitan bodies.

We are already fully engaging with the Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to ensure a UK-wide approach to our negotiations. The Prime Minister met the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales and the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland in July, and last week I visited Northern Ireland for meetings with its political leaders, where I reiterated our determination that there will be no return to the hard borders of the past. I will visit Scotland and Wales soon.

My ministerial colleagues and I have also discussed the next steps with a range of organisations. My first meeting was with the general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, followed by key business groups, representatives of the universities and charitable sectors, and farming and fisheries organisations.

However, this is just the start. In the weeks ahead, we will speak to as many other firms, organisations and bodies as possible—research institutes, regional and national groups and businesses up and down the country—to establish the priority issues and opportunities for the whole of the UK. As part of this exercise, I can announce that we will hold round tables with stakeholders in a series of sectors to ensure that all views can be reflected in our analysis of the options for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. The first of these will take place later this month. I will also engage with the member states and am beginning this with a visit to Dublin later this week.

I am working particularly closely with the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for International Trade. They have been meeting counterparts in Washington, Brussels, Delhi and the capitals of other EU member states. While we do this, my officials, supported by officials across government, are carrying out a programme of sectoral and regulatory analysis that will identify the key factors for British business and the labour force that will affect our negotiations with the EU. They are looking in detail at over 50 sectors and cross-cutting regulatory issues. We are building a detailed understanding of how withdrawing from the EU will affect our domestic policies to seize the opportunities and ensure a smooth process of exit.

The referendum result was a clear sign that the majority of British people wish to see Parliament’s sovereignty strengthened and so, throughout this process, Parliament will be regularly informed, updated and engaged.

We are determined to ensure that people have as much stability and certainty in the period leading up to our departure from the EU. Until we leave the EU, we must respect the laws and obligations that membership requires of us. We also want to ensure certainty when it comes to public funding. The Chancellor has confirmed that structural and investment fund projects signed before the Autumn Statement, and research and innovation projects financed by the European Commission granted before we leave the EU, will be underwritten by the Treasury after we leave. Agriculture is a vital part of the economy, and the Government will match the current level of annual payments that the sector receives through the direct payment scheme until 2020, thus providing certainty.

In terms of the position of EU nationals in the UK, the Prime Minister has been clear that she is determined to protect the status of EU nationals already living here, and the only circumstances in which that would not be possible are if British citizens’ rights in European member states were not protected in return—something that I find hard to imagine.

I am confident that together we will be able to deliver on what the country asked us to do through the referendum. I am greatly encouraged by the national mood: most of those who wanted to remain have accepted the result and now want to make a success of the course that Britain has chosen. Indeed, organisations and individuals I have met already that backed the Remain campaign now want to be engaged in the process of exit, and are identifying the positive changes that will flow from it as well as the challenges. I want us all to come together as one nation to get the best deal for Britain.

In conclusion, we are confident of negotiating a new position that will mean this country flourishing outside the EU while keeping its members as our friends, allies and trading partners. We will leave the European Union, but we will not turn our back on Europe. We will embrace the opportunities and freedoms that will open up for Britain. We will deliver on the national mandate for Brexit, and we will deliver it in the national interest”.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development) 5:08 pm, 5th September 2016

My Lords, I thank the talented Minister for repeating that Statement. We have heard the mantra that “Brexit means Brexit”— simply leaving the EU—but the Prime Minister has suggested that she does not see the UK making an Article 50 application before the end of the year. Would the Minister explain in a little more detail—in these circumstances, he needs to—what he expects to happen between now and the end of the year with regard to that application?

The Secretary of State wrote in July:

“The negotiating strategy has to be properly designed, and there is some serious consultation to be done first”.

This is one reason for taking a little time before triggering Article 15. We have heard in the Statement about the numerous consultation meetings that have been taking place. I welcome those meetings, but the Government have to set out in starting proper consultation what are their objectives. Consultation is meaningless if you do not know what you are being consulted about.

It is also unacceptable that the Prime Minister has taken the undemocratic step of refusing to guarantee Parliament a vote on triggering Article 50. It is vital that Parliament is engaged in the process; we received assurances on this in the past. The specifics of the UK’s future relationship with the EU are not yet known, and such a constitutional change needs direct parliamentary involvement.

If Brexit is seriously about seizing opportunities and putting the national interest first, it means that the Government must have a view on what a successful outcome to negotiation looks like. If they do, when will they tell Parliament and the British people? We need to know.

The Statement refers to uncertainty, and of course we have seen uncertainty creating stress to our economy and particularly in our communities. I return to the subject of EU citizens currently living and working in the UK. They must not be used as a bargaining tool. There are first principles here that need to be addressed. I again ask the Minister to reassure those citizens that they will have the right to remain—to stay—after Brexit. It is not good enough simply to say, “If this happens, that will not happen”. It must be a matter of first principle.

Finally, many parts of the Statement talk about seizing this opportunity. Let me make clear that one thing that I hope will not be seized is the removal of the hard-won rights of workers and people in employment in this country. The protection of those rights will be one of the tests we will put on the successful outcome of the negotiations.

Photo of Baroness Ludford Baroness Ludford Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. We on these Benches are very glad to get this opportunity to try to get information from the Government. I fear, however, that we have not got much beyond the slogans of “Brexit means Brexit” and “We’ll make a success of Brexit”—those soundbites. We do not have much that is more concrete. Even if the machinery of government could not have been prepared for a leave result—which I doubt anyway—the apparent lack of political consensus at the top of the Conservative Party on the aims of a Brexit negotiation is disconcerting, to put it mildly. There is anxiety and puzzlement across the political spectrum. For instance, former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan in the Times today demanded a clear plan. On the constitutional side, there is great concern about the unity of our kingdom and the future of peace in Ireland.

The Statement says that there will be no hard border in Ireland, which would indeed be welcome—but how realistic this is depends on whether we are in the single market, whether there is free movement and whether we are in the customs union.

In the words of our EU Select Committee, it would be “inconceivable” that that negotiations on withdrawal and future relations should be conducted “without effective parliamentary oversight”. In the Statement, we are told that the Government want to put,

“the sovereignty and supremacy of this Parliament beyond doubt”.

But the only promise is that we will be,

“informed, updated and engaged”.

That is much less than accountability and real oversight. We on these Benches, like the Opposition, believe that accountability and oversight should be marked by a parliamentary vote on triggering Article 50. Liberal Democrats do not seek or support a second referendum in the term of art which means a rerun of 23 June—but the need for public endorsement of a Brexit deal is an entirely different matter. That is essential, because it will be the first time that voters get any chance to evaluate the reality, and not the fantasy, of Brexit. We on these Benches will hold the Government very carefully to account on how their Brexit actions meet the real interests of this country.

Photo of Lord Bridges of Headley Lord Bridges of Headley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their contributions. Between now and the end of the year we will continue to do what we have started to do: to collect, analyse and look at the evidence on the challenges we face with Brexit. That is the right process and I am very keen to ensure that all noble Lords are involved in it. I have written to the chairmen of the major committees of the House, offering to meet them, and obviously I am willing to give evidence to them. We will do that in a structured way and as openly as possible. As I said, I am very keen that we build a national consensus on this point. On workers’ rights, we wish to consult very closely with the Trades Union Congress—we have already begun this—and others on that precise point and I heed what the noble Lord said.

I know from what noble Lords have been saying from a sedentary position, as well as in the last few minutes, what the views are in some parts of this House on triggering Article 50. I will repeat what the Prime Minister said. The British public gave a very clear instruction on Brexit. We intend to see that through and not to backslide from it. However, we believe—although this matter has been challenged—that the decision to invoke Article 50 is a matter on the international plane and is governed by royal prerogative. As I have said, we will involve Parliament: we will abide by the conventions that already apply and, when it comes to looking at the European Communities Act, by the necessity of Parliament taking votes on that Act and elsewhere.

I am not able to say more than I have already said on reassuring EU citizens. I hear what the noble Lord said about the need to reassure them. As the Prime Minister has already said, we wish to ensure that the rights of EU citizens are protected, so long as the rights of UK citizens across the EU are also protected. We do not imagine that that will not be possible—but that will be a matter for the weeks and months ahead.

Finally, I am sure that noble Lords will have views on what kind of outcome we should look for in these negotiations. Again, as the Prime Minister has said, we are starting the process of looking at the position, analysing the data and coming to a view on what the outcome will be. We are not, therefore, looking at an off-the-shelf approach. This will be a British solution to the challenges that lie ahead.

Photo of Lord Elystan-Morgan Lord Elystan-Morgan Crossbench 5:18 pm, 5th September 2016

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there are three technical realities that we should very much bear in mind in connection with this? First, although it is not mentioned in Article 50, we cannot be rushed at all into giving notice. It is a matter for us to select the timing and nobody can accelerate that process.

Secondly, in paragraph 2 of Article 50 there is a provision for negotiating an agreement for leaving and that agreement should be concluded by the Council on behalf of the European Union. There is nothing at all in the article which sets out what those conditions should be—nor, specifically, what the timing should be.

The third paragraph of Article 50 ordains that the final leaving should be either the date set in the negotiations or two years. It does not say whether it should be the longer period. But it goes on to say that that period can be extended by the unanimous decision of the Council and the agreement of the leaving state. I am sorry to have taken such a long time, but I am sure that the Minister will agree that these are matters of the utmost, supreme importance.

Photo of Lord Bridges of Headley Lord Bridges of Headley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

My Lords, the noble Lord speaks with a lot of experience on this. On his first point, he is absolutely right: the decision on timing the invocation of Article 50 is obviously within our power. That is why we must use this period, mindful of the calls to bring greater certainty and clarity to the situation, to ensure that when we invoke Article 50 we are in possession of all the facts and have a clear idea of the strategy and outcomes we wish to achieve. That seems eminently sensible; to do otherwise would be a complete abrogation of what I believe to be in the national interest, and we should not do so.

As regards unanimity on the decision to extend Article 50 and the deliberations on that, the noble Lord is absolutely right.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Chair, International Relations and Defence Committee, Chair, International Relations and Defence Committee

Will my noble friend ensure that in getting possession of the facts, as he puts it, and formulating our position, he gets the message to his ministerial colleagues, experts, would-be negotiators and so on that the European Union itself—the other side of the negotiation—is in the grip of enormous forces of change on every side, which affects its fundamental structure and relevance to the modern world? The single market itself is not the single market of the 20th century or even the single market of 10 years ago; it is a completely different structure in which the very nature of export trade means that exports accumulate value in a variety of countries, so the whole export rule of origin system is collapsing at the roots. The additional value of a product is added in all sorts of ways, affecting most modern products and services in many different countries. That means that, with the vast supply chains developing across the world, we should realise that the single market of the past has changed. Therefore, we must be careful that we are negotiating not with the past but with today and tomorrow when we go into these arrangements in future.

Photo of Lord Bridges of Headley Lord Bridges of Headley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

My noble friend makes a very good point. I thank him for sparing the time to talk to me during the summer about a number of these points. He is absolutely right: clearly, across Europe there are many changes and challenges that we will continue to face, some of which are common to us all. We need to be mindful of the fact that we will wish to do so with our European partners, once we have left the EU.

As regards the shape of the single market, again, my noble friend is absolutely right. He has written eloquently on the subject. I saw it in the private sector myself—for example, not least how the digital revolution is changing whole reams of sectors, how people work, and so on.

Finally, I re-emphasise the point that we approach these negotiations to work in good faith with our European partners. We intend to play our full role, respecting the obligations and rights that we have as a member until we leave, and we shall do so in good faith so that, once we have left, we continue to have a strong working relationship.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

My Lords, the Government have committed themselves today once again to substituting for European expenditure on agriculture; it was said again today in the Statement. Why do they not equally commit themselves to maintaining funds spent by the European Union in the United Kingdom on regional development, where a very large number of jobs are involved? Why just agriculture and not regional development at this stage—or will there be some later statement on that matter?

Photo of Lord Bridges of Headley Lord Bridges of Headley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

I am more than happy to meet with the noble Lord. I do not know whether he has had a chance to look at the letter the Chief Secretary has placed on the Treasury website; if not, I shall make sure that it is placed in the Library. It was quite a full statement, covering European structural investment funds, saying that,

“the Treasury will work with departments, Local Enterprise Partnerships and other relevant stakeholders to put in place arrangements for considering those ESIF projects … signed after the Autumn Statement”,

so they,

“remain consistent with value for money and our own domestic priorities”.

I am sure that there will be other funding issues that we will want to discuss. My door is absolutely open, and there may be further points to be raised after or around the Autumn Statement. If the noble Lord would like to meet me to discuss them, I would be happy to do so.

Photo of Lord Garel-Jones Lord Garel-Jones Conservative

Does my noble friend agree—I am sure he does—that, given the complexity of the negotiations to which he referred, speculation at this stage about what the final terms might be is probably not very helpful? That said, when those final terms are known, is it the Government’s intention to stick to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, which specifies that both Houses need to consent to any new treaties that the British Government enter into, or is Parliament going to be bypassed by what was in fact a non-binding referendum?

Photo of Lord Bridges of Headley Lord Bridges of Headley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

We intend to stick by the conventions as they are set out in law. Clearly, this is a very complex set of negotiations; it makes the Schleswig-Holstein question look like a GCSE question. However, we should not use that as an excuse to dither or delay. We are therefore pressing ahead will all the points I set out this afternoon to collect and analyse the information as best we can and then to come to a clear decision on the best way forward.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Newnham Baroness Smith of Newnham Liberal Democrat

My Lords, will the Minister clarify two points in the Statement he has just repeated? Why are the Government building a detailed understanding of how withdrawal from the EU will affect our domestic policies now, rather than before the referendum was held? Secondly, will he explain how it ensures certainty for EU nationals to be told that their rights will be protected, unless other countries are not protecting the rights of UK nationals? That seems to me the very definition of uncertainty, not certainty.

Photo of Lord Bridges of Headley Lord Bridges of Headley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

On the second point, I cannot go beyond what I have already said. I note what the noble Baroness has to say. Contingency plans are a matter for the past. We can obviously have a debate about why that may not be the case but I am now focusing on my new role and the future, and making sure that we get the best deal for Britain.

Photo of Lord Empey Lord Empey UUP

My Lords, the Minister will not be surprised to hear me raise the core question of the relationship with the Republic of Ireland. Has he received any representations from the Irish Government to the effect that they feel that our decision to leave Europe is a breach of, or threat to, the Belfast agreement? Will he give the House an assurance that the Government remain totally committed to that agreement and will not allow our decision to exit the EU to interfere with the terms and conditions agreed in a referendum in 1998?

Photo of Lord Bridges of Headley Lord Bridges of Headley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

My Lords, the UK’s exit from the European Union does not change the commitment of the UK Government and the people of Northern Ireland to the settlement set out in the agreement and its successors and to the institutions they establish. As I said, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will visit Dublin later this week. I am sure that these matters will be raised then.

Photo of Lord Davies of Stamford Lord Davies of Stamford Labour

My Lords, the noble Lord has talked a lot about opportunities but they seem to be pretty pious aspirations at this point. He has said nothing at all about the costs, many of which are immediate, palpable and already visible. One appeared today, for example—the threat that the European Medicines Agency, which employs 900 people, will leave this country and perhaps go to Sweden. That is serious enough but, much more seriously, the European headquarters of a number of international pharmaceutical companies will follow the agency if it leaves this country. What are the Government doing about that? Do they care about that sort of thing at all? Do they have a policy on that matter?

Photo of Lord Bridges of Headley Lord Bridges of Headley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

I cannot comment on the specifics but I am certainly not sanguine about the costs. There are clearly numerous challenges. I have already met a number of businesses, business organisations and others who have pointed to them. That is what we are trying to assemble right now. If the Statement suggested that we were being complacent, that is absolutely not the case. I am entering into this looking at a glass half full and with a sense of optimism, not pessimism.

Photo of Lord Tugendhat Lord Tugendhat Conservative

My Lords, the Government make it clear in the Statement that they want a regulatory regime that helps rather than hinders business. That is clearly a highly desirable objective that I am sure everybody can agree with. However, does the Minister also agree that a number of siren voices are now being raised, trying to suggest that the process of exiting the EU should be used as a device for undoing some of the regulations and rules that have been introduced to govern our financial sector—rules and regulations that are very important in the light of what happened in 2008? Can he give us an assurance that the Government will resist any attempted rush to the bottom through which our regulations become conducive to allowing the sort of abuses we have seen earlier?

Photo of Lord Bridges of Headley Lord Bridges of Headley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

My noble friend makes a good point. I will pick my words with extreme care, and I hope your Lordships will forgive me for not being very open about the specifics. The regulations and the regulatory reform package we have gone through since the crash have enabled us to restore financial stability and credibility to the system, and we will need to proceed with extreme caution on that. As regards looking at regulations in the round, the noble Lord asked earlier about workers’ rights and I put this in the same package. We need to build a national consensus around where we go, treading with care and caution to ensure that we protect our economy and its strength. The overriding aim of this is to leave the European Union, full stop.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

My Lords, can the Minister fill in what I think was a gap in the Statement? There was no mention at all of justice and home affairs and the co-operation we have on matters such as counterterrorism, dealing with drugs and human trafficking, and so on. Surely that ought to be a high priority in the work his department is doing on preparing negotiations. Secondly, can he enlighten the House as to what use his department is making of the balance of competences review, which was done at such enormous cost by the previous Government?

Photo of Lord Bridges of Headley Lord Bridges of Headley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

The noble Lord makes some good points. On justice and home affairs, he is absolutely right. Obviously, we will very much focus on our future relationships in that area. As regards the next few months and years, Julian King has been appointed to look after security issues, so we will also look to him to support our work in this area. The balance of competences review was an enormous piece of work and, as others have suggested to me, we need to look at that, too.

Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour

My Lords, I acquit the Minister of any responsibility for this astoundingly vacuous Statement, because he is simply delivering it. However, it is deeply disturbing that we do not have a clue what the Government’s agenda is; for example, the Japanese Government wrote an unprecedented letter to the UK and the Prime Minister contradicts the claims and objectives of the Brexit leaders, who themselves are reneging on them. The Minister promised to update, inform and engage Parliament, and that is welcome, but surely we need a promise of an amendable Motion, tabled in both Houses, on the final deal, with the people then having a chance to make a decision on that deal.

Photo of Lord Bridges of Headley Lord Bridges of Headley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Lord’s final point. As regards where we are right now, he cites the Japanese Government and their ambassador. The Japanese ambassador this morning praised the “cautious and very patient” approach of the Prime Minister and said that what was needed were,

“well-thought through considerations before you start any negotiations”.

That is exactly what we are trying to do and, with the help of your Lordships, I am sure we will make a good job of it.

Photo of Viscount Hailsham Viscount Hailsham Conservative

My Lords, when the terms are negotiated and finally agreed, there will be nothing undemocratic or inappropriate about seeking the votes and views of the electorate as to whether they want to depart the European Union on the negotiated terms. In the meantime, this House and Parliament as a whole have a right to be consulted in detail about what is being discussed and to be given an opportunity to vote on a votable resolution.

Photo of Lord Bridges of Headley Lord Bridges of Headley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

It pains me to disagree with my noble friend, for he is a friend—at least, I hope he is. I am sorry to say that, as the Prime Minister has made clear on many occasions, we intend to see Brexit through. As I said, it was the biggest ever vote as regards the mandate we have for this, the Conservative manifesto pledged to respect the outcome of the referendum, and Parliament voted for the referendum by a margin of six to one. That is the current position, and I am sorry to say that it will not change.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, we wish the noble Lord luck in his new post, and I am sure everyone in this House will accept the outcome of the referendum, although the idea that it was a clear decision seems ludicrous to many of us. Our job as the House of Lords is to question in detail the Government’s proposals as they are put to us, and I am sure we will do that. The Government’s job will be to take account of the national interest as well as how they interpret the outcome of the referendum. Can the Government, as an early task, set out what they regard as the relationship between the domestic regulatory framework and changing international regulatory frameworks? The single market was, after all, a Thatcherite achievement. Mrs Thatcher pressed for common regulatory frameworks across Europe as an improvement on the previous situation. As the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said, now we have to adapt it to the digital world and so on, but some of the Minister’s colleagues—Liam Fox, for example —appear to think that we are still in a 19th-century free-trade world in which tariffs are all that matter. It might help to clear the air if the importance of regulatory frameworks, domestic, European and global, were spelled out by the Government as they set out how they will go ahead.

Photo of Lord Bridges of Headley Lord Bridges of Headley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

I heed what the noble Lord says; he and I have spoken about these points recently. I completely understand the complexity—and he touches on just part of one area of complexity here. We are looking at that, and I would like to talk to the noble Lord about that in person. As regards when we set that out, as I say, I am not in a position to go into further detail at this precise juncture.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour

We have heard a good deal about votes and democracy. Can the Minister confirm my reading of the situation, which is that, as I recall, there have been two crucial votes. One was the overwhelming vote in this House and in the Commons to have a referendum on whether we should remain in or leave the European Union. In brackets, for me there is no ambiguity about the word “leave”—I have never encountered that in any correspondence I have ever had about anything. The other vote was the vote of the British people, by a substantial majority—a two-thirds majority in large sections of the West Midlands, which is the area I know best—to leave the European Union. Does he therefore agree that for this House to have a Division on whether to implement Article 50, which to all intents and purposes would be a vote on whether we accept the verdict of the British people in the referendum, would be a dangerous and profoundly undemocratic route for this House to take?

Photo of Lord Bridges of Headley Lord Bridges of Headley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

I completely agree with the noble Lord. I have a copy of the ballot paper in front of me and it is very simple. It states:

“Remain a member of the European Union”,

or, “Leave the European Union”. There is no small print or anything else. I agree with every word he said.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, does my noble friend agree, however, that the essence of a parliamentary democracy is that the Government of the day are answerable to Parliament, not the other way round? Therefore, when terms have been agreed—I profoundly hope that they will be good terms that we can all applaud—it is essential that Parliament votes on those terms, and absolutely crucial that the elected House of Commons has the final say in that regard.

Photo of Lord Bridges of Headley Lord Bridges of Headley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

I repeat what I said in response to my noble friend Lord Garel-Jones: we will respect the conventions and the law as they currently stand. I respectfully point out to my noble friend our pledge in the Conservative manifesto to respect the outcome of the referendum.

Photo of Lord Wood of Anfield Lord Wood of Anfield Labour

My Lords, the Minister has rightly prioritised providing certainty. Can he therefore reassure Britain’s businesses that, when it comes to a negotiating position, the Government will argue for retaining full access to the single market?

Photo of Lord Bridges of Headley Lord Bridges of Headley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

My Lords, as I said, we are looking at all the evidence before us as regards the needs, challenges and concerns of business. As the Prime Minister herself said, at this juncture we are not in a position to go into detail on this other than to say that we are not looking at an off-the-shelf response to what the outcome might be. We wish to come up with a strategy that will deliver for Britain.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Labour

I agree with the assessment by the Department for Exiting the European Union that it has a superb ministerial team and some of the brightest and best in Whitehall. An indication of the brilliance of the team is that we have probably spent 40 minutes on this topic and have gleaned two new facts in the course of this question and answer session. Those two facts concern the number of meetings that Ministers will have between now and our leaving the European Union. I go back to the question about justice. What work is being done on whether we are going to keep the European arrest warrant arrangements and will continue to share information in accordance with the Prüm agreement? Why is there a delay in coming to a conclusion on those two issues?

Photo of Lord Bridges of Headley Lord Bridges of Headley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

I cannot answer the noble and learned Lord—who speaks, as he does so often, with incisiveness and complete clarity—on those two specific points, although I can certainly write to him. As I said, a lot of work is going on in relation to the whole area that was raised earlier. We will continue to engage with the noble and learned Lord and others right across the House to ensure that we come up with the best outcome.

Photo of Lord Lea of Crondall Lord Lea of Crondall Labour

My Lords, does the noble Lord not think that describing membership of the internal market as a detail, as he just did in answer to my noble friend Lord Wood of Anfield, will be seen as astonishing by 26 other countries looking across the English Channel? What is going on here? If a decision is postponed for very much longer, will we not be left with a dog’s breakfast? The British Bankers’ Association has written an article in the Financial Times saying, “All this is okay. We can leave the internal market for other people as long as it does not affect us. We’ll have a deal that is good for us”, and the agricultural community says the same. Everybody thinks they can cherry pick, but that will not work in a negotiation with the rest of the Community.

Photo of Lord Bridges of Headley Lord Bridges of Headley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

My Lords, I must correct myself if I said that it was a detail. I do not believe that. The ability to trade with EU member states is vital to our prosperity. As regards cherry picking, the whole purpose of the undertaking that we are now engaged in—that of collecting evidence—is to understand individual sectors’ challenges, concerns and opportunities as we go ahead, and then to assemble all that and come up with a comprehensive strategy. On that, I cannot really go further.

Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Chair, EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee, Chair, EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee

My Lords, following the consultation that the Government are undertaking at the moment and before they decide to trigger Article 50—however they do that—should not we, as Parliament, receive, in the form of a White Paper, a Green Paper or at least some sort of substantive document, details of the opening negotiation position of the British Government so that we as Parliament and the British electorate, whichever way they voted, understand where we are starting from?

Photo of Lord Bridges of Headley Lord Bridges of Headley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

My Lords, I cannot comment in detail on whether we will adopt the vehicle and the approach that the noble Lord sets out, but obviously I will take away that point and discuss it. I simply repeat that we will keep Parliament fully informed and engaged as we go along.

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Labour

My Lords, the Statement mentions that the Minister’s department now has more than 180 staff in London, plus the expertise of more than 120 officials in Brussels. We are at the very beginning of the whole process of renegotiating and drafting legislation, and we are going to need far, far more officials. Where are they going to come from? Can the Minister reassure me that the Government will not get expertise from companies such as McKinsey? I have nothing against McKinsey but it is hugely expensive to get people in from those companies. We need more civil servants, but where are they going to come from and when will they arrive?

Photo of Lord Bridges of Headley Lord Bridges of Headley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

We are fully aware of the challenge that we face and the noble Baroness is absolutely right. We have been inundated with offers—not just from consultancies but from right across the board—from individuals and organisations wanting to help. We are fully engaged. As the noble Baroness rightly implies, the first step is to ensure that we use the best talent that already exists, and we are doing that. We have spent the last few weeks assembling a team and an office to make sure that we get into a good position to do all the things that I have been talking about this afternoon. That work is continuing, and we are continuing to build up the team. We know that the challenge we face is considerable and that on the other side of the table will be a sizeable and equally experienced team. If the noble Baroness has ideas on who to talk to, I shall be happy to hear them.

Photo of Lord Framlingham Lord Framlingham Conservative

My Lords, if the Minister is having difficulty with the foot-dragging that is going on and the criticism of government policy, I simply say to him that a large number of Members of your Lordships’ House believe that any project, however difficult, is best supported by wholehearted enthusiasm for getting on with it. I am one of those people. I believe that many in your Lordships’ House agree with what he is doing and wish the Government well in this project.

Photo of Lord Bridges of Headley Lord Bridges of Headley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

I thank my noble friend very much. I use this opportunity to say once again that my door is very much open to all your Lordships to discuss the matters and challenges that lie ahead.

Cross Bench!

Photo of Lord Stoddart of Swindon Lord Stoddart of Swindon Independent Labour

My Lords, I am very pleased that the Prime Minister has made it very clear that Brexit means Brexit and that there will not be another referendum. The people have spoken and, if I may quote somebody else, long live the people. Perhaps I may ask the noble Lord two questions. First, in the vote in 1971, did Parliament give all the treaty powers to the Government, and does any other treaty abrogate what was then done?

Photo of Lord Stoddart of Swindon Lord Stoddart of Swindon Independent Labour

No, it was 1971. There was another vote in 1972 on a different matter, but the 1971 decision was to hand over the power of Parliament to the Government of the day. I am asking whether that has been abrogated since. Secondly, once Article 50 is brought into operation, surely we do not have to take two years to negotiate a settlement. Can we not make the negotiation shorter than that? Perhaps the noble Lord can answer that.

Photo of Lord Bridges of Headley Lord Bridges of Headley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me as I will need to come back to him on the position in 1971—I was not very old at the time—but I completely take his point that this matter is key. I repeat that we will stand by the conventions and the laws that currently exist as regards treaty ratification. As regards Article 50, I think the noble Lord is referring to paragraph 3. The point here is that it will take two years to get to the end of the process. There would obviously still need to be a deal following that and we would need to go through the process set out in Article 50 to get that ratified by the Council. The noble Lord may be right but perhaps I may write to him to clarify that point.

Time!