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European Council - Statement

– in the House of Lords at 4:28 pm on 24th October 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal 4:28 pm, 24th October 2016

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on my first European Council last week. I went to this Council with a clear message for my 27 European counterparts: the UK is leaving the EU but we are not leaving Europe and we are not turning our back on our friends and allies. For as long as we are members of the EU, we will continue to play a full and active role. After we leave, we will be a confident, outward-looking country, enthusiastic about trading freely with our European neighbours and co-operating on our shared security interests, including law enforcement and counterterrorism work. That is the right approach for Britain to take. It was in this spirit that we were able to make a significant contribution at this Council on ensuring a robust European stance in the face of Russian aggression, on addressing the root causes of mass migration and on championing free trade around the world.

Let me say a word about each. Russia’s indiscriminate bombing of civilians in Aleppo and the atrocities we have seen elsewhere in Syria are utterly horrific. It is vital that we keep up the pressure on Russia and the Syrian regime to stop their appalling actions and to create the space for a genuine political transition in Syria.

It was the UK that put this issue on the agenda for the Council. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary made the case for a robust response at the Foreign Affairs Council meeting last Monday. And I spoke personally to Chancellor Merkel and President Tusk ahead of the Council this week. The Council strongly condemned the attacks, called for an immediate cessation of hostilities, and demanded that those responsible for breaches of international humanitarian law and human rights be held accountable. And we need to go further, which is why we agreed that if current atrocities continue, the EU will consider ‘all available options’. We also agreed that everything should be done to bring in humanitarian aid to the civilian population. On Friday in Geneva, the UK secured an extraordinary session of the UN Human Rights Council to press for a ceasefire to enable humanitarian access to Aleppo.

There are millions of innocent civilians trapped there and in other besieged locations across Syria in desperate need of food, shelter and healthcare. The UK is already the second largest bilateral humanitarian donor to this crisis. And if we can ensure the access needed to Aleppo and other besieged areas, we stand ready to accelerate over £23 million of aid for the UN to distribute on the ground to help the most vulnerable in the hardest-to-reach parts of Syria.

Turning to the migration crisis, the Home Secretary will be giving a Statement on Calais shortly.

At the European Council, I confirmed that the UK will continue to provide practical support to our European partners, including through our naval presence in the Aegean and the Mediterranean. And as part of that effort, HMS ‘Echo’ will take over from HMS ‘Enterprise’ in the central Mediterranean early next year.

I also reiterated the case I made at the United Nations for a global approach to migration based on three fundamental principles: first, ensuring refugees claim asylum in the first safe country they reach; secondly, improving the way we distinguish between refugees and economic migrants; and thirdly, developing a better overall approach to managing economic migration which recognises that all countries have the right to control their borders and that all countries must commit to accepting the return of their own nationals when they have no right to remain elsewhere.

This new approach includes working more closely with both source and transit countries, and the Council agreed to do more to help these countries prevent illegal migration and to return migrants who have no right to stay in EU countries.

Turning to trade, I am determined that as we leave the EU, Britain will be the most passionate, the most consistent and the most convincing advocate of free trade anywhere in the world. So as we look beyond our continent, we will seize the opportunities of Brexit to forge an ambitious and optimistic new role for Britain in the world. As part of this I have been clear that the UK is already discussing our future trading relationships with third countries. As I made clear to the other member states last week, this will not undermine the EU’s trade agenda. In fact, it is not even in competition with it: and for as long as we remain a member of the EU, we will continue to back the EU’s free trade negotiations. I share everyone’s disappointment over the stalled talks between the EU and Canada. And we will, of course, do anything we can to try to help get these discussions back on track. But to those who suggest that these difficulties have a bearing on our own future negotiations, I would remind them that we are not seeking to replicate any existing model that any other country has in relation to its trade with the European Union. We will be developing our own British model. It will be a new relationship for the UK and the EU to be there for when we are outside the EU; a deal that is ambitious and bold for Britain.

I also updated the European Council on our position on Brexit. I have said that we will invoke Article 50 no later than the end of March next year and that as part of the withdrawal process, we will put before Parliament a great repeal Bill which will remove from the statute book, once and for all, the European Communities Act. So the legislation that gives direct effect to all EU law in Britain will no longer apply from the date upon which we formally leave the European Union and the authority of EU law in Britain will end.

The Government will also give Parliament the opportunity to discuss our approach to leaving the European Union. In addition to regular updates from my right honourable friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden, my own Statements following Council meetings and the deliberations of the new Select Committee on Exiting the EU, the Government will make time available for a series of general debates on the UK’s future relationship with the EU. These will take place both before and after the Christmas Recess, and I expect will include debate on the high-level principles that the Government will pursue in the negotiations. Members on all sides will recognise that the Government must not show their hand in detail as we enter into these negotiations, but it is important that Members have the opportunity to speak on the issues that matter to their constituents as we make our preparations to leave the EU.

While we have not yet formally started the Brexit negotiations, I made it clear at last week’s European Council that my aim is to cement Britain as a close partner of the EU once we have left. I want the deal we negotiate to reflect the kind of mature, co-operative relationship that close friends and allies enjoy—a deal that will give British companies the maximum freedom to trade with and operate within the European market, and allow European businesses to do the same here; a deal that will deliver the deepest possible co-operation to ensure our national security and the security of our allies; a deal that is in Britain’s interests and the interests of all our European partners. But it will also be a deal that means we are a fully independent, sovereign nation, able to do what sovereign nations do, which means, for example, that we will be free to decide for ourselves how we control immigration. It will mean that our laws are made not in Brussels but here in this Parliament, and that the judges interpreting those laws will sit not in Luxembourg but in courts right here in Britain.

The negotiations will take time. There will be difficult moments ahead and, as I have said before, it will require patience and some give and take. But I firmly believe that if we approach this in a constructive spirit, we can ensure a smooth departure. We can build a powerful new relationship that works both for the UK and for the countries of the EU, and we can secure the deal that is right for the British people, whose instruction it is our duty to deliver. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Basildon Baroness Smith of Basildon Shadow Leader of the House of Lords 4:38 pm, 24th October 2016

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Prime Minister’s Statement. I also welcome the noble Lord, Lord Newby, to his first contribution to the House as the new leader of his party group. I am in the slightly strange position of now being the longest serving group leader in your Lordships’ House.

These EU Council meetings are undoubtedly trickier and more awkward for this Prime Minister than they have been for her predecessors. For all the hope and talk of being in until we are out, a worrying picture is emerging of a UK that is already starting to be sidelined. I suppose that it is inevitable and understandable, but it is nevertheless significant and it is of concern. I think that this is the first time that a British Prime Minister has not had important bilateral meetings with key EU leaders such as those of France and Germany. The three bilateral meetings she had were with Estonia, Romania and Greece. They were cordial and important issues were discussed, but they were not those which are central to the UK exit or our future.

When our Prime Minister spoke to the other 27 leaders about Brexit, if the accounts of that meeting or dinner are accurate, she had just five minutes in which to do so. But that may have been just long enough for the key messages she wanted to give because here we are, four months after the referendum result, and we are no closer to understanding the Government’s negotiating position. What is of more concern is that there is no confidence, either at home or in the EU, that the Government are any nearer to clarifying their negotiating position. So our Prime Minister wanders into high-level European Council meetings at a disadvantage even before they start. While such a position might have been understandable for her first or even her second meeting, it cannot continue.

I read the transcript of the Prime Minister’s statement in the press conference. There are only so many times that we can fall back on abstract and general terms about “finding the balance”, “maintaining a good relationship” or “playing a full role in the EU while we remain” before we have to start the serious work of negotiation. Before we do that, the UK has to have a position. We can sense the frustration from the EU in some of the comments made by other leaders, who are as keen as we are to understand the position of the UK Government.

Before I turn to the specific conclusions of the Council, I want to add something about the process in our Parliament. I read reports at the weekend, as did others, that an unnamed Cabinet Minister has responded to concerns raised about Brexit by Members of your Lordships’ House by saying that the Government could do a “Lloyd George” and create another 1,000 Peers. Here we go again.

Let us be clear. There are few in this House who do not have genuine concerns about the future of the UK outside of the EU and the Government’s apparently confused and unsettled approach to negotiating our exit. We take our responsibilities seriously in assisting the Government to make the best possible arrangements for the UK. We will use the expertise and knowledge of this House fully to understand the implications of Brexit, to advise the Government and to do whatever we can to ensure that these issues are effectively addressed, both through our highly regarded EU Committees and on the Floor of your Lordships’ House. We will scrutinise; we will examine; we will not block. But nor will we be bullied into abdicating our responsibilities.

We have to be adult about this. We cannot have the most enthusiastic Brexiters crying foul every time Parliament asks for some details or seeks to scrutinise. This cannot be the only issue on which the Government are allowed a blank cheque without any accountability. It is complex, it is difficult and the Government should see this House as an asset and not try to avoid helpful scrutiny. Their mantra of “No running commentary” is becoming embarrassing and sounds like code for “We haven’t a clue”. Can I suggest that the Government abandon this and see Parliament as a resource for getting this right?

On migration, it seemed that nothing new came out of the Council meeting. The first page of the press release states:

“The European Council took stock of the latest developments … highlighting the importance of implementation”.

It just reads as an update on actions going back, as indicated on page 2, “many years”, and a call for more action on previously agreed policies. Given the scale of the crisis, can the noble Baroness highlight anything new or any real progress that was made on this issue?

In the final paragraphs of the report on external relations and the atrocities waged on civilians in Aleppo, the language is strong, but a statement that:

“The EU is considering all available options, should the … atrocities continue”,

does not appear to have worried President Putin very much as his military flotilla sailed through the English Channel. Can the noble Baroness say anything more about the Prime Minister’s role in these discussions and what action she urged on the EU?

On trade, there were discussions regarding the stalled EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. The Prime Minister has repeated in her Statement today that she is not looking at any existing model for future UK trade agreements but that the UK will create something new and specific to the UK. Although we have been unable to have anything other than very informal discussions with other countries regarding future trade agreements, it is clear that EU negotiations with Canada, Japan and other trade partners, including South America. will impact on the UK and on our future discussions. Just by saying, as the Prime Minister does in her Statement, that it will not have any impact does not make that the case. What role is the UK playing in these negotiations and what serious assessment is being undertaken of the future impact on any UK negotiations with these countries and the EU?

Although the Prime Minister did not have a formal bilateral meeting with the Spanish Prime Minister, was there an opportunity for an informal conversation, either at ministerial or official level, on Gibraltar? I know that the noble Baroness will understand the concerns of the Government and people of Gibraltar. Can she provide reassurance today that they will never be used as bargaining chips in pursuit of a wider settlement?

Photo of Lord Newby Lord Newby Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, for her welcome.

Picture the scene: it is one o’clock in the morning—the dinner started five hours earlier. The Heads of Government are texting their chauffeurs to come and pick them up, and almost as an afterthought to the main proceedings, the British Prime Minister is asked to speak about the Government’s approach to Brexit. She speaks for five minutes. The weary Prime Ministers heave a sigh of relief and stagger into the night. This is not regaining control, this is just humiliating.

On the substance of the Prime Minister’s middle-of-the-night performance, can the noble Baroness the Leader of the House explain why it took her so long to deliver it? Given the almost total lack of information that she has provided to Parliament so far, she could have written her presentation on a postage stamp. Why on earth did it take five minutes?

In the discussions earlier in the day, the Prime Minister apparently played a vigorous part: on Syria, on migration and on external trade. She says that she wants to continue to play a full part in such discussions as long as we remain a member of the EU. In recent weeks, however, she and other Ministers have used language that can only harden attitudes towards the UK among the other EU politicians. Can the noble Baroness explain to the House how such rhetoric can do anything other than weaken our negotiating position not just on Brexit but on every other issue as well? Is not this weakness reflected in the fact that, instead of meeting the leaders of France and Germany, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, has pointed out, the Prime Minister only had summit bilaterals with the leaders of Estonia, Romania and Greece? Is it not also reflected in the fact that the Prime Minister pleaded with the other 27 member states not to be excluded from meetings, only to be told that she was living on “another planet” if she expected to be involved in discussions that affected the future of Europe after our planned departure date?

In these circumstances, what does the Prime Minister’s statement that she will be a “strong and dependable partner” really mean? Have not the other Heads of Government already decided that, for their purposes, she is actually weak and irrelevant? Is it not the case that with every passing month, our influence with other member states will diminish, and that as they take decisions with long-term implications, they will simply view the British input as increasingly irrelevant? Moreover, does this not foreshadow a longer-term problem for the UK; namely, that as discussions at EU Council meetings increasingly cover actions to be taken after our planned date of departure, our voice will be simply and increasingly ignored? Can the noble Baroness give the House some idea of how, if we are no longer members of the EU, the Government can hope to exercise as much influence as we now have with the 27 other EU member states when we are not even in the room when they discuss issues such as security, foreign policy, migration or the environment?

On the summit issues themselves, can the noble Baroness confirm whether a no-fly zone in Syria is now government policy, given recent comments by the Foreign Secretary? Am I right in thinking that the Prime Minister failed to use the opportunity of the summit to press her French counterpart about how best to protect the hundreds of children currently stuck in the Calais Jungle camp? Will she update the House, given today’s events in Calais, on how many children the UK expects to take as a result of the system initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs? In her discussion with the Prime Minister of Greece, did she take the opportunity to discuss how most effectively we could begin to take unaccompanied refugee children from there, in pursuance of the Dubs amendment?

I believe that the Prime Minister spoke on—and voted at the summit to prevent—the imposition of punitive duties on Chinese steel imports. Was that indeed the case, and if so, how does the Prime Minister justify her stance? Can the noble Baroness imagine that we would take a similar stance if the dumping country were any other than China, with which the Government seem desperate to retain good relations at almost any cost?

This Statement is from a Government who believe they can lecture people into being sympathetic, who are split from top to toe on what they want Brexit to look like, and who now have no admirers and virtually no friends left in Europe. This is not a recipe for a bold new future for our country, this is a recipe for disaster.

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

I thank the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for their remarks, and I echo the welcome to the noble Lord, Lord Newby, in his new position.

As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said, it was clear from this Council that although we are leaving the EU, we are not turning our backs on Europe. I assure both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord that in this spirit we were able to make a significant contribution in reaching important agreements. First, as noble Lords will be aware, our exit from the EU was not on the formal agenda, so there was discussion during dinner. We continue to have very good working relationships with our major partners. Indeed, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister visits our European partners on a regular basis for bilateral meetings. As part of our influence, we were the country that wanted the issue of Russian actions in Syria put on the agenda—which it was. That again shows that the UK continues to have significant influence within the EU while we remain in it.

Of course, as the noble Lord said, it is right that the remaining 27 member states have discussions among themselves. There will need to be a process for them to consider how they will conduct negotiations once we invoke Article 50. That is a sensible and obvious course of action.

We also very much welcome the scrutiny of the House. I welcome the comments from the noble Baroness. Already, we have worked very constructively through the usual channels to ensure that we provide opportunities on Thursdays, for instance, to discuss areas of debate over Brexit. Of course, we will also have votes on the great repeal Bill. I am confident that your Lordships’ House will scrutinise that piece of legislation extremely thoroughly and we shall have many discussions and debates on it. We are also very likely to have votes on any new arrangements in consequential legislation. We absolutely value and respect the expertise within this House. I am very much looking forward to being part of those discussions.

On Russia, I assure the noble Baroness that the Prime Minister, along with Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande, argued for a robust and united message calling on the Syrian regime and Russia to stop their attacks on Aleppo, and made clear that the EU will consider all options if the atrocities continue. We were very firm in that stance and that is what was agreed. We are pleased with the strong language in the conclusions. I also assure the noble Baroness of our steadfast support for the sovereignty of Gibraltar.

On the noble Lord’s questions about Calais, obviously we are not repeating the Statement on that here but I will go into a little bit of detail about what was in it which might be of use to noble Lords. Since 10 October, working in partnership with the French, we transferred almost 200 children including more than 60 girls, many of them identified as at high risk of sexual exploitation. In the last seven days alone, Home Office officials interviewed 800 children in the camp claiming to have close family in the UK, working in conjunction with NGOs and charities. Every child presented in the last week has been interviewed with UK staff.

Noble Lords will probably be aware that until just a few weeks ago the French Government requested that we did not attempt to transfer children outside the Dublin regulation. Again, this was due to their concern that that might encourage more children to come to Calais. We respected this and that is why, until recently, we focused our efforts under the Dubs amendment on children in Greece and Italy, where we have 50 cases in progress. We have now come to an agreement with the French so children caught by the Dubs criteria are indeed being interviewed as part of that process. We are very much looking forward to a speedy resolution to make sure that these children, where they can, come to this country and have the welcome that we know the British public will offer them.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Chair, International Relations and Defence Committee 4:54 pm, 24th October 2016

My Lords, contrary to the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, that there is nothing new in this Statement and contrary to the views of the noble Lord, Lord Newby, who poured another cold shower on the whole proceeding, does the Minister accept that some of the things she had to repeat today were extremely important and require very close examination as the future opens out increasingly clearly? For a start, does the Statement not dismiss the concept that there is a major distinction between soft and hard Brexit and suggest that in the rapidly changing conditions, both in the European Union and here, both these concepts are becoming more or less meaningless? Did I hear her also say that we are opening discussions with third parties, non-EU countries and OECD countries for free trade agreements? Are those discussions formal or informal? What about the need to ensure that existing FTA discussions between the EU and third countries are not mingled with the discussions that we are opening?

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

I thank the noble Lord for that question. We most certainly want a deal that provides the freest possible trade with European markets and gives British companies the maximum freedom to trade with and operate in the single market. While he is right that we cannot conclude deals with EU members, there is nothing to stop us from having informal discussions and considering future options on free trade agreements. Countries like Canada, India, China, Mexico, Singapore and South Korea have already said they would welcome talks. We do not believe this is in competition with talks that are ongoing in the EU. As the Prime Minister made very clear in her Statement, we will continue to fully support EU trade agreements while we remain a member of the EU.

Photo of Lord Soley Lord Soley Labour

My Lords, I echo the sentiments of my noble friend Lady Smith that we are becoming increasingly semi-detached from the European Union. In my judgment that has been happening for some years, not just since the referendum. It is related to the relationship with Russia. At the end of the Council Statement, the point is made that there was a policy debate about relationships with Russia. Since the Ukraine crisis, we have been marginalised; this is not just about Syria. I am anxious that it will just play into Mr Putin’s hands if the European Union and Britain are not working in very close unity. What procedure will the Government have to make sure that we work very closely together on European Union foreign policy and UK foreign policy?

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

As I mentioned in response to the noble Baroness, it was due to the UK that this issue was one of the main items on the agenda of this Council. I therefore assure the noble Lord that we continue to put pressure on and work with our European allies to make sure that we take a robust stance. The Prime Minister had discussions with Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande to ensure that we had a united and robust approach. We are standing with the EU in relation to sanctions placed on Russia in response to its aggression in the Ukraine. We and the EU have said that we will consider further options if the atrocities continue. We want to ensure a settlement and peace in Syria and are working very hard with our European colleagues and in the UN. On Friday, for instance, we secured an extraordinary session at the UN Human Rights Council to press for a ceasefire to enable humanitarian access to Aleppo. We are using all international bodies we can to make sure our voice is heard and that Russia faces up to the consequences of its actions.

Photo of Baroness Ludford Baroness Ludford Liberal Democrat

My Lords, can the noble Baroness clarify a little more what the Statement means when it says that the Government will strike,

“a deal that will give British companies the maximum freedom to operate in the European market … a deal that that will deliver the deepest possible cooperation to ensure our national security”?

Is not the maximum possible in both those areas—economy and security—secured by being in the EU? The next best might be in the single market. Had the Government adopted a much different tone in the last four months, instead of jumping to the tune of the hard Brexiteers in their ranks, could we not be in a very different place in terms of the maximum that could be secured? However, that maximum has been sacrificed to the appeasement of extremists in the Conservative Party, which is not going to work anyway.

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

I am afraid I do not accept the premise of the noble Baroness’s question. We are very clear that we want a constructive and strong relationship with the EU when we leave. I am not going to presuppose what the detailed negotiations are going to do, but we have been very clear that we want a bespoke new relationship. No other country has left the EU so we are in a unique position to ensure that we can work with our European partners and allies, which have the same values and approach internationally as we do, to ensure that we have a strong relationship. We are confident that we will be able to achieve that. We all want to go in in a constructive way to ensure that we get the best deal for Britain but also the best deal for the EU.

Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench

My Lords, two questions arise from what the Prime Minister said about the Canadian agreement. First, the noble Baroness will be aware that the Wallonian objection arose from the comprehensive nature of the agreement, which goes beyond trade to services, investment and regulation, areas where the Commission and the EU do not have full competence but competence rests wholly or in part with the member states. I am assuming that the UK/EU agreement, when there is one, will be no less comprehensive than the Canadian one and will also extend beyond trade. What conclusions have the Government drawn from the Wallonian problem? There are 40 legislatures in the EU that would need to ratify any agreement if it goes beyond trade.

The second question is this. The noble Baroness will be aware that there were two other objections from Romania and Bulgaria, which were settled only when the Canadian authorities agreed on the eve of the European Council that from next year they would allow full visa-free access to Canada for citizens of every EU member state, including Romania and Bulgaria. What conclusions does the noble Baroness draw from that? What does she expect will be the nature of that discussion when our agreement is complete, given the Prime Minister’s speech in Birmingham and the rather extraordinary speech by the Home Secretary that was warmly welcomed by the National Front in France?

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

I think that with his questions the noble Lord has identified the scale of the challenges we have ahead. The Prime Minister was very clear about that: indeed, it was in the Statement I have just read out. We know that it will be a challenge, that there will be difficult moments, and that it will require give and take. Obviously we are at only the very beginning of this process. We are looking to work constructively with countries across the world in order to come up with trade deals. We will of course learn from the experience we have had as part of the EU in terms of the negotiations we have been involved in there, but we are also striking out on our own. As I have said, there is no precedent for a country leaving the EU so read-across from other negotiations is not directly comparable. We will of course aim to get the best deal for the UK with the EU, but also with other countries around the world.

Photo of Lord Spicer Lord Spicer Conservative

My Lords, was there any discussion at the Council of the City of London? In particular, was there discussion of the restrictive measures being planned by some EU members, had we intended to stay in the EU, to bring down the City of London from its present dominant position?

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

As I mentioned, our discussion of Brexit and the UK’s position was not a formal agenda item, so it was not discussed with all the other member states. Obviously issues like the City of London and the Irish border show that there are a lot of key issues that we need to think about. We have seen in responses that I have made here and that other Ministers have made that we want to ensure that all these issues are talked about, and that we come to the best outcome that we can.

Photo of Lord Howarth of Newport Lord Howarth of Newport Labour

My Lords, are we not in an unsustainable situation in which a majority of Members of the House of Commons, not to mention a majority of Members of your Lordships’ House, are in favour of remaining whereas a majority of people in this country voted in a referendum in favour of Brexit? In these circumstances, would the best course not be, following a full national debate in which the issues associated with Brexit were clarified and options defined, to have a general election early next year, following which a new Government could proceed with full democratic authority and Parliament would be free to play its part in scrutinising government strategy? Can we expect the Prime Minister to become less adamant about there being no election before 2020?

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

The noble Lord will have to ask the Prime Minister for her personal view, but I get no sense that she is thinking about an early election. It is absolutely right that we have parliamentary scrutiny but Parliament will also be aware that we legislated for a referendum, with cross-party support, to put the decision to remain in or leave the EU in the hands of the people, which is what we have done. It is now beholden on us to ensure we get the best deal we can, and beholden on both Houses to ensure that they scrutinise it properly and aid that process.

Photo of Lord Higgins Lord Higgins Conservative

My Lords, the Statement refers to the problem of immigration and the fact that the Royal Navy will, fortunately, continue to rescue those who are in danger of drowning in the Mediterranean, but is it still the case that they are then being landed in Greece or Italy and that, as a result, more people are encouraged to risk their lives and traffickers are able to say, “Don’t worry if the boats are unseaworthy, because you will be rescued by the Royal Navy and taken to your destination anyway”? What further thought have the Government given to this problem, and should there not, in the context to which the noble Baroness referred, be some arrangement to return them to their countries of origin?

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

The Prime Minister has been very clear about the importance of working more closely with source and transit countries— something she reiterated at the EU Council meeting—and we established the Organised Immigration Crime Taskforce to tackle that. It is working in 17 countries and has successfully disrupted organised crime groups through participating in intelligence sharing, arrests and prosecutions. We are also playing an important role in Operation Sophia, which has destroyed more than 300 smuggling boats, apprehended almost 90 suspected smugglers and successfully saved more than 26,000 lives.

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Labour

My Lords, given the scale of the challenge of negotiating trade agreements with the rest of the European Union and other countries, which the noble Baroness acknowledges, what transitional arrangements are envisaged once we leave the European Union? As a pro-chancellor of the University of Bath, I urge the Government, in formulating the negotiating strategy, to ensure that among the negotiators there is at least one person with in-depth knowledge of the university sector, so that we can ensure that the negotiations in no way harm our university sector but enable UK universities to take advantage of the challenges ahead.

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

A range of issues are involved in the transitional arrangements, the Department for Exiting the EU is considering them and a lot of work is going on. Of course we want to ensure that we are using the expertise and skills of universities and trade negotiators to get the best deal.

Photo of Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Liberal Democrat

My Lords, quite the most interesting feature of the Statement is the second-last sentence, which reads:

“and we can secure the deal that is right for the British people, whose instruction”— my emphasis—

“it is our duty to deliver”.

Are we embarking on a rather novel constitutional change, in which an advisory referendum becomes an instruction to government? Is not the proper inference to be drawn from that sentence that the Government intend—whatever the circumstances, deal or no deal, even if it is patently against the interests of the people of the United Kingdom—to persist in the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union?

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

As I said in an earlier answer, the referendum was legislated for, with cross-party support, to put the decision to remain or leave the EU in the hands of the people. That has been done and we now need to get on the job.

Photo of Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Labour

My Lords, I think it is generally accepted that there will be great difficulty for either the Commons or this House to scrutinise what the Government are doing. Although we all understand the Government deciding not to give a commentary on how the negotiations are going, earlier today we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, that he is running around the country attending meetings. I understand that many departments, Ministers and officials are holding meetings on Brexit around the country. The noble Baroness could state to the House that the Government are prepared to publish a running report on what meetings are taking place on Brexit, who is involved and what are their subjects.

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

As I said, we will have many debates in this House. We will be debating the great repeal Act and having many broader debates. I am sure that if noble Lords ask Ministers questions in those debates about who has been spoken to and the work of their department, they will be delighted to answer.

Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench

My Lords, there is a Russian media centre located in Edinburgh, which I understand is called RT. It has already had some problems with its commercial banking arrangements. Have the Government considered whether its level of activity is conducive to the public good, and whether some diminution might not deter Russian aggression both in Europe and elsewhere?

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

Perhaps the noble Lord will permit me to write to him with details on that issue.

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Conservative

My Lords, does not the failure of the EU to agree so far the trade agreement with Wallonia—which I note is being held up by the socialists in the same way as the TTIP agreement is being held up by the socialists in France—demonstrate that if the UK wants to have a free trading future, trading with all the great growing economies of the world, we need to do it from outside the EU?

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

As I have said, we still hope that the EU will be able to sign a trade deal with Canada. We want to get a good trade deal with the EU. We have also been clear that we will not be following an existing model; we will have a bespoke arrangement. My noble friend is absolutely right that we need to be looking outwardly to countries across the world—the Commonwealth and others—with whom we can develop even stronger relationships than we have now.

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

My Lords, there has been a lot of talk about the great repeal Bill, which is supposed to repeal the European Communities Act 1972—all well and good. This is supposed to liberate us, perhaps, from the European Union and all the legislation. Is it not the case that the great repeal Bill will simultaneously enshrine all existing EU law that is presently on the statute book and regulations, which currently have direct effect, will have to be enshrined into UK law as well? This is not a great repeal Bill; it is a great enshrinement of EU law, and the Bill is perhaps a great deceit.

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

The noble Baroness is right that we believe that that is the right approach, because it provides stability and certainty, and gives us time to look in huge detail at the rules and regulations we want to keep and those that we perhaps want to repeal.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

My Lords, will the Minister accept thanks for one part of the Statement, which is the first occasion in which the Prime Minister has recognised that there will need to be serious, in-depth co-operation on security, justice and home affairs issues, which are extraordinarily important? That is very welcome, although doing it will be a great deal more difficult than talking about doing it. Can the Minister address the issue about the work that is going on in talking to third countries around the world about new trade agreements? Can she say what the International Trade Secretary says to his interlocutors when they ask him, “What will your external tariff be? Will you be in the customs union, or not? What will your relationship be with the European Union?”? If he cannot answer any of those questions, is he doing anything but adding to his air miles?

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

The noble Lord is absolutely right about security. When we leave the EU our commitment to work with our European and global allies on these issues will be undiminished. As part of negotiations we will discuss with the EU and member states how best to continue co-operation on security, law enforcement and criminal justice because this is an incredibly important area for all of us. As I say, I will not preclude the conversations that my right honourable friends in the other place are having. Suffice it to say that a number of countries have told us that they would welcome talks on future free trade agreements, and we look forward to getting into the detail of them.

Photo of The Bishop of Bristol The Bishop of Bristol Bishop

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Prime Minister’s Statement. She has emphasised something that all noble Lords will recognise: this is a matter of huge complexity. To articulate one anxiety, the noble Baroness said that we are the first country to leave the EU—I do not know whether she regards that as a notable first—but, if it is as complex to leave the EU as your Lordships’ House believes, can she assure us that somewhere there is the expertise necessary to enter into negotiations of complexity in such a way that will really benefit the people of the United Kingdom?

Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

I thank the right reverend Prelate for his question. He is absolutely right: what we do now will impact our country’s future for many decades to come. That is why we are so serious about getting the best deal possible and why, as I mentioned in response to another question, we will draw on all expertise—that of this House, and from experts around the country and in the devolved Administrations—to make sure that we get the best deal for the whole of the UK.