Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
My Lords, it is a privilege to open this debate on Her Majesty’s gracious Speech. It is also a privilege to be addressing the House for the first time since I was appointed as Minister of State at the Department for Exiting the EU. I follow in the footsteps of my noble friend Lord Bridges, to whom I pay tribute for his unstinting work not only in the department but here in this House. I also pay tribute to officials in the FCO and in my new department of DExEU for the support they provide, because a Minister can only be as good as the team behind them. I have certainly been helped by people who could play in the premier division in any country in the world.
Today we are debating a programme of legislation put forward by the Government for the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union. Before I start, I will put on the record how much I value the diversity of views that noble Lords bring to such debates. Clearly, we shall witness some of that diversity today. It strengthens the whole process of our legislative scrutiny.
It was just over one year ago when the British people voted to leave the EU. At the general election, 11 months after that instruction was received, the two main parties, both of which are committed to leaving the EU, received more than four-fifths of the popular vote. This shows the support among the great majority of British people that we should accept the referendum result and leave the EU. The Government are respecting the instruction of the electorate and delivering in the national interest. I shall listen with interest to the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, when presents his views, because clearly they do not quite fit, I would say, with ours.
We are now building a future relationship with the EU that works in the national interest. This process is one of the biggest issues facing the Government in a generation. Her Majesty’s gracious Speech has outlined vital legislation to deliver a smooth and orderly exit from the EU, and we are debating that today. This will enable the UK to have more say over how we manage our affairs and forge new trading relationships with European partners and others across the world.
Last week, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union started the negotiations on the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union under the Article 50 process. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, has tabled an amendment to today’s Motion that focuses on the negotiations. She will see from what I say today that we have much in common on the economy, security, securing tariff-free and barrier-free trade and protecting rights.
Where we diverge from the Labour Party is that we have been clear about the mechanisms through which we want to secure our current markets and open up to new ones. We want a deep and special partnership that should be underpinned by ambitious agreements on free trade and customs, covering goods and services and seeking the greatest possible tariff-free and barrier-free trade. So far the Labour Party has not been quite as clear about whether it wishes to leave the customs union or the single market, which are the basic questions in this debate. I look forward to listening to her shortly.
We have also been clear that we cannot accept a deal that punishes the UK. Any good negotiator knows that you cannot go into a negotiation saying that you will accept any deal at all. There will be a long road ahead, but the destination we are seeking is clear: a new deep and special partnership with the EU, one that enables prosperity for both the UK and the EU while protecting the rights of citizens and giving certainty to businesses as early as possible. That new partnership will of course look, feel and be different from membership of the EU. We understand and respect the EU’s position that the four freedoms of the single market are indivisible.
However, we intend that through our future relationship with Europe our close co-operation on economic and security matters will continue. That is why we are seeking ambitious agreements on free trade and customs covering goods and services, and seeking the greatest possible tariff-free and barrier-free trade. It is why we will continue to work with our European partners to fight terrorism and uphold justice across Europe. Recent terrorist attacks across Europe are attacks against every one of us and have highlighted why we must work together, continuing to co-operate to fight the threat from terrorism and extremist ideology.
The Government have been clear, however, that taking back control of our own affairs includes regaining control of our borders and setting our own immigration policies. We are also clear that to respect the referendum outcome we cannot end up being half in and half out of the EU. So we will be leaving the single market and customs union. I know that is a matter to which the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, will address himself in more detail shortly in presenting his amendment. Clearly we differ on these matters.
Continued membership of the single market would require maintaining all four freedoms of movement—for goods, capital, services and people—so it would mean no control over immigration, and being out of the EU but a member of the single market would mean complying with the EU’s rules and regulations that implement those freedoms but without having a vote on what those rules and regulations were. Remaining in the customs union would restrict our ability to seize on our new freedoms in trade to create jobs and lift living standards. Britain must get out into the world, forge its own path, and be a true beacon for free trade. In leaving the customs union, Britain for the first time in over 40 years will be able to take full advantage of growing markets across the world, including those outside the EU, where the European Commission says that 90% of future growth in world trade will come from.
At the outset of these negotiations, we are prioritising some of the biggest challenges facing us. We are putting citizens first. We want to reach a reciprocal agreement for EU citizens in Britain and UK nationals in Europe as quickly as possible. That is why on Monday we published our policy paper: to outline our fair and serious offer for EU citizens.
Another early priority for the negotiations is our determination to ensure that we protect the common travel area and that nothing is done to jeopardise the peace process in Northern Ireland—a matter on which this House has taken great interest.
These negotiations will be complex and at times difficult, but we have made a positive start and we want to maintain that momentum. However, while we are confident that we will reach the right agreement, we must also be prepared for any outcome. That is why we are also seeking to put in place, as announced in Her Majesty’s gracious Speech, a legislative programme that will provide for continuity of our national systems and legislation as we leave the European Union.
The Bill, which will be guided through Parliament by my department, has three main aims. First, it will repeal the European Communities Act 1972. It ends the authority of EU law in the UK and transfers the powers to the UK from Brussels. It will convert EU law into domestic law. This maximises certainty, not only for individuals but for businesses and consumers, by ensuring that the rules do not simply disappear or change overnight on exit.
Secondly, it will give Ministers here and in the devolved Administrations the power to amend EU law as appropriate. This will mean that we have a functioning statute book on day one after exit. The Government expect that the return of powers from the EU will lead to a significant increase in decision-making powers for the devolved Administrations. Thirdly, the Bill will support our exit negotiations and future trade deal by ensuring that we have a continued level playing field between us and the EU based on the same rules.
I know that when the Bill comes before this House it will undergo rigorous scrutiny, as it should, but I believe that noble Lords will recognise its essential nature in preparing our statute book for exit. We must be able to deliver a functioning UK statute book by the day we leave the EU. It is vital for all across the United Kingdom that we provide certainty at that time.
The repeal Bill will be complemented by seven further main Bills that will support a smooth and orderly exit from the EU across a range of issues that affect the public, business and government. These will be led by the relevant department as they are presented to Parliament. Some of my colleagues on the Front Bench in this House have already spoken in some detail to these, so I shall simply mention them briefly today, just for completeness and to round out the debate.
A customs Bill will ensure that the UK has a standalone customs regime on exit. As it stands, the EU customs code applies directly in the UK. This Bill will provide flexibility to accommodate future trade agreements with the EU and others and ensure that changes can be made to the UK’s VAT and excise regimes.
A trade Bill will cement the United Kingdom’s status as a leading trading nation, driving positive global change through trade, while ensuring that UK businesses are protected from unfair trading practices. It will put in place the essential legislative framework to allow the UK to operate its own independent trade policy upon exit from the European Union.
An immigration Bill will underpin the new immigration system for EEA nationals. It will allow for the repeal of EU law on immigration—primarily free movement—that will otherwise be saved and converted into UK law by the repeal Bill, and will make the migration of EU nationals and their family members subject to relevant UK law once the UK has left the EU. The Bill will allow the Government to control the number of people coming here from Europe while still allowing us to attract the very brightest and the best, as we have enjoyed in recent years.
A fisheries Bill will enable the UK to exercise responsibility for access to fisheries and management of its waters. The agriculture Bill will ensure that after we leave the EU we have an effective system in place to support UK farmers and protect our natural environment. It will provide stability to farmers and protect our precious natural environment for many generations to come.
The nuclear safeguards Bill will establish a UK nuclear safeguards regime as we leave both the EU and Euratom.
The international sanctions Bill will support our role as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a leading player on the world stage by establishing a new sovereign UK framework to implement international sanctions on a multilateral or unilateral basis. The Bill will return decision-making powers on non-UN sanctions to the UK and enable the UK’s continued compliance with international law after the UK’s exit from the EU.
Before concluding, I would like to say a few more words about Parliament’s role over the coming period. The Government have engaged extensively with Parliament and will continue to do so throughout the negotiations. We intend the negotiations to be as transparent as possible. On Monday, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union gave a clear commitment to update Parliament after each round of formal negotiations. I can confirm today that it is my firm intention to provide similar updates to this House.
There will be times when we need to preserve our negotiating position, as indeed the EU Committee of this House has acknowledged. There should be an appropriate balance between transparency and confidentiality. The Committee noted that,
“certain elements of the forthcoming negotiations, particularly those relating to trade, may have to be conducted confidentially”.
However, we are certainly clear that a transparent and open approach will best provide the certainty that the public, businesses, trade unions and civil society are seeking.
Throughout the process of withdrawal the Government will ensure that Parliament is able to fulfil its proper constitutional role to scrutinise the negotiations and our programme of domestic legislation. At the end of the negotiation process we are clear that both Houses will have vote on the final agreement before it is concluded. We expect and intend that this will happen before the European Parliament debates and votes on the final agreement.
As noble Lords are aware, the parliamentary Session will run for two years, reflecting not just the importance and urgency of getting Brexit right but allowing proper and full democratic scrutiny in both Houses.
Today, I have set out the Government’s approach to delivering on our commitments to the British people. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and noble Lords, Lord Adonis and Lord Armstrong, will shortly set out alternative views that do not accord with the Government’s approach. Some are closer to ours than others. My noble and learned friend Lord Keen will respond to their Motions more directly at the end of this debate when we have clearly listened to what has been said.
We have started negotiations to secure an exit deal in the national interest that works for the whole of the UK. We want to get the details of our exit right and to establish a deep and special future partnership with the EU. We want to underpin all of it through legislation that enables a smooth and orderly exit from the EU. One thing is clear: it is only by doing so that we can deliver what is in the best interests of all the people of this great country—this union of countries. It is for everybody, wherever they are, whoever they are, whatever their background. We must serve in the best interests of each and every one of them.