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

Queen’s Speech - Debate (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:50 pm on 28th June 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Keen of Elie Lord Keen of Elie The Advocate-General for Scotland, Lords Spokesperson (Ministry of Justice) 10:50 pm, 28th June 2017

I am content to consult Hansard on the point and I am not, at this hour, going to enter into a debate on what was noted and what was not noted in the noble Lord’s comments, but he made it perfectly clear that, notwithstanding the results of the referendum, he felt that the interests of the British people lay in remaining in the European Union.

As I say, the Government’s position is perfectly clear: we intend to respect the outcome of the referendum and, indeed, exit negotiations began in Brussels last week. We are of course working to secure a smooth exit from the EU, and one that protects the rights of EU citizens in the United Kingdom and British citizens in other EU countries, recognising our unique relationship with the other countries in the EU. We want to build a new, deep and special partnership between the United Kingdom and the European Union that takes in both economic and security co-operation. It 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. Of course, those negotiations will be complex and at times challenging, but the Government are confident that with hard work and good will on all sides we can reach an outcome that works for the European Union and all parts of this union—the United Kingdom.

We have listened to the EU and its leaders and we understand and respect the position that the four freedoms of the single market are indivisible and that there can be no cherry picking. Those four freedoms include the free movement of people. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, referred to these four fundamental and indivisible freedoms as a false doctrine, but they are nothing of the sort. It is a statement of fact that the EU wishes to maintain, and will maintain, the indivisibility of those four freedoms in respect of capital, services, goods and people, and we have to respect that going forward.

The question before us now is how the Government’s plans, including the legislative programme outlined in Her Majesty’s gracious Speech, support the negotiations, ensure a smooth exit from the EU, and prepare for the UK’s future outside the EU. The legislative agenda to prepare the UK for its new place in the world outside the European Union is extensive, but it is also necessary. The centrepiece of this legislative programme is the repeal Bill, which has three main effects. First, it ends the authority of EU law in the United Kingdom, transferring power back from Brussels to the United Kingdom. Secondly, it converts the body of EU law into domestic law to maximise certainty for individuals, businesses and consumers by converting EU law into domestic law. It will give Ministers, both here and in the devolved Administrations, the power to amend EU law as appropriate so that we have a functioning statute book on day one after exit. Thirdly, as well as maximising certainty and ensuring a smooth exit from the EU, the Bill will also support a future trade deal with the EU by ensuring that we start from a regulatory level playing field. The purpose of the legislation is clear and significant for the whole country: it is to ensure we have can have a smooth and orderly exit from the European Union.

I will not attempt to address each of the 64 contributions that have been made this evening. That would strain not only my recollection but noble Lords’ patience. However, with the leave of the House, I shall address a number of the contributions and bring together some of the common points that were raised. I begin with the observations of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, who spoke of the United Kingdom’s place in the world after Brexit, as if there was going to be a fundamental loss of both hard and soft power. With respect, we do not accept that proposition at all. I remind the noble Baroness that, among other things, the United Kingdom remains one of the few countries in NATO that meets its commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence, it meets the United Nations standards with regard to overseas aid at 0.7% of GDP, and our standing in the world is measured by these rather than simply by membership of the Union itself.

The noble Baroness spoke of mutuality. That arises in a number of contexts. It is important to appreciate that what we are addressing here is a matter of mutual interest. Just as we have an interest in the enforcement for example of family law decisions within the European Union, so it has a mutual interest in the enforcement of its orders within the United Kingdom. Just as we have an interest in trading with the European Union, so it has a £300 billion interest in trading with the United Kingdom, whether within or without the single market, so mutuality lies at the heart of the negotiation that will be undertaken.

The noble Baroness spoke of the issue of mutual recognition in the context of things such as the European Medicines Agency. But, of course, we address the matter of mutual recognition with regard to such things as medicines and chemicals at an international level. So, for example, we have no difficulty with regard to our dealings with the US federal agencies; there is always an element of goodwill and recognition arising there.

The noble Baroness also touched on the matter of immigration. We will not be closed to immigration—we will be able to control it. That lies at the heart of the decision that the British people made in the referendum.

The noble Baroness also raised, as did other noble Lords, the question of the devolved Administrations and the matter of devolved competence. Of course, the Government will respect, as they always have, the Sewel convention. In addition, we will engage with all the devolved Administrations in the matter of the negotiation and the outcome of the negotiations with the European Union. Furthermore, so far as Ireland is concerned, we are of course alive to the issue of the hard border, which was alluded to by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, and we are of course determined and have raised already in the negotiation the question of how we can deal with the need for a soft and essentially open border between the north and the south of that island.

On a related issue, my noble friend Lady Hooper raised the question of the overseas territories and of Gibraltar. Again, we have made it perfectly clear that we will represent the interests of the overseas territories and of Gibraltar in the forthcoming negotiations. Indeed, we will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their wishes, nor enter into any process of sovereignty negotiations with which Gibraltar itself is not content. We have been absolutely clear: our exit negotiations cover Gibraltar as we leave the EU, and our focus is to get the best possible deal for the United Kingdom, for the overseas territories and for Gibraltar.

I turn to some observations of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, and of some of his colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Benches. He suggested that the United Kingdom Government are somehow asserting that they hold all the cards in this negotiation. That is not the position that we adopt. Indeed, if we held all the cards, there would not be a negotiation; it would be a matter of dictating terms. There has to be an open and mutually beneficial negotiation to achieve the outcome we all seek. He also suggested that we were somehow simply turning our face away from the European Union and towards countries such as New Zealand, India, China and others. Of course, we seek to embrace the opportunities that will arise with regard to trade in these other parts of the world, but we are not closing off trade with the European Union in any sense whatever. We are not turning our back on our partners in Europe; we will continue to engage with them to our mutual interest and mutual benefit.

The noble Lord went on, in a number of ways, to criticise the approach that the Government are taking, as if somehow we were moving towards an absolute Brexit that took no account of the views of the people of this country. I remind him of the point made by his noble friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, who suggested that when the Government respond to the matter of the EU negotiations, they should respond with humility to the people. I respectfully suggest that the Liberal Democrats might also respond with some humility to the view of the people, both as reflected in the referendum and in the recent election, where they went to the people with a particular view of Brexit that clearly was not palatable. So a degree of humility all round might be beneficial to the entire process.