European Council - Statement

– in the House of Lords at 4:46 pm on 23rd October 2017.

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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 4:46 pm, 23rd October 2017

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 last week’s European Council.

Long after we have left the European Union, the UK will continue to be a strong and committed partner, standing alongside our neighbours and working together to advance our shared values and interests. This Council provided a further opportunity to demonstrate that ongoing commitment, through discussions that included migration, the digital single market, Turkey, North Korea and Iran, and it made important progress in moving towards the new, deep and special partnership with the European Union that we want to see.

First, on migration, the UK is playing its full part. The Royal Navy has intercepted 172 smuggling boats and saved over 12,000 lives since Operation Sophia began, while our National Crime Agency is working with Libyan law enforcement, enhancing its capability to tackle the people-smuggling and trafficking networks.

At the Council we welcomed the reduction in migrant crossings and the renewed momentum behind the Libyan political process, but we must also continue to address the root causes driving people across the Sahara and the Mediterranean. So the UK is continuing to invest for the long term in education, jobs and services in countries of both origin and transit.

On the digital single market, it is right to keep up the pressure on completing its implementation by the end of 2018. This will continue to be of benefit to us even after we leave the European Union. At this Council, I also argued that the free flow of data was key to unlocking the potential of Europe’s digital trade, and we secured conclusions which recognised this. As the Government set out in a paper over the summer, such arrangements will be an important part of the future relationship between the UK and the EU.

Turning to the discussions on Turkey, we share the concerns over the arrests of EU nationals and others defending human rights. This is something that I raised personally with President Erdogan when we met at the UN General Assembly, and we are publicly calling on Turkey to protect freedom of expression and release those defending human rights.

At the same time, I believe we must take a long-term view of the enduring importance of our relationship with Turkey—a vital partner in ensuring a secure and prosperous European neighbourhood. We must also continue to recognise the challenges it is responding to—not least that it faced a military coup only 16 months ago. So we must continue to work with Turkey as our ally and partner—in particular, as we respond to the shared challenges of terrorism, migration and instability in the Middle East. But, in doing so, we must do all we can to convince Turkey to demonstrate its commitment to human rights and the rule of law. To turn away from Turkey now would undermine those who seek to secure a European future based on our shared values.

On North Korea, we welcomed the EU sanctions adopted last week and reaffirmed our clear condemnation of North Korea’s aggressive and illegal missile and nuclear tests. We urged all states, including China, to play their part in changing the course Pyongyang is taking. On Iran, the Council built on the joint statement made by Chancellor Merkel, President Macron and myself last week, reiterating its firm commitment to the nuclear deal. This deal was the culmination of 13 years of diplomacy and a major step towards ensuring that Iran’s nuclear programme is not diverted for military purposes. That is vitally important for our shared security. We are continuing to work particularly closely with our French and German allies on this crucial issue.

Turning to our negotiations to leave the European Union, I shared the vision I set out in Florence for a creative and pragmatic approach to a new, deep and special partnership between the United Kingdom and the European Union. It is a partnership based on the fundamental beliefs we share—in democracy and the rule of law, but also in free trade, rigorous and fair competition, strong consumer rights and high regulatory standards. I have also been clear that the United Kingdom is unconditionally committed to maintaining Europe’s security. Both sides have approached these talks with professionalism and a constructive spirit and we should recognise what has been achieved to date.

On citizens’ rights, both sides share the same objective of safeguarding the rights of EU nationals living in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU. This has been my first priority from the very beginning of the negotiations, and it remains so. The negotiations are complicated and deeply technical, but in the end they are about people, and I am determined that we will put people first. EU citizens make an extraordinary contribution to our national life and we want them to stay. I know that EU member states also value the UK nationals living in their communities and I want them to have their rights protected too. We are united on the key principles, and while there are a small number of issues that remain outstanding, we are in touching distance of a deal.

This agreement will provide certainty about residence, healthcare, pensions and other benefits. It will mean that EU nationals who have paid into the UK system, and UK nationals who have paid into the system of an EU 27 country, can benefit from what they have put in. It will enable families who have built their lives together to stay together. It will provide guarantees that the rights of those UK nationals currently living in the EU, and EU citizens currently living in the UK, will not diverge over time.

We will also ensure that the implementation of the agreement we reach does not create complicated and bureaucratic hurdles. For example, I have said that applying for settled status will cost no more than a UK passport and that people applying will no longer have to demonstrate comprehensive sickness insurance. We will also do everything possible to work closely with EU member states to ensure that their processes are equally streamlined for British nationals living in their countries.

We have also made significant progress on Northern Ireland, where it is absolutely imperative that joint work on the peace process is not affected in any way. The Belfast agreement must be at the heart of our approach and we have clearly agreed that the unique circumstances across the whole of the island of Ireland will require specific solutions. There will not be any physical infrastructure at the border and we have also developed joint principles to ensure the continuation of the common travel area. These principles will fully preserve the rights of UK and Irish nationals to live, work and study across these islands and protect the associated rights to public services and social security.

This Council provided an opportunity to assess and reflect on how to make further progress in the negotiations. My speech in Florence made two important steps, which have added a new impetus. First, I gave two clear commitments on the financial settlement: that the UK will honour commitments we have made during the period of our membership, and that none of our EU partners should fear that they will need to pay more or receive less over the remainder of the current budget plan as a result of our decision to leave. As the House would expect, we are going through our potential commitments line by line and that detailed work continues. Secondly, I proposed a time-limited implementation period based on current terms, which is in the interest of both the UK and the EU.

At this Council, the 27 member states responded by agreeing to start their preparations for moving negotiations on to trade and the future relationship we want to see. The Council’s conclusions call for work to continue with a view to be able to move to the second phase of the negotiations as soon as possible. President Tusk in his press conference was clear that the EU’s internal work,

‘will take account of proposals’, presented in the Florence speech, and, indeed, that this agreement to start preparatory discussions would not be possible without the new momentum given by that speech.

I am ambitious and positive about Britain’s future and these negotiations. If we are going to take a step forward together it must be on the basis of joint effort and endeavour between the UK and the EU, but I believe that by approaching these negotiations in a constructive way—in a spirit of friendship and co-operation —we can and will deliver the best possible outcome that works for all our people. That is a belief that was shared by other European leaders.

We are going to leave the European Union in March 2019, delivering on the democratic will of the British people. Of course we are preparing for every eventuality to ensure we leave in a smooth and orderly way, but I am confident that we will be able to negotiate a new, deep and special partnership between a sovereign United Kingdom and our friends in the European Union. That is my mission, that is this Government’s mission, and I commend this Statement to the House”.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Basildon Baroness Smith of Basildon Shadow Leader of the House of Lords 4:56 pm, 23rd October 2017

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. It serves to remind us how interlinked with the EU we are on so many issues, as she outlined. It is not just about having common interests; we are co-dependent on issues that affect not just our economy, but our safety, security and well-being as a nation. We also add our appreciation for the work of the Royal Navy for intercepting criminals involved in people trafficking and smuggling, and for the lives it saves.

At a previous European Council summit in June 2015 the former Prime Minister, David Cameron, said that the digital single market,

“is a prime example of where we need the EU to unlock the potential”, of the,

“single market for the benefit of businesses and consumers”.

Since then, we in the UK have played a leading role in the EU’s approach. That has clearly been of great benefit, given the comments in the Statement, but can the noble Baroness tell us how we will continue to play that role in shaping policy, given that we will no longer have a seat at the table?

Important progress has been made since the last summit on security and defence across a number of areas, including cybersecurity, which is essential across Europe and here at home. Amber Rudd, as Home Secretary, has been very clear that it is totally unthinkable that we could crash out of the EU with no ongoing arrangements on those issues, yet David Davis, as Brexit Secretary, still maintains that leaving the EU without any deal must remain an option. Liam Fox is adamant that there will not be the Armageddon some have predicted, which implies that all will be okay. It will not. Surely we should aim for better than it just not being Armageddon. Will the noble Baroness clarify that, if no agreement were to be made on the key issues and we crashed out of the EU in what has been described as the no-deal scenario, it would not be business as usual on defence, security or policing? Does she accept that that scenario is the worst possible outcome and totally irresponsible?

Leading into this summit, the Prime Minister’s Florence speech was helpful. We welcomed the change in position and tone, but we await the details. She will be aware of the very deep unease from businesses about what the transition or implementation deal will look like. The importance and seriousness of this is highlighted by the strongly worded letter to the Government from the CBI, the Institute of Directors, the British Chambers of Commerce, EEF—the Manufacturers’ Organisation—and the Federation of Small Businesses. Surely even the most ideological and ardent of Brexiteers recognises the legitimacy of their concerns. With investment being held back, their warnings about the future of the economy must be heeded.

The transition period is now accepted by most as essential. I am happy to call it an implementation period if that helps. I also welcome the Government’s recognition of the so-called divorce bill, without which we cannot make any significant progress. However, the negotiations are complex. The Prime Minister is right to seek out opportunities for more informal discussions as well.

David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, was mocked in the House of Commons last month when he said that no one said Brexit would be easy. Yet that is exactly what Ministers, including him, said. Yesterday, Liam Fox defended his comments that securing a post-Brexit trade deal would be the “easiest in history” because apparently he was talking only about trade and the real problem is politics. Today, Boris Johnson jumped in feet first, as usual, telling EU leaders to “get on with it”. Perhaps Liam Fox is right that politics is the problem—but not the politics of the EU, but of the Cabinet. There is no doubt that the progress so far is inadequate for the talks to move on formally to the next stage.

In recognition that some progress has been made, it has been agreed that preliminary talks about the next stage of negotiations should start. In effect, these are talks about talks. That is not, as some in the Cabinet appear to prefer, the EU being difficult; it is quite the opposite. What makes the negotiations harder for the Prime Minister is not the European Union, but her own Cabinet. Every time they speak out to contradict her, every time they speak out to attack the EU, the process or the progress, every time they fly yet another kite about what they think will win them votes in the next Tory leadership election, they seriously weaken her authority and undermine her ability to negotiate. The prime aim of negotiations is clarity about objectives, but for that the Prime Minister needs the Cabinet to unite or to choose one that will.

When Boris Johnson asserts that,

“the entire British cabinet is united around every dot, comma, and syllable of the Florence speech”, we know he says that in full knowledge of the limits of his own credibility. That is also undermined by the Cabinet Minister quoted today in the press as saying:

“We haven’t grasped the nettle on the trade deal yet and we really have to soon. Theresa’s fear is that the moment we do, half of us will walk out—we just don’t know which half it will be”.

Such division and dysfunction at the heart of government weakens the UK’s position at every single point in negotiations. Given all that, we understand why the withdrawal Bill is now stalled. Can the noble Baroness give us any idea when it will be picked up again and when its Committee stage will start in the House of Commons, given the importance of the issues in the Bill?

On the three issues in the conclusions of the summit, first, we welcome the progress being made on citizens’ rights. It has taken far longer than necessary and the Prime Minister should recognise the urgency and bring it to a conclusion. Secondly, despite the optimism in the Statement, the progress on the Irish border seems a recognition of the issues that have to be resolved rather than a way of resolving them. Agreement on those principles is welcome, even essential, but it is the action that brings those principles into being that is important. What progress has been made on that?

The financial obligations—the divorce bill—are becoming confusing. The Prime Minister put a figure on the financial obligations in her Florence speech. Is there now a recognition that that is not the final word and it has yet to be negotiated? Finally, can the noble Baroness confirm that when David Davis talks about the timetable of the talks being “Barnier’s timetable”, it is in fact the timetable that he agreed back in June? It is as much David Davis’s timetable as it is Michel Barnier’s. I hope the noble Baroness will take the message back to the Cabinet that the frustration—not just of Parliament but of the whole country—with its antics is making it harder for the Prime Minister, and that she will be able to answer the questions I have raised today.

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

My Lords, during the past week the Prime Minister has adopted two novel negotiating tactics. First, she decided on a personal diplomatic mission to the Commission, to be conducted over dinner. Yet according to reports, the meal lasted only just over an hour, which was barely enough time for a leisurely pizza, far less the sort of event that was likely to commend itself to the President of the European Commission. What was the purpose of this event, given its brevity and the lack of any new substantive proposals made at it by the Prime Minister? Secondly, the Prime Minister adopted the stance, “Please give me a good deal because my domestic parliamentary position is so weak”. Is the noble Baroness aware of any successful negotiations in which pleading one’s weakness has strengthened one’s hand? Do the Government really believe that the threat of no deal is credible, when the Brexit Secretary has described it as in effect a negotiating ploy just left on the table for the time being and the Home Secretary has called such an option simply untenable?

One of the first issues debated at the summit was the digital single market. The Prime Minister says that,

“it is right to keep up the pressure on completing its implementation … This will continue to be of benefit to us even after we leave the European Union”.

But we will not be members of the digital single market, so it is inconceivable that we will be as well off in respect of it outside as we would inside. What commitment are the Government prepared to make that, outside the EU, they will adopt the standards and regulations of the digital market so that we will gain the benefit of it?

The Government say that they welcome the EU sanctions on North Korea—as does the whole House. We are shortly to get a sanctions Bill in your Lordships’ House to deal with the position post Brexit, under which we will take control of and sovereignty over own sanctions, but does the noble Baroness agree that, on matters such as North Korea, such sanctions are effective only if we are in lock-step with the EU so that a common front is presented to the North Koreans, or against whomever else such sanctions are adopted? Have the Government given any thought to what sort of mechanism they will put in place to ensure that, as far as sanctions are concerned, it is possible to adopt that kind of lock-step? At the moment, it is completely unclear how that will be achieved.

The Prime Minister states that, up to now:

“Both sides have approached these talks with professionalism and a constructive spirit—and we should recognise what has been achieved to date”.

That is undoubtedly true, but we should also recognise what has not been achieved to date. Last week should have been the point at which substantive progress had been achieved on the three matters which it had been agreed would be prioritised so that we could get on to discussing the future trading and other relationships with the EU, but the truth is that we are nowhere near that point. At best, we might have reached it by the end of December, in which case substantive negotiations on all future aspects of our relationship will not start until January, a mere few months before those negotiations must be completed.

On citizens’ rights, one of the individual issues that have caused the hold-up, the Government come out with warm words, but why have they not simply given an unequivocal commitment that they will protect in full the rights of all EU citizens now? The Government say that we are making great progress and that we are almost there, but we do not know that and, certainly, the 3 million EU citizens in this country do not believe it. They retain a huge degree of scepticism about their status going forward. This is to be “settled status”, which we are told is going to be done easily and cheaply, but what time period have the Government in mind to grant settled status to more than 3 million EU nationals in this country? What resources are available? Are they satisfied that the Home Office and the Immigration Service have either the track record, the ethos or the resources to do this in a fair and expeditious manner?

On Northern Ireland, the principles are all agreed. We want—the Government want and the Irish want—a frictionless border. However, we have had a customs White Paper which should really have been a Green Paper because it asks as many questions as it answers. It said, for example, that more than 80% of north-south trade was by SMEs and there will be no requirement for customs processes at the land border. That sounds rather reassuring, but the weasel words are “at the land border”. What sort of processes do the Government have in mind not at the land border, and what kind of costs do they think SMEs are going to have to incur to establish these processes? In what degree of detail have the Government, somewhere in their mind, any sense of what these processes might look like?

On the financial settlement, absolutely no progress whatever appears to have been made last week.

Finally, the Prime Minister spent quite a bit of her Statement under the heading “Moving forwards”, which is quite an achievement, given that there has been virtually no moving forwards. She says that she wants to leave in a smooth and orderly way. One key element of leaving in a smooth and orderly way is to transpose all existing EU law into domestic law. The withdrawal Bill, a relatively straight Bill in concept, is totally bogged down because of divisions in the Cabinet. What can the noble Baroness say about when she expects that Bill to start in the Commons, far less here? Because once it has gone through, and with a bit of luck it might be done by Easter, we will have 1,000 statutory instruments to get through before we are in a position to begin to contemplate withdrawal in a smooth and orderly way. There is nothing in this Statement to give any objective observer any sense that smooth and orderly is the way that this Government are heading.

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 somewhat gloomy assessment of where we have got to. I hope that during the course of my remarks I will show that, actually, we have made progress at this European Council and that some of the comments made were not a fair reflection on where we have got to and the progress we have been making.

However, I begin with digital, which both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness raised. They are absolutely right that we have played a key role in this area, and in fact our leadership and engagement has continued to deliver concrete results since the referendum. The geo-blocking regulations made rapid progress to reach general approach in council and the portability regulations have reached agreement in near record time, largely thanks to the UK’s involvement. At this summit all the leaders agreed that the free flow of data initiative is critical, but of course this is not just an EU issue, it is an international issue. The single cyberspace is global and therefore we will continue to play an important role with all our international partners in this area. We are absolutely clear, as is the EU, that digital data and cyber will be key areas for our future partnership and we want to continue the work we have done together.

I assure the noble Baroness that we are engaging very closely with business. Indeed, the fact that we want our departure to be as smooth as possible is one of the key reasons behind the Prime Minister’s proposing a strictly time-limited implementation period based on the existing structure of EU rules and regulations. We do not want British businesses to face a cliff edge. We are certainly cognisant of the concerns of business, we are having continual discussions and that is what lies behind that section of the Prime Minister’s Florence speech.

The noble Baroness and the noble Lord both raised the withdrawal Bill. It has not stalled. No date was ever set for Committee in the House of Commons. It was never announced. Of course, with some 300 amendments and 54 new clauses being proposed, it is only right that the Government evaluate these and ensure that they have a suitable response. I know that in this House your Lordships would expect us to take all your Lordships’ concerns extremely seriously so it is good to see the Commons are taking the same approach as we do here.

As I said, I do not recognise the gloomy outlook presented by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord. We did make progress and we have moved forward. For instance, the Taoiseach said he thought the Prime Minister’s speech was “very positive” and:

“I thought it was very good. The language was the right language. It was very strong”.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said:

“In contrast to how it is portrayed in the British press, my impression is that these talks are moving forward step by step”.

The Polish Prime Minister and the Swedish Prime Minister both said that progress has been made and that the Prime Minister’s Florence speech has helped move things forward.

Of course, we very much welcome that the EU has decided to start its own preparatory work on how it sees the future relationship working, as that will allow us to accelerate talks once it is ready to join the conversation. We have always been clear that the issue of sufficient progress and the sequencing of events has been an EU construct, not a UK one. Our position has been clear: the issues around withdrawal and our future relationships are inextricably linked.

The noble Lord asked about sanctions against North Korea. He is absolutely right that we have been working very closely with our EU partners. Again, the approach and response to North Korea is a global one, which is why we have been at the forefront of international efforts to ensure full enforcement of UN sanctions against North Korea, and are working with international partners to maximise the diplomatic and economic pressure on it to change its course. We will of course continue to do that.

Finally, the Prime Minister could not have been clearer—and the Statement made it very clear—that citizens’ rights is a priority for us. We have committed to no longer requiring EU citizens settling here to demonstrate comprehensive sickness insurance, as they have to under EU rules; to keeping the cost of the settlement process a low as possible; to establishing a simple process to allow people who already have permanent residence to swap this for a new settled status; and to setting up a new user group to include representatives of EU citizens in the UK and digital technical experts to make sure that the process is transparent. In the fourth round of talks, we offered the guaranteed right of return for settled citizens in the UK in exchange for onward movement rights for British citizens currently living in the EU. We have put forward a comprehensive package on EU citizens because we recognise—and have said time and again—how valued they are in this country and we want that relationship to continue. We are now waiting for the EU to come back with its response.

Photo of Lord Lamont of Lerwick Lord Lamont of Lerwick Conservative 5:17 pm, 23rd October 2017

My Lords, I commend the progress made, which was confirmed by several Heads of Government who were represented at the talks. I will ask the Leader two questions. First, will she make it clear that one cannot have an implementation period until one has agreed what is to be implemented; and that a transitional period or an implementation period has to come after the main issues have been agreed, rather than the other way round? That needs to be made clear, both to the Opposition and to the CBI, which has been pressing on this point. Secondly, will my noble friend confirm that while the Government and the Prime Minister in particular have said in the past that no deal is better than a bad deal, the Government’s objective is not no deal—the Government’s objective is to get a deal, and a good deal?

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

I thank my noble friend and I can certainly assure the whole House that he is absolutely right: we are working hard to get a good deal. We believe we can get a good deal. We believe there is will on both sides to get a good deal and that is absolutely our focus. He is also absolutely right, as I said in reply to the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, that we have been clear and believe that the issues around our withdrawal and future relationships are inextricably linked. We are very pleased that the EU has now decided to start its own preparatory work on the future relationship and we are sure that once we begin adding that into the mix of discussions, these negotiations will continue to make the progress that we have seen over the past few days.

Photo of Lord Lea of Crondall Lord Lea of Crondall Labour

My Lords, on Brexit the unstated question which will be asked more and more insistently is: “Transition to what?”. On this point, will the noble Baroness the Leader of the House ask the Foreign Secretary whether he recalls from his days studying classical Greek the play “The Birds”, written by Aristophanes in the 4th century BC, in which having become dissatisfied with the governance of the realm the ruler of his country and his queen—Queen Sovereignty by name—commissioned the sacred birds to carry out a reconnaissance mission to find a more fitting place for the seat of his Government? They duly carried out this mission and reported that the name of this place was cloud-cuckoo land.

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 those interesting comments.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

My Lords, will the Minister accept my congratulations on two points? The first is the stance that the Government have taken on Iran, bilaterally with the President of the United States and at the European Council. Does she not find it a trifle odd that while we are preparing to leave the European Union our closest allies in this matter, which affects our national security, are indeed the main members of the European Union? Will she confirm that in Washington, the three countries that are so concerned—France, Germany and Britain—are working very closely to persuade Congressmen on the Hill not to move that dangerous step closer to another dispute in the Middle East?

The second congratulation is on the Prime Minister having ignored the letter that she received from some of her colleagues—I noticed that there was no reference to it— suggesting that she should leave the negotiations if there was not agreement on trade straightaway, which there has not been. Does that not demonstrate that it really is high time for the Government to put on the table in black and white what the consequences of leaving without a deal would be? Would that not be the best course and would it not bring it home to people, right across the European Union, that this option needs to be rejected?

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 his congratulations. They do not happen very often so I shall attempt to respond positively. I do not think it odd at all that our closest allies in relation to Iran are France and Germany. We are an international, global country and we have strong relationships across the world. Our three countries are all committed to the Iran deal, and it is working. The International Atomic Energy Agency has released eight reports on Iran’s nuclear programme since the implementation day of the joint comprehensive plan, all of which confirmed that Iran is fulfilling its obligations under the deal. The Prime Minister could not have been stronger in making that message clear and we were very pleased that the Council built on the joint statement made last week by the Prime Minister, Chancellor Merkel and President Macron, which reiterated our firm commitment to the nuclear deal. We will continue to support that.

In relation to the noble Lord’s second question, as I said in response to my noble friend Lord Lamont, the highest probability is that we will get a good deal but it is only right that we prepare for a no-deal situation. What we cannot and will not do is to publish information which will undermine our ability to negotiate that best deal for Britain.

Photo of Baroness Ludford Baroness Ludford Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union)

My Lords, the Government claim that they are committed to European security arrangements and the free flow of data. How will they ensure that those continue if they pull out of reciprocity instruments, the European Charter of Fundamental Rights and the EU court’s jurisdiction? Those moves will all prejudice the vital, mutual recognition and adequacy assessments on which continued co-operation is in fact conditional.

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 obviously have a strong and close relationship on these issues from being in the EU. We will continue to do so because we are seen as a world leader in this by our EU partners and we all know the benefits of working together. For instance, as the noble Baroness will know, we are already incorporating the new EU general data protection regulation and the data protection directive within the Data Protection Bill, which is in front of your Lordships’ House. We will have an unprecedented level of regulatory alignment in this area so that a new, ambitious partnership can be built on the kind of relationships that we already have.

Photo of Lord Hamilton of Epsom Lord Hamilton of Epsom Conservative

My Lords, my noble friend has reiterated the Prime Minister’s position that we will pay what we owe the EU, which presumably takes us up to the end of the budget period in 2020. However, if we were to leave in the spring of 2019 with no deal, surely at that point would we not stop paying?

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

As the Prime Minister made clear, we have said to our EU partners that we need to reach a fair settlement on our rights and obligations. We also made clear in the Florence speech that they do not need to fear that they will need to pay more or receive less over the remainder of the current budget plan as a result of our decision to leave. Following the process agreed in the last round of talks, we have undertaken a detailed and rigorous examination of the technical detail, aiming to reach a shared view on these issues.

Photo of Lord Liddle Lord Liddle Labour

Can I ask the Minister for clarification of what is meant by “transition and implementation”? It seems to me that business—various bodies representing business have written to the Prime Minister—wants a transition period which gives us more time to negotiate the deep and comprehensive agreement that the Government are talking about, in which period we will remain in the single market. Are the Government rejecting that request, or are the Government still committed to the completion of the negotiations on a comprehensive trade deal by next October, which virtually everyone in the know thinks is a completely unrealistic objective? If that is their objective, why can they not table now their proposals for the framework, at least, for the future economic relationship rather than the three sentences that the Prime Minister devoted to it in her Florence speech?

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

We will be leaving the EU and its institutions in March 2019, but at that point neither the UK nor the EU will be in a position to implement smoothly many of the detailed arrangements that will underpin this new relationship, so the implementation period is a bridge from our exit to our future partnership.

Photo of Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Crossbench

My Lords, will the Minister explain whether the Cabinet and the Prime Minister understand the uncertainty that EU citizens here feel at the moment? They do not understand what settled status means and whether it means that they can go back to their own countries later on if they want to. I spent last weekend visiting someone in one of the large teaching hospitals. Three out of the five nurses I met were from the EU. They all want to stay here for a considerable length of time, but they do not want to stay if it means that in the long term they cannot go home. They are also asking, as are many people, why the Scottish Government have already said that they will pay any costs associated with public servants applying for settled status but the same assurance has not been given to people working in England. We need to know that it is vital that we retain our current health service and social care workers from the EU because we are having such difficulty recruiting people in the short term during this unsettled period.

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 for her question. I do not know how we could have been clearer in the Statement in saying that this is an absolute priority for the Government. It always has been. We have put forward a generous offer and a suggested approach, and we are now waiting to hear from the EU. As I said, in the fourth round of talks we offered a guaranteed right of return for settled citizens in the UK in exchange for onward movement rights for British citizens currently living in the EU. As the noble Baroness will know—we discussed this at length during the Article 50 Bill—we have to look at the rights of EU citizens in the UK and the rights of UK citizens in the EU. That is the position that we have held. I reiterate, and can assure her, that this is a priority for us. We believe we are making progress. There are just a small number of issues left. We are very hopeful that discussions can move on in coming weeks and that we will come to a good deal which will provide reassurance for EU citizens here and UK citizens in the EU.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, it is a pity that we did not take the advice of this House on EU citizens, but I very strongly welcome what my noble friend has said about the Government wanting a deal. But would she agree that that would be much more credible if we did not have the sort of carping at the Chancellor that has appeared in the press today? He is doing his very best to bring reality to the economic aspects of this, and it is crucial that he has the support—the united, non-carping support—of the Cabinet. Would my noble friend agree?

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

I certainly agree that all the Cabinet is focused on ensuring that we achieve a good deal. We all want that and are all behind the Prime Minister. As I have already said, the response from other leaders at the EU Council shows that we are making progress and that there is a willingness for us all to move on. That is what we must focus on.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I welcome the Government’s change of position on continuing post-Brexit co-operation on internal security and foreign policy. The problem I have is that what I hear from the Government is that we want to continue but are waiting for the EU to propose how. Will we have any of our own proposals on how we will manage when we leave the extensive institutional co-operation in foreign policy which has grown up, often under British initiative, in the last 40 years, or when we leave Europol, if we are going to leave? I remember the nonsense from the leave campaign about how Interpol was perfectly adequate and we did not need Europol. Clearly we do. What proposals are the Government going to make on this, or are they simply going to say that the other side have to tell us how it can be done?

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 be aware that we have published, I think, 14 various types of papers over the last few weeks, some of which were on security. In fact, the EU 27 has made clear in its negotiation guidelines that it stands ready to establish partnerships in the fight against terrorism and international crime as well as on security, defence and foreign policy. We are working on those details. We certainly value, for instance, the role of Europol in helping law enforcement agencies co-ordinate investigations, and there is good precedent for third-country participation in it. Structures are already in place, which we will be looking to involve ourselves in. We want a relationship in this area, and understand the importance of it, but obviously the detail will be for the negotiations.

Photo of Lord Davies of Stamford Lord Davies of Stamford Labour

The Government claim to have a magic formula for customs. Will they set out the full technical detail of how that works, what it would cost and who would pay that cost? Until they have done those things, no one will be able to evaluate their proposal or agree to it, and there will not be any progress on that item.

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 missed the beginning of that question because of other noble Lords speaking.

Photo of Lord Davies of Stamford Lord Davies of Stamford Labour

Will the Government set out, in full technical detail, their proposal for creating a customs barrier in Ireland without any infrastructure on the ground?

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

As the noble Lord will be well aware, there is absolute commitment on both sides to ensure that we do not return to the border of the past. The discussions will continue in the negotiations, and when we are ready to put forward proposals, we will do so.

Photo of Lord Low of Dalston Lord Low of Dalston Crossbench

My Lords, will the Leader of the House not agree that there is no solution to the Irish border problem if the UK leaves the customs union? If she does not agree, could she say what the solution is?

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

No, I do not believe that that will an issue in that sense. We have already committed to not returning to the border of the past and to working together on this. There is plenty of technology and other things that mean we will come up, with the EU, with an option that works for the island of Ireland and for Northern Ireland as part of the UK.

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms (HM Household) (Chief Whip, House of Lords), Deputy Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I think we should hear from the Conservative Benches and then perhaps we can turn to the Labour Benches.

Photo of Lord Robathan Lord Robathan Conservative

My Lords, surely it cannot be that our friends and allies—our partners in the EU and neighbours across the channel—are trying to humiliate us, to obstruct us or indeed, to quote Michel Barnier, to “educate” the British people, which sounds like teaching us a lesson; and yet I read commentators saying that that is the case. I trust it is not. Can my noble friend tell me what the response of Her Majesty’s Government would be were this to be the case?

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

As I set out earlier, and judging from the quotes I have read from a number of other leaders, there was a constructive relationship and a constructive discussion at the European Council. That is what we are focusing on and what will lead to these negotiations leading to a good deal for the EU and the UK, because that is in the best interests of both sides.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

My Lords, may I press the Minister on the question of the Irish border? How can we be sure that the customs entry for a container of goods passing through a customs post at Newry, north of Dundalk, is an accurate list of the goods in the container without the right of customs to open the container and check the goods being transported against the entry? Effectively, that means a hard border. How can that be avoided?

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 have published our White Paper setting out our objectives for a new customs arrangement. Obviously, there is a lot of detail to work out but we are starting from the same place, which is that we do not want to return to the hard border of the past. We will work through these issues and deliver an outcome for the EU, the UK and Northern Ireland.

Photo of Lord Empey Lord Empey UUP

My Lords, is it not the case that without certainty, negotiating a settlement for Ireland without knowing the trading context is putting the cart before the horse? Do we not need these two things, which are inextricably linked, to be negotiated simultaneously, instead of this nonsense of trying to establish what the arrangements are going to be without knowing what the trade arrangements are going to be?

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

I entirely agree. That is why I have said that our position has been clear: our issues around withdrawal, our future relationships and the structures we have in place are all inextricably linked.

Photo of Lord Balfe Lord Balfe Conservative

My Lords, I wish to refer to two points in the Statement. The first relates to Operation Sophia. I was on the committee of this House that produced the report Operation Sophia: A Failed Mission. We looked closely at it, and I know the EU has looked very closely at our conclusions. When we leave foreign policy co-operation, that will no longer be possible for us to write.

Secondly, I draw attention to the item on Turkey. Traditionally we have been very realistic about Turkey. A number of European partners have been much tougher than us and, in many ways, much less wise. If our moderating voice is missing from the Council, surely that—our foreign policy co-operation—is yet another way in which our departure will weaken not only Europe but Britain’s ability to have our voice listened to with respect and acted upon.

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

We have certainly condemned recent developments in Turkey, and obviously there was the discussion in the EU Council. We will continue to have our voice heard even when we leave the EU because we are a key part of other international bodies that are concerned with this area. On the noble Lord’s first point, it is important to recognise that since June, migration flows across the Aegean are significantly down, thanks to considerable efforts on all sides, and there were fewer than 6,000 arrivals to Italy in September. Obviously, we have seen some appalling things happening in that area, but international action—with us involved in the EU, but there is also the great work the Royal Navy is doing there—is making a difference. It is critical that we stop people-smuggling and stop advantage being taken of these very vulnerable people, to try to ensure that we can improve their situation and lives.