“Mr Speaker, before I turn to the European Council, I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our deepest condolences to the families and friends of those killed in the appalling terrorist attack in Trèbes on Friday. The House will also want to pay tribute to the extraordinary actions of Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Beltrame who, unarmed, took the place of a hostage and gave his own life to save the lives of others. Son sacrifice et son courage ne seront jamais oubliés.
Just last week we marked the first anniversary of the attack on Westminster and remembered the humbling bravery of PC Keith Palmer. It is through the actions of people like PC Palmer and Lieutenant Colonel Beltrame, that we confront the very worst of humanity with the very best. And through the actions of us all—together in this Parliament and in solidarity with our allies in France—we show that our democracy will never be silenced and our way of life will always prevail.
Turning to the Council, we discussed confronting Russia’s threat to the rules-based order. We agreed our response to America’s import tariffs on steel and aluminium, and we also discussed Turkey and the western Balkans, as well as economic issues including the appropriate means of taxing digital companies. All of these are issues on which the UK will continue to play a leading role in our future partnership with the EU after we have left. And this Council also took important steps towards building that future partnership.
First, on Russia, we are shortly to debate the threat that Russia poses to our national security—and I will set this out in detail then—but at this Council I shared the basis for our assessment that Russia was responsible for the reckless and brazen attempted murder of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury and the exposure of many others to potential harm. All EU leaders agreed and, as a result, the Council conclusions were changed to state that the Council,
This was the first offensive use of a nerve agent on European soil since the foundation of the EU and NATO. It is a clear violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and, as an unlawful use of force, a clear breach of the UN charter. It is part of a pattern of increasingly aggressive Russian behaviour and represents a new and dangerous phase in Russia’s hostile activity against Europe and our shared values and interests. I argued that there should be a reappraisal of how our collective efforts can best tackle the challenge that Russia poses following President Putin’s re-election.
In my discussions with President Macron and Chancellor Merkel as well as with other leaders, we agreed on the importance of sending a strong European message in response to Russia’s actions, not just out of solidarity with the UK but recognising the threat posed to the national security of all EU countries. The Council agreed immediate actions, including withdrawing the EU’s ambassador from Moscow. Today, 18 countries have announced their intention to expel more than 100 Russian intelligence officers from their countries, including 15 EU member states as well as the United States, Canada and Ukraine. This is the largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers in history.
I have found great solidarity from our friends and partners in the EU, North America, NATO and beyond over the past three weeks as we have confronted the aftermath of the Salisbury incident. Together we have sent a message that we will not tolerate Russia’s continued attempts to flout international law and undermine our values. European nations will also act to strengthen their resilience to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear-related risks as well as bolstering their capabilities to deal with hybrid threats. We also agreed that we would review progress in June, with Foreign Ministers being tasked to report back ahead of the next Council.
The challenge of Russia is one that will endure for years to come. As I have made clear before, we have no disagreement with the Russian people who have achieved so much through their country’s great history. Indeed, our thoughts are with them today in the aftermath of the awful shopping centre fire in Kemerovo in Siberia. But President Putin’s regime is carrying out acts of aggression against our shared values and interests within our continent and beyond, and as a sovereign European democracy, the United Kingdom will stand shoulder to shoulder with the EU and with NATO to face down these threats together.
Turning to the United States’ decision to impose import tariffs on steel and aluminium, the Council was clear that these measures cannot be justified on national security grounds and that sector-wide protection in the US is an inappropriate remedy for the real problems of overcapacity. Last week, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Trade travelled to Washington to argue for an EU-wide exemption. We welcome the temporary exemption that has now been given to the European Union, but we must work hard to ensure that it becomes permanent. At the same time, we will continue to support preparations in the EU to defend our industry in a proportionate manner, in compliance with WTO rules.
Turning to Brexit, last week the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union reached agreement with the EU Commission negotiating team on large parts of the draft withdrawal agreement. These include the reciprocal agreement on citizens’ rights, the financial settlement, aspects of issues relating to Northern Ireland such as the common travel area, and, crucially, the detailed terms of a time-limited implementation period running to the end of December 2020. I am today placing copies of the draft agreement in the Libraries of both Houses and I want to thank the Secretary of State and our negotiating team for all their work in getting us to this point.
The Council welcomed the agreement reached, including the time that the implementation period will provide for Governments, businesses and citizens on both sides to prepare for the new relationship we want to build. As I set out in my speech in Florence, it is not in our national interest to ask businesses to undertake two sets of changes, so it follows that during the implementation period, they should continue to trade on current terms. While I recognise that not everyone will welcome a continuation of the current trading terms for another 21 months, such an implementation period has been widely welcomed by British business because it is necessary if we are to minimise uncertainty and deliver a smooth and successful Brexit. For all of us, the most important issue must be focusing on negotiating the right future relationship that will endure for years to come. We are determined to use the implementation period to prepare properly for that future relationship, which is why it is essential that we have clarity about the terms of that relationship when we ask the House to agree the implementation period and the rest of the withdrawal agreement in the autumn.
There are of course some key questions that remain to be resolved on the withdrawal agreement, including the governance of the agreement and how our commitments to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland should be turned into legal text. As I have made clear, we remain committed to the agreement we reached in December in its entirety. This includes a commitment to agree operational legal text for the ‘backstop option’ set out in the joint report, although it remains my firm belief that we can and will find the best solutions for Northern Ireland as part of the overall future relationship between the UK and the EU. I have explained that the specific European Commission proposals for that backstop were unacceptable because they were not in line with the Belfast agreement and threatened the break-up of the UK’s internal market. As such, they were not a fair reflection of the joint report. But there are many issues on which we can agree with the Commission and we are committed to working intensively to resolve those which remain outstanding. I welcome that today we are beginning a dedicated set of talks with the European Commission and, where appropriate, the Irish Government, so that we can work together to agree the best way to fulfil the commitments we have made.
We have also been working closely with the Government of Gibraltar to ensure that Gibraltar is covered by our EU negotiations on withdrawal, the implementation period and the future relationship. I am pleased that the draft agreement published jointly last week correctly applies to Gibraltar, but we will continue to engage closely with the Government of Gibraltar and our European partners to resolve the particular challenges that our EU withdrawal poses for Gibraltar and for Spain.
Following my speeches in Munich and at Mansion House setting out the future security and economic partnerships we want to develop, the Council also agreed guidelines for the next stage of the negotiations on this future relationship which must rightly now be our focus. While there are of course some clear differences between our initial positions, the guidelines are a useful starting point for the negotiations that will now get under way. I welcome the Council restating the EU’s determination to,
‘have as close as possible a partnership with the UK’, and its desire for a ‘balanced, ambitious and wide-ranging’ free trade agreement, for I believe that there is now an opportunity to create a new dynamic in these negotiations.
The agreements our negotiators have reached on the withdrawal agreement and the implementation period are proof that with political will, a spirit of co-operation and a spirit of opportunity for the future, we can find answers to difficult issues together—and we must continue to do so. Whether people voted leave or remain, many are frankly tired of the old arguments and the attempts to refight the referendum over the past year. With a year to go, people are coming back together and looking forward. They want us to get on with it and that is what we are going to do. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. We fully endorse her comments about the extraordinary bravery of police officers both in the attack in France last week and here at home as we commemorated last week. We recognise the bravery and commitment of those who have lost their lives and we will never forget their actions, which are truly heroic. We should also pay tribute to the police officers and members of the other emergency services who never know what danger they may face on any and every day. They and their families live with the knowledge that they always have to be prepared to ensure that we are safe.
I turn to the security issues outlined in the Statement. We welcome the recognition of the necessity for co-operation. Specifically on Russia, we were grateful for such swift and strong support from President Tusk and the EU 27 following the Salisbury attacks. Even in the midst of what are obviously very tough negotiations, our EU partners have not hesitated to offer both solidarity and action, which emphasises our shared values. Action has now followed across the world, with the announcements today of Russian diplomats being expelled from European and North American countries. We look forward to further updates on the detail of future security arrangements, but is the noble Baroness able to provide any information on discussions regarding UK participation in vital schemes such as the European arrest warrant?
The Government have been reluctant in the recent past to take action to protect the British steel industry, so we welcome that the Secretary of State for International Trade has now joined in representations to the US Government against US-imposed tariffs on EU steel. But we have to ask: would he have been able to achieve this on his own, without the support of the other 27 nations? I wonder whether we might now see a conversion by the Secretary of State to the benefits of joint and co-ordinated action by the EU in all our interests. The exemption that has been achieved, while positive, is only temporary. With talks ongoing between the EU and US, I hope the noble Baroness will confirm that the Secretary of State will provide an update through a Statement in the House of Commons in due course.
Turning to Brexit and the discussions on key issues, the noble Baroness will know that we have been calling for an agreement on a time-limited transitional period and we welcome the Government’s recognition of the necessity of this, not least for the British businesses that lacked certainty on their ability to trade with the EU after March next year. But although I understand the noble Baroness’s and the Government’s reluctance to use the word “transition”, labelling it as an “implementation period”, as in the Statement, is pushing it a bit when it then says it is an implementation period to “prepare properly” for the future. Surely an implementation period would be to implement what has been already been agreed, rather than to allow more time for Ministers to plan for the future.
As we heard in the debate this evening, the Government seem yet again to accept being tied into an absolute cut-off date. It seems a little like watching the sand run through an egg-timer and when it gets to the end, that is it. Does the noble Baroness accept that once the principle has been agreed that there is to be a time-limited period, as it now has been, there is a need for a little flexibility beyond having to return to Parliament? Such flexibility has no impact on the effect of the Bill and, as we heard in the last debate, it would be helpful and useful to the Government. I was sorry to hear the Minister, who is in her place at the moment, rejecting building such flexibility into the legislation. The Prime Minister has already discovered the pitfalls of setting firm deadlines when she rushed over to Brussels to announce the phase 1 agreement only to find she had not properly squared off the DUP. A couple more days were needed. Such flexibility would avoid that kind of embarrassment.
The Statement is clear that the issue of the Northern Ireland border remains to be resolved, but it seems that the Statement misses the crucial point. It talks of,
“how our commitments to avoid a hard border … should be turned into a legal text”.
That is part of the issue, but the fundamental point is not about the legal text and the language to be used, but is about the policy agreement, the practicalities of delivering the frictionless border we all want and maintaining our commitment and operation of the Good Friday agreement. In her Mansion House speech the Prime Minister outlined her vision of a technological border, despite her Brexit Secretary’s previous description of these proposals being as an example of what she called “blue sky thinking”. If the Government insist that it is now just a matter of a legal text, can the noble Baroness tell us how the Government will give practical effect to the commitment that there should be no hard border in Northern Ireland?
I have two final points on clarity. Last week, this House passed two significant amendments on Euratom in the Nuclear Safeguards Bill. This issue was flagged up in the Prime Minister’s Mansion House speech and is one of vital importance to the country. Can the noble Baroness clarify whether the Government will accept those amendments when they are considered in the Commons, and/or bring back alternatives in the withdrawal Bill?
My final request for clarity is on the position of UK nationals. The noble Baroness is aware that I have raised this numerous times in this House before, including on the previous EU Council Statement from the PM that said that the Government had protected the rights of UK nationals. I raised then that unless the issue of onward movement is addressed the Government will have disadvantaged UK nationals, but will have protected just some of our rights. I ask her to look at two documents. The first is the withdrawal agreement of
“In respect of United Kingdom nationals and their family members, the rights provided for by this Part shall not include further free movement to the territory of another Member State”.
Then we had the updated document from last week. There is a mystery. Apart from the mystery that the noble Lord, Lord Newby, tried to raise earlier about what had been agreed and what had not, which the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, was not able to answer, we have Article 31 on the development of law and adaptations of Union acts, but I looked for Article 32 and it has gone. It has disappeared. We move straight to Article 33. Where is Article 32 about the rights of UK nationals when we Brexit? What will happen to them? It has mysteriously disappeared. It is a blank piece of paper. If the noble Baroness can explain the missing article, where it has got to and whether it means the Government have now come to the negotiating table to protect the interests of UK nationals it would be extraordinarily helpful.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement. I echo her condolences to the families and friends of all those who died in Trèbes, particularly those of Lieutenant-Colonel Beltrame. On security, the Prime Minister is clearly to be congratulated on securing a co-ordinated EU response. To have 18 EU member states expelling Russian diplomats is clearly a major achievement. However, I wondered whether the noble Baroness would agree with the assessment from the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, of why such an agreement is possible. He said:
“Those who weren’t keen on nailing the Russians were brought along by the powerful instinct for consensus that develops over a long summit discussion. It will be much harder to get that amplification of a UK position from outside the EU”.
It really is important to be in the room. Could the Leader say anything about how the Government will seek to replicate that ability to be in a room with other EU leaders when vital matters of our national security are being discussed in future?
More generally on our response to the Russian incident, when we debated this on the Prime Minister’s previous Statement, a number of suggestions were floated by the Government about further action being taken against individuals. Could the noble Baroness tell us what further action the Government now contemplate?
On Brexit, I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition about the use of the word “implementation”. It implies that there is something to implement. This is a standstill agreement or transition agreement; it certainly is not a period during which any agreement is being implemented. The process that has led to this agreement has been very instructive on the Secretary of State for DExEU’s negotiating strategy. It seems to follow the following rules. First, make a series of extremely bellicose statements. Secondly, have no meetings whatever with your main interlocutor for three months. Thirdly, wait to see what the Commission’s proposals are, having made no detailed proposals of one’s own. Fourthly, just accept them all: the customs union, the single market, a £40 billion payment and the European Court of Justice having a rule during the transition period. These were all things that the Government were ruling out at the start.
On the most intractable issue of all, the Northern Ireland border, if I were the DUP I would be seriously worried about the UK’s agreed fallback position of a customs union down the Irish Sea. The only alternatives that it has put forward are widely accepted as completely unsustainable and unworkable. The draft agreement applies the EU’s solution—that is, of the border down the Irish Sea—unless and until another system is agreed, yet detail of another system there is none. There is a curious passage in the Prime Minister’s Statement on which I would be grateful for the Leader’s clarification. It reads:
“I have explained that the specific European Commission proposals for that backstop”— that is, the border down the Irish Sea—
“were unacceptable because they were not in line with the Belfast agreement and threatened the break-up of the UK’s internal market. As such, they were not a fair reflection of the joint report”— that is, the December report. But they were in the December report. What has changed to make them unacceptable now when they were in the December report which the Government signed? I find that a remarkable statement.
On the agreement, most of it is in green, which is agreed, or in yellow, which is agreed in principle, but probably the biggest section in white, which is not agreed, is on ongoing police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters. This is a crucial element of the whole deal and of our relationship with the EU. What were the problems that have meant that we have not reached agreement in principle on the policy in that area? We have been able to reach agreement in principle on the policy on virtually everything else.
As for the future, the Government have so far produced no detailed proposals. Can the Leader give us some idea of whether the Government plan to do so at any point and whether Parliament might have an opportunity to discuss them?
The Prime Minister concludes:
“With a year to go, people are coming back together and looking forward”.
Well, they are looking forward, but the emotions which that forward glance fill them with vary. The Prime Minister said that,
“many are … tired of the old arguments and the attempts to refight the referendum over the past year”.
What does the Leader say to the majority of voters, including the majority of Conservative voters, who according to recent polling now believe that they should have a vote on any Brexit deal? How does the mantra of respecting the views of the British people sit with ignoring the views of the British people in respect of approving any final Brexit deal?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for their comments. I agree with them about the solidarity shown by our EU allies, for which we are extremely grateful.
At the Council meeting, the PM shared with our EU colleagues the basis of our assessment that Russia was responsible for the attack in Salisbury. It was that, along with our shared concerns with our EU partners, and of course more internationally with the United States, Canada and Ukraine, that led to today’s action. The European Council President, Donald Tusk, said today:
“As a direct follow up to last week’s European Council decision to react to Russia within a common framework … 14 Member states have decided to expel Russian diplomats. Additional measures, including further expulsions … are not to be excluded in the coming days and weeks”.
As the Statement mentioned, we will return to this issue in the June Council meeting, as we see how things develop.
On steel, I can confirm to the noble Baroness that we will of course keep the House updated on discussions with the United States. We remain concerned about the impact of tariffs on global trade and will continue to work with the EU on a multilateral solution to the global problem of overcapacity. We have also played a leading role in other fora such as the G20 Global Forum last November in securing agreement on tackling unfair trading practices which harm steel producers. We are using all our international negotiations and diplomacy to make sure that we advance our arguments.
On the negotiations, there is flexibility within our approach. As the Statement said, we have reached agreement with the Commission negotiating team on large parts of the withdrawal agreement and aim to reach a final agreement on a legal text by October alongside the framework for our future relationship.
On Northern Ireland, which both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness mentioned, the Statement was clear: we have recognised that some key questions are outstanding, of which of course Northern Ireland is one. We are clear that we are committed to the joint report in its entirety, including reaffirming the Government’s commitment to the Good Friday agreement, which needs to be protected in all its parts. We are committed to agreeing in the withdrawal agreement operational legal text for the so-called “backstop option” set out in the joint report. It remains our belief that we can and will find the best solutions for Northern Ireland as part of an overall future relationship. We are beginning a dedicated set of discussions with the European Commission and the Irish Government. We have been resolute in our commitments on Northern Ireland: no physical infrastructure at the border; putting the protection of the Belfast agreement at the heart of the negotiations, and protecting Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market. We will continue to be so.
On the noble Baroness’s question about Article 32, I am afraid I am not familiar with the detail, so I will have to investigate further and write to her.
We will bring forward primary legislation to implement the final agreement with the EU, which will be the withdrawal agreement implementation Bill, so there will be ample opportunity for both Houses to discuss and consider it. Once we leave, the withdrawal agreement will be followed by one or more agreements covering different aspects of the future relationship, which may require further legislation.
Both sides have been clear that justice and home affairs co-operation is in the interest of both the EU and ourselves. We have so far focused on withdrawal issues and now move to the next stage of negotiations, where we anticipate a strong partnership on these issues. They are important to all of us, as recent events have shown.
My Lords, I welcome the progress on Brexit made at these negotiations. Yet again, when people said that no progress was possible, some significant progress has been made. On the basis, as has been said, that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, if there is no trade agreement in the autumn, does that mean that no money will be paid to fill the gap in the EU budget, or at least no money will be paid until there is an agreement?
As my noble friend said, we have been very clear that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, but we are confident on the basis of developments so far that we will reach a positive relationship with the EU. On the withdrawal and implementation Bill, we will look at publishing the future framework for our relationship with the EU. Our offer in relation to the financial settlement was made in the spirit of our future partnership and depends on a broader agreement being reached, which we are confident it will.
My Lords, I congratulate the Prime Minister on her success in mobilising our EU partners at the Brussels summit on the Russia question. It was notable. The question is how we replicate it in a year’s time.
Following up the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, will the Leader confirm that what we will be faced with in the autumn is a framework of principles for the future and not a precise, clear trade agreement, which will take several years to negotiate after we have left the European Union—in other words, that we will be signing up to the withdrawal and implementation agreement without any real knowledge of what our future economic relationship with the European Union will be and that there is no question of being able to link the money that we are paid with that future relationship?
The noble Lord is right that when we discuss the primary legislation on the withdrawal agreement and the implementation period, we will be doing so alongside a framework for the future partnership. We have been very clear, however, that we are committed to an ambitious future economic partnership, which we are confident we will achieve. We also believe we will develop a comprehensive security partnership. That is what we are doing now, moving into this phase of the negotiations.
My Lords, do the Government recognise that, on Russia, we probably face the same challenge this March as we did 72 years ago? In March 1946, the great Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, denounced the Soviet system and all its works and a few days later George Kennan sent the famous “long telegram” to America to say that the choice was either to contain the Soviet Union or to confront it. The decision two years later, setting up NATO, was of course to contain. Do the Government favour containing or confronting Mr Putin?
I think the actions today of our European partners and friends, in addition to those that we have taken, show that we will stand firm in the face of what has happened and Russia’s reckless behaviour. Unfortunately, the Salisbury incident is part of a pattern of increasingly aggressive Russian behaviour and represents a new and dangerous phase in its activity. That is why measures have been taken now and why the Council has agreed further measures and to come back to this at the next meeting in June, with Foreign Ministers being tasked to report back ahead of the next Council. Once again, we are very grateful for the support, not just of our European partners but the United States, Canada and Ukraine, who have also taken action today.
My Lords, is not the hard fact that the key question for the Government is which do they regard as more important: the Belfast agreement or being out of the customs union?
My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement today. A month ago, there was a previous Statement with the same amount of self-deception in it, which the Prime Minister issued in the Commons three days after her Mansion House speech. I agree with one of the sentences at the top of the conclusions page:
“We cannot escape the complexity of the task ahead”.
Later, in conclusion, the Prime Minister said that,
“foremost in my mind is the pledge I made on my first day as Prime Minister: to act not in the interests of the privileged few, but in the interests of all our people, and to make Britain a country that works for everyone”.—[
How on earth is that possible if we leave the European Union?
It is perfectly possible and we have a very bright future ahead of us. That is why we want to work with the EU to have as close a partnership as possible and to have a balanced and wide-ranging trade agreement; that is why we are going out into the world to develop new trade partnerships. We have already opened 14 informal trade dialogues with 21 countries, from the United States to Australia and the UAE, and we have a presence in 108 countries. We are looking forward to the opportunities now and we will be working with our friends and partners in the EU to make sure we continue to have a strong and positive relationship with them.
My Lords, I very much welcome the progress that has been made and I congratulate the Prime Minister and her negotiating team on what has been done. I am especially pleased by the passage in the Statement about the relationship we are seeking, which states that,
“it is essential that we have clarity about the terms of that relationship when we ask the House to agree the Implementation Period and the rest of the Withdrawal Agreement in the autumn”.
Therefore will my noble friend clarify and confirm that the Prime Minister will not accept any withdrawal agreement that does not set out clearly how the processes at the Irish border will operate, and therefore will be ruling out in that withdrawal agreement the backstop option, but will be putting in an option that the Prime Minister finds satisfactory?
We have been very clear that we believe we will find a satisfactory position on the Irish border. We are clear about that and we believe it is bound up with the discussions around our future relationship. Noble Lords will have ample time and opportunity to discuss that in more detail when the Bill comes to the House.
As I have said, we remain committed to what was in the agreement. We will be working with the EU to move forward and to make sure that we get the proper and correct situation on the Irish and Northern Irish border that we are all seeking.
My Lords, the Prime Minister suggested that many are, frankly, tired of the old arguments. I confess that my heart sank slightly when the Leader suggested that there would be the opportunity to discuss all these issues all over again in the withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill. Clearly we have many opportunities to keep rehearsing the same issues, but surely the point is to move forward. One point that the Prime Minister made, which seemed so important, was that she had found great solidarity from our friends and partners in the European Union—and, admittedly, from our NATO allies—over the situation with Russia. What are Her Majesty’s Government doing to work through how we retain close relations with the EU 27 assuming we leave on
These are exactly the issues we will be discussing in the next phase of the negotiations now that we have the EU guidelines and have set out our position.
My Lords, further to my noble friend Lord Lamont’s question, I am just not clear on the position. Will my noble friend indicate—are our future payments to the EU dependent on achieving a satisfactory trade deal or not?
As I have said, this offer is made in the spirit of our future partnership and depends on a broader agreement being reached.
My Lords, will the Leader confirm that our aspiration is to continue to have the sort of relationship we have with the European Council on all these interesting questions, such as on Russia and all the other things in the Statement? Does not continuing to have such a relationship depend on being part of a club that has rules? How does the Leader visualise squaring that circle in our future relationship?
I think we will continue to have strong relationships because it is in all our interests. We work with our EU partners, with NATO and through the UN: we are involved in a whole array of international organisations. Other issues were discussed at the Council that have not yet been raised—our approach to Turkey and Afrin and issues around Cyprus, for example. We work with all our international partners in a whole range of areas. We bring a lot to the party, so do they, and we want to continue to do that. I see no reason why we cannot.
My Lords, may I just explain something to your Lordships about the Northern Ireland border and the customs union? I do not think it is very widely understood. Of course, I spent considerable time there. There is a border and there are enormous differences between the jurisdictions of the Republic and Northern Ireland. They extend to education, health services, minimum wages, aspects of labour laws, excise duties and personal taxation. All these things are different so there has to be a controlled border. Furthermore, at the moment only 4% of the goods coming into the EU through Britain are checked by the customs authorities—HMRC. In the case of the Republic, only 1% of goods coming from outside the EU are checked by the Republic. What I am saying is that this is a tiny problem. It is mostly concerned with animals and animal welfare; it can all be done by pre-checking and online arrangements. The idea that it should be built up into a major issue of challenges about the whole customs union is completely disassociated from the facts of the situation on the ground.
I agree with my noble friend that there are obviously issues that we overcome now without a hard border and we want to continue to do that. We believe we can achieve a deep trading relationship between the EU and the UK that means specific measures in relation to Northern Ireland are not necessary. We have also been very clear that we will ensure that the specific circumstances of Northern Ireland are recognised. That is what we will be working on intensively over the next few weeks.
My Lords, I am sure we all wish to congratulate the Prime Minister on the active engagement she continues to have as a member of the European Council—but of course there will be only three more, or at most four more, European Councils in which she will be able to be an active participant before we leave. It is interesting to see that there is a commitment to,
“review progress in June, with Foreign Ministers being tasked to report back ahead of the next Council”— we have great confidence that Boris Johnson will succeed in doing that—and that the Secretary of State for International Trade will,
“continue to support preparations in the EU to defend our industry”.
If, after we leave, we plan to have some sort of institutional arrangement with the European Union in which we will participate, when will the Government start to explain to their public—including that section of the deeply divided British public which reads the Daily Mail or Daily Telegraph every day and does not believe that we ought to have any continued structural arrangement—what sort of arrangement they propose we should have? Over the past few months the Government have not explained to their public, except on the rare occasion of the Prime Minister’s Mansion House speech, what sort of relationship they begin to envisage. We read about it in Commission documents but do not hear about it from our own Government. Is it not time that the Government began to spell out to us what sort of future relationship they see we might have?
The European Council has just agreed its guidelines for negotiations. We have been very clear through the Prime Minister’s speeches—Munich on security and Mansion House on economic partnerships, as the noble Lord mentioned—about the kind of relationship we want. We will now be putting flesh on those bones. The noble Lord made the point himself that the relationship between the UK and the EU will remain strong because we do want to work together in these international fora and we do face common threats and challenges. We can perfectly reasonably develop relationships in order to do that. We have shown that we are stronger together and that is what we will continue to be.
Did solidarity extend to the Prime Minister dissuading President Macron from attending the St Petersburg economic forum in May—or does the Leader anticipate that he will press on with his plans? Separately, is the Leader aware of the considerable disquiet that exists on the island of Anguilla regarding the reliance of its economy on the market of the EU countries of Dutch and French Saint Martin? Is she able to send a clear message to the people of Anguilla to allay their concerns following Brexit?
I certainly can reassure the people of Anguilla. We are intending to negotiate on behalf of the entire UK family and our dependencies, and we will certainly do that. France has stood shoulder to shoulder with us. There was the statement from President Macron, Chancellor Merkel and President Trump, and today France has ordered four Russian diplomats to leave.
My Lords, I am much encouraged by the progress on the Brexit negotiations and congratulate the Government. Does my noble friend agree that being prepared for no deal provides our best chance of achieving a good deal?
On the basis of what we have achieved so far, we are confident that we will achieve a deal—but, as any responsible Government would, we have to prepare for all scenarios. But on the basis of what we have achieved so far, we are confident we will come to a good deal.
We have been very clear that it will. We want to make sure that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and we will work to achieve that.
My Lords, it seems to be agreed that the European Court of Justice will have a continuing role during the implementation period. Has any thought been given to whether the United Kingdom should continue to have representation on that court after exit day?
The noble and learned Lord is absolutely right that during the implementation period there will continue to be a role for the ECJ. We will be leaving the jurisdiction once we leave the EU, although of course EU law and the decisions of the ECJ will continue to affect us; for instance, it determines whether agreements the EU has struck are legal under the EU’s own law. But we will be leaving the jurisdiction.
My Lords, does the Leader recognise that in one respect and for key sectors of British industry, the Statement on Brexit negotiations is seriously misleading? It talks about the details of the so-called implementation period being settled when they are not fully settled, and about continuing to trade on current terms. But key sectors of industry will be excluded from the agencies of the EU that deal with the way in which they trade. That includes sectors that the Prime Minister herself has recognised, such as aviation, medicines and chemicals, where the EU’s position is that we will be excluded from March next year. Will the Leader please ask her colleagues to issue an additional, revised statement explaining to those sectors and others, such as food and the nuclear industry, how the implementation period will actually mean that they will continue to trade on current terms—because in my view it will not?
The implementation period will be based on the existing structure of EU rules and regulations. But, as was made clear in the previous Statement I repeated, we are working in the negotiations with the EU to look at the agencies that we would like still to be involved in, and those will be part of the discussions we have going forward.
Perhaps I might ask the Leader to answer the question that was put to her by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. If we remain subject to the jurisdiction of the ECJ during the transition or implementation period, will we retain a British judge on the European Court of Justice, as we have hitherto had?
As I have said, obviously we will continue to be under the jurisdiction of the ECJ during the implementation period. After that, we leave the ECJ.
I am sorry, that does not answer my question. Will we retain a British judge on the European Court of Justice, as we have now, if we are still subject to its jurisdiction?