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European Council - Statement

– in the House of Lords at 5:46 pm on 2nd July 2018.

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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 5:46 pm, 2nd July 2018

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

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on last week’s European Council. The focus of this Council was on migration and there were also important conclusions on security and defence. The UK made a substantive contribution to both, and our continued co-operation after we have left the EU will be in everyone’s interests, helping to ensure the long-term prosperity and security of the whole continent.

The consequences of mass uncontrolled immigration are one of the most serious challenges confronting Europe today. The problem is felt especially acutely by countries on the Mediterranean and the Aegean that are often where migrants first arrive, but this is a shared challenge which affects us all. More than anything, the situation is a tragedy for the migrants themselves, thousands of whom have now lost their lives. At the core of all our efforts must be trying to prevent others from doing so.

The UK has long argued for a comprehensive, whole-of-route approach to tackling migration, and the Council agreed to actions in each of the three areas that we have championed. First, there will be more work upstream to reduce the number of people who undertake such perilous journeys in the first place. This includes providing more opportunities in the countries where economic migrants are coming from and helping to ensure that refugees claim asylum in the first safe country they reach. To support this, the UK will continue to invest for the long term in education, jobs and services in both countries of origin and transit.

We are also committed to the second tranche of the EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey, provided that we can agree an appropriate mechanism for managing the funds; and we made a further commitment at this Council of €15 million to support the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa. Both are delivering on the UK’s call for more support for countries of transit and origin on the main routes into Europe, which is vital if we are to achieve the solutions we need to mass uncontrolled migration. Alongside our economic development and humanitarian support, we have been stepping up our communications effort upstream so that more potential migrants understand the grave dangers of the journeys they might undertake and the criminal people smugglers who are waiting to exploit them.

Secondly, there will be more work to distinguish between genuine refugees and illegal economic migrants. This includes exploring the concept of regional disembarkation platforms. It was agreed at the Council that these could be established on a voluntary basis. Key to their success would be operating in full respect of international law and without creating a pull factor for further migration. There is clearly much more work to be done with the support of the UNHCR and the IOM to establish whether such proposals are practically and legally viable. But we need to be prepared to look again at new solutions, given the gravity and intractability of this challenge.

Thirdly, there will be further efforts to strengthen borders to help prevent illegal migration. Last week I agreed with Prime Minister Tsipras of Greece that we would work towards a new action plan of UK support for Greek and European efforts, including a further Border Force patrol vessel to work with the Greek Coast Guard. The UK now has law enforcement officers in 17 EU and African countries as part of our Organised Immigration Crime Task Force. UK and French officers are also working together to build links between counter-trafficking agencies in Nigeria and Niger to strengthen this key border on the central route. I am keen that we should replicate this model with other states. This is a challenge that faces the whole of our continent. As I said at the Council, we will continue playing our full part in working together with the EU to meet it—both now and after we have left, for that is in our national interest and in the interests of Europe as a whole.

The same is true for security and defence, which is why at this Council I made the case for a new security partnership between the UK and the EU after we have left. We have seen over recent weeks and months that Russia and other hostile state and non-state actors are trying to sow disunity, destabilise our democracies and test our resolve. So we must work together to adapt our current defences to the new normal and take responsibility for protecting international norms and institutions. In this context, I thanked our European partners for their solidarity in the wake of the appalling nerve agent attack in Salisbury. The unprecedented co-ordinated expulsion of undeclared Russian intelligence officers demonstrated our unity in response to this kind of disregard for global norms and rules, which poses a threat to us all. At the March Council, we agreed to do more to strengthen our resilience against such threats. Since then, the UK has led work with our European partners to propose a package of measures to step up our strategic communications against online disinformation, strengthen our capabilities against cybersecurity threats and further reduce the threat from hostile intelligence activities. This Council agreed measures in all of these areas, including an action plan by December which must go even further in co-ordinating our response to the challenge of disinformation.

This effort to adapt our defences to protecting international norms should also enable us to respond robustly to events beyond Europe when they threaten our security interests. So this Council welcomed the agreement reached by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary in The Hague last week, enabling the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to attribute responsibility for chemical weapons use. The Council reinforced this by agreeing with President Macron and myself in calling for the adoption of a new EU sanctions regime to address the use and proliferation of chemical weapons. The Council also agreed to roll over current sanctions on Russia in light of its failure to fully implement the Minsk agreements in Ukraine. In the context of online threats from the full range of state and non-state actors, President Macron and I joined together in pushing for further action to tackle illegal content, especially terrorist content, online.

Finally, on security we looked ahead to the NATO summit next week, which will be an important moment to demonstrate western unity. The NATO Secretary-General joined this discussion at the Council, where we agreed that Europe must take greater responsibility for its own security while complementing and reinforcing the activities of NATO. Far too few of our allies are currently meeting the commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence. At this Council, I urged them to do so, in order that, together, we can meet the full range of threats that challenge our interests. For our own part, we have the biggest defence budget in Europe and the biggest in NATO after the United States. We are investing more than £179 billion in new equipment. That means, among other items, new aircraft carriers and submarines for the Navy, new cutting-edge F35B aircraft for the RAF and new Ajax armoured vehicles for the Army.

We are leading throughout NATO, whether that is deployed forces in the Mediterranean, air policing in eastern Europe or our troops providing an enhanced forward presence in Estonia. We are operating with our allies to defend our interests all over the world. In April, RAF aircraft took action to degrade the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons capability and deter their future use. Over 1,000 personnel are deployed in the fight against Daesh and we are the second-largest contributor to the coalition air campaign in Iraq and Syria. In Africa, UK troops have built and now operate a hospital in South Sudan supporting the UN mission there; they are training security forces in Nigeria, and our Chinook helicopters are deploying to Mali in support of the French this week.

Two Royal Navy vessels are deployed in Asia in support of sanctions enforcement on North Korea, working closely with the US, Japan and others with another to follow—the first Royal Navy deployments to the Pacific since 2013. Our submarines are silently patrolling the seas, giving us a nuclear deterrent every minute of every hour, as they have done for 50 years. Our modernising defence programme will ensure that our capabilities remain as potent in countering the threats of tomorrow as they are in keeping us safe today. We are the leading military power in Europe with the capabilities to protect our people, defend our interests and project our values, supporting the global rules-based system. The Government I lead will ensure that that is exactly how we remain.

Turning to Brexit, I updated my fellow leaders on the negotiations and the 27 other member states welcomed the further progress that had been made on the withdrawal agreement. With the exception of the protocol relating to Northern Ireland, we now have agreement or are close to doing so. There remain some real differences between us and the European Commission on Northern Ireland. So, on the protocol on Northern Ireland, I want to be very clear. We have put forward proposals and will produce further proposals so that if a temporary backstop is needed, there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. We are absolutely committed to the avoidance of such a border and we are equally committed to the avoidance of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland is an integral part of our country and we will never accept the imposition of a border within our United Kingdom.

We all agreed that we must now urgently intensify and accelerate the pace of negotiations on our future relationship. I warned EU leaders that I do not think this Parliament will approve the withdrawal agreement in the autumn unless we have clarity about our future relationship alongside it. I will hold a meeting of the Cabinet at Chequers on Friday and we will publish our White Paper on the future partnership with the EU next week. The EU and its member states will want to consider our proposals seriously. We both need to show flexibility to build the deep relationship after we have left that is in the interests of both our peoples. Our White Paper will set out detailed proposals for a sustainable and close future relationship between the UK and the EU—a partnership that means that the UK will leave the single market and customs union, but a partnership which supports our shared prosperity and security. It will mark an important step in delivering the decision of the British people. I commend this Statement to the House”.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Basildon Baroness Smith of Basildon Shadow Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 5:58 pm, 2nd July 2018

My Lords, this was an extraordinary European Council summit. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement.

I think we are all surprised to see so little on Brexit right at the end. Obviously, Brexit is the key issue for the UK. Although it is increasingly apparent that everything in government is now seen through the prism of Brexit, the summit highlighted that it does not occupy the EU 27 in the same way. So I have some sympathy for the Prime Minister. It must be increasingly difficult at such summits, struggling to maintain influence and credibility in Brussels when under such pressure at home. Then, there is luck—or the lack of it. Who could have predicted that the Belgian Prime Minister’s gift of a No. 10 football shirt could possibly present any hazard? At least he is an attacker, not a defender.

The summit was also extraordinary in other ways. We saw the vetoing of an entire set of conclusions, requiring an all-night session to ensure progress on migration. Angela Merkel, who has taken the lead on the migration issue, questioned the very purpose of the EU if it is unable to deal with this. The discussion on security and defence took place against the backdrop of our Government refusing to confirm that the UK will remain a tier 1 military power and the US President confirming a summit with Vladimir Putin in July.

Migration has divided EU member states for years. The conclusions eventually reached on Friday morning stated:

“This is a challenge not only for a single Member State, but for Europe as a whole”.

Although there have been fewer crossings, the recent plight of more than 600 migrants on the rescue ship “Aquarius” highlighted that political judgments need humanity and decency at their core. We agree with Spain’s Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, that unilateralism and inflammatory rhetoric are not the answer. I hope his message was echoed by the Prime Minister in her contributions to that discussion.

Member states are right to want to step up their efforts in Libya, including increasing support for the Libyan coast guard. But, as your Lordships’ House debated recently, Operation Sophia is falling short of expectations and can only ever be one piece in this complicated puzzle. The UK and the EU must do more to secure a political solution in Libya and to support the development of state institutions to tackle people smuggling at its source. Could the noble Baroness the Leader of the House clarify the Government’s position on the UK’s post-Brexit participation in EU migration agreements with Turkey, Libya and other states? Will the UK’s support in Libya continue to be a part of co-ordinated European efforts?

EU leaders also discussed security and defence. Like many, I was disappointed by the Prime Minister’s almost belligerent attitude. The Prime Minister was criticised for appearing to make threats on security at Lancaster House. Even with the Commission’s strict stance on Galileo, it is disappointing that she has returned to playing hardball. As with migration, co-operation is essential; we are co-dependent in ensuring the security and safety of all our citizens. The Prime Minister noted the imminent arrival of the NATO summit, arguing that we are “leading throughout NATO”. That does not appear to be the view of President Trump, his Defence Secretary, or even the Prime Minister’s own Defence Secretary, whose agitation and campaign for additional funding show no signs of abating.

Elsewhere, we welcome that action will be taken to allow a co-ordinated response to the challenge of disinformation and to enable the improved identification and removal of online content that incites hatred. Discussions on tax avoidance and evasion, and the importance of rules-based international trade, remain as important as ever.

But, on Brexit, the four—just four—paragraphs in the conclusions are a stark reminder of how much work lies ahead in the next few months. They express,

“concern that no substantial progress has yet been achieved”, on the Irish border, echoing the comments made by the Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, that breaking the impasse and fleshing out the details of the proposed backstop solution is the EU’s,

“first, second and third priority”.

They issued a warning, to be heeded by certain Cabinet Ministers, that,

“negotiations can only progress as long as all commitments undertaken so far are respected in full”.

In the absence of the Government’s White Paper, the EU demanded,

“further clarity as well as realistic and workable proposals from the UK”, highlighting that the fractures at the heart of government are damaging our interests.

Nothing in the conclusions reflects the Prime Minister’s optimism when she arrived in Brussels hailing the significant progress of recent weeks. The reference to Gibraltar will rightly raise concerns, so I hope the Leader can inform your Lordships’ House of how the UK will engage constructively with EU and Spanish counterparts to resolve the situation.

I return to a point I raised previously on the Prime Minister’s Statement back in March. The paragraph in the draft withdrawal agreement on the onward movement rights of UK citizens living in the EU simply disappeared overnight. I was assured in a letter from the noble Baroness the Leader of the House following that debate that this remains a priority for the Government but that it was a matter for negotiation. Yet, the UK-EU joint statement of 19 June suggested that no progress had been made. Can the noble Baroness confirm whether this remains a priority for the Government? If so, what does that mean? When will this next be discussed by negotiators? Did the Prime Minister have any informal discussions on this important issue at the summit? Has any progress been made? What discussions have taken place and when? If the noble Baroness does not have the details on that part, I am happy for her to write to me.

Both the Prime Minister and the EU have called for an acceleration of the negotiations, but it is not the first time that attempts have been made to inject a sense of urgency into the talks. It now has to happen. We are running out of time. There appears to be a growing consensus across the EU that it will be the December summit, not the October summit as previously anticipated, that signs off any agreement. That is a problem. Are the Government still aiming for October, not least to give both Houses of Parliament sufficient time to study the details of the deal? The House of Commons Brexit committee warned last week that even without any slippage it might prove difficult to ratify the agreement and pass enabling legislation before the Article 50 window slams shut.

In the absence of an agreed UK position, the EU has made it clear that it is preparing for a no deal outcome. As we have said so often, no deal is the worst possible outcome and would be catastrophic for the UK. I see the Brexit Minister shaking his head. That really does not inspire confidence in anyone in this Chamber. Nevertheless, the EU 27 have reiterated their willingness to come up with an improved offer if the UK reconsiders some of its red lines, for instance over the EU charter and the underpinning of the European arrest warrant.

All eyes will be on Chequers on Friday. With no England match, there will be nothing to distract the Cabinet from fulfilling its responsibilities. This could be the most important Cabinet meeting for a generation and it is time for leadership. We all know that no plan was put forward at this summit because the Prime Minister had sought party and Cabinet unity on an issue when there is none. Is it the case now that the Prime Minister believes that the dangers of not having a detailed plan for Brexit are outweighed by the dangers of losing a Cabinet Minister or two? As the Lord Privy Seal, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House will have a seat at that table on Friday. She has an important role, and I hope she will urge Cabinet colleagues to put their differences aside, to open their minds and to agree a position that enables the UK to achieve the deal it needs, rather than the deal that the Brexiteers will let it have.

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

My Lords, this is a Statement of two parts. The first relates to the major issues on migration and security, which were rightly at the top of the agenda. The Prime Minister sets out in the Statement the things that we are doing to support the EU efforts to control migration: a further Border Force patrol vessel off Greece—leaving how many, I wonder, left to patrol our own territorial waters—a few policemen helping EU and African countries, and a small contribution to the EU trust fund for Africa. But while the Statement reiterates the UK’s commitment to working together with other member states to counter illegal migration, the Prime Minister is silent on how this will be achieved if we leave the EU. We will obviously not be in the room when the European Council discusses these matters, but which room will we be in? What forum of which the UK is a member does the Prime Minister propose should take these discussions forward post March next year? The same applies to security, where again the Prime Minister says that she wants a new security partnership but has given no indication of what form that might take, other than via our continued membership of NATO bodies.

The statement issued by the European Council naturally covers the issues discussed last Friday in the absence of our Prime Minister: jobs, growth, competitiveness, innovation and digital. On these vital issues for our future prosperity we are already out of the room and having zero input on the development of more-effective EU policies. The Government have no answer to the question of how we might have an input in the future, despite the implications for British jobs and prosperity.

The second half of the Statement is on Brexit—or, rather, the final page of a seven-page Statement is on Brexit, which confirms that the issue was hardly discussed, either when the Prime Minister was present or in her absence. The EU’s statement, four paragraphs of it, on its Friday discussions is terse and crackles with frustration at the lack of progress made in the talks so far.

How had the PM sought to deal with this frustration the previous day? According to her Statement:

“I warned EU leaders that I do not think this Parliament will approve the withdrawal agreement in the autumn unless we have clarity about our future relationship”.

She warned them about a lack of clarity? This is a Government who will have a Cabinet meeting in Chequers purely to get some vestige of clarity among themselves. The EU has been patiently waiting for a British proposal for months. The Secretary of State for Exiting the EU has obviously decided that his position is so embarrassing that he does not even bother to meet Monsieur Barnier, except very occasionally. The Prime Minister would do better to warn the Cabinet of the consequences of lack of clarity in UK policy. It is surely a bit rich even by her standards to blame the EU for a problem which is entirely her own.

The Statement is curious in that it does not mention the issue which the Prime Minister’s spin doctors were claiming last Thursday night to be the main burden of her intervention on Brexit. The Times, for example, led with the headline:

“EU putting lives at risk over Brexit, warns May”.

Did the Prime Minister, as alleged, accuse the Commission of,

“putting obstacles in the way of a new security pact”?

If so, what response did she receive? If she really raised security but failed entirely to mention trade and Northern Ireland, what sort of message does that send to the many British businesses now seriously worried about the prospects for jobs and investment?

There are many questions which one could ask about the Government’s approach to Brexit, but I realise that the Leader of the House will enjoin us to be patient and wait for the White Paper promised for next week, so to ask them is pointless. But, 10 days ago, I said that if there were a World Cup for kicking a can down the road, the Government would win it hands down. This Government are kicking and kicking, not least each other. I suspect that they are likely to continue to do so well after Friday’s Chequers meeting concludes.

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

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for their comments. As the Prime Minister made clear, the UK is playing, and will continue to play, an important role in international affairs. The noble Baroness asked about migration. We will certainly continue to work closely with our EU partners on this difficult area. I am afraid that I do not agree with the noble Lord’s somewhat implied assessment that our contribution has not been significant. I assure them both that we remain absolutely committed to providing protection for the most vulnerable refugees and improving the ways in which we distinguish between refugees fleeing persecution and economic migrants. As the noble Baroness pointed out, the UK is providing a further Border Force patrol vessel to work with the Greek coastguard. This brings our total maritime support to FRONTEX to two vessels in the Aegean and one in the central Mediterranean. As was mentioned in the Statement, the Prime Minister has agreed with Prime Minister Tsipras of Greece that we will work together on a new action plan of support for Greek and European efforts. Despite the noble Baroness’s misgivings about Operation Sophia, our naval assets have destroyed 182 smuggling boats and saved just under 13,400 lives since the operation began, so it is having an impact. We have also agreed to hold a strategic dialogue on migration with Turkey, which will allow us better to work to address the drivers behind illegal migration on the eastern route and to tackle organised crime groups. All this work will continue. We have so far contributed €328 million to the EU’s facility for refugees in Turkey and remain committed to the second tranche.

The noble Baroness asked about Gibraltar. The scope of the draft withdrawal agreement, including the implementation period, explicitly covers Gibraltar. We have been consistently clear that it is covered by our exit negotiations with the EU. Alongside the Government of Gibraltar, we have had constructive discussions with Spain about arrangements for future co-operation and look forward to these continuing. The Prime Minister had a first conversation with Prime Minister Sánchez since he took office. They touched on our close links. I understand that Gibraltar was mentioned in that conversation. We will continue to work with the Spanish Government and the Government of Gibraltar in developing our plans.

Both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord acknowledged that we will publish a White Paper on our future partnership with the EU next week. It will be a comprehensive document covering the entire breadth of our future relationship.

The noble Baroness asked again about the onward movement of UK citizens. I assure her that this issue remains a priority. As we accelerate the pace of negotiations, we hope to reach agreement quickly.

The noble Lord asked about our future security arrangements. The Prime Minister has set out in her Munich speech what we would like to achieve, which is an unprecedentedly deep partnership. On her comments at the summit, we have given a firm commitment to the future security of Europe and we will continue to make a major contribution, but the Prime Minister pointed out that our ability to do this could be put at risk. The existing legal frameworks for third countries do not allow us to realise the extent of the ambitious partnership that we believe is in both our interest and that of the EU. For example, under the Commission’s current position, the UK and EU would not be able to share information through key databases and agencies. Those are issues on which we want to continue; we have been very clear about that. We will continue to work with the EU to make sure that they are included in our future relationship.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Chair, International Relations and Defence Committee 6:16 pm, 2nd July 2018

My Lords, contrary to the rather gloomy assessment that we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Newby, does my noble friend accept that it appears that the Prime Minister made very considerable progress on migration and defence and security? This is all the more remarkable when one needs to be aware, as I think some of your Lordships are not, of the enormous changes going on throughout continental Europe on these issues. The entire posture of the European Union in relation to freedom of movement, migration and immigration has changed radically and will do so again, while on security and defence we are in the midst of major changes, as will be seen at the NATO summit next week, when the challenge of President Trump will be one thing and the threat of Turkey to leave NATO altogether another. It seems that remarkable progress has been made in very difficult and fast-changing circumstances.

As to the specific issue of customs control and tariffs, again, I do not quite understand. The noble Lords opposite talked about time running out. This is a negotiation. Decisions and agreement come at the end of a negotiation. First, you have it, then you have the decisions and agreement. That is what we are moving to now. Frankly, I cannot quite understand what all the fuss is about from the Opposition Benches.

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

I am very grateful for my noble friend’s support. I entirely agree with him.

Photo of Baroness Quin Baroness Quin Labour

My Lords, the Statement spoke approvingly of the EU sanctions regime. Is it the Government’s intention to continue to be part of that regime after Brexit?

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

The noble Baroness will know that we have passed the sanctions Bill, which will allow us to set out our own legal framework. We have been clear that we are looking to replicate the sanctions in which we are currently involved with the EU, and we now have the legal mechanism to be able to start to do that.

Photo of Lord Davies of Stamford Lord Davies of Stamford Labour

My Lords, as has already been referred to, the Prime Minister said the other day that she regarded our continued membership of Europol and the other security agencies and institutions of the EU as a matter of life and death—“lives would be at risk” if we left them was, I think, her phrase. If she really believed that, should she not, as Home Secretary, and therefore having the responsibility of dealing with those institutions at that time, have said that clearly to the British public at the time of the referendum? The British public never heard that opinion expressed at the time by the Home Secretary, as she then was, and it was apparently a vital matter which we were determining by the way we voted in that referendum.

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

I think the Prime Minister has been very clear: we have given a very firm commitment to the future security of Europe and said that we want to continue to make a major contribution. We have pointed out some of the issues we still need to overcome in our discussions and we will continue to do that, because we want a strong relationship on security with our EU partners.

Photo of The Bishop of Chester The Bishop of Chester Bishop

Can the noble Baroness tell the House more about the proposed regional disembarkation platforms? How would they operate and where would they be likely to be established?

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

On both the regional disembarkation platforms and the control centres, these were early discussions and it was agreed that they could be established on a voluntary basis. There is clearly a lot of work to do, in particular working with the UNHCR and the IOM to establish how these may be done in order to comply with international EU law. We will now work with our EU partners and the organisations I have just mentioned to take these issues forward. A progress report will be presented at the October council.

Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Newby, that there is something a little surreal in the Prime Minister’s warning of the need for clarity about the future relationship. The 27, of course, warn her in their conclusions text that further clarity is required,

“as well as realistic and workable proposals from the UK as regards its position on the future relationship”.

I know what they mean and I do not know whether the Government can satisfy them by producing proposals at Chequers. I hope that, in producing these proposals, party solidarity and unity will not be the only concerns and there will be a little time to think about the national interest and negotiability. Does the Minister agree with the Prime Minister when she said it is not realistic to think that we could just replace European trade with deals in new markets? That was in April 2016. Does the Minister believe that Trump’s flouting of WTO rules and his sanctioning of UK companies makes it any more realistic now?

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

The Prime Minister has been very clear that we are looking to have a strong, sustainable and close economic relationship with the EU and continue with that, but we also want to be able to undertake an independent trade policy which will help to complement that and provide us with new relationships with global partners across the world.

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Chair, Economic Affairs Committee

My Lords, given the decision on what the European Union, which is 27 member states plus the European Parliament, is prepared to accept—we are now being told that if they do not get what they want they are prepared to walk away—should we not be making the same preparations, so that we are in a position in March of next year to walk away? Should the Government not make that clear to the British people and business, so they have some certainty?

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

As my noble friend knows, we are very confident that we will be able to reach a good deal with the EU—but he is absolutely right, we are also preparing for all contingencies. That is what any responsible Government should do and that is what this Government are doing. We are advancing our no-deal planning; that is happening across government and across departments and I can assure him that it is on track. We hope it will not be necessary to use it.

Photo of Lord Harris of Haringey Lord Harris of Haringey Labour

The noble Baroness the Leader of the House agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that we really should not worry about when an agreement is going to be reached, because it is going to be reached right at the end. Does that mean that the Government have given up on the target of reaching agreement at the October summit? If so, how much time is Parliament going to have to consider the terms of any agreement?

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

No, the Prime Minister has reiterated, as have our European partners, that we are looking to secure agreement in October. That is what we are working towards. We will accelerate progress, we will be publishing our White Paper next week and we are confident that we all want to achieve the same thing and that that is still the aim.

Photo of Baroness Altmann Baroness Altmann Conservative

My Lords, I think the whole House will echo the words of my noble friend the Leader of the House in terms of our commitment to protect the Northern Ireland border. In that context, will my noble friend impress on her colleagues in Cabinet and also explain to the House the importance of dropping the threat of no deal—because it is absolutely impossible to respect the Northern Ireland border commitments if there is no deal. Indeed, the red lines we have in terms of the customs union and single market are incompatible with the red line of protecting Northern Ireland under any kind of no-deal scenario. So this is not like a normal negotiation; it is a negotiation from which, if we walk away with no deal, we will walk away without our way of life as we know it. I urge my noble friend to impress on her colleagues the importance of the Northern Ireland situation.

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

I can certainly reassure my noble friend that we are extremely mindful, and the Prime Minister is absolutely mindful, of the importance of this issue. We are committed to avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, as we are to maintaining the integrity of the United Kingdom. We believe that these commitments can be fulfilled through our overall future partnership, but we have also set out that there may need to be a backstop solution for the border which ensures that we do not have a hard border and protects our constitutional integrity. We have set out our proposals for that, the EU has set out its proposals, which are not acceptable, and we will continue to discuss these over the coming weeks.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Labour

My Lords, the Statement shows breath-taking complacency about our military capability. The last Secretary of State and this one both made it very clear that there is insufficient money to meet the demands of Force 2030. The £179 billion that the Minister referred to is being achieved through efficiency savings—but it is quite clear, as people have stated, that it cannot be achieved. The letter from General Mattis, which I have seen, makes it very clear that we will no longer be the ally of choice of the United States, because of where we are going. The military is in quite a parlous state, so my question is, bearing that in mind, are we really going to be able to be part of the European Intervention Initiative and still meet our commitments to NATO?

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

We are entirely committed to NATO. Indeed, as the noble Lord will know, we have a £36 billion defence budget, which is the biggest in Europe and the second biggest in NATO. We support the European Intervention Initiative and we believe that it complements existing structures and NATO. We believe that it also supports our argument that Europe is able to co-operate in new ways on defence outside existing EU structures. We were very pleased to sign the letter of intent, with France, Germany, Spain and four other countries, around this.

Photo of Lord Lawson of Blaby Lord Lawson of Blaby Conservative

My Lords, is my noble friend aware—I am sure she is—that the two most important aspects of the Belfast agreement on Northern Ireland referred to were, first, the recognition by both sides of the existence of the border—the border is a reality and will continue to be a reality and a “hard border” is a meaningless phrase—and, secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, that it was agreed that there was a peaceful route to reunification of the island of Ireland through a referendum of the people of Northern Ireland? If anything is done in the European Union sense here to shed doubt on the primacy of the referendum result, this will be disastrous for Northern Ireland.

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

I can only reiterate to my noble friend there remain real differences between us and the Commission on Northern Ireland but that we are absolutely committed to resolving them. We are all committed to working together to make sure that there is no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic and that we maintain the constitutional integrity of the UK.

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the interventions on Northern Ireland show just how important Ireland remains as this matter unfolds. Will the Minister clarify where Sir Robert Peel now sits in the Conservative pantheon? Is he a traitorous Prime Minister who sold out his party, or is he, in fact, an example to any Prime Minister of someone who put national interest before party interest in the way he carried out his duties?

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

I suggest that we want to be looking forward, not backwards, and that is what this Government are doing.

Photo of Lord Lea of Crondall Lord Lea of Crondall Labour

Will the Minister tell us her understanding of the difference between a White Paper and a Green Paper? If the document that comes out next weekend looks, of necessity, like a Green Paper, will the understanding then be that there will be a national conversation about the various trade-offs—what we are actually looking at at the moment are different packages of trade-offs—between the different ways of handling our future relationships?

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 set out, the White Paper will be a comprehensive document detailing the entire breadth of our future relationship, and we expect and ask the EU member states to consider the proposals seriously. We both need to show flexibility to build our relationship. This will be a detailed paper about our view of our future partnership with the EU and we look forward to discussing it with it over the summer.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that what we all hope for at the weekend is a constructive Cabinet discussion and the reassertion of the doctrine of collective responsibility? I express the hope that neither she—I am absolutely confident that she will not—nor any other member of the Cabinet will be overinfluenced by missives from Somerset.

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. Yes, I think it will be a constructive discussion. That is absolutely the intention and I look forward to it.

Photo of Viscount Waverley Viscount Waverley Crossbench

Will the Government support the case for an early debate on the White Paper as soon as possible? In addition, will they take an innovative approach at future summits by supporting a system of destination taxes, whereby taxes are retained whence revenues are derived rather than wherever those service providers have their corporates, and so help pay for health, education and acceptable levels of economic well-being in the countries that migrants come from?

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

On the noble Viscount’s first point about debates, I am sure, through the usual channels, we will look to ensure that this House has an early and, I am sure, lengthy discussion on the White Paper.

Photo of Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Defence)

My Lords, I recommend to the Leader the Tamworth Manifesto, produced by Sir Robert Peel, which laid the basis for the modern Conservative Party. I do not think she should be quite so dismissive of him. Going back to the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr—looking forward, as she has encouraged us to do—can we look forward with any confidence to a trade relationship with President Trump, who is now threatening British companies if they continue to trade with Iran, because of his unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear agreement, and has fallen out in the most public and deeply unpleasant way with his closest ally, Mr Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada? How can we possibly put our trust in someone so wholly unpredictable?

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

We want to ensure that UK and US businesses can continue to trade easily. Together, we have around $1 trillion invested in each other’s economies. The US is our largest single trading partner and top export destination. President Trump is coming to the UK at the end of next week and it will be an opportunity for us to have full and frank discussions and to advance our common interests.

Photo of Lord Higgins Lord Higgins Conservative

My Lords, the thing that is unpredictable about President Trump is that he is occasionally right. He is certainly right to have complained that the other members of NATO are not contributing their fair share and that the United States and United Kingdom are carrying a disproportionate burden. Was this matter raised at all at the summit and, if not, should it not be?

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

Yes, it was raised at the summit and there was a session with the Secretary-General of NATO. That was a point that the Prime Minister made. I think there has been an understanding from other European leaders about this. Indeed, Chancellor Merkel herself has said that the President has a point. So, yes, it was discussed and obviously there will be further discussions in the NATO summit next week.

Photo of Lord Kilclooney Lord Kilclooney Crossbench

My Lords, does the Leader agree that the Republic of Ireland will suffer more from Brexit than any other nation in the European Union and therefore it is right that people, even those dressed in green, show a new interest in the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland? Does she welcome the fact that the Government of the Republic of Ireland, who have refused to negotiate with the United Kingdom about Brexit, have now at last agreed to create a sitting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, which will begin to discuss the implications of Brexit in the Republic of Ireland? Having just returned from the border area, where I live, this time to the south of the border, I assure your Lordships that the rural communities in the Republic—not Dublin, not Dún Laoghaire—are petrified and they are being ignored by their own Government in Dublin.

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 we want discussion at all levels between the UK Government and Ireland. There has been good engagement at all levels and we want that to continue because, as I have said in numerous answers to questions, this is an absolutely critical issue. We both want to achieve a solution and we believe we can.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour

My Lords, as Ministers prepare to assemble at Chequers, is it not essential to remember what the Leader herself has stressed: the protection of the people of Britain? Terrorism, trafficking, crime and drugs are all international in character. It is not a matter of whether we reach an agreement on these matters; we have to reach an agreement. There cannot be an inter- regnum between our coming out and something being fixed. Something has to be fixed before we come out.

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

I agree with the noble Lord. That is why the Prime Minister put such emphasis on it at the summit. Although not directly related to the summit, I point to the success of the special session of the Conference of the States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention, which happened last week, and the leadership that the UK showed in that area to get that very important agreement. It shows that we remain a critical voice in international fora and are continuing to lead in important areas on a global stage.