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Brexit: Negotiations and No-deal Contingency Planning - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 4th September 2018.

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Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Minister of State (Department for Exiting the European Union) 6:30 pm, 4th September 2018

My Lords, with the permission of the House I shall now repeat a Statement made in the other place. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to provide the House with an update on the progress of Brexit negotiations and the Government’s no-deal contingency planning. On Friday, I was in Brussels for the fourth time since I became Secretary of State for a further round of talks with Michel Barnier. We had an extended discussion covering outstanding withdrawal agreement issues, internal and external security, and our future economic partnership. We have injected some additional pace and intensity into the negotiations as we reach the final phases.

The vast majority of the withdrawal agreement has been agreed. When signed, the agreement will: safeguard the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU so that they can continue to live their lives broadly as they do now; provide for a time-limited implementation period, giving businesses and citizens the certainty they deserve until we reach a new partnership; and allow for the UK to make an orderly and smooth exit as we move towards a future deep and special partnership with the EU. In August, we made further progress across the outstanding separation issues, including protection of data and information, the treatment of ongoing police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters and ongoing Union judicial and administrative procedures after exit. The scope and contours of the withdrawal agreement are now clear, subject to some further technical details we will continue to work on.

At the same time, we continue to work to complete a backstop to deal with the position of Northern Ireland and Ireland, as we committed to in the December joint report with the EU. As the Government have made clear, the EU proposals are unacceptable because they would create a customs border down the Irish Sea. We are determined to reach a solution that protects the Belfast agreement and avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland. We will not permit a customs border down the Irish Sea, which would put at risk the constitutional and economic integrity of the UK. Of course, this can be done without compromising the EU’s core principles. Importantly, we look to meet our commitments to the people of Northern Ireland through our future partnership so that no backstop would ever need to come into effect.

The White Paper we published in July has served as the basis for constructive discussions on our future relationship with the EU. I, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and other Cabinet colleagues have made visits across Europe, explaining our proposals and making the case for what we have put forward for our future relationship. Since the publication of the White Paper, Ministers have had more than 60 engagements with their counterparts across Europe. I met the French Europe Minister in Paris and recently saw the Swedish and Irish Foreign Ministers in London. I also met Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator, last week.

We have received a wide range of positive and constructive feedback. Equally, just as we have presented our proposals in a spirit of compromise, so they have proved challenging in some respects for some in the EU. But our friends across Europe are engaging seriously with our proposals on the substance. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister set out, we are committed to delivering on the vision in the White Paper and delivering a future relationship that will see the UK leave the single market and the customs union, an end to freedom of movement so the UK will control its own borders, the end of the jurisdiction of the European Court, and the UK and the EU meeting their shared commitments to Northern Ireland and Ireland, as I have already described.

At the same time, we want to build up the foundations of a bright, strong and enduring new relationship for the future with: frictionless trade across our borders; continued close co-operation on law enforcement and security; the UK free to develop its own independent trade policy; and broader UK-EU co-operation from research to student exchanges in many of the areas that we prize on both sides. We approach these talks with ambition, pragmatism and energy. If our EU friends match us, we will strike a deal that is in the clear and overwhelming interests of both sides.

I should also like to update the House on steps the Government have taken over the summer to prepare for the unlikely event that we do not reach a deal with the EU. While we expect to reach a deal with the EU—while it remains the most likely outcome, and while it remains our top and overriding priority—as a responsible Government, we have a duty to prepare for any eventuality. So on 23 August, we published 25 technical notices, intended to inform people, businesses and stakeholders about steps they may need to take in the event of a no-deal scenario. They build on the steady and patient work that has taken place over the last two years to prepare this country for life outside the EU—irrespective of the outcome of the negotiations. That work has included passing vital legislation to ensure a smooth Brexit, including the EU (Withdrawal) Act. It includes recruiting the staff in Whitehall and our operational agencies so we have the teams in place, and preparing our institutional capacity—from the Competition and Markets Authority to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

The technical notices continue this same, responsible, practical approach to preparing our country for Brexit. Among the technical notices, there is advice for businesses on some of the new processes they would be expected to follow when moving goods between the EU and UK in a no-deal scenario. Our technical notice on workplace rights sets out how workers in the UK will continue to be entitled to the rights they have under UK law. We have set out how, in the event of no deal, the UK will recognise the testing and safety approvals of existing medicines, if they have been carried out by an EU member state regulator, to minimise any disruption to the supplies of medicines or medical devices from the EU.

The notices are proportionate, they are measured and they prioritise stability for our citizens, businesses, public bodies and NGOs. The 25 notices published in August were the first in a series of updates which we will be publishing over the coming weeks to keep stakeholders informed about what, if any, action they need to take.

Our approach acknowledges that there are some risks in a no-deal scenario and demonstrates that we are taking action to avoid, minimise and mitigate these potential risks, so that we are equipped to manage any short-term disruption. While it is not what we want, a no-deal scenario would bring some countervailing opportunities. We would be able to lower tariffs and negotiate and bring into effect new free trade deals straight away. There would be the immediate recovery of full legislative and regulatory control, including over immigration policy and, while mindful of our legal obligations, a swifter end to our financial contributions to the EU.

So, I will continue to meet regularly with Michel Barnier, confident that a deal is within our grasp, if the ambition and pragmatism that we have shown is matched by our EU friends. This House and the British people can rest assured that the United Kingdom will be ready for Brexit deal or no deal—prepared, whatever the outcome, so that this country will go from strength to strength. I commend the Statement to the House”.