“Mr Speaker, before I turn to the European Council, I am sure the whole House will join me in condemning the killing of Jamal Khashoggi in the strongest possible terms. We must get to the truth of what happened. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will be making a Statement shortly.
At the European Council, in addition to Brexit, there were important discussions on security and migration. First, at last Monday’s Foreign Ministers meeting, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and his French counterpart secured agreement on a new EU sanctions regime on the use of chemical weapons. At this Council, I argued along with Dutch Prime Minister Rutte that we should also accelerate work on further measures, including sanctions, to respond to and deter cyberattacks. The attempted hacking of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague earlier this year was a stark example of the very real threats we face. We must impose costs on all those who seek to do us harm, regardless of the means they use, and this Council agreed to take that work forward.
Secondly, in marking Anti-Slavery Day, I welcome the continued commitment of all EU leaders in working together to eliminate the barbaric crime of people trafficking. We reaffirmed our shared commitments to doing more to tackle the challenges of migration upstream.
Following the Council, I met Premier Li of China, President Moon of South Korea and Prime Minister Lee of Singapore at the ASEM summit. Since 2010, our trade with Asia has grown by almost 50%—more than with any other continent in the world. I want to develop that even further. Indeed, the ability to develop our own new trade deals is one of the great opportunities of Brexit, so at this summit we discussed how the UK can build the most ambitious economic partnerships with all our Asian partners as we leave the European Union. We also agreed to deepen our co-operation across shared threats to our security.
Turning to Brexit, let me begin with the progress we have made on both the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration on our future relationship. As I reported to the House last Monday, the shape of the deal across the vast majority of the withdrawal agreement is now clear. Since Salzburg, we have agreed the broad scope of provisions that set out the governance and dispute resolution arrangements for our withdrawal agreement. We have developed a protocol relating to the UK sovereign base areas in Cyprus. Following discussions with Spain, and in close co-operation with the Government of Gibraltar, we have also developed a protocol and a set of underlying memoranda relating to Gibraltar, heralding a new era in our relations. We have broad agreement on the structure and scope of the future relationship, with important progress made on issues such as security, transport and services. This progress in the past three weeks builds on the areas where we have already reached agreement: on citizens’ rights, on the financial settlement, on the implementation period, and, in Northern Ireland, on the preservation of particular rights for UK and Irish citizens and the special arrangements between us such as the common travel area, which has existed since before either the UK or Ireland ever became members of the European Economic Community.
Taking all of this together, 95% of the withdrawal agreement and its protocols are now settled. There is one real sticking point left, but it is a considerable one: how we guarantee that, in the unlikely event our future relationship is not in place by the end of the implementation period, there is no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. The commitment to avoiding a hard border is one this House emphatically endorsed and enshrined in law in the withdrawal Act earlier this year. As I set out last week, the original backstop proposal from the EU was one we could not accept, as it would mean creating a customs border down the Irish Sea and breaking up the integrity of our United Kingdom. I do not believe that any UK Prime Minister could ever accept this; I certainly will not.
As I said in my Mansion House speech, we chose to leave and we have a responsibility to help find a solution. So earlier this year, we put forward a counterproposal for a temporary UK-EU joint customs territory for the backstop. In a substantial shift in its position since Salzburg, the EU is now actively working with us on this proposal, but a number of issues remain. The EU argues that it cannot give a legally binding commitment to a UK-wide customs arrangement in the withdrawal agreement, so its original proposal must remain a possibility. Furthermore, people are understandably worried that we could get stuck in a backstop that is designed to be only temporary. There are also concerns that Northern Ireland could be cut off from accessing its most important market—Great Britain.
During last week’s Council, I had good discussions with Presidents Juncker, Tusk and Macron, Chancellor Merkel, Taoiseach Varadkar and others about how to break this impasse. I believe there are four steps we need to take. First, we must make the commitment to a temporary UK-EU joint customs territory legally binding, so the Northern Ireland-only proposal is no longer needed. This would protect relations not only north-south but, vitally, east-west. This is critical: the relationship between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK is an integral strand of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. To protect that agreement, we need to preserve the totality of relationships it sets out. Nothing we agree with the EU under Article 50 should risk a return to a hard border or threaten the delicate constitutional and political arrangements underpinned by the Belfast/Good Friday agreement.
The second step is to create an option to extend the implementation period as an alternative to the backstop. I have not committed to extending the implementation period. I do not want to extend the implementation period and I do not believe that extending it will be necessary. I see any extension, or being in any form of backstop, as undesirable. By far the best outcome for the UK, Ireland and the EU is that our future relationship is agreed and in place by
What I am saying is that if by the end of 2020 our future relationship is not quite ready, the proposal is that the UK would be able to make a sovereign choice between the UK-wide customs backstop and a short extension of the implementation period. There are some limited circumstances in which it could be argued that an extension to the implementation period might be preferable, if we were certain it was only for a short time. For example, a short extension to the implementation period would mean only one set of changes for businesses at the point we move to the future relationship. In any such scenario, we would have to be out of this implementation period well before the end of this Parliament.
The third step is to ensure that were we to need either of these insurance policies—whether the backstop or a short extension to the implementation period—we could not be kept in either arrangement indefinitely. We would not accept a position in which the UK, having negotiated in good faith an agreement which prevents a hard border in Northern Ireland, none the less finds itself locked into an alternative, inferior arrangement against our will.
The fourth step is for the Government to deliver the commitment we have made to ensure full continued access for Northern Ireland’s businesses to the whole of the UK internal market. Northern Ireland’s businesses rely heavily on trade with their largest market—Great Britain—and we must protect this in any scenario. Let us remember that all of these steps are about insurance policies that no one in the UK or the EU wants or expects to use. So we cannot let this become the barrier to reaching the future partnership we all want to see. We have to explore every possible option to break the impasse, and that is what I am doing.
When I stood in Downing Street and addressed the nation for the first time, I pledged that the Government I lead will not be driven by the interests of the privileged few, but by ordinary working families. That is what guides me every day in these negotiations. Before any decision, I ask: how do I best deliver the Brexit that the British people voted for? How do I best take back control of our money, borders and laws? How do I best protect jobs and make sure nothing gets in the way of our brilliant entrepreneurs and small businesses? And how do I best protect the integrity of our precious United Kingdom and protect the historic progress we have made in Northern Ireland?
If doing those things means I get difficult days in Brussels, then so be it. The Brexit talks are not about my interests; they are about the national interest—and the interests of the whole of our United Kingdom. Serving our national interest will demand that we hold our nerve through these last stages of the negotiations, the hardest part of all. It will mean not giving in to those who want to stop Brexit with a politicians’ vote, with politicians telling the people they got it wrong the first time and should try again. And it will mean focusing on the prize that lies before us: the great opportunities that we can open up for our country when we clear these final hurdles in the negotiations. That is what I am working to achieve, and I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, first I concur with the comments about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. It is important that we understand exactly what has happened, and also why the truth is having to be so painfully extracted. This obviously has implications for our future relationship, and the Government will have to be clear at some point about what action they will take.
On the substance of the summit, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement, although the top lines were already well known following Downing Street’s pre-briefing to the press. I can understand why the Prime Minister may have been informed by her Chief Whip that an advance operation was needed before she rose to her feet in Parliament. However, pre-briefing such a significant Statement, purely for the sake of internal party management, goes totally against the procedures that govern this House.
We understand that this is a difficult week for the Prime Minister, and I am sure that I am not alone in the House in being shocked and appalled by comments from—perhaps wisely—unnamed Conservative MPs. They spoke of the PM having to “bring her own noose” and made obscenely offensive comments about knives and stabbing the Prime Minister. Few of us are impressed with the Prime Minister’s negotiations, but such comments go way beyond what is reasonable or rational. If bullying in Parliament is to be rooted out, it must apply to everyone. As a House, I am sure we are agreed that we totally condemn such comments and if, as has been reported, the names of those responsible are known to others, they must face the consequences of their unacceptable behaviour.
Before turning to Brexit, I welcome the other conclusions relating to migration, internal security and external relations. It is vital that swift progress is made on illegal migration. We saw tension between member states at the June summit, leading to the important acknowledgement that this is a challenge not just for any single EU country but for Europe as a whole.
Those noble Lords who watched the BBC2 programme “Mediterranean with Simon Reeve” last night will have seen one particular interview with a young migrant who had sought refuge in Europe, but got as far as the Med. I think he said he had known no peace since he was five years old, and he had a level of despair and sadness rarely seen in one so young. Until we have left the EU’s institutions, our MEPs and Ministers should continue to offer their expertise and exercise their influence to shape an effective and a compassionate response. [Interruption.] I think that was an echo of the need for compassionate and effective response. I hope the Leader of the House will confirm that the UK Government intend to do just that.
On internal security, we welcome the EU leaders’ condemnation of the cyberattack carried out against the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and their calls to increase resilience against such attacks going forward. The conclusions note the need to prevent and respond effectively to radicalisation and terrorism, with full respect to fundamental rights. With the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill now being considered by your Lordships’ House, we all want to ensure that the appropriate balance is struck.
The EU has played a significant role in promoting development in Africa, and it is promising that the conclusions note the importance of maintaining strong levels of co-operation with our African partners. Could the noble Baroness confirm what role, if any, the UK intends to play in the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa and other EU development initiatives post Brexit?
With unseasonal warm weather, and alarming weather reports from across the world, we need to ensure that we are vigilant and robust on tackling climate change. Yet, when the President of the United States asserts that global temperatures could simply “change back again”, we recognise the challenges to ensure we have a fact-based approach to this issue and not allow some to seek refuge in fake news. I welcome the EU’s unequivocal backing of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent special report. I hope that the Government will work closely with EU partners to ensure that December’s COP 24 meeting is a success, and that the Prime Minister will continue to press Mr Trump to reverse his decision on the Paris agreement.
This time last week, following Mr Raab’s unsuccessful trip to Brussels, the Prime Minister sought to reassure her colleagues, and then the country, stating:
“I do not believe that the UK and the EU are far apart”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/10/18; col. 410.]
When I asked whether the Government were confident that sufficient progress had been made to enable an extraordinary summit next month, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House said:
“The Prime Minister is looking to continue negotiations as planned in November”.—[Official Report, 15/10/18; col. 326.]
And yet, although she got the backing of her Cabinet before leaving for Brussels, the President of the European Parliament expressed dismay that the Prime Minister had failed to offer “anything substantially new” on the unresolved issue of the Northern Ireland backstop.
The result? Having scrapped—at the UK Government’s request—their original plans for a detailed discussion on the proposed terms of the future UK-EU relationship, the EU 27 leaders determined that,
“despite intensive negotiations, not enough progress has been achieved”.
Today, we are told by the Prime Minister that there is no need to worry. The line is apparently that 95% of the deal is done, so what is the problem? The Prime Minister may claim that she is calm about the state of the negotiations, but the reports of hastily arranged conference calls with her Cabinet indicate otherwise.
Of course we welcome the news that agreement has been reached on the future status of Gibraltar, that there is now a protocol dealing with the UK’s military presence in Cyprus, and that there is an outline agreement on dispute resolution—although, as we all know, this is dependent on the withdrawal agreement. Nevertheless, we welcome the progress. But we are all too familiar with the problems that remain unresolved.
In an attempt to break the impasse, and recognising the amount of work yet to be undertaken, the Prime Minister seemed to accept the principle of a short extension to the transition period, only to row back at the first sign of trouble from Back-Benchers. Now she talks of “an option to extend” rather than taking the common-sense step of negotiating a permanent customs union. Such an arrangement would avoid the need for the so-called backstop and would then help get that deal over the line.
But at each stage of the negotiations we have found the UK lagging behind the agreed timetable, and the Prime Minister seeking to manage internal party-political divisions. The priority for negotiations has to be the interests of the UK, our citizens and our economy, and time is running out. The Leader of the House said last week that noble Lords,
“do not have to stress … the consciousness of the amount of time we have”,—[
To reassure your Lordships’ House that these matters are in hand, can the noble Baroness confirm when she expects the Cabinet to agree—and this is an agreement which lasts longer than the paper it is printed on—a new position in relation to Northern Ireland? How will that position be communicated to parliamentarians who are concerned about the future status of the Belfast agreement, and the need to ensure that there is no hard border? Could she also confirm whether the UK Government will still seek an extraordinary summit in November, even if it is later than originally planned?
Finally, I return to an issue I have raised on a number of occasions, most recently last week. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her written response since she did not have the answer to hand at the time. But her letter to me, my noble friend Lord Foulkes and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, of
“protect the ability of UK nationals in the EU … to continue their lives broadly as they do today”.
However, my question was specifically about onward movement, which will not now be dealt with in the withdrawal treaty but as part of the future relationship. Could she clarify when the 1 million Brits living in other European countries can expect certainty on their future mobility rights? This is not just about ensuring that our UK citizens do not lose any of the rights that they currently enjoy; it is essential for business planning for those companies that operate across EU borders. They need the certainty that is so sadly lacking on this issue. The Prime Minister referred to the brilliant entrepreneurs and small businesses in her Statement, but it is they that need that certainty. If this forms part of our future relationship will the Government stop blocking the publication of the EU’s proposed political declaration?
I hope that the noble Baroness can respond to these questions, but she needs to understand that time is running out and that the nation remains concerned.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. I begin by associating myself with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, about the unacceptable use of inflammatory language in the Commons. At this point in our national life, matters are inflammatory enough without use of words such as “knives” and “nooses” about a Prime Minister. I hope that the person who used that terminology is unmasked and suffers the consequences that he or she richly deserves.
Before getting on to Brexit, it is instructive to read how the Government dealt with the two other big issues that faced the summit last week and have faced us subsequently. On the Khashoggi incident, the Government have taken a joint initiative in condemning what has happened and wanting further information with Germany and France—not with President Trump, but Germany and France, our closest allies.
Secondly, when it comes to the question of reining in chemical weapons, the Prime Minister takes credit for the fact that the Foreign Minister has agreed with his French counterpart a new EU sanctions regime. We have had this before. What does the noble Baroness think the future of that sanctions regime and that process of agreeing joint sanctions regimes on such important issues will be after
We are then told that 95% of the withdrawal agreement and its protocols are now settled. Noble Lords will remember this document produced by the Commission six or seven months ago: the draft withdrawal agreement. The bits in green were agreed. As one flicks through it, one finds page after page of green bits. There were some bits that were not agreed and those have been reduced, but as we know it is not the volume of what has been agreed, but the substance of what has and has not been agreed. The fact that the difficult 5% remains unagreed should give nobody any reassurance that agreement is near.
According to the Prime Minister, four steps are now needed to break the impasse:
“First, we must make the commitment to a temporary UK-EU joint customs territory legally binding”.
Before she uttered that sentence, she said, two paragraphs higher up:
“The EU argue that they cannot give a legally binding commitment to a UK-wide customs arrangement in the Withdrawal Agreement”.
So what powers of persuasion and legislative sleight of hand or ability does the noble Baroness think the Prime Minister will be able to produce to persuade the EU that something it says is legally impossible is actually the basis of an agreement within the next very short time?
The second step is the option to extend the implementation period. The argument then is that you have two options, one of which the EU says is legally impossible and the other an extension. The UK then says that it wishes to be able to make a sovereign choice between those two. So ultimately it will say to the EU, “Thanks very much for agreeing these two things, but actually we’ve decided we’re going to go for X”. Why should it agree to that? Why is it our sovereign choice? This flies in the face of negotiations and common sense.
The third thing is to ensure that both or either of those options are not potentially permanent arrangements. This gets us back to the philosophical discussion we had last week about the meaning of “temporary”. The Prime Minister says that she wants it to be temporary so that the UK does not find itself,
“locked into an alternative, inferior arrangement against our will”.
But the truth is that it is not an inferior arrangement that she is scared of but of being locked into something that a future, non-Tory Government thinks is a superior arrangement and therefore stays in the customs union in perpetuity. She and her colleagues want “temporary” to be defined to mean “before the next general election”, which is a novel definition of the word.
The fourth step, to ensure that Northern Ireland has full continued access to the UK internal market, is not a step at all. It is simply a consequence of steps one and two.
In her conclusion, the Prime Minister talks about the challenges ahead. She says that, whatever it means and whatever will happen, we must not give in,
“to those who want to stop Brexit with a politicians vote”.
What she means by a politicians’ vote is actually a vote by the people to have a say on any deal she reaches. We have this marvellous Alice in Wonderland definition that a vote by the people is a politicians’ vote but a vote by the politicians is a people’s vote even if, as is now the case, she and the Government Front Bench know that the people say they want such a vote. This is the kind of Alice in Wonderland use of language that surely the Prime Minister will not get away with much longer.
However, we can be reassured that, whatever she says about not having a vote on the outcome, she is planning for it. We know that the Government have been conducting war-games about how any referendum on a Brexit deal can be conducted. They are to be congratulated on that. Could the Leader of the House confirm that the starting point for the timetable against which those war-games are being conducted is the 22 weeks required for a referendum to be held, set out in UCL’s Constitution Unit’s recent report on the mechanics of such a referendum, not the 12 months recently suggested in your Lordships’ House by the noble Lord, Lord Callanan? Could she give an undertaking that the outcome of this planning will be published, just as the various notices have been published against no deal, in the interest of transparency and good government?
The key final point is what the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, said: what happens next? We do not know how a deal can be struck within the Cabinet, but what is the prospect of a November summit? It is probably very small. But, closer to home, what is the prospect of this House discussing the Trade Bill before Christmas? What has happened to the backlog of all the other Brexit legislation, of which there is no sign? What has happened to the 800 statutory instruments— 200 of which require affirmative resolutions—that this House has to debate and approve in the next four months? Could the Leader of the House give us some indication of the flow of business and timetable that she believes will now follow?
This Statement, like all the previous ones, has enabled the Prime Minister to survive another day, but when she speaks of difficult days ahead she knows that Brussels is the least of her problems. Her problems are in her own party, and this Statement does nothing to make one think she has a clue how to resolve them.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for their comments. In particular, I thank them for their strong condemnation of some of the alleged language that was reported in the press about the Prime Minister over the weekend.
In relation to Mr Khashoggi, the House will be aware that there will be a Statement tomorrow so we will be able to set out some further details there. As the Statement in the Commons made clear, we condemn his killing in the strongest possible terms. The Saudi statement leaves a number of questions around his death unanswered—in particular, the claim that he died in a fight simply does not amount to a credible explanation. Perhaps we can go into a bit more detail in the Statement tomorrow about actions going forward.
On the noble Baroness’s comments on migration, I confirm that we will, of course, continue to exercise all the influence we can to ensure that migrants are treated fairly and compassionately. She also asked about the COP24 summit in December. I reassure her that we are fully committed to a robust deal on the detailed framework needed to implement the Paris Agreement. As she will be aware, the conference will be focused on the development of a rulebook to support the implementation of the Paris Agreement, which we continue to fully support. The other major outcome will be from the first phase of the agreement’s five-year cycle to review global efforts and provide direction for future ambition.
I hope I reassure the noble Baroness and the noble Lord when I say that the Government are working with urgency to address the outstanding issues relating to Northern Ireland. It has been very clear in the Statement that I made this week and last that this is on the top of our agenda—there is no question at all. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU has said:
“The Prime Minister has rightly refused to rule out considering different approaches … as an alternative to the backstop”,
in order to make sure we can break this impasse. That is why we are working to create this new option—to extend the implementation period—and working further with the EU on the UK-EU joint customs territory proposals at pace.
Both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness asked about the November summit. That was an idea suggested by the European Council president. We remain committed, as I said last week, to continuing negotiations at pace in November. Donald Tusk, after the Council meeting, said he stood ready to convene an EU Council on Brexit if further progress was made. We will continue to work with our EU counterparts to make sure that we can achieve that goal.
The noble Lord asked about sanctions. He will be aware, as a result of the sanctions legislation that passed through this House, that we will enact our own sanctions regime when we leave the EU but, for the time that we remain a member, we will continue to encourage European partners to extend their diplomatic capabilities.
In relation to onward movement, I am afraid I can only reiterate what I said in my letter to the noble Baroness: we share her frustration. We have been clear from the start of negotiations that onward movement for UK nationals resident in the EU was a key priority. We raised this with the EU in the first phase of negotiations but they were not ready to discuss the issue and wanted to wait for negotiations on our future relationship. We tried and we have put it forward but we can only negotiate when two parties are negotiating. I share her frustration but I am afraid I cannot go further than what I have said today and what I put in the letter. Of course, I will update the House and the noble Baroness as and when things have moved on.
I am afraid that I will have to disappoint the noble Lord—the Government will not be holding a second referendum. We have been very clear about that. We had a people’s vote in 2016—the largest democratic exercise this country has ever had—and we will not frustrate the result of that referendum.
The noble Lord asked about the flow of business in this House. We will continue to work with the usual channels to make sure that this House has the opportunity to scrutinise legislation and SIs as a matter of course. We are very pleased that the work of the sifting committee has already started and I am very grateful to members of the committees for that work. We understand the frustration in this House. We understand that we have to ensure that Parliament has a correct amount of time to look at these issues and we will continue our best endeavours, through the usual channels, to make sure the House has the chance to raise the issues that it wishes to raise.
My Lords, will the Leader of the House reply to two precise questions? On the Irish backstop, the Statement makes it very clear that, in the view of the Government, a possible extension of the transitional period—known in rather Orwellian terms as the implementation phase—would be an alternative to having an insurance backstop. Has there been any indication from any of the 27 member states or the Commission that they could accept that as an alternative—rather than as an addition—to having the backstop which in all their Statements the Government say is necessary?
Secondly, will the progress that has been announced on Gibraltar, the sovereign base areas and dispute settlement relate only to the 19 months of the transitional period and not to those matters being settled in the new relationship? Will she please confirm that that is the case? If so, it is, frankly, a fairly modest step forward—welcome, but modest nevertheless. On dispute settlement, I am sure she would agree that the European Court of Justice will continue to produce rulings throughout the transitional period—that is what is meant by the dispute settlement matter in the transitional period being agreed.
The protocols in relation to Gibraltar and the sovereign base areas will be part of the international treaty which we will sign with the withdrawal agreement and the implementation period. The long-term future relationship will supersede that once we have that partnership, so we will obviously continue those discussions, but it is excellent that we have progressed to this point.
On the noble Lord’s first point, I am afraid that I cannot give any further information about the negotiations that are going on. We have been very clear that we are working with the EU to come up with a solution to the Northern Ireland issue and the Prime Minister is clearly in this Statement setting out two options that we are pursuing.
My Lords, I welcome the progress that has been made in the talks. I will ask my noble friend about the two options relating to Northern Ireland, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. On the question of the temporary UK-EU customs union, how could this be made temporary? Do the Government have in mind an end date which, I understand, was ruled out by Monsieur Barnier? Without an end date, how on earth could this be made temporary? Secondly, on the other option of extending the implementation period, will she say something about the cost? How much would that mean we would have to pay to the EU budget for each year that it was extended? If we are in for a few months only—as I know the Prime Minister hopes we will be—will we pay a full year’s subscription or just a proportion?
On my noble friend’s second point, the length and cost of any extension will be subject to the negotiations that are going on now on the drawing up of this option. On his first question about the temporary nature of the backstop, the Prime Minister has been absolutely clear: this cannot be a permanent situation. Obviously, a date is one option, but there are other ways in which this may be triggered in order to ensure it is temporary. Again, as we are getting down to the fine detail of these two options, those are the kind of issues that will be discussed and negotiated between ourselves and our EU partners.
My Lords, is not the Prime Minister’s claim that the deal is 95% done an utter misrepresentation? Is it not the truth that, because of the Brexiteer extremism in her party, by far the biggest issue, as it always has been—the Irish border—is still unresolved? Is it not also the case that her claim is designed to make everybody think that Brexit is done and dusted, when in reality it is merely the terms of divorce? Even if she does achieve a fudged agreement with Brussels soon, that will only be a prelude to years and years of immensely more difficult negotiations on our future trading relationships, in which we will again be asking for the impossible—all the benefits of trading into the single market and using the customs union, with none of the obligations—with the Irish border still the Achilles heel.
I hope that the noble Lord will be pleased to hear that in fact at the Council there was a lot of good will towards the UK and recognition around the table that in the past weeks there has been huge progress in agreeing the withdrawal agreement. The fact that I have made two Statements in the last two weeks discussing Northern Ireland in some detail shows that we are not hiding the fact that we still have an impasse in this situation. The Statements have been quite clear about that. What we are absolutely committed to, along with our EU partners, and particularly our Irish partners, is finding a way through, because as we said in the Statement this one issue is outstanding. We want a withdrawal agreement and an implementation period and we want a strong and positive relationship going forward. So I can assure the noble Lord that we are not taking things lightly; we are absolutely committed, with our partners, to cracking this very difficult nut, as he rightly says. We will do that and we will get a good deal with the EU, which is what we are intending to do.
My Lords, it is surely not good enough for the Leader of the House to reply to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that she cannot answer his question. You do not need to be an insider in the negotiations to realise that it is complete nonsense to say that an extension of the transition period is an alternative to the existence of the backstop, whether it is Northern Ireland-specific or UK-wide. They are apples and pears, very obviously, and I want to press her on this point. It is a longer time, surely, to find a permanent relationship that makes the backstop redundant. Why do the Government continue to create smoke and mirrors, which presumably is for internal consumption in her own party but does not give honest, real explanations?
Secondly, if the Government want the temporary customs arrangement to be written into the withdrawal agreement as legally binding, how is that commensurate with their professed desire to maintain the ability to make a sovereign choice to exit from the temporary customs arrangement? If it is legally binding in the withdrawal agreement, as the Government want, how can you make a sovereign choice to abandon it?
I am afraid that I do not think it is appropriate for me to discuss the details of the negotiation. I am sorry that the noble Baroness disagrees, but we are at a crucial time and I do not think that my making statements from the Dispatch Box about some of these delicate issues will be particularly helpful. We want to achieve a deal, and I hope she understands that and would want to help me ensure that I play my part by not saying things that would get in the way of a good negotiation and a good outcome.
Will the Minister explain how our commitment to maintain full alignment with the rules of the internal market and the customs union, which now or in the future support north/south co-operation, the all-Ireland economy and the protection of the 1998 agreement, can be discharged by a short extension of the implementation period? That is a timeless commitment. Can the Minister quote any precedent for an EU negotiation of a wide-ranging association, including a trade relationship, with any third country that has been completed, ratified and come into force within three years?
I remind noble Lords that we do not intend to use either the backstop option or the implementation period extension. These are insurance policies. We are committed to achieving, and we expect to achieve, our new relationship with the EU by the beginning of January 2021. These are insurance policies, not things we intend to happen. The reason we are confident about achieving a good deal with the EU is that we are in the unique position of starting with the same rules and being in the same place: we are not coming from different situations, as was the case in other deals the EU put together. That is why we are confident, starting from being together, that we can come up with a good deal going forward that works for both of us.
My Lords, as we pray in this House each day for the tranquillity of the realm, would it be worth sending a message to our more excitable and rather impatient Brexiteers, reminding them that it took 10 to 15 years for us to join the European Community, as it was then? We have been working together in a system with them for 46 years and therefore it is pretty likely that it will take a number of years for us to untangle all the arrangements we have made and withdraw in an orderly and sensible way. Is not the word that we really need, and which is missing in a great deal of this discussion at the moment, patience: an understanding that these things, if done properly, need to be handled very carefully and with great patience?
My Lords, on Saturday I was among the 700,000 people who marched through London to protest about what is happening and demand a second vote. Alongside me were two people who had voted “out” in the referendum and are now convinced that they were misled. Given that the Government are not prepared to hold a second vote of the people, how are the opinions of those people going to be taken into account?
Of course, I respect the views of the people the noble Lord spoke to, but as I have said and as we have made clear, we had a vote in 2016 in which 17.4 million people voted to leave. We will be respecting that vote. We will be achieving a great deal with our European partners to ensure a strong relationship going forward, but we have had a people’s vote and we will now respect their wishes.
My Lords, may I say to my noble friend that in respect of the meaningful vote that Parliament has been promised, no vote will be meaningful unless it enables the House of Commons to decide to stay in the European Union on existing terms, or to require the holding of a further referendum on the terms that it identifies. I simply do not agree with the Prime Minister’s use of the following phrase:
“politicians telling the people that they got it wrong the first time and should try again”.
That is not a proper assessment of the people’s vote.
As my noble friend will be aware, the vote on the deal will be one for the House of Commons to take, and the Government’s commitments are enshrined by law in the withdrawal Act.
Does the noble Baroness agree that the only basis on which the customs union could be temporary as a means of dealing with the Northern Ireland border issue is if the Government succeed in persuading our EU partners that their proposals in the White Paper for a joint customs territory are feasible? Can she report on the progress of those discussions in Brussels? Have not our partners dismissed this proposal as completely unfeasible? Therefore, the Government face a very tough choice in securing the peace in Northern Ireland through a permanent customs union or pursuing what many of us on this side believe is the fantasy of an independent trade policy and a hard Brexit with a hard border.
As the Statement made clear, when we put forward our proposal for a temporary joint customs territory, the EU was initially sceptical, but it is now actively working with us on our proposal. So positions and discussions in negotiations change, and we move forward together. We have been very clear that we are committed to ensuring that our future economic partnership provides a solution to the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland. The circumstances we are talking about are in the unlikely event that we do not reach that agreement and have our new relationship in place by January 2021. That is what we are working towards and what we believe we will be able to achieve.
My Lords, no doubt inadvertently, the Leader did not respond to the final point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. Do the Government accept that during the period of implementation or transition—call it what you will—the United Kingdom will be subject to the jurisdiction of the ECJ and that that jurisdiction will also last for as long as any extension to that period of transition?
In the near future we are likely to have an agreement—good, bad or indifferent, we wait to see. There will then be this implementation period, but I take the same view as that taken by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, I think: there is no way that this complex political and economic arrangement between the UK and the EU is going to be sorted out in just a couple of years. This is going to be work in progress for quite a few years to come, and I still do not understand from the Government the sorts of structures they have in mind to ensure that the UK and the EU stay close together politically and economically, because it is in their interests to do so. Picking up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Newby, the common security and defence policy will continue; we will have no say on how that is used but we are indicating that our forces will stay involved. I am not asking for an answer to that issue, but there are many issues of that type. I need—and I think the House needs—some idea of the structures we are looking at beyond the implementation period that will allow us to ensure that we have a continuing good agreement. Is it a Joint Committee or is it something bigger?
The noble Lord will be aware that alongside the withdrawal and implementation Act and treaty there will be a future partnership or future framework document setting out where discussions have got to about the future relationship. That will be the first time the noble Lord will see where we have got to in that discussion. That will then be the basis of the negotiation discussions, once we have agreed the withdrawal agreement and implementation period, to take forward that relationship. On the structure and scope of the documents, some of the things we have mentioned that we have started to make good progress on will be obvious from that document. That will then be worked on and will be the basis of the future partnership that we will look to have by 2021.
Does the Leader recognise that a prolonged period of uncertainty in which many of the complex details have not been decided will be disastrous for the private and public sectors across this country? I have been briefed in the past week by people from two of Britain’s leading universities on the desperate uncertainty they have over future access to European research networks and research funding and visas for foreign academics and their wives and husbands who come to this country, and the likelihood that the Home Office visa system, which is presently close to breaking down, will break down unless this is clarified fairly quickly. If we have an agreement now which is loose and short, these details will remain uncertain. Can we be guaranteed that, before a lot of these things are swept away as we formally leave, there is much more certainty on the detail across different sectors than the Government have yet begun to talk about?
Of course we are mindful of uncertainty, which is why we are working flat out to ensure that we come up with a suitable solution to the Northern Ireland issue, which is the one issue that is still outstanding in relation to the withdrawal agreement and implementation period. The very reason we agreed an implementation period was to give that certainty over two years and to give time for us to ensure that we have the future agreement in place and that we can begin our new relationship in January 2021. That has been at the heart of our approach throughout these negotiations.
The Lord Privy Seal declined to give us an answer, one way or the other, on whether or not civil servants have been war-gaming arrangements for a future referendum. However, can she tell us—this she should be able to answer—whether she, her officials, the usual channels and the parliamentary authorities in this House have been war-gaming how this House will deal with the flow of legislation and orders that must be put through? Can she give us a categorical assurance that this House will not breach its existing arrangements and Standing Orders—that we will not be required to sit on Fridays and Saturdays to carry through the burden of legislation?
I think I was clear in relation to the second referendum when I said that we will not be having a second referendum and therefore that work is not being done in relation to that. I can certainly assure the noble Lord that we will be working—and have worked—extremely hard with the usual channels to ensure that we give your Lordships the chance to scrutinise legislation. Obviously, changes that need to be made will have to come to the Floor of the House and therefore the House will decide. I am not going to make false promises to the noble Lord about what may or may not be possible. I do not think any of us wants to work 24 hours a day—well, some Members do but others of us would like quite like to have a bit of time outside the House, much as we all enjoy being together. We will do our very best to work within our usual situation, but I am not going to make promises that I cannot keep. What I can say is that this will be discussed fully with the usual channels, and where decisions need the view of the House, the House will have the chance to make up its mind on whether or not it wants to agree with government suggestions.