Brexit: Negotiations - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:23 pm on 20th November 2018.

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Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Minister of State (Department for Exiting the European Union) 5:23 pm, 20th November 2018

I am sure that nobody wishes to incur the wrath of my noble friend Lady Goldie.

My Lords, as the Prime Minister set out in her Statement last week, we have now agreed the provisional terms of our exit from the European Union, set out in the draft withdrawal agreement. We have also agreed the broad terms of our future relationship, as set out in the outline political declaration, also published last week. Both the UK and the EU are now preparing in earnest for a special European Council taking place this Sunday 25 November, where we hope to be able to agree the full political declaration on our future relationship.

Before I speak further about the draft withdrawal agreement, I am sure that noble Lords will have noted the appointments last Friday of my honourable friend the Member for North East Cambridgeshire as Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and of my honourable friend the Member for Spelthorne as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department for Exiting the European Union. I look forward to working with both colleagues as the whole Government deliver on a Brexit deal that honours the result of the referendum and takes the country from strength to strength, but I must add that both the UK and the EU have reiterated, time and again, that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. To that end, we will not sign a withdrawal agreement without a full political declaration and we will ensure that Parliament can make an informed decision and that business and citizens have a clear understanding of our future relationship.

What we agreed last week is a draft treaty that means that we will leave the EU in a smooth and orderly way on 29 March 2019 and sets the framework for a future relationship that delivers in our national interest. It takes back control of our borders, our laws and our money; it protects jobs, security and the integrity of the United Kingdom; and it delivers in ways that many said could simply not be done. The outline political declaration sets out an arrangement that is superior for our country than options such as Canada-plus, Norway-minus or even Norway-plus—a more ambitious free trade agreement than the EU has agreed with any other country. On security co-operation, the outline political declaration sets out a breadth and depth of co-operation also beyond anything the EU has agreed with any other country.

I shall now set out the details of the agreement. First, the full legal text of the withdrawal agreement has now been agreed in principle. It sets out the terms on which the UK will leave the EU on 29 March 2019. We have secured the rights of the more than 3 million EU citizens living in the UK and around 1 million UK nationals living in other countries in the EU. We have agreed a time-limited implementation period that ensures that businesses have to plan for only one set of changes. We have agreed protocols to ensure that Gibraltar and the sovereign base areas in Cyprus are covered by the withdrawal agreement and we have agreed a fair financial settlement, estimated to be far lower than the figures many mentioned at the start of these negotiations.

As the Prime Minister has made clear since the start, we have been committed to ensuring that our exit from the EU addresses the issue of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. We believe that this issue can best be solved through our future relationship with the EU, but the withdrawal agreement provides an insurance policy, meaning that should the new relationship not be ready in time for the end of the implementation period, there will still be no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. As noble Lords will know, the original suggestion from the EU was not acceptable, as it would have resulted in a customs border in the Irish Sea and cast doubt upon the integrity of our United Kingdom, so last month the Prime Minister set out for the House the four steps we needed to take. This is what we have now done, and the EU has made a number of concessions towards our position.

First, the EU proposal for a Northern Ireland-only customs solution has been dropped and replaced with a new UK-wide temporary customs arrangement that protects the integrity of our precious union. Secondly, we have created an option for a single, time-limited extension of the implementation period as an alternative to bringing in the backstop. As we have said many times, we do not want to extend the implementation period and we do not believe that we will need to do so. This is an insurance policy, but if it happens that at the end of 2020 our future relationship is not quite ready, then the UK will be able to make a choice between the UK-wide temporary customs arrangement and a short extension of the implementation period.

Thirdly, the withdrawal agreement commits both parties to use their best endeavours to ensure that this insurance policy is never used. In the unlikely event that it is needed, if we choose the backstop the withdrawal agreement is explicit that the backstop is temporary and that the Article 50 legal base cannot provide for a permanent relationship. There is also a mechanism by which the backstop can be terminated. Finally, we have ensured full continued access for Northern Ireland’s businesses to the whole of the UK internal market.