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Leaving the European Union - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:58 pm on 21st January 2019.

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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 6:58 pm, 21st January 2019

I thank the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for their comments. I particularly thank the noble Baroness for her comments about recent events in Northern Ireland. I understand that tomorrow we will be repeating a Statement made in the other place earlier today, when perhaps we can discuss the matter in more detail.

Both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord talked about ruling out no deal but, as the Statement made clear, it is not within the Government’s power to rule out no deal. Under Article 50, we will leave the EU without a deal on 29 March unless either Parliament agrees to a deal or the UK revokes Article 50, which the Prime Minister has said that we do not intend to do. They both talked about extending Article 50, but they will know that this requires the unanimous agreement of all 27 member states, so there is nothing that the UK Government or Parliament can do unilaterally to secure it. It raises practical issues—not least, for instance, in relation to the timing of the European parliamentary elections at the end of May. Also, the EU is simply unlikely to agree to extend Article 50 without a plan for how we will approve the deal, which is why we are working so hard to get a deal which Parliament can accept.

The noble Lord mentioned a second referendum. The Statement clearly sets out our concerns about that, but he will also know that even if a second referendum were an option, it would require primary legislation, and this would take time.

The noble Baroness asked about conversations with EU colleagues since last Tuesday’s vote. The Prime Minister has spoken to Chancellor Merkel, to Dutch Prime Minister Rutte and to Prime Minister Löfven of Sweden, and conversations will obviously continue over the coming days.

I am happy to affirm to both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord that this Government will never reopen the Belfast agreement. The Prime Minister has been clear that she has never considered it and never would.

The noble Lord mentioned the take-note Motion. He is absolutely right: we have tabled it this evening and we will discuss it next Monday. The noble Baroness asked me to speculate about what may or may not happen in the House of Commons next week. I do not think that my joining the speculation would be helpful. I can certainly say to her that, as always, this House will respond to any decisions made in the other place, and we are happy to work with the usual channels to ensure that we are given timely opportunities to do so. I am sure that those discussions will begin as soon as we see what happens in the House of Commons.

Finally, I reassure the noble Baroness that, as has been the case so far, offers which have been made to Commons committees on access to documents, et cetera, will be extended to their Lords counterparts. Obviously, we will need discussions about how that takes place. I say once again, as I have on numerous occasions, that the committees of this House have played an important and influential role in the process, and I will do all I can to ensure that they continue to do so.