Further Developments in Discussions with the European Union under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:17 pm on 11th March 2019.

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Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Minister of State (Department for Exiting the European Union) 3:17 pm, 11th March 2019

My Lords, this debate allows us the opportunity to debate further the discussions with the European Union under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. This House has played a significant role in shaping the process for the UK’s exit from the EU and will continue to do so. The number of speakers on the list is testament once again to the extensive knowledge and experience this House has to contribute. The debate provides a significant opportunity to inform the debate ahead of the meaningful vote in the other place tomorrow.

The Prime Minister has long said that it is in the interests of both sides—the UK and the EU—to leave with a deal. That is what we have been striving to achieve. This afternoon in the other place, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, the Member for Worcester, will set out the latest position in response to an Urgent Question from the leader of the Opposition. Following the meaningful vote in January, the Government have worked hard to secure the reassurances the other place required. As well as changes to the backstop, we have been working on a number of areas to secure support for the withdrawal agreement.

As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has said, she, alongside my right honourable friends the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and the Attorney-General, and other Cabinet colleagues, has been working hard to find a solution to the backstop to ensure that it cannot be indefinite. The discussions with the EU are ongoing as I speak and I am sure that noble Lords will understand that I cannot go into the detail while these sensitive discussions are continuing at this time; nor, of course, would I want to comment on the huge amount of speculation and hypotheticals that are currently doing the rounds on social media. As soon as there is a conclusion to the negotiations, we will ensure that Parliament is updated at the earliest possible opportunity.

Over the past few days the Prime Minister has been speaking to fellow leaders. Yesterday evening she spoke to President Juncker by phone. The teams are continuing to talk throughout today. It remains our intention that the meaningful vote will take place in the other place tomorrow, Tuesday 12 March, and that the Motion will be tabled ahead of the debate. The other place will have the option to back the Brexit deal or to risk a delay that would mean months more of arguing about Brexit, prolonging the current uncertainty. It is important that we deliver on the result of the referendum and deliver this deal that works for the whole of the United Kingdom. However, the Prime Minister remains committed to the Statement that she made to the other place with regard to the votes that would follow, should the other place not support the deal tomorrow.

The Government remain committed to delivering a smooth and orderly exit from the EU and continue to progress with extensive work to put in place much of the legislation, both primary and secondary, required for our exit from the EU. Noble Lords are playing a crucial role in ensuring that the statute book is ready for exit day, including by providing appropriate scrutiny to legislation. It would be wrong of me to discuss legislation without paying tribute once more to the work of the Select Committees of the House, whose reports, insight and expertise have been most valuable at every step of the process since the result of the June 2016 referendum. In particular, I am grateful to the chairs of the scrutiny committees, the noble Lords, Lord Trefgarne and Lord Cunningham, for their extensive work. Their reports have been excellent. They have made effective use of the temporary additional resources the House wisely gave them for this task, and we all remain in their debt.

As part of our preparations for exit day, the Government are working hard to ensure that the necessary SIs are in place ahead of exit day. Many of these ensure that on exit day there is continuity for citizens and businesses. I am aware that noble Lords have asked about SIs in different exit scenarios. I can confirm that should we no longer require certain SIs after exit day if a deal is secured, the EU withdrawal agreement Bill—WAB—will make provision to defer the SIs that are not required at exit day. We expect that this would be until the end of the implementation period. For the information of noble Lords, as of today, we have laid 497 and completed 312 of the SIs required before exit day.

It would be most unprecedented to have a debate in this Chamber on the UK’s exit from the EU without the question of a second referendum arising at some point. Let me say for the avoidance of any doubt that the Government’s position has not changed and we are not considering a second referendum. The referendum in 2016 was the biggest democratic exercise in our history and the Prime Minister has been clear that the will of the British people must be respected and delivered.

Noble Lords often laugh when I say this, but once again I greatly look forward to hearing the contributions of the many noble Lords signed up to speak today. The rest of the week will no doubt see this matter develop further in the House of Commons. That does not mean that this House does not have a role and, at the risk of repetition, I think that today’s debate gives us all a valuable opportunity to take further stock. My noble and learned friend Lord Keen stands ready, as ever, to address any key points that are raised during the debate when he closes later on. I beg to move.