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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:44 pm on 11th March 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Keen of Elie Lord Keen of Elie The Advocate-General for Scotland, Lords Spokesperson (Ministry of Justice) 7:44 pm, 11th March 2019

My Lords, mere words can hardly do justice to my feelings on being invited to close yet another debate on Brexit, particularly so shortly after a debate that covered the same territory and since when, it is acknowledged, so little has changed. If there is one element of this debate that will stand out for me, it is the suggestion from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, that I would still be able to play the boy. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, sought to draw an analogy between the role of my right honourable and learned friend the Attorney-General and that of Godot, but of course it will be obvious to all in this Chamber that my right honourable and learned friend had far greater presence and substance on the EU stage than Godot ever managed in a two-act play.

That continues; the noble and learned Lord asked whether those negotiations have stalled, and the answer is most certainly no. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister is, as some have already discerned from the media, traveling to Strasbourg, where it is proposed she will meet with Mr Juncker at 9 pm Strasbourg time, which is 8 pm our time. That meeting is being held with a purpose, and it is being held because there continues to be dialogue between us and the European Union over the withdrawal agreement. I am sure noble Lords will appreciate that it is not for me at this time to anticipate the outcome of those discussions; nor is it for me to disclose the scope of those discussions at this time. However, it is sufficient perhaps to observe that such discussions will take place, and we look forward to their outcome once it becomes clear.

My noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbots made the clear and well-established point that, in the context of negotiation—which, as my noble friend Lord Finkelstein observed, requires more than one party when you are doing a deal—the tough issues are always sorted out at the 11th hour. Indeed, I have no doubt that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, will recall from his own experience in commercial litigation that, at least in the past, the most intractable and difficult disputes were very often finally resolved at the door of the court. These agreements almost invariably occur at the 11th hour.

In that context, I turn to the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Newby. He enumerated seven, but I respectfully observe that they tend to merge with each other. It is true that the Prime Minister is going to Strasbourg—indeed, she may already be there—and it is certainly true that she is taking with her a willingness to listen and to discuss further the resolution of the issues surrounding the withdrawal agreement. She is proceeding in a mood of optimism, as one would in the context of any such discussion. That will lead on tomorrow to the meaningful vote in the other place. It may be that further news will become available before any Motion is moved tomorrow, but that is the nature of negotiation, and that will be accommodated as and when it is required.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, referred to the issue of delay; I concur with his and other noble Lords’ observations about the dangers of delay in the context of the ongoing process. It may be that there will be an amendable Motion in respect of exit day. However, a statutory instrument would also be required in the event of further changes to the exit date, assuming there was consent from the European Union, because of the definition of that term already contained in the 2018 Act. But it could be done. As for Little Jim, I am beginning to feel some sympathy for his condition. Slow he may have been devoured, but at least it was the end.

The noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, and my noble friend Lord Saatchi suggested that negotiations be carried on with other parties in some other manner but, with great respect, Article 50 provides that we negotiate with the European Union, and the European Union has appointed the Commission to negotiate on its behalf. That is where we stand.