Brexit - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:00 pm on 25th March 2019.

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Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Minister of State (Department for Exiting the European Union) 10:00 pm, 25th March 2019

My Lords, today’s debate has allowed us the opportunity to explore the recent developments in relation to our exit from the EU. I am yet again grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken for their insight and contributions, even if one may say we did not hear much that was new or original. Indeed, noble Lords will not hear much that is new or original from me, but I will seek to address as many of the key points arising from the debate as I can while conscious of the late hour.

It is worth saying again that the experience and expertise demonstrated by noble Lords today is consistent with the valuable contributions this House has made to the process of the UK leaving the EU. I thought the debate started off very well and I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle spoke some wise words in calling for a calm, civilised debate. I am pleased to say that everybody in this House certainly abided by her instructions. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, spoke extremely well on the subject of reconciliation and compromise from his personal experience and provided sound advice to both Houses as we go forward in this discussion. I pay tribute to many other contributions, from all sides of the House, including about the work of our Select Committees. The noble Lord, Lord Soley, gave some powerful examples of the excellent work of those committees.

Over the past couple of weeks, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, has shared his excellent analogy of feeling as though in a holding pattern somewhere above Aylesbury. I know that my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who actually represents Aylesbury, will tell you that there are no finer patches in the country. Indeed, I noticed at the weekend that he took to the airwaves to make it clear that he has no plans to move from that lovely patch of England to a more well-known address in London. I hope the noble and learned Lord will not mind if I take his analogy a little further and say that the pilot has now identified a runway and that now is the moment of decision for the other place as to where we land.

The legally binding assurances secured by the Prime Minister mean that, in the unlikely event that the backstop is ever used, it will only be temporary, and that the UK and the EU will begin work immediately to replace the backstop with alternative arrangements by the end of December 2020. As my noble friend the Leader of the House set out earlier today, the European Council also agreed that if there is a successful vote on the withdrawal agreement this week, the date of our departure could be extended to 22 May to allow time for our Parliament to agree and ratify the deal.

However, should Parliament not agree a deal this week, the European Council has agreed to extend Article 50 until 12 April, which would then become the point at which we either leave with no deal or present an alternative plan. The Government’s position is clear that the best way in which to leave the European Union is in a smooth and orderly manner, by supporting the negotiated withdrawal agreement. The point was powerfully made by my noble friends Lord Bridges, Lord Howell and Lord Cormack, as well as, somewhat surprisingly, by the noble Lord, Lord Soley, and perhaps slightly reluctantly by my noble friend Lord Lilley and the noble Lord, Lord Butler.

The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and others talked about extending Article 50. Our agreement with the EU provides for two possible durations, which I have just outlined. Either of these scenarios would require a change in our domestic legislation to reflect the new date.

I can confirm that the Government have today laid a draft statutory instrument under the EU withdrawal Act that provides for both of these possible agreed extensions. This will be subject to the draft affirmative procedure, so it will be debated in each House and must come into force by 11 pm on Friday 29 March. As my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal confirmed earlier, in this House, that debate will take place on Wednesday, so we have it all to look forward to again.

In response to the questions from the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, this is to make sure that our domestic statute book reflects the extension of Article 50, which is already legally binding in international law. Not having this instrument in place would cause serious problems and uncertainty regarding the domestic statute book from 11 pm on 29 March. A large volume of EU exit legislation preparing the statute book for the moment that EU law ceases to apply has been extensively debated in this House and is due to enter into force on exit day, which is currently defined in the withdrawal Act as 29 March at 11 pm.

These regulations are necessary to bring domestic law in line with the agreement at the international level. Without this instrument, there would be a clash in domestic law, because contradictory provisions would apply to both EU rules and new domestic rules simultaneously. It is therefore vital that the instrument is approved by Parliament so that we can ensure that the statute book accurately reflects that the UK will remain a member state until at least 11 pm on 12 April.