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No-deal Update - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:55 pm on 3rd September 2019.

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Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Minister of State (Department for Exiting the European Union) 6:55 pm, 3rd September 2019

My Lords, I first thank both noble Baronesses for their comments. I see that they have both been well rested over the summer and have returned in a suitably combative mood. I particularly welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, back to her place on the Front Bench where she deserves to be. She is a worthy opponent and I for one would have been sorry to see her go. I am delighted to see her back.

A number of points were raised. I will first address the comments of both noble Baronesses about Operation Yellowhammer. I said in the Statement, but will say again, that Operation Yellowhammer is a series of planning assumptions based on a reasonable worst-case scenario. It is not—I repeat, not—a prediction of what might happen. It exists to underline government planning; it is a series of assumptions put together through a lot of work by independent experts. It is constantly revised as new information comes to light and new mitigations are put in place. The Cabinet Office’s Civil Contingencies Secretariat does the same thing in a number of different areas—on flooding, for instance. As it is predicted that we will have various flooding events, worst-case scenarios are considered: what they may involve and what we can do to mitigate them. The same thing is done in a lot of other areas that I could mention.

So, that is what it is: we use Operation Yellowhammer for planning assumptions. What is more useful for people is to know how they can mitigate any possible effects of no deal themselves, what changes businesses can bring about et cetera. The noble Baroness quoted a number of pathways from that; it is appropriate to bear in mind that the figures she cited are not predictions but reasonable worst-case scenarios to help us in our preparations to mitigate them.

With regard to food, there are often interruptions to the supply chain of foodstuffs, whether by the various strike actions of ferry operators, fishermen or farmers in France, or because of inclement weather conditions. But the UK food supply logistics chain is solid and robust, and we are, of course, working with the various companies to make sure supplies continue uninterrupted. The same thing applies to medicines: the Department of Health and Social Care has been making extensive preparations. It has contacted every supplier of medicines and medical devices in this country. We have helped them to increase their stockpiles—they already hold considerable stockpiles but we have helped to increase them further against any possible disruption. We have secured additional transport capacity should that that be required, and we are working extensively with companies to ensure there is no interruption.

I was interested in the comments of the noble Baroness as it appears that the Labour Party is now in the position of being against everything. It is against a deal, against no deal, against revocation of Article 50, and mostly against a referendum. I know that the job of the Opposition is to oppose but I would like to think that eventually, at some stage, the Labour Party will decide to be in favour of something.

I turn to the questions from the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford. I have been called many things in the course of these debates but “Marxist” and “revolutionary” are new ones, if she was indeed referring to me in those terms. It is, however, to the credit of the Liberal Democrats that at least they are honest about their intention to overturn the result of the referendum. Many of us suspect that this is also the intention of the Labour Party but that it has not yet—with one or two exceptions—got around to admitting it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, also asked about free movement. Yes, as it currently stands under EU law, free movement will of course end on 31 October when we leave; the Home Secretary will say more about that shortly. With regard to negotiations, the noble Baroness has, as do I, extensive experience in dealing with various EU figures. She will know as well as I do that they have maintained religiously for months that not one dot or comma of the withdrawal agreement will be changed, yet when there is a different attitude from this Government and we make clear that we are prepared to leave anyway, suddenly President Macron and Chancellor Merkel demonstrate some movement. Private discussions and negotiations are continuing but the noble Baroness knows as well as I do that we are seeing some movement. Whether it will be enough we will have to wait and see, but we are working extensively and at pace to try to get a deal that we can put to the House of Commons so that we can leave with a deal. As I have said repeatedly from this Dispatch Box, that is our preferred outcome, but we have to be prepared to leave without a deal if it is not possible to obtain one.