European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:12 pm on 5th September 2019.

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Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Minister of State (Department for Exiting the European Union) 5:12 pm, 5th September 2019

I thank everyone who has spoken in the debate. I follow the statements of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and others and place on record the Government’s appreciation and thanks to all the House staff, officials and noble Lords for their efforts last night, and for their cordiality and good humour late into the evening. It is appreciated by all of us.

The public need Brexit to be delivered on 31 October and we cannot keep deferring it through successive and potentially indefinite extensions. Let us be clear—let us cut to the chase—this Bill is about crippling about our negotiations; it is about stopping Brexit. It will tie the Prime Minister’s hands, undermine the UK’s position and make any further negotiations impossible.

Let me respond directly to the point of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith. He is a distinguished lawyer and he will know as well as I do that this Bill does not prevent a no-deal Brexit because, in one of the great ironies of this process, it is in fact now determined under European law under the Article 50 process. The final decision on whether or not we leave the European Union is now determined by the European Council. Let me also add to the assurance I gave him earlier that this Government will of course abide by the law. I repeat the assurances that the Chief Whip in this House gave last evening that we have received a commitment from the Chief Whip in the House of Commons that the Commons consideration of Lords amendments will take place on Monday, and that it is the Government’s intention that the Bill will be ready to be presented for Royal Assent then.

I shall say a few words about the negotiations. As the Prime Minister reiterated in the other place on Tuesday, and as the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU said again on Wednesday, this Government are committed to getting a deal. However, it is a fact that the House of Commons has rejected the current withdrawal agreement three times, and it must now be clear to our friends and colleagues in Europe that it therefore simply cannot be the basis for a deal. That is why the Prime Minister wrote to President Tusk on 19 August to set out why a renegotiated deal must include the abolition of the anti-democratic backstop. We are confident that we can negotiate a deal removing the backstop that is acceptable to both sides. The European Council’s own negotiating guidelines commit to looking for,

“creative and flexible solutions on the border in Northern Ireland”.

The Prime Minister’s EU Sherpa held his first round of talks with the Commission last week. He met the Commission’s Article 50 task force yesterday for five hours to discuss a range of issues, particularly the removal of the backstop from the withdrawal agreement. In addition, both sides discussed the political declaration and the Government’s objective for an economic relationship based on free trade arrangements. The talks were constructive and both sides have agreed to meet again tomorrow, in line with our commitment to intensify talks. The House will of course also be aware that the Prime Minister is meeting the Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, next week.

Our European partners understand that we are serious in wanting a deal, and they are starting to reflect that reality in their responses. However, if you want to leave with a deal, you have to take no deal seriously. This Government have been completely clear in our commitment to leaving on 31 October. As the Prime Minister has said many times, he hopes and expects that that will be delivered through a deal. There is no reason why an agreement cannot be found.