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Brexit - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:37 pm on 2nd October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Minister of State (Department for Exiting the European Union) 3:37 pm, 2nd October 2019

The noble Lord makes his point in his normal forthright manner. If he has a little patience, I will come to the details of our proposals in a little while.

The backstop risks weakening the delicate balance embodied in the Belfast agreement between both major traditions in Northern Ireland, grounded in agreement, consent and respect for minority rights. Removing control of areas of the commercial and economic life of Northern Ireland to an external body over which the people of Northern Ireland have no control risks undermining that balance. Any deal ahead of Brexit on 31 October must avoid the whole of the UK or just Northern Ireland being trapped in an arrangement where they are a rule taker.

These discussions with the Commission and EU leaders have intensified, with regular sessions taking place over a number of weeks. The Prime Minister’s EU sherpa, David Frost, has continued to lead a cross-party team for these detailed discussions with the Commission’s Taskforce 50, in line with the Prime Minister and President of the European Commission’s agreement to intensify the pace of discussions. Within the last couple of hours in Brussels, he has delivered to the EU the UK’s proposals on a replacement to the backstop. These are the proposals which we have laid in Parliament today.

I know that your Lordships will probably not have had the time or opportunity to read the document published a short while ago. I will therefore set out the main points of the Prime Minister’s offer to the EU. First, this proposal is based above all on our commitment to find solutions which are compatible with the Belfast agreement, the fundamental basis for governance in Northern Ireland.

Secondly, it confirms our commitment to long-standing areas of UK-Ireland collaboration: the common travel area; the rights of all those living in Northern Ireland; and north/south co-operation.

Thirdly, the proposal provides for the creation of an all-island regulatory zone on the island of Ireland, covering all goods and eliminating regulatory checks for trade in goods between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Fourthly, and unlike the backstop, this regulatory zone will be dependent on the consent of those affected by it. This is essential to the acceptability of arrangements under which part of the UK accepts the rules of a different political entity. In our view, it is fundamental to democracy. The Government therefore propose that the continuation of the regulatory zone after the transition period will be subject to the principle of consent of the people of Northern Ireland.

Fifthly, the proposal ensures that Northern Ireland will be fully part of the UK customs territory, not the EU customs territory, after the end of the transition period. It has always been a fundamental point for this Government that the UK will leave the EU customs union at the end of the transition period, since control of trade policy is fundamental to this country’s future prosperity.

Finally, in order to support Northern Ireland through our withdrawal from the EU, and in collaboration with others with an interest, this Government propose a new deal for Northern Ireland, with appropriate commitments to help boost economic growth and Northern Ireland’s competitiveness, and to support infrastructure projects, particularly with a cross-border focus. Taken together, these proposals respect the decision taken by the people of the UK to leave the EU while dealing pragmatically with that decision’s consequences in Northern Ireland and in Ireland. Together, we believe that these will allow us to reach agreement with the EU under Article 50 and to leave the EU with a deal that both respects the referendum result and provides a strong platform for our future relationship.

As I am sure noble Lords will agree, leaving the EU with a deal on 31 October is the preferable outcome. However, we have stepped up preparations across government and will be fully ready for Brexit on 31 October whatever the circumstances. As the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster made clear in his Statements to the other place, and as I repeated in this House last month on 3 September and again on 25 September, we have indeed ramped up our no-deal preparations. The Government are committed to prioritising stability for citizens, consumers, businesses and the economy. I know that many noble Lords have previously raised the important issue of citizens’ rights. I yet again reassure noble Lords that this Government are clear that citizens’ rights will never be used as a bargaining chip. That is why the Prime Minister has provided an unequivocal guarantee to the more than 3 million EU citizens living and working in the UK that they can have absolute certainty of the right to live and remain in the UK whether we leave with or without a deal. Under the EU settlement scheme, over 1.5 million EU citizens have secured their future in the UK, and the Home Office continues to process up to 20,000 applications per day.

As well as the smooth flow of people from the UK into the EU and vice versa, our economic priorities include ensuring the continued flow of goods. The Government have committed to a number of steps in order to do this. For example, we have committed to introducing temporary easements for traders and hauliers to smooth the transition to new controls; and to maintain continuity of trade, we have signed or agreed in principle 15 trade continuity agreements to date, covering 45 countries and accounting for 72% of the trade for which we are seeking continuity in a no-deal Brexit. The work that we are taking forward will ensure that businesses are ready for exit.

The precise impacts of a no-deal Brexit are of course difficult to predict but we have taken steps to define the potential impact and develop reasonable worst-case planning assumptions upon which we can build our contingency plans. Operation Yellowhammer is the cross-government programme of work to ensure that the Government are prepared to mitigate the potential impacts of Brexit in the event that the UK leaves without a deal.

The Government are ready for and committed to withdrawal from the EU, with or without a deal, on 31 October and without further pointless delay. We have ramped up all our preparations to deliver that. This Government are clear that people want to see Brexit delivered by 31 October, and we are determined to deliver on their wishes. I beg to move.