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Brexit: Negotiations - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:05 pm on 3rd October 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal 4:05 pm, 3rd October 2019

I thank the noble Baroness and the noble and learned Lord for their comments. I reiterate once again that we are committed to and focused on getting a deal, which is why we have brought forward these new proposals. I also remind noble Lords, who will be aware of this, that the House of Commons has rejected the previous withdrawal agreement three times; therefore, to get a deal, we have had to come forward with new proposals.

I reassure the noble Baroness that she is absolutely right: we believe that these proposals set out a reasonable compromise and that they are a broad landing zone in which a deal can take shape. We are pleased that our European colleagues have said that they will look at these proposals. Detailed discussions will now have to take place on them. I can reassure her that David Frost, the Prime Minister’s lead negotiator, is back in Brussels today. Intensive talks will be ongoing and we look forward to continuing them to ensure we can get a deal that everybody is happy with. We are committed to supporting the all-Ireland economy by avoiding checks and infrastructure at the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, keeping Northern Ireland in the same customs territory as Great Britain and ensuring unfettered access for Northern Irish farmers and businesses to the UK.

The noble Baroness and the noble and learned Lord talked about the political declaration. Yes, we are in negotiations on changes to that. Those negotiations are ongoing and as soon as we are in a position to give further details on them, we will of course do so. I am happy to reassure them both that we are committed to strong standards in the areas of environmental protections and workers’ rights, as the noble Baroness set out. We have an excellent record in this country in these areas. There are numerous examples of where we exceed EU minima, such as on the length of maternity leave, shared parental leave, holiday entitlement and greenhouse gas targets. As I hope we have made clear continually at this Dispatch Box, we as a Government intend not only to maintain existing standards but to improve them. We will continue to hold this path.

The noble Baroness and the noble and learned Lord are right that these proposals will mean changes from the situation that prevails today—this was reflected in the Statement—but our driving purpose is to ensure that we minimise disruption. We understand the concerns of business. The noble Baroness mentioned concerns that have been raised. We will be talking in detail to businesses about the proposals, explaining why we believe there will be minimum disruption and making sure that their concerns are allayed. Part of the way in which we will do this is through our new deal for Northern Ireland. We will be making commitments to help boost economic growth and competitiveness, and to support infrastructure projects—particularly with a cross-border focus—so that we can work with our Irish partners as well to ensure that businesses and consumers across the island of Ireland are happy with what we are planning.

A limited number of goods movements will undergo physical inspections or checks. The system will largely be decentralised. It will be facilitated and minimised by the use of solutions such as electronic filing. We expect there to be a very small number of physical checks needed. These will be conducted at traders’ premises or other points in the supply chain. For instance, the UK currently checks around 4% of customs declarations, with fewer than 1% of these checks being physical in nature. This reflects our robust pre-clearance processes which involve the de-risking of high-risk traders and commodities. Our future system will be underpinned by continuing close co-operation between UK and Irish authorities, based on the existing customs legislations of both parties. It is our intention to make a series of simplifications and improvements to that legislation to ensure that the commitment in the new protocol to having no checks or infrastructure at the border is fulfilled.

The noble Baroness asked, for instance, about trusted traders. One of the ideas put forward is a special provision for small traders to ensure that requirements on them could be simplified. For instance, some small traders could be exempt from processes and paying duty altogether. These measures would need to be carefully designed so that they target the traders most in need of support, while continuing to ensure compliance.

The noble and learned Lord asked about Section 10 of the withdrawal Act. As my noble friend said yesterday, we believe that our proposals do not breach this provision but conform to it.

I can absolutely reassure the House that we are working very hard to get the Northern Ireland Executive back up and running. I think all of us in this House have been frustrated and disappointed about the lack of progress seen. I can reiterate only that this is an absolute priority and we are working extremely hard to ensure that it happens.

The issue of consent was also raised. The exact mechanism for consent will be discussed as part of these negotiations but in the context of the Good Friday agreement. We want to achieve the satisfaction of both communities in Northern Ireland. This is at the heart of what we look to do. We very much hope that these proposals will lead to a further, new and intense way in which we can move forward, so that we can present a Bill to the other place which can get through. Then we can move on and get a deal.