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Queen’s Speech - Debate (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:58 pm on 16th October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Minister of State (Department for Exiting the European Union) 6:58 pm, 16th October 2019

Actually, the law does not say that that cannot happen. At the risk of returning to a subject that we have covered extensively, a decision on whether we leave on 31 October is now not a matter for UK law; it is a subject of European law. That is one of the great ironies of this process. However, I repeat what I have said to the noble Lord on many occasions: we will of course abide by the law. If he wants to look at the record, he will see that my right honourable friend the Brexit Secretary, appearing in front of the Brexit Select Committee this morning, said something very similar.

While our focus remains on securing a deal, we are still ready to leave without one on 31 October. Last week, we published the Brexit readiness report, which sets out the preparations that the Government have undertaken to ensure that the UK is prepared for 31 October. As I set out on that occasion, when repeating the Statement made by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in the other place, the report includes the steps that businesses and citizens should take, including to bring about the smooth flow of goods.

We have announced spending of more than £8.3 billion for Brexit planning. We have signed or secured continuity trade agreements with non-EU countries, as well as continuity agreements across many key sectors including aviation and civil nuclear power. We have launched a public information campaign—Get Ready for Brexit—to advise everyone of the clear actions that they should take to prepare for leaving with no deal. Of course, as always, we have given particular focus to citizens’ rights, which was raised by a number of noble Lords including the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall. Our message to EU citizens in the UK is clear, and I will repeat it: you are our family, our friends, our colleagues; we value your contributions to this country and we want you to stay. We are now working to gain reciprocal assurances from other European countries towards UK nationals living in their countries.

I highlight to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that the UK pushed hard in the negotiations for UK nationals living in the EU and for EU citizens in the UK to retain or have the right to stand and vote in local elections. However, the EU did not want to include these rights in the withdrawal agreement, so we are to forced to pursue—and are actively pursuing—bilateral arrangements with individual member states. We have written to every other member state seeking such an agreement. I am pleased that we have so far reached such agreements with Spain, Portugal and Luxembourg. We are in discussions with a number of others.

The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, asked about support and funding in devolved Administrations. The Government have provided them with over £300 million since 2017 to prepare for Brexit. We continue to involve them in ongoing discussions on funding, including under the provisions of Project Kingfisher. Last week, I was in Edinburgh with my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster for discussions with the Scottish and Welsh Governments and the Northern Ireland Civil Service. These covered ongoing negotiations and no-deal planning, in which the devolved Administrations are extensively involved.

I move on to trade. For the first time in nearly 50 years, the UK will have an independent trade policy. We will be able to set our own tariffs, take our own decisions on regulatory issues and create new and ambitious trade relationships around the world. My noble friend Lord Lilley—who spoke with great experience—touched on this, and I agree with many of the points that he made.