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“Mr Speaker, with permission, I would like to make a further Statement on our preparations to leave the European Union on
The Government are determined to do everything they can to leave the EU with a deal, and the agreement the Prime Minister concluded at last week’s European Council gives this House the opportunity to honour the 17.4 million people who voted to leave the EU on time and in an orderly fashion. Parliament had the opportunity on Saturday to support a meaningful vote which would have allowed us to proceed smoothly to ratification of our deal and exit on
But the House’s decision to request that a letter seeking an extension to Article 50 be sent unfortunately creates no certainty about our exit in an orderly fashion on
With no clear agreement yet in this House to ratify our withdrawal agreement and no certainty that an extension will be granted by
Let me be clear: no one would be happier than me to turn off those preparations and stand down planning for no deal. I do not think that anyone in this House can doubt my desire to see a deal concluded. But if we are to be certain to avoid a no-deal outcome on
I also underline that once a withdrawal agreement has been ratified, this whole House will be involved in agreeing the mandate for negotiations on our future partnership arrangements with the EU, and we will work particularly closely with all parties to ensure that vital protections for workers and the environment are secure.
In underlining the vital role all MPs will play in securing a strong future partnership, I also emphasise that we want business, trade unions and civil society to help us shape a bright future outside the EU. It is striking how organisations, from the UK Chemical Industries Association and UK Finance to the Country Land and Business Association and the Federation of Small Businesses, have welcomed progress on the deal and asked parliamentarians to end the uncertainty by supporting an agreement.
But, as I have explained, in the absence of that certainty, preparations for the risk of no deal have to be intensified. We will now accelerate our efforts to help businesses and individuals mitigate any dislocation and disruption that may ensue. From today, the Government’s XO committee will meet seven days a week to provide strong ministerial focus across government. Hundreds of public servants across the UK will have to be redeployed. They will transfer to work in operations centres, ready to identify challenges, work together to resolve problems swiftly and implement contingency plans. Government, local resilience bodies and operational partners will be working together, ready to respond 24 hours a day according to need. We are also finalising the latest update of our reasonable worst-case planning assumptions and will share these with the House very shortly.
We must maintain our public information campaign. From tomorrow, this will reflect our renewed urgency of preparation. The advice will help businesses and individuals appreciate what they must do to prepare, given the uncertainty that unfortunately still prevails. I again urge everyone to check the information relevant to their situation on GOV.UK and the comprehensive summary of actions to take, which are contained in the Government’s No-Deal Readiness Report published on
We are complementing this information campaign with hands-on advice and assistance. The Department for Transport is continuing to give personal advice to hauliers at sites across the UK and the European Union, and working with local resilience forums to finalise traffic-management plans, particularly making sure we have a smooth flow of people and goods across the short straits. To supplement that, on
Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs is stepping up work to deliver its export webinar programme to thousands of firms. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is distributing a Brexit farming advice guide to agriculture businesses. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is reaching hundreds of companies at readiness roadshows. Key departments are ensuring they have help-desk capacity in place, with advisers ready to give the direct support required. This will build on the estimated 850 recorded engagements with large businesses by DExEU and regular forums with over 70 trade associations conducted so far. We are taking note of comments and feedback left on GOV.UK by people seeking advice, and passing on details of issues and concerns to the relevant government departments.
We are also accelerating our programmes of key policy and legislative decisions to ensure full readiness, including making and laying secondary legislation. We will be laying the final SIs to ensure that all critical Brexit-related legislation necessary for day one is in force by
It remains the case that Northern Ireland would face unique challenges in a no-deal Brexit, and we will need to take steps to ensure effective governance and give directions to the Northern Ireland Civil Service. For the past two years, in the absence of devolved government—today’s session being a rare exception—my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has made alternative arrangements for governance. Legislation and guidance have been introduced to empower Northern Ireland’s civil servants to continue to take decisions in the public interest. I pass on my gratitude. While this arrangement has been sustainable to date, leaving without a deal would represent a formidable challenge to the current position. In that case, we would have to start formal engagement with the Irish Government about further arrangements for providing strengthened decision-making. That would include the real possibility of restoring a form of direct rule. We would, of course, do everything to ensure that the interests of all communities across Ireland were safeguarded in any arrangements. We all must recognise that this would be a grave step from which, experience shows us, it would be hard to return, particularly in the context of leaving without a deal.
Even as we prepare for the challenges of no deal, we will make the case in every forum we can for leaving with a good deal. Parliament has previously shown determination and a focused resolve to pass laws expeditiously when the occasion warrants. The deal we have secured honours the referendum mandate this House pledged to uphold, allows the UK to leave the EU whole and entire and puts in place the pathway to a new partnership with the EU based on free trade and friendly co-operation. That is why I again urge my colleagues in this House, all of us democrats first and foremost, now to support the Prime Minister’s deal. I commend this Statement to the House”.
I thank the Minister, back again after his long stint on Saturday—and no doubt looking forward to the XO committee, which I believe he serves on, meeting seven days a week—for repeating the Statement.
However, I have to question the underlying assumption, and indeed perhaps even the legality, of these preparations. If Mr Gove is so confident that we will leave on
On Saturday, the Minister attempted to throw back at me the claim I had made that,
“there is no desire for a deal. It is all a ruse”,—[
For all the talk of providing certainty, especially for business, this continued no-deal work is unsettling the financial, manufacturing, agricultural and service sectors. As Ian Wright of the Food and Drink Federation said, while we might all be “exhausted” by Brexit, this does not,
“mean we sleepwalk into mistakes that will haunt the UK economy for a generation … The most urgent priority for the … industry has been to prevent a no-deal exit”.
He also pleads for sufficient time in the implementation period after the legislation,
“for businesses to fully adapt”, warning of,
“the damaging loss of frictionless trade and regulatory divergence with the EU that the new deal heralds”.
Similarly, on Saturday my honourable friend Madeleine Moon MP reported:
“Ford is leaving Bridgend, where it has 1,700 jobs—with 12,000 jobs across the south Wales economy—because it was worried about a no-deal Brexit”.—[Official Report, Commons, 19/10/19; col. 615.]
She also fears that even the new deal risks the end of just-in-time manufacturing. What are we doing preparing for an outcome that could devastate our valleys, our industrial heartlands, jobs and the economy?
The pretence that we need to make urgent preparations for a no-deal exit, which the Commons has voted against, is all for show. I do not know whether other noble Lords were as angry as I was when, late on Saturday night, I read in the PM’s billet-doux to Donald Tusk of the,
“corrosive impact of the long delay in delivering”,
Brexit—as if it had nothing to do with him. Who was in Government and then resigned in July last year at the time of the Chequers deal? Who refused to support the original deal in November, causing further delay? Who has now manufactured the totem of
Before I finish, I want to say two positive things. There is one really welcome statement in what we have just heard: that the Commons will be involved in agreeing the mandate for negotiations on our future partnership arrangements with the EU—effectively, I think, the Monks-Lea amendment that we put to the 2018 Bill, and which sadly did not survive in the Commons, and the Trade Bill amendment passed in your Lordships’ House. We have yet to see the withdrawal agreement Bill; we will see it later this evening. If, once we have seen it, that commitment to the prior approval of the negotiating mandate is included in the Bill, we on this side will at least cheer that.
I absolutely concur with what the Minister said on behalf of the other House, and what we should also say here, about the incredible work across the House to enable us to meet on Saturday. If I heard my noble friend right earlier, I fear that they may be requested to do it again, in which case it may have to be a “please” as well as a “thank you”.
My Lords, I will follow on seamlessly from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. I have not had the advantage of seeing the Statement before the Minister repeated it, and so I am responding very much on the hoof.
I note that the Secretary of State suggested that it would have just been for the House of Commons to have voted in favour of this deal to honour the will of 17.4 million people. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, pointed out, there were many opportunities: three times, a previous deal was voted down, and one of those who kept voting against the previous deal was the man who is now Prime Minister. The idea that somehow the House of Commons could have, on Saturday, ensured leaving on time is an interesting concept. I understood leaving on time to mean leaving by
If we are to leave the European Union, it ought of course to be done in an orderly way. Preparations for a no-deal scenario make sense. But if preparations for no deal, or to leave at all, were so important, how unfortunate it was that David Cameron prevented the Civil Service even preparing for the eventuality of a vote to leave. How unfortunate that the preparations for a no-deal scenario, which we are led to believe were made in advance of
The Minister repeated that freight capacity will be increased from
It is clearly important to have effective arrangements for a no-deal scenario. Yet it seems that, in the last weeks, the person who has done the most work is Michael Gove. He and his office have been preparing actively for no deal. He is now talking about working seven days a week. How much effort has been put into ensuring that there is sufficient time in the event that a deal is agreed? How much time is being put in place to ensure that Parliament can do its duty? It cannot go forgotten that the Prime Minister tried to prevent Parliament carrying out its scrutiny duty for five weeks by attempting a Prorogation, which was then deemed null and of no validity. That was precisely the time when Members of your Lordships’ House and the other place could have been scrutinising both the prospect of a deal and no deal. That time was wasted.
This afternoon in the other place, quite a lot of time was spent discussing how much time it will have to debate and scrutinise the withdrawal agreement Bill, which, as I understand it, nobody has yet seen. I know that the Minister will throw the Benn Act back at us and say, “Ah! But noble Lords wanted a truncated process”. But the Benn Act was a short and relatively simple piece of legislation. The withdrawal agreement Bill cannot be a short and simple piece of legislation. We are talking about enacting an agreement of over 500 pages. The withdrawal Act of 2018 is extremely detailed legislation. If there is a withdrawal agreement, the Act to bring it into play and to amend the withdrawal Act of 2018 will inevitably be deeply complex. The idea that we can do that within 10 days seems incredible.
Lest the Minister and others on the Government Benches wish to say that this is our own fault, I ask this: how much time are the Government proposing to allow Parliament to sit? Would it not be sensible, as the Father of the House of Commons has suggested, that the Commons sit later into the night and on Friday? It is little use to suggest simply that your Lordships’ House sit on Friday and Saturday. What about ensuring that the democratically elected Chamber has the time to do the job that it is meant to do?
Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, talked about a ruse. I wonder too whether there was not a ruse. Are we being told that we must prepare for no deal to make the hysteria so great that MPs feel the need to adopt this deal—any deal—simply to avoid no deal? Surely that is not good decision-making.
I thank the noble Baronesses for their comments and questions. I will turn first to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter.
It is important to point out that, in these matters, we are acting on the appropriate official advice. Not to act on that advice would be the irresponsible thing to do. The noble Baroness made the quite incredible statement in her introduction that an extension was guaranteed and that surely we did not have to worry about it. I assume that she has not seen the statements of the President of France, the Taoiseach of Ireland or the President of the European Commission, who all said that an extension was by no means guaranteed. A number of other commentators in Europe have spoken against an extension—so not to prepare would be the irresponsible thing to do.
I repeat that no deal is not our desired outcome. We have negotiated a deal precisely because we want to see it agreed. However, in its absence,
I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, if she did not get a copy of the Statement in advance. It is very difficult to respond to these matters if one has not seen them beforehand, so she has my sympathy. She also has my thanks, because she was one of the few Liberal Democrats who originally said that the referendum result should be respected—although I think she has changed her mind recently.
As to the freight contracts, these are framework contingency plans. We hope that they will not be required, but they are contingency plans in case there is severe disruption to make sure that we can still get category 1 goods—medical supplies et cetera—into the country. It is our hope and expectation that, with all the mitigations and the extensive and expensive planning that we have put in place with the various local resilience forums, the contingency contracts will not be required.
The noble Baroness made her own point about time for parliamentary scrutiny. She is quite right. I was going to throw the Benn Act back at her. However, I do not need to talk about the hypocrisy of that, because I have already made that point. Again, to be fair to the Liberal Democrats, they have been clear that they are against Brexit at all and not just a no-deal Brexit. However, I am sure that they will want to play their part in the appropriate parliamentary scrutiny.
My Lords, my noble friend has made great play of inviting us to agree the deal that will be before the House in this Bill. However, the likelihood of no deal being deferred to December 2020 is the greater now because my understanding is that the Government are going away from the original proposal of dynamically aligned regulation towards equivalent regulations and a free trade agreement as the future relationship. My noble friend Lord True agrees with me that there is a stronger likelihood now of merely deferring no deal until December 2020. Does the Minister not agree that that is totally unacceptable?
The noble Baroness is correct that we want to see a best-in-class free trade agreement. That should be relatively straightforward to negotiate, and we believe that it can be done before the end of 2020. We want to see that done and in place so that we can move on to the next phase of our relationship.
My Lords, given that the Minister has told us in no uncertain terms that we could be 10 days away from a no-deal exit from the European Union, can he now assure the House that steps have been taken to ensure that the data this country requires to protect itself from terrorism has been protected so that it will not be diminished after
I can certainly assure the noble Lord that we have had extensive discussions and that planning has taken place with the security services to ensure that they have all the data available to them to enable them to do their job. It is the case, of course, in terms of national security, that many of these discussions go on outside the European Union, and those good relationships will continue. With regard to law enforcement data, we are putting mitigation steps in place to make sure that we can still take full advantage of the procedures.
My Lords, given the serial inability of the House of Commons to reach a constructive conclusion on Brexit even when presented with this deal, which reasonable people should surely be able to compromise on and agree with, and given the very real possibility that the EU Council—fed up with the dithering and indecision of our Parliament—will decide that it has had enough and refuse to grant us an extension, is it not mere common sense that the Government should redouble their efforts to prepare for the contingency that we leave the European Union without a deal on
I thank the noble Lord for his comments. It is indeed common sense that we prepare for that eventuality. It seems to be a common sense that escapes a number of Members in this Chamber, but it is the sensible thing to do. I indeed want to pay tribute to the many officials who are working extremely hard, up and down the country, seven days a week. As I walked into a meeting in the Cabinet Office on Sunday morning to discuss these matters, I thought of that very fact.
Many of us in this House, and the Minister’s good self, will be aware that, whatever happens with regard to leaving the EU, with or without a deal, there are many years ahead of negotiations, work and reaching resolutions of problems after 40 years of being in the EU. Does the Minister feel that the “Let’s get Brexit done” slogan of his party at the moment gives the right impression to the public? Does he not think that, as we have many years of negotiations ahead, members of the public will again feel that they have been lied to and misled and that the idea of bringing the country together and moving on will be fiction after all?
It is extremely difficult to say. However, the noble Lord is well experienced in parliamentary matters. The previous referendum, I think I am correct in saying, took about seven or eight months in total to get through the various Houses and their procedures and to take place. That was with a Government with a majority and a manifesto commitment to do it, so we can draw our own conclusions as to how long it would take to get referendum legislation through when this Government will manifestly not introduce that legislation. There is clearly no majority in either House for it and no agreement on what the question should be, or the franchise or the rules governing it. Many Members who are much more experienced in the workings of the House of Commons than I am have estimated that it could take even longer than that.
My Lords, paragraph 10 of the Statement repeated by the Minister reads as follows:
“Furthermore, no formal response from the EU has yet been received to the two letters sent by the Prime Minister on the evening of Saturday
Is the Minister surprised that there has been no formal response to these two letters, which say opposite things? One of the letters is not signed, and that is the view of Parliament. The other letter is signed by the Prime Minister. It says that the EU can ignore the first letter, which is unsigned, because it is only the view of Parliament. Is the Minister surprised that in a parliamentary democracy it should be so surprising that the European Union, in all its manifestations, has not replied to these two letters on the grounds, first, of the strange constitutional concept behind them and, secondly, that they say totally opposite things?
What the Minister is surprised about is that the noble Lord clearly has not read the letters. We do not say in the second letter that the first one could be ignored. We were complying with the terms of the Act. We were sending the letter as required by the Benn Act but making clear what the policy of the Prime Minister and the Government is. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and other legal commentators have said that that is perfectly within the law.
My Lords, I welcome what my noble friend said about decision-making powers in Northern Ireland, which a number of us raised with him a fortnight ago. Can he confirm that while there might be obligations on Her Majesty’s Government to consult the Irish Government under the terms of the 1998 British-Irish agreement, the decision to introduce direct rule is a matter for Her Majesty’s Government and this Parliament alone?
I thank my noble friend for his question. I know the close interest he takes in this matter, which he asked me about a couple of weeks ago. I hope he will understand why I was not able fully to answer his question then. It would indeed be a matter for legislation in this country although, given the terms of the Good Friday agreement, we would want to consult closely with the Irish Government.
The Minister said that the European authorities should not ignore the first letter that was sent, and I am sure we would all concur with that. Assuming they do not ignore it, and that they respond to it over the next seven days, will he give an assurance that the tremendous waste of resources in this preparation exercise will immediately be suspended and the extension will be taken full advantage of in order to get an orderly Brexit—if Brexit has to happen?
The President of the European Council tweeted to say that the request was valid, and he had accepted it. Of course, the legal default remains in place, but as soon as this Parliament agrees a deal and the EU agrees a deal or an extension is granted, we will want to discontinue the arrangements for leaving on
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the timing of this Statement today is a trifle odd? It seems at the very least to show an absence of confidence in the communication the Government transmitted to Brussels on Saturday evening asking for an extension. Are the Government so sure that that will fail that they need the added expense of this action today? It is very odd timing. Before we hear all the quotations about the views of the President of France, the Taoiseach and others, might it be wise to remember that only 10 days ago the Prime Minister was calling those who communicated with such people collaborationists?
I repeat the answer I gave to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. It is not odd at all—it remains the legal default. The irresponsible thing to do would be not to prepare, because we cannot be sure that the extension will be granted, as a number of European leaders have made clear. The noble Lord has occupied senior positions in the Civil Service. In his previous career I am sure he would have regarded it as highly irresponsible not to prepare for something that was the legal default, the outcome of which we had no certainty about.
My Lords, may I take the Minister back to the answer he gave to the noble Baroness, Lady Janke, on the Liberal Democrat Benches? I do not disagree that nobody has a monopoly on the use of slogans, but is it his belief that if we leave on
I thank the noble Baroness for her question. I suppose we are getting into the semantics of what “done” means here. It will be done in the terms that we will have left the European Union, but if she accepts that concession, I will be happy to agree with her that of course discussions will need to take place and agreements will have to be made across a range of areas. I have many times said across this Dispatch Box that discussions will take place before we leave and, I hope, discussions will take place after we leave. We have to have agreements with the European Union in a range of areas. I have never resiled from that. We will need to agree a number of different policy areas with the EU.
Will my noble friend spell out to us exactly what is in the gift of the other place or your Lordships’ House in terms of amending this legislation? Surely, we are talking about an international treaty that has been agreed with the EU. What happens if we make substantial amendments to it? Are we expected to go back to the EU and say that the agreement we have already made has to be amended? Surely, what we can do in the Bill that will be presented to us will be very restricted.
My noble friend asks some good questions. The answer is complicated. If the terms of the withdrawal agreement itself were to be altered by amendment, the effect would be that we could not ratify the treaty and therefore there would be no deal. Of course, there are other elements that could be amended, which would affect operations in the domestic sphere but would not affect our ratification of the treaty.
The material that is most likely to cause disagreement between the two Houses concerns the powers that the Bill might give to Ministers and the extent to which they can act without parliamentary approval. We will not know how extensive they are until we see the Bill. Would it not be a good idea to have a contingency plan to make use of any extension which is offered to ensure that proper parliamentary scrutiny is given rather than sounding, as bits of the Statement do, like Captain Mainwaring declaring martial law?
After my experience with Commissioner Timmermans, I do not think I am going to get into “Dad’s Army” analogies any further. We want to get Brexit done by
It was said in the Statement and repeated in answer to a question that, following the advice of officials, this preparation should go ahead. I think I have the wording right. Will the Minister confirm whether that is simply the advice of civil servants, whom I respect greatly, or the legal advice the Government have been given?
My noble and learned friend Lord Keen in not in his place, but he would be telling me that I am unable to comment on legal advice that the Government are given, but it certainly follows a range of advice from officials and government.
The long-term consequences will flow partly from the withdrawal agreement but also from the political declaration and the future arrangements. We have committed to involving Parliament fully in the detailed negotiating mandates for the future arrangements. I am sure there will be lots of happy hours for all of us, endlessly discussing these matters for a long time to come.
Will the Minister elaborate a bit on the context in which this Statement was made? At the beginning, I think I heard assurances that the Government are committed to securing environmental protections. So will the Minister tell us why non-regression on European environmental standards was removed from the binding element—the withdrawal agreement—and relegated to the non-binding element—the political declaration—thus leaving environmental standards to the mercies of the negotiation of the trade agreement? Will the Minister admit that that is asking us all to buy a bit of a pig in a poke, in that we do not know what the deal on environmental standards will be as a result of the negotiations on the free trade agreements? Will he tell me that this is the reason why members of the ERG are going around with broad smiles on their faces, laughing in the face of the environmental movement? They are notably flat earthers and climate change deniers.
The noble Baroness demeans herself with some of those statements. The original level playing field provisions were in the Irish protocol, which has been abolished and replaced with entirely new arrangements. We have committed to provisions in the political declaration, and she will know from her experience that our environmental standards go much further than many in the European Union. Only last week we announced legislation on the new environmental protection bodies, and we have announced legislation on single-use plastics which is far in advance of legislation from the European Union. We are proud of our environmental record and will continue with it.