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Brexit: Preparations - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:44 pm on 21st October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Minister of State (Department for Exiting the European Union) 6:44 pm, 21st October 2019

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement made today in another place by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. The Statement is as follows:

“Mr Speaker, with permission, I would like to make a further Statement on our preparations to leave the European Union on 31 October. Before I do so, perhaps I may underline the gratitude of Members on all sides of the House for the efforts of not only the House authorities but also those of the police on Saturday. I also thank Opposition Members, including the Members for Manchester Central and for Brent North, for their kind words on behalf of all Members of the House.

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 31 October, but the House instead voted in such a way as to put an orderly exit on that date in doubt. I appreciate and understand the honest intentions and genuinely sincere motives of many of those who voted for the amendment which stood in the name of my right honourable friend the Member for West Dorset. Perhaps I may place once more on the record the very high personal regard in which I hold him, because I know that he always acts in what he believes to be the national interest and I deeply deprecate the personal criticisms directed towards him.

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 31 October. Before Saturday’s proceedings in the House, European leaders, including the President of the European Commission, the President of France and the Taoiseach, deliberately and explicitly explained that Members should not cast their vote on the assumption that the EU Council will offer an extension. There is no certainty in this matter. 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 19 October: the first requesting an extension to the 31 October deadline as required under the terms of the EU (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act; the second setting out the Government’s position that we believe that a delay to Brexit would be corrosive—a view shared by the EU 27 leaders.

With no clear agreement yet in this House to ratify our withdrawal agreement and no certainty that an extension will be granted by 31 October, I fear that I must now take appropriate steps to prepare for the increased possibility that the legal default position will follow and we will leave on 31 October without a deal. The clear advice to me from officials is that we must now intensify contingency arrangements. That is why the Cabinet’s XO committee met yesterday to agree that the Government’s Brexit preparations now move into their final and most intensive phase and that Operation Yellowhammer be triggered.

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 31 October, we have to vote for the Prime Minister’s deal. We must ensure that the vessel which brings certainty passes expeditiously through this Parliament and avoid any attempts to delay, capsize or hole it below the waterline. In that spirit, I thank the many parliamentarians across the House who have indicated that they will be backing the Prime Minister’s deal, which, until he brought it home, many people thought would be impossible to negotiate. This deal ensures that we can leave the EU. It is entirely consistent with the Belfast agreement and all our other domestic and international obligations.

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 8 October.

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 11 October 2019 it was announced that four operators—Brittany Ferries, DFDS, P&O Ferries and Stena Line—had been successful in their bids to deliver freight capacity for a six-month period from 31 October to 30 April. They will operate over 13 routes from eight ports in England: Teesport, Hull, Killingholme, Felixstowe, Harwich, Tilbury, Poole and Portsmouth.

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 31 October. This includes the legislation for the new temporary tariff regime, for customs and for avoiding a border in Northern Ireland.

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”.