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Brexit: Preparations - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:55 pm on 21st October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Minister of State (Department for Exiting the European Union) 6:55 pm, 21st October 2019

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, 31 October remains the legal default. That was the extension granted previously by the European Union, and of course the solution is in its hands. As I have repeatedly said, if Labour is so keen to avoid a no-deal exit, there is a deal on the table for it to vote for. There was a deal on the table for it to vote for several months ago and it decided not to do so. If it wants to avoid a no-deal exit, the best thing to do is to vote for a deal. However, the suspicion remains that it is not a no-deal exit that Labour is against but an exit at all. It is against Brexit.

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.