I know that this point of departure will be very difficult for many people—decent people who love their country and who did not want us to leave—so it is incumbent on this Government to show that leaving the EU marks not an ending but rather a bold new beginning. We take that responsibility very seriously.
When we ratified the withdrawal agreement, this Government and this Parliament finally delivered on the promise made to the British people over three years ago. We did that as a matter of democratic principle, and we did it to keep faith with, and retain the confidence of, the British people. In doing so, we sent a strong signal to the EU and to the world about our ambition and resolve as we chart the course ahead.
As one United Kingdom, we are now free to determine our own future as masters of our own destiny. We are free to reinvigorate our ties with old allies and we are free to forge new friendships around the world. As we seek new relationships with friends and partners, the interests of the British people and the integrity of our union will be the foundation stones of everything we do.
The Prime Minister’s speech this morning and the Written Statement to the House start us out on this journey by setting out the Government’s proposed approach to our relations with the EU in 2020. The most important thing about 2020 is that, having left the EU at the start of it, at the end of it we will fully, and with complete certainty, regain complete economic and political independence. That is when the transition period ends, and it will not be extended. We will have a new relationship with the EU, as sovereign equals, based on free trade.
Between now and the end of the year, we will work with the EU to try to negotiate a free trade agreement, drawing on other recent agreements such as the one between the EU and Canada. That should be the core of our future relationship. We will look to reach agreement on other priorities, including fisheries, internal security and aviation. These will be backed up by governance and dispute settlement arrangements appropriate to a free trade agreement, with no alignment and no role for the ECJ, and respectful of our democratic prerogatives.
We hope that we can agree. If we cannot, we will of course carry on trading with the EU in the same way as do Australia and many other countries in the world, as a free country, collaborating where we can and setting our own rules that work for us.
Of course, the EU is not our only trading partner. At the same time, we will be seeking to get agreements with other great trading countries around the world. We are delighted that, in the words of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo when he was here last week, the UK is now front of the queue for a free trade deal with the US. We expect to open negotiations with the US, and other countries, very soon. That way, we can broaden our horizons to embrace the huge opportunities in the rising economies of the future, where 90% of the world’s growth comes from. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Trade will set out more detail in a Statement later this week, and I will be visiting Australia, Japan, Singapore and Malaysia over the next two weeks.
At such a crossroads moment, it is fitting and timely that this Government will engage in a thorough and careful review of the UK’s place in the world, including through the integrated security, defence and foreign policy review. This review is an opportunity for us to reassess the ways we engage on the global stage, including in defence, diplomacy and our approach to development, to ensure we have a fully integrated strategy, because now is the moment to look ahead with confidence and ambition, to signal to future partners the outward-facing, trail-blazing country we will be.
We have a vision of a truly global Britain and, as the first pillar of our global Britain strategy, we will continue to prove that we are the best possible allies, partners and friends with our European neighbours. We are working closely with our European partners to find a political solution in Libya. We will continue to stand together to hold Iran to account for its systemic non-compliance with the JCPOA, the nuclear deal. We will work together to tackle shared threats and global challenges, whether it is Russian aggression, terrorism, rising authoritarianism, climate change or, indeed, health crises such as the coronavirus.
It was our honour on Friday to bring home 29 other Europeans on the UK-commissioned charter flight from Wuhan, along with the 97 Britons, because we will always look out for our European friends with whom we share so many interests. I am grateful to the Spanish Foreign Minister for Spain’s help in co-ordinating that effort and, indeed, to the French Foreign Minister for the flight that came home on Sunday.
The next pillar of our global Britain strategy will be, as an energetic champion of free and open trade, to boost small businesses, to cut the cost of living, to create the well-paid jobs of the future for the next generation, to provide more consumer choice, and to raise UK productivity, which is so important for our levelling-up agenda across the country.
The pursuit of shared prosperity has an essential role to play in our approach to development policy too. As we maintain our 0.7% commitment on development spending, we need to find better ways of making sure that it contributes to long-term and sustainable economic growth. As we demonstrated at the UK-Africa Investment Summit, we believe the UK has a unique and competitive offer to tackle poverty and help poorer nations benefit in a way that benefits us all over the longer term.
Finally, the third pillar of the global Britain strategy will be the UK as an even stronger force for good in the world. Our guiding lights will remain the values of democracy, human rights and the international rule of law. We will show global leadership on issues that really matter such as climate change. That is why, this year, we will host the UN climate change summit, COP 26, in Glasgow. We will lead by example. We will rise to the challenge by harnessing all the British talents in tech, innovation and entrepreneurialism to find creative solutions to global problems. We will champion the great causes of our day, such as our campaign to give every girl access to 12 years of quality education. We will defend journalists from attack. We will stand up for freedom of religion and conscience, and we will develop our own independent sanctions regime to tackle human rights abusers head on. Together, united, we can show that this country is so much bigger than the sum of its parts.
The 31st of January was a day that will be etched in our history. It has been hard going, and I know that many good people on all sides of this House, and indeed on all sides of this totemic debate, still bear the scars of the last three years. Now is the time to put our differences aside. Now is the time to come together. So, let us join together and embrace a new chapter for our country. Let us move forward united, and unleash the enormous potential of the British people. Let us show the world that our finest achievements and our greatest contributions lie ahead. I commend this Statement to the House.”
My Lords, I think there was some confusion before the start of the Statement today, as the noble Lord, Lord Newby, and I were told that the Leader was available at 5 pm only and that the debate would be interrupted. We came in to be told that that was not the case and that the Statement would be repeated at the end of the debate, and it was then brought back on. I apologise to those who have been in and out of the Chamber waiting for the Statement, as it was not quite clear what was happening.
There have been three years of debate and discussion since the referendum and, as a country, we now have to adjust to the new political and economic reality outside the EU, for the first time in almost 50 years. For me, Friday marked a very long time in the dentist’s chair and, as the anaesthetic gradually started to wear off, the reality of the 11 pm Brexit marked a turning point for the UK.
When the Prime Minister said this morning that the UK has now embarked on a great voyage, his language finally showed the recognition that getting Brexit done is a process rather than a moment. Given the tight timescales involved in negotiating the future relationship, I welcome that both the Government and the European Commission have outlined objectives today. However, I am sure noble Lords can imagine my disappointment when I tuned in to the Sunday shows and heard Cabinet Ministers stress that any form of alignment with the EU would defeat the entire point of Brexit.
The Government publicly insist that there will be no lowering of standards. Indeed, in his speech this morning, the Prime Minister cited numerous examples of UK standards which already exceed EU ones. He specifically referenced animal welfare. I think the Leader will know of and understand the concerns of animal welfare groups and farmers who are concerned that the Government’s pursuit of a trade deal with the US threatens to erode standards here. It would be helpful if she could tell the House what categorical reassurances she can give to farmers and animal welfare groups.
Before reading the Prime Minister’s speech and the Foreign Secretary’s Statement, I had hoped for three things: first, that they would heed the long-standing calls from business to negotiate a deal maintaining frictionless trade; secondly, that the various commitments in the political declaration—a document signed off by this Prime Minister—would stand; and, thirdly, that the days of arbitrary red lines, rambling speeches and, shall we say, unconventional diplomacy were behind us, with the Government adopting a more grown-up approach. Those hopes were short-lived.
What we have seen today—I stress that it gives significantly less detail than the equivalent proposals in the European Commission’s document, so I hope there is more to come—is not dissimilar to the approach adopted by the previous Prime Minister. We have the desire for a Canada-style free trade agreement, with the veiled threat that the UK can and will pursue alternative arrangements if a deal cannot be reached with the EU 27. There is the usual red line on the CJEU, even if this could drastically reduce the scope for future co-operation in areas such as policing and security. Surely those should be at the forefront of all our minds given the weekend’s events in Streatham.
We are also told that, consistent with international best practice and the EU’s own trade agreements, we will not maintain regulatory alignment with the EU but instead seek regulatory equivalence in key fields. It would be helpful if the Leader could explain her understanding of the difference between the two.
We also have a commitment to negotiate on behalf of the whole UK family, despite the EU’s position on Gibraltar being very clear. Its position is that, unless the Government can secure the quick and explicit agreement of Spain, any new agreement would exclude Gibraltar. Can the Leader confirm when and how the Prime Minister intends to engage with counterparts in Madrid? Has that process started yet?
With the Prime Minister adopting his predecessor’s approach to the treatment of civil servants, it appears that nothing has changed. In his speech at Greenwich, the Prime Minister claimed that the UK has the economists and the trade policy experts needed to negotiate a deal but also warned that
“if we don’t have enough, or if they don’t perform, believe me we will hire some more.”
I am not sure that civil servants will appreciate comments such as that, especially at a time when those in the Brexit department are being redeployed. I am not sure that it is helpful either that our diplomats are being told not to sit alongside their EU member state counterparts, as if that is really going to help to smooth the negotiations and make them easier. It seems very petty.
Noble Lords might wonder why any of this matters when the Government have committed to make further details of the negotiations
“available to Parliament as the process develops.”
I ask the Leader: how? The measures relating to parliamentary oversight were stripped out of the WAB entirely, having been included in the previously agreed version of the Bill. We may receive, and certainly welcome, Statements from members of the Cabinet but they cannot replace a formal role for Parliament or effective and efficient engagement. If the Prime Minister has no prospect of negotiating a comprehensive deal before his self-imposed deadline of December, which in reality probably means October given the ratification required, we will fall back on either the withdrawal agreement or an Australian-style barebones deal. We appear to be back in the realm of the “managed no deal”, an idea which has already been comprehensively discredited.
“it is not clear that the campaign resulted in the public being significantly better prepared.”
It would be helpful if the Leader could share her views on why the NAO made that judgment, but it would be more helpful if she could tell this House who was instrumental in helping the Government draw up the plans for that engagement; clearly, they failed comprehensively. If she does not have the information, I am happy for her to write to me on that point. Can she also confirm whether the Government will initiate a new scheme—possibly Yellowhammer 2—should negotiations not progress as we hope they will? If so, when will the Government start those consultations with the organisations and groups affected? They will need to have information because we need to learn from the mistakes made this time.
I also hope that the Leader can offer some words of comfort to my noble friend Lord Dubs. Although he is not here this evening, many others who supported and voted for his amendment to the withdrawal agreement Bill are. Ministers repeated time and again that the policy relating to family reunification has not changed, and that the UK wishes to negotiate reciprocal arrangements at the earliest opportunity. So why does the Written Ministerial Statement from the Prime Minister claim only that:
“The UK is ready to discuss” this co-operation? It is not the same as the claim we have heard from Ministers on previous occasions: that the UK has already sought talks on the issue and that it is a genuine priority. The Prime Minister says just that we are ready to discuss it, which seems a step back from what we have previously been told by Ministers.
As I said at the beginning of my response, Friday was a turning point. The debate about leaving or remaining is over and it is incumbent on all sides to work together to achieve the best possible deal for Britain. We are going to scrutinise the Government’s approach to the talks but we also stand ready, as we always have, to be constructive. I hope that Ministers will now be more open-minded, given that we have passed that
My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement. I am of course delighted that she has, because in doing so she has shown herself willing to be subjected to parliamentary scrutiny where the Prime Minister has not, despite the fact that the meat of this Statement is his Written Statement to Parliament today on the UK’s approach to the Brexit negotiations. I hope that this will set a precedent, and one which she will commend to her leader in another place.
It is very instructive to compare the Prime Minister’s Statement to that issued by the EU, also today, on its approach to the negotiations. The EU document runs to some 30 pages; the Prime Minister’s to one and a half, albeit in small type. It is still pretty thin. In a number of respects, the two sets of proposals are complementary, and the tone is certainly conciliatory, which is to be welcomed. The Government are now perfectly explicit that they want a Canada-type trade agreement. In terms of the degree of closeness to the EU, that is the height of their ambitions and they accept that if they fail to get such a deal, they will revert to normal third-country arrangements. The latter option would clearly be extremely damaging, as this House has discussed many times, but so in my view would be a Canada-type agreement.
Such an agreement will require customs checks and controls, sanitary and phytosanitary controls, and much form-filling. It will not be the frictionless trade of which Mrs May was such a proponent; nor “unfettered” trade, which was the terminology of the Conservative election manifesto. For the sake of clarity, can the Leader of the House confirm that a Canada-type agreement would inevitably lead to such controls? In respect of trade between the UK and the Republic of Ireland, can she confirm that the permanent customs border will now be down the middle of the Irish Sea rather than on the UK-Irish land border? Can she also explain how a Canada-type deal would cover agricultural products given that the real Canada agreement involves tariffs and quotas on agricultural products such as poultry, eggs, beef, pork and wheat? What discussions have taken place between the Government and the NFU to ascertain how British farm production would be affected by the imposition of such Canada-type tariffs and quotas?
One area where there is clearly no current agreement between the UK and EU position is fishing. The EU document talks of aiming
“to avoid economic dislocation for Union fishermen” and to
“build on existing reciprocal access conditions, quota shares and the traditional activity of the Union fleet”.
How do the Government square this with their aim of extending the scope of exclusive UK fishery rights? Can the Leader confirm that, when it comes to services, the Government stand by their assessment of two years ago that a Canada-style agreement would involve more than 550 restrictions in services trade?
On security, the EU document discusses co-operation between law enforcement and judicial authorities, which will be in line with arrangements for co-operation with third countries. This is a million miles short of the co-operation which now protects the UK through the Prüm and European arrest warrant systems. How do the Government, whose own document talks only about putting in place a “pragmatic agreement”, envisage replicating the benefits for the security of our citizens which the present arrangements provide?
Moving on to the section in the Statement headed “Global Britain”, I am afraid that we now enter a zone of almost entirely windy rhetoric, culminating in the hyperbolic statement that Global Britain will be
“an even stronger force for good in the world.”
To exemplify this new reality, the Statement refers to the COP 26 climate change summit that is to take place in Glasgow—our chairing of which, of course, has nothing to do with EU membership and long predates Brexit. The Government say that their approach to COP 26 is to lead by example, but the truth is that the only example they seem to be setting is of chaos and confusion. Following the sacking of Claire Perry O’Neill, can the Leader say who will now be in charge of preparing for this summit, when she expects the Cabinet sub-committee set up to manage it to have its first ever meeting, and when the Government will begin to publish their plans for the summit? The only thing that we know about it is that the costs have gone up from £250 million to £450 million, but we are no closer to knowing what the Government plan the summit to achieve.
For all the talk of global Britain, most of the rest of the globe thinks that, in pursuing Brexit, we have taken leave of our senses. Nothing in this Statement is likely to persuade them that they are wrong.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and noble Lord, Lord Newby, for their comments and questions. I apologise for the confusion around the timing of this Statement. I also heard “I was in, I was out, I was in”, so I apologise for that.
The noble Baroness asked about our commitment to environmental and animal welfare standards. I can only reiterate what we have made clear time and again—not only me at the Dispatch Box but all my Front-Bench team covering these areas: that we remain firmly committed to upholding our standards and that, without exception, imports to the UK will meet our stringent food safety standards.
The noble Baroness asked about the political declaration, which makes it clear that the future relationship will be based on a free trade agreement. It also describes the future EU-UK relationship as a core economic partnership based on a free trade agreement supported by other agreements where appropriate. As both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness said, the Prime Minister has made it clear that we are looking for a Canada-style deal.
The noble Lord asked about customs and friction at the border. Yes, we recognise that leaving the EU will result in change. We are leaving the customs union and single market and do not seek alignment with EU rules. That means that exporters and importers will have to comply with new processes, but we will do everything we can to mitigate any practical effects. We will seek to minimise friction through customs facilitation and co-operation between regulators, for example. A huge amount of work goes on around the world to minimise the cost of trade, including in the WTO, so there is plenty of work to build on. The noble Lord will also be aware that customs processes nowadays are electronic and done away from the border, so, again, we believe that we can mitigate many of the issues that may—I say only “may”—arise. Around the world, there are plenty of supply chains that do not depend on being part of a customs union, most obviously between the US, Canada and Mexico.
The noble Baroness asked about scrutiny and keeping Parliament informed. I reiterate our commitment to doing that. She also mentioned the length of the WMS that we published in comparison to the EU’s negotiating mandate. We anticipate that we will publish a further, detailed document towards the end of February in parallel to the EU’s finalisation of its own mandate. We will of course provide regular updates to the House and look forward to the continuing scrutiny of our excellent EU Committee and other committees as the work goes on. We will do all we can to make sure that this House remains informed. The latest situation is that discussions with the EU on the structure and frequency of negotiations have begun. We expect negotiations to begin in the first week of March, once the EU’s mandate process is complete, although we would be happy to begin them sooner if it so desired.
The noble Baroness asked about Gibraltar. I reiterate that we will be negotiating for the whole UK family, which includes Gibraltar. As with the withdrawal agreement, we will negotiate with the EU as a whole. There are clearly some circumstances which are specific to Gibraltar and we have discussed these with the Governments of Gibraltar and Spain. We had constructive conversations in the course of the withdrawal agreement, and we will continue to do so.
The noble Baroness also mentioned the Department for International Trade. DIT now has a full complement of trade negotiators. We have scaled up to be roughly similar in size to the US trade representation. Since 2016, the number of trade policy officials has grown significantly, from around 45 to some 575. Trade policy groups are supported by around 70 lawyers and 90 analysts. A lot of work has gone in to upping the skill set in that department, which will be critical in the months ahead.
The noble Lord, Lord Newby, asked about fisheries. I repeat that, when we leave the EU, we are committed to working closely with our partners, including the EU, Norway and Faroe Islands, to manage shared stocks in a sustainable way and to share fishing opportunities on a fair and scientific basis. The noble Lord also talked about internal security. As he knows, the political declaration provides the basis for our future security relationship, covering practical operational co-operation, data-driven law enforcement and multilateral co-operation through EU agencies. The detail of this will be a matter for further discussion. We are absolutely keen and open to discussing options for maintaining co-operation on the exchange of criminal records, DNA, fingerprints and vehicle registration data. The EU currently has agreements with third parties, including ones providing co-operation, through tools such as SIS II and Prüm. None of these agreements involves CJEU jurisdiction in those countries.
The noble Baroness asked about the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. We made a manifesto commitment to continue to grant asylum and support to refugees fleeing persecution. The Government demonstrated their intentions by writing to the EU Commission on
My Lords, I know that this Statement of the Prime Minister’s vision is mostly about our future alliances and foreign policy. As he said, the rising economies are where 90% of the world’s growth is going to come from. He also said that the International Trade Secretary is going to give a more detailed Statement next week. Can the House be assured that, in that Statement, there will be more specifics about the great new trade networks we are going to join, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, COMESA, the Pacific Alliance and the Commonwealth network, which is the biggest network in the world and where we have peculiar advantages? Oddly, there is absolutely nothing about the Commonwealth in this Statement. I find that rather surprising.
I thank my noble friend. I can assure him that the Commonwealth is at the forefront of our mind and we will be working closely with Commonwealth countries. I am sure that the Statement later this week will cover some of the issues he would like covered. We intend to launch negotiations with the United States, Japan, Australia and New Zealand as soon as possible. It is our ambition to secure 80% of our total trade through new deals over the next three years. We have already had conversations with Japan and Australia. As the Statement said, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will be visiting a number of countries over the next couple of weeks. As I also mentioned in my response to the noble Baroness and noble Lord, we have built up capacity in the Department for International Trade to make sure that we can hit the ground running.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for the Statement and for making herself available for these questions. Did she notice that there is a clause in the EU’s draft negotiating mandate, issued this morning, which states that any judicial co-operation with the UK would be automatically terminated if we departed from the European Convention on Human Rights or if we failed to make access to ECHR rights available in UK courts? Given the record of the Prime Minister and his predecessor of occasionally referring to possible departure from the ECHR, will the Minister assure the House that there are no plans in this Parliament to abrogate, depart from, or restrict access to the ECHR in any way?
The noble Lord obviously knows that the EU published its negotiating mandate only this morning. We will, of course, look in great detail at everything set out in it, as I am sure it will look at ours. I am sure that all negotiations will be done in good faith. We have an excellent international record: we are proud of our standing in human rights across the piece, both in the work that we do and in our support for the international rule of law. We would not want to do anything to put that in jeopardy.
My Lords, will the Minister tell us how the categorical rejection of any regulatory alignment in the Statement squares with the robust commitments the Government signed up to in the political declaration to ensure a level playing field? Secondly, and related to it, the assertion that the UK will have separate and independent policies in areas such as data protection seems to contradict the assertion at the end of the Written Ministerial Statement that seems to expect an easy agreement for data adequacy assessment, because
“the UK will be operating exactly the same regulatory frameworks as the EU at the point of exit.”
Surely that is not the point. If the Government are saying that we have no intention of aligning dynamically in the longer term after we leave, surely that completely undermines any trust that the EU can have in our regulatory standards and means it is impossible for it to work on the basis of a level playing field.
There is no requirement for alignment under the withdrawal agreement, and the political declaration sets out our commitment to discuss open and fair competition as part of negotiations on an ambitious future relationship. As the noble Baroness rightly says, we already start from a place of exceptionally high standards and we intend to maintain our standards in all these areas. In many instances we actually have higher standards than the EU and we do not need a treaty in order to do that. We are absolutely committed—we have made commitments time and again and have said repeatedly that we do not intend to lower our high standards; we intend to lead the world.
My Lords, the Statement says:
“We will have a new relationship with the EU, as sovereign equals, based on free trade.”
May I repeat an Oral Question I put to the Government last Thursday,
“offer the European Union a new treaty, subject to World Trade Organization jurisdiction, which would continue the United Kingdom’s existing trading arrangements with the European Union”.—[
What better free trade could we have than that? I suggested then that this offer would be generous to the European Union, if accepted, and would get rid of the Irish border problem, the need for much of Operation Yellowhammer and the endless lengthy trade negotiations which lie ahead. Can the noble Baroness explain why we do not do that?
We have set out our negotiating mandate and what we intend to discuss with the EU in this WMS. That is the basis upon which we will be taking forward our discussions. What the Prime Minister has made very clear is that we are looking to negotiate an FTA like Canada’s, covering goods, services and co-operation in other areas. That is what we have set out, that is the position we will be starting with, and we look forward to engaging with the EU over the coming months in order to make sure that we have an excellent deal for both sides.
My Lords, will the Minister answer the question she has already been asked but did not answer, which is why we signed up on Friday to a level playing field and on Monday we seem to find it pretty rebarbative? Which is the real position of the Government: what was in the political declaration or what is being stated now? Secondly, if the fallback position, as I understand it from the Statement, will be to trade on what are, somewhat misleadingly, called Australian terms, why is Australia now trying to negotiate a free trade agreement with the European Union when being without one is such a spiffing deal?
As I responded to the noble Baroness, there is no requirement for alignment under the withdrawal agreement, and the political declaration sets out our commitment to discuss open and fair competition as part of negotiations on an ambitious future relationship. As we have also made clear, we want to negotiate a free trade agreement like Canada’s. If that is not possible we will look to have a trading relationship based on the 2019 deal on the lines of Australia’s, but our ambition is higher.
My Lords, Ministers constantly say that we are not going to align. Would it not be wise for the Government and, indeed, all Ministers to remind businesses seeking to trade into the European Union that they are going to have to comply with regulations set by the European Union, regulations which now, post Brexit, we will have no hand in setting?
The noble Viscount is quite right. Obviously, whenever you import or export you are subject to the rules of the country you are doing trade with but, as we have said, we believe that we can come to an agreement with the European Union. We already have high standards, we are already very closely aligned and we want to make sure that we have a good deal. That is what we will be talking to the EU about. We are ready to go and both sides have now set out their negotiating mandates. Previously, we have been criticised for not being clear about our position: we have been clear; the EU has put forward its proposals and we look forward to constructive discussions over the coming months so that we can come to a deal that works for both sides.
My Lords, will the Minister indicate, further to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, when the statutory instruments dealing with unfettered access for the export of goods and services between Northern Ireland and Britain and vice versa will be published, as was promised by the noble Lord, Lord Duncan, during the debate on Report on the EU withdrawal Bill some two weeks ago?
I fear that I do not have that information to hand but I am very happy to go back to the department and check on the timings. I would also say that that we are considering the best way to implement the protocol and will be discussing this with the EU in a Joint Committee and specialised committees created under the withdrawal agreement. I will go back and check and if I can provide some further information to the noble Baroness, I will do so.
My Lords, that protocol highlights 371 laws and regulations that will not apply to Great Britain but will automatically apply in perpetuity to Northern Ireland. Their origin will be from the European Union. In October I asked the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, what representation UK citizens and businesses will have over rules set by a foreign entity in a trade agreement that they will have to comply with. He replied:
“Of course they will not have direct representation”.—[Official Report, 19/10/19; col. 361.]
What is the position of the Leader of the House on UK businesses and citizens who will have to comply with European Union rules over which they will have no representation? If that is the case, all the language about “one United Kingdom family” and the “whole UK family—fully and complete” will have to be scratched. It is either Great Britain and Northern Ireland or Northern Ireland alone under these EU rules.
I am afraid that I do not agree with the noble Lord. I think he is alluding to the issue of consent. As I have said, we have set out our position: we do not want alignment and will discuss and negotiate on that basis. We believe that we can come to an agreement with the EU that works in the interests of the entire United Kingdom family.
I thank my noble friend for his comment. Things can be considered, but we have an excellent Select Committee system, with excellent EU committees, the Constitution Committee and others which I think all noble Lords will agree did a fantastic job on scrutinising and holding the Government to account during the last phase of our discussions with the EU. I have no doubt that they will continue to do so going forward. We will listen to their advice and reports very carefully.
My Lords, in a speech this morning the Prime Minister said that a free trade agreement should be
“governed by science and not by mumbo-jumbo”.
In the spirit of good science, the precautionary principle is critical to preventing environmental harm and maintaining food safety. Will the Minister guarantee that this precautionary principle will be at the centre of any free trade agreement, as it is at the centre of the EU’s negotiating position? Also, drawing on the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Newby, on the COP talks, will she acknowledge that this is not something that happens at the end of the year but a full 12-month process on which we are already behind, having to start again with the new president?
As I have said, we have a clear timetable for negotiations going forward and look forward to them beginning. We remain committed to world-class environmental, product and labour standards. Our reputation for quality, safety and performance is what drives demand for UK goods. We have absolutely no intention of harming this reputation in pursuit of any trade deal.
Would the Minister go a little further in answering the question of the noble Lord, Lord Wood? I too was struck that the Commission mandate shows that there is very real concern over there that we may be about to abrogate the European Convention on Human Rights. Can she confirm that we have no intention of doing so?
I can confirm what I have said previously: we are very proud of our international reputation in this area and will not put it under threat during any negotiations.
My Lords, will my noble friend reassure those noble Lords who seem to think that a customs union arrangement would be superior to the free trade agreement that we seek because it would avoid, among other things, the need for customs declarations, that this is not a view shared by most other countries, including the main partners of the European Union? Switzerland does not seek a customs union; its traders have to fill in customs declarations. Norway and the other EFTA members do not seek a customs union; they have to fill in customs declarations. Canada and Mexico do not seek a customs union with America; they have to fill in customs declarations. Why are they all assumed to be wrong and self-harming when we are not?
I thank my noble friend for his observations. As I have said, in parallel with the negotiations we will be having with the EU, we intend to launch negotiations with other global partners so that we can end up having strong, positive trade deals with the EU and across the globe and make sure that we continue to play a role as the global Britain we all know we are.
My Lords, I am very worried about chickens in global Britain. I understand that, under global Britain, I might have to be offered chickens that have been washed in chlorine. I have been washing my kids—or at least allowing them to swim—in chlorine for years. Does this mean that I have been mistreating my children or that I might have to cook the chicken before I eat it?
As I have made clear, we have extremely high standards in environmental protection, food safety, hygiene standards and labour laws. We intend to continue with those high standards. We are world-leading and we want, where we feel it is appropriate and necessary—as we have done for instance in our offer of maternity, paternity and annual leave and a number of actions we have taken in relation to the environment—to lead the world in standards. We have a proud history of doing that and will continue to do so. We will not lower our standards.
My Lords, the financial services industry makes a vital contribution to the economy of this country. I note that in the Written Ministerial Statement the Prime Minister says that there should be enhanced provision for regulatory and supervisory co-operation arrangements with the EU for the financial services industry. For decades, Frankfurt and Paris have tried to take business away from the City of London. Will the Minister explain why she thinks that the EU will now want to make it easy for the City of London to continue to take business from Frankfurt and Paris?
We seek to provide a predictable, transparent and business-friendly environment for firms to undertake cross-border financial services business. We propose that this can be done by agreeing comprehensive obligations on market access and fair competition. We are also willing to look at regulatory and supervisory co-operation arrangements that reflect the level of access between our markets and seek to establish processes for dialogue on equivalence.
I can confirm that civil servants are being moved within the unit. David Frost, No. 10’s Europe adviser, will be the UK’s chief negotiator, reporting directly to the Prime Minister. He will lead the future negotiations with a team based out of No. 10, and will work with departments across Whitehall. As I hope was shown by my comments about the Department for International Trade, the Government are focusing on these priority areas. We are of course making sure that we are properly resourced to ensure that we can deliver the outcome that we all want, which is a good deal between the EU and the UK by the end of the year.
I have to confess that I have not had a conversation with him about that recently. However, if that is what he said, that is what he said.
My noble friend is absolutely right. That is why we want a relationship with the EU based on friendly co-operation between sovereign equals and centred on free trade. That will be the basis of our approach, and we look forward to discussing these important issues with the European Union over the coming months.