Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Amendment to the Motion

Part of European Union: Negotiations (European Union Committee Report) - Motion to Agree – in the House of Lords at 7:04 pm on 16th March 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Smith of Newnham Baroness Smith of Newnham Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence) 7:04 pm, 16th March 2020

My Lords, as has happened so often this evening when there has been an intervention, I will say: “Ah, if the noble Lord will only wait just a moment, I might get to that point.” What I wanted to say was that when Boris Johnson was writing in the Telegraph he was always clear in his advice to David Cameron and Theresa May that they had to be able to walk away from the table. That is clearly something that as Prime Minister we expect him to do. If we get to late June and he does not feel the deal is appropriate, we expect him to be willing to walk away, and that is certainly a negotiating strategy. But there is a huge difference between the Government negotiating with the 27 as equal sovereigns, as the Command Paper suggests, in our current situation and in normal times, when the focus of negotiations can be week in, week out. We have already seen the second phase of negotiations postponed because of the current crisis that affects not just this country but the EU 27. We are not going to be focused for the next three and a half months on negotiating the future relationship; nobody would expect us do that. In that context, can the Minister confirm either that it would be appropriate to extend the deadline or give the House some indication that the Government are acting in good faith in negotiations?

As my noble friend Lady Ludford pointed out earlier, there is a question of trust. It is not always clear that Her Majesty’s Government are trusted in Europe on the question of our relationship. Issues in the Command Paper, as we have heard in so many speeches this evening, have raised questions about the Government moving from the political declaration. Could the Minister reassure the House that the negotiations will take place in an appropriate timeframe—that 31 December does not have to be do or die? After all, the Prime Minister won his election on 12 December; he has a five-year term of office, unless and until the Fixed-term Parliaments Act is repealed.

There is every opportunity for the Government to do the right thing, act in the national interest and postpone the deadline for withdrawal—not least because we do not simply have to negotiate and ratify the withdrawal agreement in your Lordships’ House and the other place, but the other 27 member states have to ratify. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, suggested that perhaps it would be a very simple agreement; if we go low, it will be simple. In that case, the 27 might not have to ratify through their national capitals. But, if we have a mixed agreement, which is what we might have expected, it will have to be ratified through all the national parliaments of the 27, including Flanders and Wallonia, and the Canadians can tell you what that might mean in practice.

We are faced with a very tight timetable, and the potential for serious divergence from the political declaration and from the future of the European Union on a whole range of areas. We have had questions about financial services. I want to raise another set of areas of participation in Union programmes, and at this point declare an interest: in my day job, I am reader in European politics at Cambridge University, where I have project funding from Horizon 2020, and I am linked to the Erasmus+ programme. So I would like to know a little bit about the Government’s thoughts on future integration in those areas, particularly because on Erasmus+ the Command Paper says that the Government might look at some possible time-limited arrangement,

“provided the terms are in the UK’s interests.”

Can the Minister explain what that might mean? Similarly, and more importantly for the research community at large, under what conditions might the Government wish to participate further in Horizon Europe?

On security questions, we have heard from the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, particularly the concerns about security and foreign policy. The former Prime Minister, the MP for Maidenhead, seemed to be rather keen on the idea of close security and foreign policy co-operation with the EU 27. That seems to have disappeared from the Command Paper. Will the Minister reassure us that the Government still believe and understand that our security interests and those of the EU 27 remain as one? If anything demonstrates that, it is surely the Covid-19 crisis, which affects all of us and in which we are benefiting from the links to the European Union for ventilators and so on.

On these Benches, we strongly support the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. Some of us listened with some incredulity to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, who, I believe, said, “Parliamentary scrutiny is neither necessary nor desirable.” She may wish to correct me if I have misheard. I thought that that was what your Lordships were here for. Regarding the future relationship with the European Union, we believe that parliamentary scrutiny is both necessary and desirable. We may not be involved in the day-to-day negotiations, but we should certainly be kept abreast of what is going on to the extent that it is possible in the context of whatever limited arrangements Parliament might face in the context of the current crisis.

We are in a situation in which time is of the essence. We have seen months of negotiations with the European Union sometimes leading to the outcomes that we want and sometimes not. We are currently faced with a three-and-a-half-month window of opportunity for the future relationship unless the Government are willing to demonstrate some flexibility. In the context of the dire straits that the Prime Minister has just been telling us that we are facing and the fact that so many Members of your Lordships’ House will self-isolate and not be here, it is surely appropriate for the Government to look again at their timing and talk to the EU 27 about changing the timetable for our future relationship.