Leaving the EU: Extension Period Negotiations — [Mr Laurence Robertson in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:50 am on 22nd May 2019.

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Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union 10:50 am, 22nd May 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I thank my hon. Friend Julia Lopez for securing this very important debate at such an interesting point on the road to delivering Brexit. She raised a number of interesting and important issues. I will attempt to address them in the limited time that we have, but I also want to give her time to respond to the debate that she initiated.

I remind hon. Members that the Government, much like the majority of MPs, want to deliver on the result of the referendum and leave the European Union promptly and in good order. The British public are justifiably frustrated—that is an understatement—and the tone and passion of this debate is reflective of the public mood. They want us to act together in the national interest, end this impasse and deliver Brexit. Delivering Brexit was never going to be simple or straightforward, but the Government firmly believe that the best way to leave the European Union is with a good deal.

At the most recent European Council, the UK and the EU agreed an extension to article 50 until 31 October. It was also agreed that if we successfully brought forward a withdrawal agreement, we would be able to leave earlier. That is why the Prime Minister put forward a range of options hopefully to build a consensus that can secure a vote for the withdrawal agreement so the UK can leave the EU promptly.

The Prime Minister has worked hard to find a way forward that accommodates concerns from across the political spectrum, and yesterday she presented a new deal to MPs to settle the core issues of the debate. MPs must now work together to deliver the result of the 2016 referendum.

A number of hon. Members cited the Prime Minister’s words,

“No deal is better than a bad deal.”

The Government’s position is that the deal that has been negotiated over the past few years is a good deal, but hon. Members have criticised it. If you will forgive me, Mr Robertson, I will dwell briefly on why it is viewed as a good deal. It protects citizens’ rights for UK nationals living in the EU and EU nationals living here. It delivers an implementation period until 2020 to allow businesses to adjust to the new situation. It ensures a fair financial settlement of less than half of what was initially expected and demanded, which reinforces our global reputation as an honourable and honest international player. It ensures that Gibraltar is covered by the withdrawal agreement. It guarantees that geographical indications such as Scotch whisky and Welsh lamb will be protected until a future economic partnership is put in place. It allows the UK to negotiate, sign and ratify new trade deals during the implementation period, to be brought into force once it ends.

Alongside that, the accompanying political declaration sets out the scope for a bold and ambitious future trade relationship between the UK and the EU, to be built on for the next stage of negotiations. Hon. Members reminded us that there was a commitment to take back control of money, borders and laws. The agreement allows the Government to introduce a new fair skills-based immigration system, taking back control of our borders and ending free movement. It ends the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice UK and means that our laws will be made in Parliament and enforced by our courts. It also protects security and sets out a close relationship on defence and tackling crime and terrorism. It ensures that we will leave the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy, delivering a good deal for farmers and fishermen up and down the UK.

I will address some of the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster made. She asked about border preparation work. My officials and I have regular meetings to ensure that the UK border is operational and in good order, and that trade flows can continue with the minimum amount of friction in the event of a no-deal Brexit, with a cross-Government borders programme. All Departments will be able to set up fully and partially operated systems, processes and resources to ensure disruption is minimised as far as possible.

My hon. Friend asked about labour market preparations. We are in the enviable position of having incredibly low levels of unemployment. The Government will ensure that any changes in the labour market are reflected in Government policy.

My hon. Friend asked about the use of Henry VIII powers. The use of statutory instruments came after a decision by Parliament during the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. Every SI using those powers is scrutinised by Parliament in the usual way, and there is a new sifting mechanism.

Unfortunately, I will not be able to answer all the questions I was asked, because I want to address the broader point about no-deal preparations. Although Parliament has rejected the UK leaving the EU without a deal multiple times, that remains the legal default position if a deal is not agreed. As a responsible Government, we have been preparing for more than two years to mitigate any negative effects and any disruption as far as possible in the event of no deal. Those preparations are well developed and ongoing. We continue to prepare for all Brexit scenarios. Some £4.2 billion of funding has been allocated to help the UK prepare for all eventualities. It is only sensible that we do that.

Although the Government’s preparations continue, many of the most important mitigations require businesses and citizens, not just the Government, to act. There are also consequences that are simply not within the Government’s direct control, such as the actions of third countries. We should be under absolutely no illusion that not leaving the European Union would have a significant negative social, political and economic impact. That is another reason why leaving with a deal is the best option.

People want politicians to act together and honour the result of the 2016 referendum so we leave the European Union in good time and good order. Jenny Chapman highlighted the fact that Labour is uncomfortable with elements of the deal. The only way it could have influence on the future deal is to vote on Second Reading for the withdrawal agreement Bill. I therefore encourage all hon. Members to do what the people of Britain demanded of us, ensure we leave the European Union in the national interest, and back the deal.