The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord True) (Con)
My Lords, when you have been sitting for seven hours in the same place, you begin to learn how old you are. I thank the noble Lord opposite for his kind remarks at the start and I appreciate his engagement. I also appreciated the preamble to his speech about looking to the future. Unfortunately, most of the rest of his speech seemed a lament that we still do not have more Europe than the public have voted for. As for the Liberal Democrats, I must say that, at a time of national gloom, their unremitting pessimism throughout the debate represents a clear and present danger to the national weal.
In opening, I declare my interest, as ever, as a long-term resident of Italy. As a European, I affirm the abiding genius of the diverse nations and cultures of Europe, inside the EU and out: Proust and Dostoevsky, Goethe and Ibsen, Dante and Shakespeare—all part of a glorious common European culture that we must cherish and never allow, in this age of political correctness, to be washed out of our minds. There was good news this morning, and we celebrate the achievements and genius of scientists born in Hungary, Britain and Germany —again, part of our great European scientific tradition.
I agree with those who say that we will always be European, but the genius of Europe and the United Kingdom did not spring from any international institution. However sad some are at leaving that institution—we heard a lot about it today—will that genius be dimmed after we leave the EU? I believe a great future lies before this country, as some noble Lords who spoke today told us with confidence and pride.
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate today—125 of them. I counted them all in and counted them all out with, I regret, the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, to whom I apologise. It is quite difficult to bolt down a plate of fish and chips in 10 minutes, but I am sorry I missed his speech. There were exceptions. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, was scarcely rapturous in his reaction, but I welcomed the overall tone set at the start by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. The noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and many other noble Lords said, as did the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, at the end, that it was time to move on. Many of those who had set themselves against Brexit recognised that but, none the less, there was clear opposition and anger from the Liberal Democrat Benches and a deep undertone of hostility from Labour.
As we close the book on our membership of the EU, 57 years after de Gaulle’s first veto—which I remember watching on black and white television—we can truly say that this was a historic debate. I know that more wish to have taken part, to have spoken for longer or to have had more time to scrutinise the agreement. I recognise that abiding theme of the debate. On a night like this, the House should have been full and the air ringing with challenge and counterchallenge, with conflict across the House, which forges common parliamentary wisdom. We all long for that day to return.
That the Lords of Magna Carta look down on a House so empty is not the Government’s choice, nor is the timing of this debate and Bill on the day before the end of the transition. It was not the United Kingdom’s choice that the negotiations ran so long and late, but who is to say that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister was wrong to go so long and aim so high, when the prize is so great: a historic Canada-style deal with the EU, worth over £650 billion to the United Kingdom, containing zero tariffs and quotas—the first such trade deal that the EU has ever entered into with an independent country?
I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Frost and his team for their brilliance in the negotiation. As almost all said—with the notable exception of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard—they were outstanding in ways that many said were impossible. They broke through barriers in the talks with a sonic boom that scattered the naysayers and doubters. There are some, including the Front Bench opposite, who say that it was not necessary to act today. We could have dithered and dallied; we could have acted provisionally. “Never now” and “not yet”, they say, but who is to say that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister was wrong to act so decisively, when the prize that he has won is ending the transition period with a deal implementing our future relationship, providing that much-needed certainty to citizens and businesses across the United Kingdom, for which your Lordships have rightly asked for so long? The deal agreed with the EU means that we have achieved what the British people twice demanded.
This deal is based on friendly co-operation between sovereign equals, centred on free trade and shared values: a new partnership that builds on our common bonds of friendship and co-operation—but, as I say, as sovereign equals, with a clear, independent voice for Britain to speak and act in the world on the things that matter to us. I say to my noble friend Lady McIntosh that we are not entering a deal to terminate it; termination clauses are standard in trade agreements. The Bill ensures that our goods and services can continue to flow to the European Union, but also that our businesses can prosper mightily outside the EU by enabling them to trade freely, widely and ever more widely across the world and in the fastest-growing corners of the world.
Many questions have quite properly been raised in the debate. As your Lordships’ Constitution Committee has said, the pace of passage will no doubt call for considerable ongoing scrutiny—as, frankly, what EU treaty ever signed might not have? The Government will co-operate with that and we are carefully considering what scrutiny processes should be put in place to assist it. I give an assurance to the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, that the Government will work with his committee. I share the tribute paid by the Leader of the House to the work of the noble Earl and the European committees of this House.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, said that it was not necessary to act. But the UK and the EU need to exchange notification of completion of procedures for provisional application early on 31 December. This exchange cannot be done until the Bill has received Royal Assent, as the passing of legislation is a necessary procedure for provisional application.
I was asked about security. The EU was never ready to allow us access to SIS II. That was not a matter of ECJ jurisdiction. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, reminded us, we have reached a far-reaching agreement to protect the British public in areas including evidence, extradition and the sharing of passenger and criminal records data. Control of our borders will enhance our security, allowing the UK to remain safe and secure. The Bill gives us the tools to achieve this.
I was asked about Northern Ireland. I acknowledge that the terms of the Northern Ireland protocol mean that the position of Northern Ireland is not as the rest of our kingdom. But we will guarantee unfettered access for Northern Ireland goods. This deal means that there will be no tariffs on UK goods destined for Northern Ireland. Ulster and its businesses will be able to benefit from the free trade deals that we strike across the world, and the long-term future of the protocol rests on the democratic consent of the people of Northern Ireland.
I was asked about impact assessments. The Government’s number one priority must be to pass this implementing legislation before the end of the transition period, to ensure certainty and clarity for businesses and citizens alike. Of course the Government recognise the value of conducting impact assessments in normal circumstances but, in light of the tight turnaround time to introduce and pass the Bill following the agreement on Christmas Eve, we did not consider it feasible to produce an impact assessment this week in advance of the Bill being introduced. The Government will of course continue to produce impact assessments for relevant future secondary legislation in the usual way.
I was asked about financial services. This agreement provides a stable foundation for us to develop our future relationship with the EU and facilitate new arrangements to promote international financial services trade. In addition to the trade negotiations, both sides are carrying out equivalence assessments. Equivalence is an autonomous mechanism by which one jurisdiction can recognise relevant standards in another.
Leaving the EU means that the Government now have full control over the UK’s legal and regulatory regime and, as my noble friend Lord Trenchard noted, it can make the best decisions about what is right for the United Kingdom and for one of its most productive and innovative sectors. We have agreed a joint declaration on regulatory co-operation that sets out our intention to address shared challenges by discussion, information exchange and wider co-operation.
I was asked about Gibraltar and the overseas territories. Although an agreement has not yet been reached on Gibraltar’s future relationship with the EU in line with the conclusion of the UK-EU deal, we are fully committed to continuing to work together with the Governments of Gibraltar and Spain to reach a political agreement as soon as practicable. Continuing to work together with Spain and the EU to mitigate the effects of the end of the transition period on Gibraltar and ensure the well-being and prosperity of people in the region is an absolute priority for the Government. This includes ensuring border fluidity, which is in all parties’ best interests. The UK has always been, and will remain, steadfast in our support for Gibraltar.
I was asked about data adequacy. The UK will regain full autonomy over its data protection rules from 1 January. Regrettably, the EU left too little time to ratify data adequacy decisions by the end of the year. We have therefore agreed a bridging mechanism for no more than six months. It will allow personal data to flow as it does now while EU adequacy decisions are adopted. We are confident of the outcome and do not expect the bridging mechanism to be in place for more than four months.
I was asked about Erasmus. I recognise the attachment of many to this programme, and I can confirm that we will stay in EU programmes such as Horizon Europe and Copernicus. But we consistently said that we would join Erasmus only if it was in line with UK interests and if we could agree fair terms for participation. Ultimately, the EU could not meet those objectives, and we do not consider participation to be in the interests of the United Kingdom. As has been announced, we will therefore proceed with our own UK-wide programme. This will be a scheme that is global in outlook—not limited to the EU—and focuses on UK priorities, such as supporting social mobility. The Turing scheme will be backed by over £100 million, providing funding for around 35,000 students in universities, colleges and schools to go on placements and exchanges overseas, starting in September 2021. Under the withdrawal agreement, the UK will continue to participate fully in the current Erasmus+ and European Solidarity Corps programmes.
I was asked about fishing. As a descendant of fisher folk, I share the attachment of so many to this harsh and often heroic calling. The deal that we have, backed by £100 million of investment to rebuild our industry, might not be as swift as some would wish, although it is much swifter than the EU wanted, but it points the way to growth after years of foreign control and ends the injustice of the CFP. From day one, the UK will again be an independent coastal state and manager of our own waters.
I was asked about the so-called level playing field. There is no dynamic alignment, no role for the ECJ and no block on our divergence from the acquis, although we freely aim for the highest standards on the environment and in the workplace. I, for one, look forward to an end to the cruel export of live animals, which has been protected by Brussels for far too long.
I was asked about the devolved institutions. The UK Government respect the devolution settlements and we are committed to working with the devolved Administrations on implementation of the agreements. I must report that we were disappointed to hear today that the Scottish Parliament voted against granting legislative consent and that the Northern Ireland Assembly carried a Motion amendment that called, among other things, for the Assembly to decline legislative consent. The Welsh Parliament today voted to note the introduction of the Bill, regretting that it is not in a position to determine legislative consent. We regret the results of those votes. However, the timing is challenging and the Bill must proceed so that the UK can meet its international obligations to implement the agreements by 31 December and ensure that all parts of the UK can benefit from their excellent terms.
I was asked about musicians. The UK pushed for a more ambitious agreement with the European Union on the temporary movement of business travellers that would have covered musicians and others, but our proposals were rejected by the European Union. However, I have obviously heard the remarks made by many noble Lords in the debate.
We will have a further full debate next Friday, when I understand that the House of Commons will be somewhere else, to engage again with these and other detailed questions. I have no doubts that there will be many other occasions. I will welcome that scrutiny, as I know my ministerial colleagues will. But I plead with your Lordships in your wisdom not to impede the Bill, which will answer the expectations of the majority of our countrymen and countrywomen, as is our duty.
I was surprised to read in the name of the Official Opposition not the simple word “yes” that the British people voted for in last December’s election, but 151 words of mudge and fudge, grumble and mumble. The noble Baroness opposite, as always, spoke with great grace and from a personal position that I deeply respect and understand, but I am afraid that her Motion is not one of a party that sees opportunity for our country. How ironic it is that a European debate that began in 1975 with a referendum aimed to paper over the cracks in a disunited Labour Party should end with this rambling Motion from a disunited Labour Party that is fearful of the future, lacking, as the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, said, any confidence in the genius of the British people. You cannot lead a nation forward if you have no faith in the path it has chosen.
We are told that this is a “thin” deal at 1,250 pages —too heavy for me to lift up. The Labour Motion condemns bureaucracy and regulation. How many more pages of the bureaucracy and regulation that this Bill enables us to escape form would we need before a deal would be thick enough for the Labour Party? A thicker deal must logically be a closer deal; a thicker deal means more institutional ties, not fewer. Are we to hear a promise next election from Sir Keir Starmer, as some have called for today, to renegotiate us back closer to Brussels? “Get Brexit undone”: is this to be the Labour cry?