There have been 6 exchanges involving Lord Frost and the Cabinet Office
|Thu 25th March 2021||Post Brexit: Economic and Political Opportunities (Lords Chamber)||21 interactions (696 words)|
|Thu 25th March 2021||Northern Ireland and Great Britain: Trade (Lords Chamber)||19 interactions (688 words)|
|Thu 25th March 2021||Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland (Lords Chamber)||19 interactions (582 words)|
|Thu 18th March 2021||UK-EU Trade (Lords Chamber)||21 interactions (763 words)|
|Wed 10th March 2021||Northern Ireland Protocol: Grace Period (Lords Chamber)||27 interactions (1,039 words)|
|Thu 4th March 2021||Space Industry (Grand Committee)||3 interactions (1,807 words)|
To ask the Minister of State at the Cabinet Office (Lord Frost) what evidence-based analysis Her Majesty’s Government are using to oversee the cross-government work on maximising the economic and political opportunities flowing from the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union.
My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on his appointment to the Cabinet. I am surprised that there is no mention of the specific work of anybody. I cite the economic work of Crowley, Exton and Han from Cambridge University, and hope that he will look at it. I want to ask about political opportunities. Does he agree that for 2021, two large opportunities for the independent UK are the G7 and COP 26? Does he further agree that, to maximise these opportunities, it will be more effective to co-operate with the EU as an entity than via bilateral relations with member states?
My Lords, I, too, warmly welcome the Minister to his first outing at Minister of State’s Questions. There are 24 committees and groups set up under the trade and co-operation agreements. They are, in effect, the instruments and controls in its cockpit, but the Government have said that there will be no meetings of these bodies until the end of the ratification period, which is now considerably extended, so the flight deck is empty. Given that the TCA is fully operational, what plans do the Government have to at least get meetings in the diary?
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, should concentrate on outcomes, not process, and that he need look no further than the terrific work being done by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Trade, with 66 trade deals already done and more still to come as evidence of how the Government are delivering opportunities for the UK now that we are out of the EU?
My Lords, the importance of international access for service industries and the integration of UK and EU services is well evidenced. Some 40% of services trade in the UK’s £116 billion creative sector flows to the EU, and the integrated review reminds us that these services enhance the UK’s soft power and its balance of trade. Will the Minister ensure that this evidence is taken into account in identifying future opportunities for the UK? If the existing evidence is not enough, can he tell us what further evidence is required to convince the Government to prioritise our world-leading, revenue-generating creative industries in future trade negotiations?
My Lords, as a Minister and as First Minister of Scotland, I was regularly engaged in developing negotiating positions and in other debates on the UK’s position in discussions with the European Union. What arrangements has the Minister put in place to engage with the devolved Governments as part of these new arrangements with the European Union? Specifically, how will he engage with civic society and business in Scotland to ensure that their views are being heard?
My Lords, when I asked the Minister last week about the absence of the EU/UK agreement impact assessment, he told me:
“The economic situation last year, the impact of the pandemic and the huge uncertainties made it very difficult to conduct an analysis.”—[Official Report, 18/3/21; col. 447.]
However, that was not the case for the UK/Japan agreement he referred to, on which a 107-page assessment was published at the end of October. The Minister just told the House that the Government are drawing on economic and analytical support within government. Will the British Parliament be able to see any of it?
Can my noble friend enlighten the House on the progress he is making with the export of shellfish from the UK to the EU? Does he accept that the EU has acted in bad faith in its strict adherence to the rules? Is he contemplating that we might retaliate in kind?
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, I want to return to an issue we touched on last week when the Minister appeared to dismiss concerns about the January fall in exports, saying:
“A unique combination of facts has made it inevitable”.—[Official Report, 18/3/21; col. 445.]
The Food and Drink Federation does not share his complacency, having seen its members’ exports to the EU collapse by 75% in the past year but by only 11% to the rest of the world. It is clear that the Brexit negotiations, which the Minister was part of, had a hugely significant impact, particularly on small businesses, so I have two questions for him. First, if the fall really was inevitable, why did he not tell businesses beforehand? Secondly, will he urgently convene a meeting, not- withstanding his earlier comments, of the partnership council and the special trade committees to try to save British exports?
My Lords, I echo the approach of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, to this question. The first set of concrete numbers are now available and starting to speak for themselves. What is the reaction to Santander UK’s recent barometer survey published this week showing that 16% of the businesses surveyed—equating to 1,000 businesses—say that European supply chains are no longer viable and 23% say that the increase in the costs of bureaucracy currently prohibits them trading with existing UK markets? Then there is this morning’s news that Santander UK is closing 111 UK branches with the loss of 5,000 jobs. What plans do the Government have to fix these issues?
Does the Minister now acknowledge that his fiendishly complex barriers to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland are throttling local businesses and undermining political stability? Surely the joint and specialised committees that he co-chairs with the EU are fully capable of resolving these problems—or are they simply the direct and inevitable consequence of the Prime Minister’s dogmatic obsession with a hard Brexit? Surely the Minister accepts that unilateral suspensions of, and inflammatory calls to renege upon, the Irish protocol—negotiated by him and agreed by his Government—are also eroding trust with future trading partners, as President Biden has ominously signalled.
My Lords, by its recent actions the European Union has shown that it respects the Belfast agreement only when it suits it. The actions of the European Union on 29 January surprised and shocked all those who understand the importance of the peace process. How does the Minister propose to act to safeguard the Belfast agreement and the peace process?
My Lords, the Government are in real danger of blundering around in Northern Ireland on these sensitive trade issues. The unionists feel, understandably, that putting a trade border down the Irish Sea is a betrayal of their community. To mitigate this, will the Government seek a Swiss-style veterinary agreement with the European Union, which would eliminate many—not all, but many—of the trade barriers created when the Government originally entered the withdrawal agreement? Is there any downside, in the Minister’s view, to such a veterinary agreement that is more important than smoother trade and political stability in Northern Ireland?
My Lords, I too want to press on the issue of an SPS agreement. It is not only that a lot of the problems of deliveries from Great Britain to Northern Ireland concern foodstuffs and plants; exports of products such as shellfish and Scottish salmon from Great Britain to the EU have been massively hit by Brexit red tape. The noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, asked the Minister specifically whether there was any downside to an SPS agreement. He did not answer that question, so why are the Government not seeking a veterinary so-called SPS agreement?
My Lords, for over 20 years, discussion and dialogue have been at the heart of the Northern Ireland peace process and the protocol should be no exception to this. Will the Minister talk to the European Union through the joint committee, and to the Irish Government through the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, which was set up by the Good Friday agreement, and, above all, talk to all the political parties represented in the Northern Ireland Executive and their leaders? Only by talking will we ultimately resolve these issues.
My Lords, while the Northern Ireland protocol remains in place, British medicines going from Britain to Northern Ireland will, from 31 December this year, need not only to comply with EU regulation but to be batch-tested inside the EEA. They could therefore be hostage to capricious EU export bans. Will my noble friend assure the people of Northern Ireland that the Government will guarantee them a continuous, reliable supply of medicines, including any necessary vaccine boosters, even if that requires the Government to take unilateral action?
My Lords, given that the protocol prevents the flow of free trade within the United Kingdom internal market and stops any elected representative, either at Stormont or here at Westminster, having any say or vote on laws which govern a large degree of the economy of Northern Ireland, does my noble friend agree that these matters must be addressed and corrected at the earliest opportunity; that we as a sovereign, independent country must ensure that the people of Northern Ireland are treated in the same way as people elsewhere in the United Kingdom; and that we have to do this to ensure that we have a stable future for devolution and a balanced and proper implementation of the agreements, not a one-sided interpretation and implementation of them?
My Lords, touring and performing in Europe is crucial to our creative industries in Northern Ireland. Will the Minister take the opportunity to put on record today the reason why HM Government rejected the offer made in the EU draft legal text of March 2020 to exempt musicians and artists from any new visa requirements or restrictions on short-term work on the continent?
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has elapsed.
I thank the Minister and welcome him to his new post. Why did the Government not listen to the 29 trade associations that said in December that there were not enough official vets to cope with the new rules requiring export health certificates for trade in animal products crossing the Irish Sea? He tweeted on 12 March:
“overall freight volumes between the UK and the EU have been back to their normal levels for over a month now”.
Is he saying that for the first quarter of 2021 the volume of trade between the EU and UK will be approximately the same as for the first quarter of 2020? If not, what is he saying exactly?
Does my noble friend agree that, under the Belfast agreement, Northern Ireland is not a hybrid state but an integral part of the United Kingdom —ultimate responsibility for which rests with the sovereign United Kingdom Government? Where there is evidence that the protocol is not working as envisaged—as the Prime Minister recently acknowledged —and Northern Ireland is disadvantaged, is it not the duty of Her Majesty’s Government to take whatever action is necessary to remedy that, unilaterally if required?
One of the effects of the Minister’s decision on the grace period is that nobody now knows when the new treaty will be ratified. I take him back to his answer to the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and the Government’s February decision that the entire governance structure under the new treaty—all the myriad committees charged with tackling practical problems, tying up loose ends and rebuilding relations—should stay on ice until after ratification. No one knows when ratification will be. The report by the EU Select Committee chaired by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, saw no justification for allowing matters to drift in this way. The Minister’s answer suggests that he does not agree. If so, what is his justification for this drift and what was the withdrawal agreement legal base for his unilateral decision on the grace periods?
My Lords, the Irish Foreign Minister, Simon Coveney, said that a road map to the full implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol was needed. Since the noble Lord has taken office, has he had the chance to meet Mr Coveney? If not, does he have plans to do so at an early date? There are many of us who think that, on the basis of the noble Lord’s distinguished diplomatic record, he might do a better job spending more time on diplomacy and less time issuing ideological declarations.
My Lords, further to his earlier replies to the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, can the Minister confirm that concluding a bespoke EU-UK veterinary agreement will be a key priority during the grace period? Does he feel that progress is already being made in that regard?
My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Frost, to his distinguished place on the Front Bench; I have many good memories of working together on European issues in the Blair Government. When it comes to making the Northern Ireland protocol work more flexibly, the key question surely is about trust between the Commission and the British Government. Will he seize this golden opportunity today to affirm publicly that the British Government are not seeking to scrap the Northern Ireland protocol or negotiate any changes to the text that the Prime Minister himself agreed?
My Lords, I too welcome the Minister. Is he aware that some of us strongly support his unilateral action in extending the grace periods? Without them there would be shortages of food and no medicines in Northern Ireland. Banning British sausages in Belfast hardly strengthens the Good Friday agreement, but a temporary waiver is not a permanent solution to these problems. Is he confident that there is sufficient flexibility and potential easements in the protocol for a permanent solution, or is it going to require action under Article 16?
My Lords, I give full support to Her Majesty’s Government in taking the action to extend the grace period for trade checks between GB and NI. In the face of the belligerent attitude of the EU at the joint committee, I believe that there was no alternative. However, does the noble Lord agree that the trade border is now on the island of Ireland, at Belfast, Larne and so on? As such, if it can be there, is there any credible reason why it cannot be moved to inside EU territory—specifically, inside the Irish Republic—making the EU responsible for the protection of its internal market?
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has elapsed. There will now be a brief business statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. We are, of course, where we are, but I am sure he would agree we have a particular problem at the moment with the export of animals, meat and shellfish, where exports are down by between 56% and 83%. Will the Minister agree to meet me and other noble Lords from across the House who are acutely concerned about this issue and wish to see it sorted, including the possibility of the Government negotiating a sanitary and phytosanitary agreement similar to that which Switzerland currently enjoys with the European Union?
My Lords, new figures released last week, as the Minister touched on, show that UK exports to the EU have plummeted by 40% since the transition period. Do Her Majesty’s Government take responsibility for that and, more importantly, will the Minister elaborate on the plans to rectify that reduction in trade?
My Lords, the TCA gives us the freedom and the opportunity to develop our own regulatory regime for the City, to maintain and enhance its position as the leading global financial centre. Does the Minister agree that we should be bold and swift in making necessary changes to our EU legacy regulatory framework, while taking a proactive leadership role in international fora such as IOSCO in developing proportionate principles-based rules at the global level? Does he also agree that it will manifestly not be the EU’s interests to continue to try to prevent European companies raising capital and accessing services provided in the UK’s financial markets?
My Lords, last year I asked the noble Lord, Lord True, what work the Government were doing to forecast an assessment of the various complexities that the Minister referred to. He wrote to me on 19 May, saying:
“A call for evidence will open in the coming months, and we will provide further details in due course. The call for evidence will capture complexity and represent the varying impacts that will be felt across different parts of the economy. We will continue to keep Parliament informed.”
There was no call for evidence, and the Government have not kept Parliament informed. Does there exist any forecast from the Government that shows that by value to the UK economy, UK trade with the EU will grow?
My Lords, there are clearly problems with companies not being used to the new procedures. I know from experience how helpful BEIS and HMRC can be to a European company that has made a pig’s ear of its paperwork. Are their European equivalents being similarly helpful to British companies which have not got the procedures right?
My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the huge problems in relation to work in Europe confronting our valuable music sector. Jobs have already been lost and tours cancelled as a result of the lack of suitable arrangements in the TCA. Is the Minister aware that the main ask of the performing arts is for a separate, bespoke visa waiver agreement, which would go a long way to resolving key concerns? Will he promise to discuss such an agreement with Maroš Šefčovič at the earliest opportunity?
My Lords, I thank the Minister for agreeing to meet the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, on the issues he raised, but in response to my noble friend Lord McNicol, he seemed reluctant to admit that there was a problem and he certainly did not answer the part of the question about what the solutions were, so I shall try again. Your Lordships’ House has been fully engaged in preparing the UK for its new relationship with the EU. There has been an unprecedented number of documents, Bills and statutory instruments that we have all waded our way through to get to the detail, but all behind ensuring support for the Government’s border plans. Yet here we are, less than three months in, and that model is creaking. The Minister is now tearing up plan A in order to push back implementation dates. Can he tell us what he thinks has gone wrong?
My Lords, rather than trying to deny the reality of the massive drop in exports to the EU, the Government need to address how practical improvements can be made regarding Brexit red tape. So far, their approach to solving border problems is simply to refuse to apply the rules that they agreed to. How will the Government establish trust and a good relationship with Brussels and member states that are essential to getting those improvements to help business and consumers?
My Lords, after leaving the EU, the UK has the advantage of trading with any country around the world. The EU has already negotiated a trade agreement with China and, considering our present relationship with China on account of human rights, can the Minister tell us whether the UK will be able to sign a trade agreement with China? If so, when is it likely to happen?
My Lords, I warmly welcome my noble friend to the Front Bench and congratulate him on his appointment. I strongly support the actions taken by the Government in recent days as a necessary, proportionate and lawful response to the situation in which we currently find ourselves. Does my noble friend agree that the somewhat hysterical reaction of the EU yet again demonstrates its one-sided inability to recognise legitimate unionist concerns and to see the Belfast agreement through all of its strands—an agreement that its intransigence now threatens to undermine? In addition, can my noble friend assure me that this unionist Government will robustly defend any legal actions brought by the EU and that they will take whatever measures are necessary to guarantee Northern Ireland’s place as an integral part of the UK internal market?
My Lords, I join in very warmly welcoming the noble Lord to the House. Does he accept that behind this trade crisis in Northern Ireland is his own hostility to the European Union? He has taken Britain out of the customs union and single market and therefore necessitated these trade controls. Is he aware that Margaret Thatcher, who largely created the single market, said:
“How we meet the challenge of the Single Market will be a major factor, possibly the major factor, in our competitive position in European and world markets into the twenty-first century. Getting it right needs a partnership between government and business”?
Does the noble Lord agree with Lady Thatcher?
My Lords, I also welcome the noble Lord to the Dispatch Box. We knew that businesses which export out of the UK to the EU required an HMRC EORI number, but now businesses need a Northern Ireland EORI number to trade internally in the UK with Northern Ireland. The noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, stated in a letter to me on 11 February that, of the 770,000 trading businesses in the UK, only 58,000 have a Northern Ireland XI EORI number. Why would businesses in the UK require export registrations to trade with other parts of the UK? If there is unfettered trade within the UK, why do only 12% of UK businesses currently have the capability to trade with Northern Ireland?
My Lords, I was heavily exposed to the Troubles across the whole span of my broadcasting career, so I am particularly alert to the delicacy of the current situation in Northern Ireland. The Governments of John Major and Tony Blair invested enormous political capital in resolving the tensions there. Will this Government?
My Lords, temporary derogations, waivers or exemptions are by definition not a long-term solution to the problems intrinsic in the protocol. Will my noble friend the Minister address the asymmetry—the absurdity—at the heart of the protocol: its contention that checks on goods between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland undermine the Good Friday agreement and may even jeopardise peace, but checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain have no such consequences?
I also congratulate the Minister on his new appointment and thank him for engaging afresh with the EU Committee in his new capacity. How was the joint committee apparatus, including the joint consultative working group on the withdrawal agreement, used to discuss and disseminate the Government’s decision on grace periods before its announcement? Further, given the furore, if they had their time again, would they have played things differently?
My Lords, I think we all welcome that the noble Lord, Lord Frost, is now able to answer Questions from the Dispatch Box and we look forward to an ongoing dialogue with him about his Cabinet responsibilities. His role in the negotiations has been credited with getting the agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol over the line. He would have been aware then of all the implications. Given that he supported the creation of, and now co-chairs, the Joint Committees he has referred to, which are designed to resolve such disputes, would not the most mature and pragmatic way to deal with this issue be to continue with that process? Does he understand that the unilateral action he is championing is a double threat? It jeopardises the European Parliament’s ratification of his own agreement and damages our international reputation if we cannot be trusted to keep our word.
My Lords, likewise, I welcome the noble Lord to his position at the Dispatch Box. As one living near the border between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, and as a former MEP, I am very conscious that border issues can destabilise Northern Ireland. I am disappointed that the European Union does not recognise that. I am even more disappointed that the House of Lords European Union Committee did not recognise the tensions and trading problems that the protocol would create. Today the Vice-President of the European Commission, Šefčovič, is addressing the Friends of Ireland in the Congress in Washington. I hope he will ensure that he gets a report from our embassy in America on what is said. In so far as the future is concerned—
Break in Debate
My question is this. In so far as the future is concerned, there must be agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union. Will the Government ensure that the common travel area will be secured, that all three strands of the Belfast agreement will be supported and that the sovereignty of the United Kingdom will extend throughout Northern Ireland?
My Lords, I add my congratulations to my noble friend and wish him well in the task that lies ahead. Following on from the questions of my noble friends Lord Caine and Lord Hannan of Kingsclere, can he tell me—I fear I may be a little simple and he will have to be patient with me —what evidence has been put forward by those who insist that checks on goods crossing the land mass of Ireland undermine the prospects of peace while, by contrast, checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea do not? Can he explain why Brussels can simply stop trade in vital goods such as vaccines to Northern Ireland, but threatens us for doing business with our own people? Am I simple or is it all a rotten case of double standards?
My Lords, further to the question from my noble friend Lady Smith, does the Minister not now regret taking unilateral action against an agreement which he was party to? Does he not worry that no one will accept or trust his word ever again?
My Lords, I am afraid that the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed. My apologies to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann.
I am going to take a moment or two to allow the Chamber to clear a bit before we move on to the next business. There is a moment or two for you to shuffle out.
I think everyone has now shuffled. We now come to the Motion in the name of the Senior Deputy Speaker.
My Lords, from Labour’s Front Bench I welcome the noble Lords, Lord Parker and Lord Johnson, who spoke earlier, and I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Frost, who we will hear from in about 45 seconds’ time. There is a guy, Sanjeev Gupta, who currently rents a one-bedroom flat above a hairdresser’s on Lewisham High Street so that he can work from home. Sanjeev is a geologist, and in his flat he has five computers and two other screens for Zoom meetings. He is helping to direct and control the movements of Perseverance to drill and collect samples to help determine whether there has ever been life on Mars. Compare his endeavour with the Government’s investment in OneWeb, against the advice of experts and the concerns of the space agency. Is this OneWeb investment part of the UK’s global navigation satellite system? If not, what is it? As we have heard, OneWeb continues to manufacture its satellites in Florida. The high-skilled, well-paid jobs will come only if we get our investment and industrial strategy in sync—or are we destined, like Sanjeev Gupta, to rent more flats in Lewisham from which to explore the final frontier?
My Lords, perhaps I might presume to congratulate the Minister on his maiden speech and extend to him a very warm welcome both to the House and to his ministerial post. I also congratulate all the speakers on the discipline with which we have conducted this debate—including the maiden speakers, who have shown great promise for future contributions to the House.
That completes the business before the Grand Committee this afternoon. I remind Members to sanitise their desks and chairs before leaving the Room. The Committee is adjourned.