James Cleverly answers MPs’ questions to the Department for Exiting the European Union.
As a responsible Government, we have been preparing to minimise any disruption in the event of no deal for more than two years. In the light of the extension, Departments are making sensible decisions about the timing and pace at which some of that work is progressing and what further action can be taken, but we will continue to prepare for an EU exit in all scenarios.
The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health has called on local authorities across the whole United Kingdom to set up food resilience teams to assess how different Brexit outcomes could affect food supplies. What reassurances can the Minister and the Secretary of State give that food supplies will not be impacted in the event of no deal?
Only yesterday, I had a bilateral meeting with my counterpart Minister in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and we discussed the advanced plans that that Department has made in this area. I have also had meetings with the Food and Drink Federation, which represents sectors in the industry, and the British Retail Consortium. The Government are making significant plans to ensure that key supplies, including food, are available in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
The hon. Gentleman is a very busy fella, with a full diary. We are all greatly impressed.
One of the major risks of leaving without a deal, which I very much hope will not happen, is cash-flow problems, particularly for small and medium-sized businesses. I had understood that the Treasury and the whole Government were making plans to ensure that additional cash flow would be made available, particularly for SMEs, for delays in payments, customs dues and so on. But at the Exiting the European Union Committee yesterday, we heard from all witnesses that they were not aware of any such plans for their members. Can the Minister set out clearly what those plans are and when they will be made known?
The Government absolutely remain committed to ensuring that businesses, whether they are large, small or medium-sized, thrive in any Brexit-related scenario. The Governor of the Bank of England has said that we are well prepared. I will ensure that more details are circulated about what mitigating measures the UK Government will put in place for small and medium-sized businesses.
In the finest traditions of this Government, the Brexit Secretary used an interview in The Times today to publicly air his frustrations with colleagues from the Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy at their unwillingness to waste yet more public money on ramping up preparations for a no-deal Brexit. In the same spirit of openness, can the Minister tell the House precisely how much additional funding his Department believes should be allocated to no-deal planning before 31 October and what it should be spent on?
The Treasury has made available over £4 billion for preparations for Brexit in all scenarios. As has been discussed at the Dispatch Box before, it is not possible to disaggregate the spending between planning for a deal and planning for no deal. If the hon. Gentleman or anyone else in the Chamber is concerned about the implications of a no-deal Brexit, I remind them that they have had a number of opportunities to take the prospect of a no-deal Brexit off the table, which is what they say they wish to do, by voting for a deal. The fact that he has failed to do so means that the Government have had to take sensible, pragmatic actions to ensure that we are ready to leave in the event of no deal, but it is not too late for him to repent.
Given that the Brexit Secretary who negotiated the last deal was so disgusted with it that he resigned in protest, I think it is a bit much to blame anyone on this side of the House for not supporting it.
As the Minister will know only too well, we are still waiting to see the results of the coronation of the next Prime Minister—a Prime Minister who will be chosen on the votes of less than one quarter of 1% of the people of these islands. The lead contender—in fact, both contenders have made it clear they are prepared to go for a no-deal Brexit. Will the Minister accept that there is no mandate for a no-deal Brexit in this Parliament, and that there has never been a mandate for a no-deal Brexit from the people of the United Kingdom?
In the 2016 referendum, the mandate was given to this place from the British people to leave the European Union.
The Minister was asked what assurances he could give about food supplies in the event of a no-deal Brexit, and he gave none. He was asked what mandate exists publicly for a no-deal Brexit, and his answer made it perfectly clear there is none. The man who is about to be imposed on us as Prime Minister promised he would get a deal that would not be a no-deal Brexit, and if the new Prime Minister’s promises are worth nothing, whose are?
May I take the Minister back to the desire expressed a few minutes ago by his boss, who wants this House to listen to more than just the voices of London? “Yeah, tell us about it” is all I can say to that. May I suggest that he listens to one of the equal partners in this Union, where the Scottish National party is the stop Brexit party? The only time no-deal Brexit has been specifically put on the ballot paper in the form of the official Brexit party, the Scottish National party—on a promise to be the stop Brexit party—got more votes than not only the official no-deal Brexit party, but the unofficial no-deal Conservative party and the “don’t know what they’re doing about Brexit” Labour party, all three added together. Does he not accept that the people of Scotland, who his Government accept are sovereign, have overwhelmingly rejected any promise of a no-deal Brexit, as indeed would the majority of the people of these islands if they were given a choice? Why does he not make sure that no deal is taken off the table once and for all?
I happen to be one of the people in this Chamber who is in the habit of respecting the outcome of referendums. I am conscious that the hon. Gentleman is a representative of a party that is less comfortable with respecting the outcome of referendums. The simple truth of the matter is that the people of Scotland decided to remain an active part of the United Kingdom and the United Kingdom collectively decided to leave the European Union, and we are delivering on that referendum.
The Government’s priority remains to ensure that a deal is brought before and agreed by Parliament, allowing the UK to leave the EU before 31 October. In the run-up to 12 April, various Departments were preparing civil contingency plans, which were regularly discussed with colleagues, with co-ordination from the Cabinet Office.
Devon and Cornwall’s deputy chief constable, Paul Netherton, is the national lead for civil contingencies. When asked by Plymouth Live, “What’s the worst case scenario for Brexit?”, he replied, without a moment’s hesitation, “No deal”. What conversations is the Department having with the Tory leadership contenders so that both of them truly understand the gut-wrenching and dangerous implications of leaving without a deal on 31 October?
The position that the Government have taken mirrors, without necessarily using the same language, the prioritisation of the hon. Gentleman’s deputy chief constable. It is that of the two Brexit scenarios available—leaving with an agreement, or leaving without an agreement—the Government’s preferred option of the two is leaving with an agreement. That still can be done if Opposition Members vote to do so. As a sensible and pragmatic Government, we are making sure we prepare for a no-deal Brexit, but we have said a number of times from the Government Front Bench that our preferred Brexit option is to leave with an agreement and for this House to vote to do so.
Across the Government, but especially in the Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, there is a big drive to improve the nation’s productivity. In the run-up to a potential no deal on 31 October, are there not projects that would improve the nation’s productivity, but also enhance our nation’s resilience to a no deal, especially with regard to transport infrastructure around ports, and better prepare us for a no-deal situation?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The Government are looking at and planning a number of activities that will benefit the United Kingdom, irrespective of the nature of our departure. As we progress those plans, I am more than happy to share them with him.
What recent discussions has the Minister had with the Irish Government regarding co-operation and security on the Irish border were we to leave the EU on WTO terms? Will he reassure the House that there will be no stop to the freedom of movement of people and goods across the Irish border?
The Government have regular meetings with international partners. Indeed, my colleague, Mr Walker—[Interruption.]I apologise, Mr Speaker, I mean my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker). He will be joining others at the British-Irish Council to discuss those issues, and ensure that the concerns highlighted by the hon. Gentleman are addressed.
The Government and the European Commission have been clear that our trading relationship must comply with WTO rules. Under the withdrawal agreement, the implementation period is compatible with GATT article 24. In addition, paragraph 17 of the political declaration envisages the UK and the EU forming a free trade area, which will also be compatible with article 24.
On an all-party visit to the World Trade Organisation, it was made clear that if there was the prospect of a negotiated free trade agreement in the future, tariff-free trade could continue. Does the Minister agree that if the EU does not agree to that negotiated free trade in the future, which would allow tariff-free trade on leaving, that will be because it wants to punish the UK, not come to the best agreement in the interests of its people?
I am not in a position to credibly assess the motivations of the European Union. The British Government’s position has been clear—it is a long-standing position—that it is in our mutual interest to come to a trading relationship between the UK and the EU. We will continue to seek to do so.
Our highest priority is for patients to continue to have access to the medicines and medical products that they need. Since the extension of article 50, close engagement with the pharmaceutical industry has continued and we are confident that we will have the necessary plans in place to ensure continuity of medical supply.
A no-deal Brexit would see the UK lose access to the falsified medicines directive, which prevents substandard and counterfeit medicines from entering our market. The head of the Healthcare Distribution Association has said that, as a result, the UK would be “less safe”. What steps has the Minister taken to prevent that?
The hon. Gentleman will be unsurprised to hear that I have had recent meetings with the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry. We have discussed the quantity and nature of cross-border movements of medical supplies and pharmaceuticals. The British Government take this as one of our top priorities, protecting the supply in general and ensuring the quality as well as the quantity of medical supplies, and we will continue to do so.
My hon. Friend asks me to detail what actions have been taken; those actions are so numerous that I would not want to list them all, because I am sure you want to have time to go on to other things this morning, Mr Speaker. But I have already highlighted a number of meetings that I and ministerial colleagues have had with representatives of industry, helping them to understand what actions the Government have already taken and what actions they and their members can take for a no-deal Brexit. We have also had international meetings on both a bilateral and multilateral basis. Discussions among officials and Ministers and at Cabinet level happen regularly to ensure that the UK Government and UK businesses are in a good place to leave under no deal if needs be.