Northern Ireland Protocol: Veterinary and SPS Agreement
I want to be clear that the Government’s commitment to the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement is unshakeable and resolute.
Unfortunately, the Protocol is not working in its current form. It is not delivering on core objectives: to minimise disruption to everyday lives, respect Northern Ireland’s integral place in the UK’s internal market and preserve the delicate balance in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement in all its dimensions – East-West as well as North-South.
The EU’s inflexible approach to customs checks and processes required by the Protocol is having a significant impact on the everyday lives of people in Northern Ireland, with reduced choices for consumers and increased costs for businesses. This is not sustainable and has already increased community tensions.
The Government has tried to operate the Protocol in good faith, but the problems are significant and growing. There is political turbulence, societal difficulties, and trade diversion.
Ministers have proposed three solutions that seek to address the unique circumstances in Northern Ireland. The first is to ensure that full customs processes are only applied to goods genuinely destined for the EU. The second is to allow goods meeting both UK and EU standards to circulate freely in Northern Ireland and the third is to remove the role of the European Court of Justice in governing the Protocol.
I fully understand that the Government agreed the Protocol with the EU in 2019 and that it was the UK’s decision to leave the EU. This does not mean, however, that talks should not take place when it is clear a deeply unsatisfactory situation in Northern Ireland has emerged.
Ministers have previously proposed a veterinary and SPS Agreement with the EU based on equivalence. Under this arrangement, the UK and EU would agree to recognise each other’s legislation as achieving the same animal and plant health standards even if the detail of the legislation meant that these standards could be reached in different ways.
The EU has so far refused to countenance an agreement of this sort. The European Commission has instead proposed an agreement based on dynamic alignment in which the UK would operate the EU’s rules. I do not believe that this would be fair or acceptable. It would compromise our sovereignty over our own laws, and leave the UK stuck in the regulatory orbit of the EU’s institutions.
It is clear that there are serious and important issues to be resolved in relation to the Northern Ireland Protocol and I hope that the EU will work with the Government on its proposals to find permanent solutions to those challenges. The disruption to the lives of the people in Northern Ireland cannot continue.
Truly Global UK - Best for Britain Campaign
I agree that isolationism is an unrealistic approach to foreign policy compared to international cooperation, and I know that my ministerial colleagues at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) share this view.
Indeed, as the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, published 16 March, which set out the UK's foreign policy ambitions for the next decade made clear, the UK has a seat in every major multilateral organisation. NATO, World Bank and IMF, OSCE, UN Human Rights Council in 2021-22, G7 (President 2021), Commonwealth, the UN, P5 member of the UN Security Council, G20, Council of Europe. The UK is committed to using its prominent global position to work with like-minded allies to strengthen and sustain an international order in which open societies and economies can flourish.
The fact that the UK has been at the forefront of, and one of the largest donors to, the international response to the Covid-19 pandemic, shows beyond doubt that the UK’s efforts overseas are defined by cooperation with others, for the benefit of all.
I appreciate suggestions I have seen regarding the UK's Official Development Assistance (ODA) spending. Crises, such as that in which we currently find ourselves as a nation, demand tough choices. The decision to, temporarily, cut ODA spending from 0.7 to 0.5% of Gross National Income (GNI) is one of these. The UK will still be spending £10 billion in ODA this 2021, and thus will remain one of the most generous donors in the world, well above the OECD donor average.
Indeed, the UK continues to be a world leader in international development, not only as a result of our large financial commitments but also through the creation of the FCDO, which integrates diplomacy and development to deliver greater impact worldwide. I am assured that the UK will return to spending 0.7% of GNI on ODA as soon as the economic circumstances allow, as set out in the Integrated Review.
I appreciate that there are some concerns about the UK-EU trade deal, and that there is some continued frustration that the UK left the EU in 2020. Five years after the referendum, I believe it is important that we all accept the result of that vote and the change to our relationship with the EU that the British people voted for.
The trade deal reached between the UK and the EU avoids tariffs and quotas in trade between goods. I believe that this is an historic achievement and of significant financial benefit to companies in the UK and across the continent. I would like to make it clear, however, that the Government will not be returning to renegotiate the deal.
Ministers have always been clear that leaving the single market and the customs union would mean change for businesses and some frictions, which is why I am glad that £20 million is being provided to help SMEs adjust to new customs, rules of origin and VAT rules when trading with the EU. This fund pays for practical support including training and professional advice.
Ministers are also engaging with hundreds of businesses across the country, including through the Business Brexit Task Force, to find solutions to outstanding issues and develop a shared vision for the future. I am aware of the UK Trade and Business Commission run by the Best for Britain campaign group and I will continue to follow its work closely and cautiously, as I am aware that the Best for Britain group was formed with the intention of keeping the UK in the EU.
In North Devon specifically, I co-chaired the first of three online events with Mel Stride MP which provided an opportunity for local businesses to learn about the Government support available to help exporters, understand the changes to trading since 1 January and receive updates on Free Trade Agreements. If you would like more information about how to sign up to these events, please email my office at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Ministerial Department, UK export Finance, www.gov.uk/government/organisations/uk-export-finance also helps UK exporters win contracts, fulfil orders and get paid.
I recognise the value that our arts sector contributes to our economy but so much more than that. I want our musicians and artists to be able to tour the world and the worlds artists to come to us.
While there has been much social media speculation It is not true we turned down a bespoke arrangement from the EU to allow musicians to work and perform in member states. The UK Government has and always will support ambitious arrangements for performers and artists to be able to work and tour across Europe.
As suggested by the creative arts sector, the UK proposed to capture the work done by musicians, artists and entertainers, and their accompanying staff, through the list of permitted activities for short-term business visitors. This would have allowed musicians and support staff to travel and perform in the UK and the EU more easily, without needing work-permits.
Unfortunately, the EU repeatedly refused the proposals we made on behalf of the UK's creative arts sector. We are clear that our door remains open should the EU change its mind. We will endeavour to make it as straightforward as possible for UK artists to travel and work in the EU.
The UK's offer on mobility for musicians reflected proposals put forward by sector representatives, such as the Musicians Union.
As part of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, the EU did agree to a review clause, which explicitly refers to the potential to revisit the list of permitted activities for short term business visitors at a future time. We will continue to make the case for an arrangement that makes touring in the EU easier.
Brexit Trade Deal
Whilst I recognise not everyone wanted to leave the EU, I hope that now the result of the 2016 referendum has been implemented we can move on from the Brexit debate. 2021 is our chance to show what a Global Britain can do as a liberal free trading nation and a force for good in the world.
No trade deal is ever perfect, but this is a good deal, a win win for both the UK and the EU and I will be voting for it. The Prime Minister has achieved something that even his most ardent supporters had feared was not possible in such a short period of time.
As Michael Gove MP has recently said to colleagues in a letter:
“The deal we have secured is the first free trade agreement (FTA) the EU has ever reached based on zero tariffs and zero quotas, and is great news for families and businesses in every part of the UK.
The commitments made to the British public during the 2016 referendum and in the general election last year have now been delivered. We have taken back control of our money, borders, laws, trade and waters.
We are no longer bound by EU law. There is no role for the European Court of Justice. All of our key red lines about returning sovereignty have been achieved. We will have full political and economic independence on 1 January, and our laws will be determined by our own elected politicians.”
The Erasmus scheme is admired by many, but it is expensive, and the benefits of the scheme went overwhelmingly to students who already had significant advantages. The language barrier meant that those not already studying a modern language found it very hard to take part. 51% of those taking part in the Erasmus scheme were from families with a high or very high income.
The new 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. It will specifically target students from disadvantaged backgrounds and areas which did not previously have many students benefiting from Erasmus, making life-changing opportunities accessible to everyone across the country.
The programme will provide similar opportunities for students to study and work abroad as the Erasmus programme, but it will crucially, include countries across the world and aims to deliver greater value for money to taxpayers.
The Turing scheme is a good example of what we can do, better, than we could from within the EU.
Farming is an area where EU laws and regulations in the past have had the greatest influence and this deal provides food producers and retailers with the certainty they require to continue trading with the EU.
It avoids the imposition of tariffs and quotas which would have arisen in the absence of an agreement and allows the UK to explore new export opportunities abroad.
We will also be free to support producers at home as we leave the Common Agricultural Policy and introduce Environmental Land Management schemes that will support our farmers in both securing our food supply and contributing to the aims of the 25 Year Environment Plan.
We have agreed a new settlement with the EU which takes back control of our fishing waters, and which will ensure that our fishing communities will enjoy all the benefits that come from being an independent coastal state. Throughout the negotiation the EU’s position did not reflect that outside the EU, the UK would be an independent coastal State and no longer bound by the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).
During the last week of negotiations, the EU finally accepted that the UK could not be bound forever, and became willing to discuss our generous offer to allow European fishermen and women a period of stability to adjust to the new arrangements. It provides European fishermen with reasonable, time-limited assurances, while allowing the UK time to rebuild its fishing fleet so it can take full advantage of its marine wealth.
Under this deal, the UK’s sovereign control of its waters will be recognised from 1 January 2021. There will then be an adjustment period lasting 5 and a half years to allow fleets on both sides time to adapt to the new arrangements. During this period there will be continued reciprocal access to each other’s waters at levels commensurate to each party’s share of fishing opportunities and, for non-quota stocks, at historic levels. The Agreement provides for a significant uplift in quota for UK fishers, equal to 25% of the value the EU catch in UK waters. This is worth £146m for the UK fleet phased in over five years. It ends the dependence of the UK fleet on the unfair ‘relative stability’ mechanism enshrined in the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, and increases the share of the total catch taken in UK waters taken by UK vessels to circa two thirds.
At the end of the adjustment period, the UK maintain the sole right to determine access. From this point onwards access will be subject to annual negotiations, alongside fishing opportunities as is typical for independent coastal States.
Throughout the adjustment period, the UK Government will invest in our fishing communities and will do everything we can to help to rebuild the industry after 40+ years of neglect. This means that, as the adjustment period draws to a close, there will be a restored and improved UK fishing fleet prepared to take advantage of the exciting new opportunities. I am keen to work with local fishermen and businesses to determine how we can best invest in our fishing industry in North Devon. I am already in discussion with parties interested in investing in Ilfracombe.
Court of Justice of the European Union
Concern has been raised that we will still be under the judicial heel Court of Justice of the European Union. This is not the case. This agreement includes dispute resolution mechanisms that are appropriate for a relationship between sovereign equals. This means that there is no role for the Court of Justice of the European Union. All these mechanisms are fully reciprocal and equally available to both Parties.
For certain areas of cooperation there is a process of consultations between the Parties, followed by independent arbitration if there is still disagreement. If the arbitration panel finds that there has been a breach, the Party at fault must either rectify the breach, or agree to provide suitable compensation. If it does not do either, then the other Party can suspend obligations in response to any imbalance identified. Conditions and limitations apply to cross-suspension in some areas.
Trading and travelling to the EU will be different in some ways, but very similar or unchanged in others. We have not left Europe, we are still close allies and friends with our EU neighbours. The next few months and maybe years may be bumpy and at times confusing, but life will go on, businesses will adapt and thrive. Travel details are available on the gov.uk website: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/passenger-travel-to-the-eu-by-air-rail-or-sea-from-1-january-2021
I am adamant that North Devon should be able to embrace new opportunities. In levelling up this country, North Devon should, and will be near the front of the queue. Having shouted for North Devon I am delighted to be on the Levelling Up committee at Westminster, the only south west MP on the committee, where I intend to focus attention on the needs of rural and coastal communities.
This last year has been bleak, but the future can be bright, if we choose to make it that way.
There are of course many other concerns that people will have or will have in time and many of those answers I will respond to or put on my website.
The crux of the matter is that we have left the EU, and as promised, we have left with a deal. What we need to do now is get on with it and accept and embrace the future.
I support the Government’s position that the transition period should not be extended. The negotiations are continuing largely as before, albeit remotely, and the Government remains confident that there is a deal to be done even with the difficult circumstances in which we find ourselves. Previous extensions of negotiations have not resulted in improved outcomes, and that is the priority when it comes to negotiating the future relationship.
I am optimistic about the prospect of a deal. It requires the European Union to be realistic and to offer the UK a deal on similar terms to deals it has already negotiated with other countries. This is a reasonable request on the part of the UK, and it is the only basis on which we can proceed in line with the mandate the Government got in the General Election.
Government policy on this issue has not changed and is supportive of the purpose of the amendment. This is a disagreement about means, not ends.
The UK received 15 per cent of all asylum claims from unaccompanied children in 2018 and had the third-highest intake of claims in the EU. However, a statutory obligation to negotiate with the EU on family reunification does not necessarily lead to an agreement. The Home Secretary has already written to the European Commission to commence negotiations on a future agreement and the Government will lay a statement before Parliament on its policy.
The EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Act was also about implementing the Withdrawal Agreement and I did not believe that it was the right place to legislate on this issue. The Government has also committed to the continuation of family reunification and Parliament will have the opportunity to hold it to account.
The UK will continue to participate in the Erasmus+ programme during the implementation period. Participation in the scheme after this time will be a matter for the negotiations. The Government has been clear that it values international exchanges and is open to maintaining and expanding cooperation in education in the future.
The amendment would not have guaranteed future participation in Erasmus because a statutory obligation to negotiate with the EU would not necessarily lead to an agreement. Further, the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Act exists in order to legislate for our withdrawal from the EU and not to legislate for the negotiations.
Withdrawal Agreement Amendment
Amendment tabled by Caroline Lucas to the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill.
I do not support the amendment. The Government has engaged extensively with Parliament, businesses and civil society throughout the negotiations on the UK’s exit from the EU. I am confident it will continue to do so during the future relationship discussions.
The shape of the future relationship has already been broadly agreed in the Political Declaration. The negotiations will address a range of issues including trade, mobility and security. The Withdrawal Agreement legally requires both sides to negotiate a future relationship in good faith based on that framework and Parliament has voted in favour of it. I know that the Government has no intention of reneging on workers’ rights or environmental protections.
At the General Election in December, the British electorate supported the Government’s proposals for leaving the EU and gave the Prime Minister a strong mandate for the next phase of negotiations. I will be working to help secure a comprehensive agreement that works in the interests of businesses and people on either side of the Channel.