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Prime Minister's December 2016 statement on the European Council

Angela_outside_Oct2016.JPGAngela Smith's speech in the House of Lords, 19th October

My Lords, I thank the Noble Lady for repeating the Prime Minister’s statement. It was unusual that following the Council meeting, there wasn’t any press statement or press conference after the meeting. But can I say how much on this side of the House we appreciate the statement being made to Parliament first, which hasn’t always happened recently.

My Lords, there were two parts to this European Council meeting. The first discussed current and serious issues that affect all existing members of the EU, and we were part of those discussions. The second part, about our leaving the EU, did not include us and was much shorter, but it was clear that considerable debate and discussion had taken place prior to the formal agreement of the proposals.

I want to come onto that later but those issues discussed during the full Council meeting, Syria, Cyprus, Migration, security and defence as well as economic and social development, have huge implications for the UK and our role – whether in or out of the European institutions – in the geographical area of Europe. It would be helpful to have some clarification on the UK role in these discussions.

The Council discussed recent Commission proposals to increase resilience and reduce risk in the banking and financial sector. Clearly this has significant relevance for the UK. Can I ask the Noble Lady the Leader of the House, what role the UK is playing in these ongoing discussions?  Prior to the EU referendum we signed up to the proposals. Can she confirm that this commitment remains prior to our departure? What discussions have been had with the banking and financial sector since then and prior to this Council meeting?

One of the areas that convinced me that our departure from the EU would not be in the national interest was policing and security, and the debates we had in Your Lordships House on the Coalition Government proposals of opt out – and then back in again – on policing and criminal justice measures?

Noting the comments in the conclusions of the meeting, does the Government still intend to adopt the proposals on firearms, on anti-money laundering, and implement the new passenger name record (PNR) legislation? Was any reference made in these discussions about the UKs role following Brexit and future security initiatives?

The Noble Lady will be aware of the concerns of Sir Julian King, our European Commissioner for Security and the MEP, Claude Moraes, who chairs the Justice and Home and Affairs Committee.

Paragraphs 11 to 13 of the Conclusions outlines the areas on which the EU needs to reach agreement on security issues early next year and why co-operation within the EU and with NATO is needed on hybrid threats, maritime issues, on cyber security, strategic communications and defence matters. In signing up to these conclusions did the Prime Minister or her officials make any reference to how these commitments might be affected by Brexit. Or has this not yet been considered?

My Lords, as we watch the horrors of Aleppo increase daily, I think we all have to consider how much more those civilians can endure. It must feel to the thousands trying to flee, that they have already lost their homes, their possessions and loved ones – and now they are losing hope. They are perhaps also losing faith that anyone really cares. When that Mayor of Aleppo spoke to the Council, he did so in the desperate need for more help and more support.

The EU is to be praised for its humanitarian support and how it has sought to coordinate this but the world has to do more. The UN decision and action today are a welcome step forward and hope it leads to many more lives being saved and people rescued. But what it is important is, as it says in the statement, the implementation – not just resolutions passed or words spoken. Can she tell us what the government is going to be doing to ensure the implementation and what is in place to have the monitoring to ensure we do have the compliance?

We can stand no more of the abuse against those people in Aleppo can be stood and our hearts go out to all of them.

My Lords, paragraph 27 states: ‘the EU is considering all available options’. For many in Syria and in Aleppo there are few options left.  I welcome the statement about bringing those guilty of war crimes to justice. The EU is right to support political reconstruction once a credible political transition is underway, but did the discussion focus on how to bring about additional pressure to achieve this?

Finally my Lords, the last part of the meeting as we have heard, was just the 27 other countries discussing our exit from the EU. This was very specific in terms of the process of negotiations and in the comments of the EU President, Donald Tusk after the meeting. It was also very specific on the principles on which the negotiations will be based.

And the Noble Lady in repeating the statement quoted the Prime Minister as she says: “We updated the Council on the UK’s plans for leaving the EU.” I think we all would like to be updated on the government’s plans for leaving the EU.

I appreciate that the government has not yet been able to be as specific – or has been very unspecific – but with the commitment to invoking Article 50 by the end of March, she will understand that if we are to get the best deal and arrangements for the UK, there is some anxiety about when the government is going to publish further information.

This becomes even more important when there appears to be confusion at the heart of government about whether or not we can be half in, half out of the customs union, about how long negotiations are going to take, and whether or not a transitional period for negotiation or implementation will be needed.

The Noble Lord Lawson huffs and puffs over there and shakes his head – I have to say questioning how this will be done is absolutely essential if the government are to get it right. And it really can’t be the position that every time somebody questions how it’s going to be done or wants more details, there’s some kind of accusation that we’re not acting in the national interest. We’re absolutely trying to act in the national interest by trying to get more information. The Noble Lord shakes his head. I do wonder if those who were the most enthusiastic about Brexit loathe any questions about Brexit.

The Noble Lady will understand that this House stands ready to assist and has already started the process through our excellent EU Committees to ensure that the issues that need to be addressed are properly examined and effective solutions, in the national interest are found.

Can she give an assurance to Your Lordships House that despite whatever legislative responsibilities we have, there will be adequate time provided for such discussions and debates? As a scrutiny chamber, we want to play a responsible and helpful role in ensuring the best arrangements for the UK.


Baroness Angela Smith of Basildon is Shadow Leader of the House of Lords. She tweets @LadyBasildon

Published 19th December 2016

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