Baroness Goldie (Con)
My Lords, the international agreements under consideration today have all been negotiated between the European Union and its member states on the one hand, and third countries on the other. These third countries are, of course, some of our closest partners. Each agreement provides an enhanced framework for regular political dialogue at ministerial, official and expert level.
The EU-Canada Strategic Partnership Agreement will enhance political co-operation on foreign and security policy. The agreement has been negotiated alongside the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, the order for which was debated in the House on 25 and 26 June 2018. The EU-Australia Framework Agreement and the EU-New Zealand Partnership Agreement on Relations and Cooperation will consolidate and strengthen co-operation in a range of sectors of mutual interest, and mark the first step towards EU-Australia and EU-New Zealand free trade agreements, for which negotiations have recently been launched.
The agreements are an important tool for promoting British and European values and standards. They have been under negotiation for a number of years, so successive UK Governments have all been involved in shaping the EU’s approach to negotiations. The EU has numerous similar agreements with other third countries around the world, all of which have passed through this ratification process in the House. So, although this is an unusual time in our relations with the EU, this is a case of business as usual—in the interests of both the UK and the EU.
Approval of these draft orders is a necessary step towards the United Kingdom’s ratification of these agreements, through designating them as EU treaties under Section 1(3) of the European Communities Act 1972.
The third countries concerned have all chosen to pursue closer ties with the European Union and its member states. The Government welcome this and we believe that by building on our shared western values—and, I must say, our shared Commonwealth values—with Canada, Australia and New Zealand, these agreements are firmly in our national interest.
As we head towards our departure from the EU, I am conscious that noble Lords may have questions about its impact on the status of these agreements and our ratification of them. I will briefly clarify the process for the benefit of your Lordships. As noble Lords will be aware, until we leave the EU on 29 March next year, the UK remains a full member state and all the rights and obligations of EU membership remain in force. During this period the Government will continue to negotiate, implement and apply EU legislation.
I am advised that it is unlikely that the agreements before us today will enter into force before the UK has left the EU. After our departure in March 2019, we will no longer be able to ratify EU third-country agreements. However, the draft withdrawal agreement includes provision that during the implementation period the UK will be treated as if it were an EU member state for the purposes of international agreements, with the effect that the UK will be bound by agreements which enter into force during the implementation period. If any of these agreements were to enter into force during the implementation period following UK ratification, the UK would not need to adopt further domestic legislation to ensure that it can apply and be bound by the agreement, in compliance with the terms of the withdrawal agreement.
Nevertheless, the impact of our departure from the EU is a peripheral issue for us today. I urge noble Lords to focus on why implementation of these agreements is firmly in our national interest. First, these agreements formalise hugely positive relationships on which the EU is embarking with third countries around the world. They seek to strengthen democratic values, the rule of law and environmental protections, and make trade and investment more predictable for businesses, including our own. It is in the UK’s interests as a leading advocate of democratic values and a rules-based international system to support the passage of these agreements.
Secondly, it is important—including for our own departure negotiations—to deliver on our Prime Minister’s commitment to continue to be a supportive EU member state until we leave. Ensuring that the UK does not block, delay or disrupt EU business as usual is crucial to that commitment.
Thirdly, as an EU member state the UK has been a key driver in all these agreements. At a time when we are strengthening ties with countries around the world, it would be wholly counterproductive to be seen in any way to be hindering the aspirations of those countries to have closer relations with the European Union. The timing of this discussion is particularly welcome in the case of Australia, whose Foreign and Defence Ministers will be our guests this week for the annual Australia-UK ministerial summit.
I welcome this opportunity to hear the views of noble Lords on these draft orders. I beg to move.