Uk’S Withdrawal from the EU

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 27th February 2019.

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Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union) 5:45 pm, 27th February 2019

I rise to speak briefly, first in support of amendment (i), the Liberal Democrat amendment, which would have established a Brexit redundancy fund. According to the UK Trade Policy Observatory, something like 750,000 people could lose their jobs in a no-deal scenario. That is linked to what the Government’s own report said about a potential 9% drop in GDP. The idea behind a Brexit redundancy fund would be to provide training and advice to people who had lost their jobs as a result of Brexit, or a no-deal Brexit in particular. Of course, some people have already lost their jobs as a result of Brexit uncertainty. It is clear that the Government have some money available for this purpose, because as I understand it the Prime Minister has been seeking to secure £1.6 billion, quite a lot of which is apparently to be spent in constituencies such as Bassetlaw. I am sure that has nothing to do with Brexit, but it is clearly strange that certain constituencies with leave-voting Labour Members are apparently going to receive a substantial portion of the money. The Government should set up a Brexit redundancy fund, and I welcome the support from Members from other parties for the amendment.

Secondly, I wish to draw attention to amendment (h), which would have allowed for the Government to embark on the preparations necessary for a public vote. I suspect that sometime soon we will reach the point at which that will become necessary, because the Prime Minister will have run out of other options and will feel that a people’s vote is the best way to get her deal in front of the public, alongside the option of staying in the European Union. I think she will get there eventually.

I welcome amendment (k) from the SNP, with support from other parties, which does what it says on the tin. In other words, it says very clearly, “We’re not going to leave without a deal, whatever the circumstances.” There would be broad and clear majority support for that in this House.

I also welcome amendment (e) on environmental standards, which was tabled by Caroline Lucas but has not been selected for a vote. The EU has led on environmental standards and many of us are worried that if we leave, it will no longer play that role, which I am afraid is not one that I expect Ministers to pick up with any great degree of enthusiasm.

I was happy to support amendment (b). We need some clarity not only for EU citizens in the UK but for UK citizens in the EU. In France, for instance, people who are trying to secure the equivalent of settled status may be facing a charge of €100 or €150 per person per year, over a five-year period, to secure their status. That is clearly something on which we should be campaigning.

No deal would clearly be a catastrophe. There are examples in the Government’s own report about the hit to GDP. One third of critical projects are off track. SMEs have made virtually no preparations for a no-deal scenario. Indeed, to make matters worse, the Department for International Trade has apparently decided to stop briefing businesses on free trade agreements because apparently there have been leaks. As I understand it, the biggest leaks tend to come from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, so perhaps that needs to be looked into.

It is clear that the Government need to seek an extension to article 50, and the clear purpose for that would be to secure a people’s vote.