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Part of European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:00 pm on 8th January 2020.

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Photo of Layla Moran Layla Moran Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education) 6:00 pm, 8th January 2020

That is another reason why we need to keep it, and I will simply say this: while Brexit suggests to those abroad that Britain might be not quite as international-facing as it was before, every time I meet a young person—particularly during the most recent election campaign—they point to things like Erasmus as the older generation pulling up the drawbridge to the opportunities that we had, and that they wish they had for their future. It would be such a shame for us to conclude this debate this week without a firm assurance from the Government that they want to keep that programme, and that there is nothing that they would love more than to see that written in the Bill itself; I do not understand why they would not want to do that.

The same goes for Horizon 2020, so I will broaden what I am saying slightly. As we know, the productivity gap is one of the biggest crises in our country and Horizon 2020 is another example of the best of European co-operation. Between 2007 and 2013 the UK received €8.8 billion on research and development and innovation from the EU. When, over the past few years, I have raised this in the House, I have heard Ministers say from the Dispatch Box, “We will replace the money.”

I will make the following point through the voice of a constituent who is a professor of chemistry at Oxford university, so I hope we will concede that he probably knows. It is not just about the money, he says:

“It’s important for Ministers to recognise that access to EU funding only plays a part and is certainly not the full sum of UK scientists’
concerns. Science is indeed Humboldt’s “country without borders”;
in 2018, over half of all scientific research papers published from the UK acknowledged international collaboration through author addresses, and well over 30% of all publications involved one or more EU countries.”

That says it all; I hear it over and over again. If we want to attract the best, a visa will not help; they need to know that they will be absolutely welcome in our country, and that they are welcome for those research opportunities. We are already seeing it in our institutions—not just Oxford university but Oxford Brookes as well, and in the number of professors and others who are coming to me and saying, “I tried to put in for a certain grant; it is not being accepted any more because of the uncertainty this is causing.” If new clause 10 were part of the Bill, it would give them the certainty they need to be part of that collaboration from now—and, believe me, when those people go and they go to the other European universities that will have them, that is where they will put down roots and that is where they are more likely to stay. We cannot afford to lose those people. I know the Government want to keep the best and the brightest; well, these are they, and they are saying that they are leaving.

Finally, I shall speak to new clause 29, which is about that level playing field. I shall obviously support the Labour Front Bench in the Division, when it comes, because that level playing field and its effect on workers’ rights is incredibly important, but I will continue to stress that it is not just about workers’ rights; it is also about environmental standards, and that is the bit that I am seriously concerned about.

The best feature of the election campaign we have just had was that the environment was, apparently, at the top of all political parties’ agenda; we kept hearing from the Government that they wanted to supersede the level playing field arrangements when it came to environmental standards, and that is brilliant. All the level playing field is actually is a minimum standard; why would we not want to keep it?

The same goes for workers’ rights. The same goes for anything else when it comes to that level playing field. The problem, as we have heard before, is that removing it and deregulating opens the door to lower standards. We talk about America. It is not just about America, but let’s face it, we know that that is where the Government are looking to their next trade deal.

I want to be clear about what the problem is. The environment Bill, which the Government say will replace EU legislation, does not operate on the stronger precautionary principle to which the EU’s environmental standards currently operate. We are in a climate emergency. We cannot help but be moved—I am sure we all are—by the images coming out of Australia. We need to ensure that those minimum standards are the absolute minimum. My worry is that in a post-Brexit world we will be looking for trade deals with other countries who would much prefer it if we lowered our standards. That would open the door to our compromising in this area, when I heard time and time again that there was no appetite across the country for any kind of compromise.