Queen’s Speech - Debate (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:23 pm on 23rd May 2016.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Davies of Stamford Lord Davies of Stamford Labour 7:23 pm, 23rd May 2016

My Lords, I do not always agree with what the noble Lord says, but I very much agree with what he said about the role of this House in throwing pebbles into the water to see what sort of wave they create. We heard two wonderful speeches this afternoon: the valedictory from the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, and the maiden speech from my noble friend Lady Jowell. We shall remember both for a long time.

We are now half way through the Brexit campaign and, on the whole, it has been a rather unedifying spectacle. On the one side, a notable feature has been the publication of some pretty heavyweight studies by academic groups, two by the Treasury—I have not read the one that came out today—and by two of the three most distinguished international organisations in the area of economics, the OECD and the IMF. The third institution, the World Bank, is focused only on the developing world, so it has not been involved.

Those studies have not been responded to at all by the Brexit camp. There has been no attempt at any substantive refutation or rival alternative projections of the great economic prospects that would face us if we left the European Union. There has been only a series of whining complaints that it was unfair that the Government were allowed to produce a study at all—we heard that from the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, earlier—and, far worse, a systematic tendency simply to denigrate and impugn the honesty and integrity of people who dare to produce advice to the British people in favour of remaining in the EU.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, I heard Dr Liam Fox on “Question Time” a week or two ago. He studiously avoided addressing any of the economic arguments put forward; on every occasion, he simply attacked the good faith of the people who had put forward those arguments or produced those studies. Christine Lagarde was merely a tool of the French Government—although she is the independent president of the IMF. The Governor of the Bank of England, which is an independent central bank, was merely the tool of the Chancellor. He actually said that the economists in the OECD and the IMF had been bought because the EU pays a subscription to those organisations. I have no idea whether it is true that the EU pays a subscription to them, but it is most unlikely that the scores of extremely distinguished economists in both those institutions, some of whom have an international reputation, would have the faintest idea what the subscription list was of the institution that employed them. The allegations were utterly ridiculous and absurd, but the fact that they were being made by a British politician was very discreditable and unfortunate—but there we are.

What is more, the Brexit camp will not tell us at all what alternative scenario we face if we leave the EU. We are invited to drive into a complete void. We have had Mr Johnson say that he thinks that we should have a Canada-type arrangement with the EU. Perhaps he regrets that now that he has discovered that the Canada arrangement scarcely includes services, when 80% of our GDP is in services. We have had Mr Gove saying that we should have no relationship whatever with the single market. We have had other people talking about Albania and so forth—Mr Gove talked at another moment about Albania; he seems to change his mind rather. So we are quite unclear.

It is serious because it is an open secret in Westminster—is it not?—that the people running the Brexit campaign expect that if they win, the Prime Minister will have to resign. I dare say that they may be right in that assumption. They then intend to try to take over the Tory party in fairly short order, which means taking over the Government of the day. There will not be a general election for four years, so the only chance that the British public have of deciding that matter is the vote they cast on 23 June. It is a bit much not to tell them at all what the plans are after leaving the EU, if that is indeed what happens.

It is obvious that those running the Brexit campaign want to get as far away as possible from the economy, and these are all methods of trying to change the subject or deflect people’s attention from the serious economic issues at stake. That is why they have focused on the whole business of immigration, which is emotively very powerful. We have had two examples of that just recently. One of them was the Turkey issue. I must say to Ms Mordaunt that the kindest thing that can be said about her remarks to the effect that enlargement was not a matter for unanimity under the EU treaty was that she was extraordinarily ignorant. But I have to tell her that there is no excuse for being ignorant in the MoD. In the MoD, you are surrounded by the most able officials, uniformed and non-uniformed. They will give you a briefing on anything as soon as you ask for it, more or less—within a few hours. All that was necessary for Ms Mordaunt to do if she actually wanted to discover the truth was to ask one of her civil servants to arrange a briefing and tell her what was in the treaty. So the whole episode is very worrying and concerning.

The truth is that in relation to immigration from outside the Union, we have complete sovereign control today and we have no problem about it. If we left the Union, the difference would be that we would no longer have the co-operation of our partners in the EU as we would no longer be a part of the Union. The first casualty of that would be the Sangatte and Dunkirk camps. It is an extraordinary anomaly that the French have permitted the frontier of another country to exist on their territory, but that is what they have done. Anybody who knows any elected representatives, députés or élus locaux—mayors and so forth—from the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region knows that it is a very sensitive issue. The presence of those camps is regarded as a nightmare by the local electorate, and many of those constituencies are marginal between the Front National and the Socialists. They are all straining at the leash to find an excuse to get rid of those camps and to tell the British to take their frontier back. That is a real prospect that has not been identified very much in the discussions so far.

I want to say one thing finally, which is very important, about the other aspect of immigration, which is freedom of movement. It is said that we have control now over immigration from outside the EU but that if we leave the EU we will have control over immigration from the EU as well. We cannot, for two reasons. One is the reason that has often been quoted and has been cited in this House several times this afternoon, which is that, almost certainly, if we want to have some relationship with the single market, which we inevitably and naturally would have to achieve, we would almost certainly have to accept freedom of movement—which every other European country that has access to the single market, including Switzerland and Norway, has accepted. That is a high probability, but it is not a certainty.

However, there is one absolute certainty: we cannot physically leave the freedom of movement regime so long as the Republic of Ireland remains part of the Union and accepts freedom of movement. My noble friend Lord Dubs anticipated me here in putting his finger on this very important point. It is a critical point. The Irish have no intention of leaving the EU or of being bullied by the British to leave the EU or of giving up freedom of movement. Indeed, they have done very well out of freedom of movement. They had a large import of labour from eastern Europe during the Irish boom; then, when the economy fell away after the banking crisis, most of them went home; and now they are coming back again. So they have benefited from that. If you have freedom of movement into Ireland, anybody from Romania, Poland or anywhere else in the EU can go into the Republic of Ireland and, once they are there, they can take a bus or a train or walk across the frontier into the United Kingdom as easily as I can walk into St James’s Park after the debate if I feel like it.

We cannot possibly create a permanent controlled frontier across the island of Ireland, hermetically sealing off the six counties from the 26 counties. That would be regarded as a horrific affront by nationalists in Ireland north and south of the present border. Indeed, it would be regarded by some nationalists as a declaration of war by the British. We did not create such a border even in the days of the Troubles. How could we possibly create it now? It is out of the question. Equally out of the question is to create a border across the United Kingdom itself, dividing Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom. That is simply not a possibility. It follows that so long as Ireland remains in the EU—I will give way in just one second—it is simply not a practical possibility for us to leave it without very serious consequences for the island of Ireland and serious risks to the Belfast peace process and to the progress that has been made over the last few years in that part of the Kingdom.