Outcome of the European Union Referendum - Motion to Take Note (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:01 pm on 6th July 2016.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Lea of Crondall Lord Lea of Crondall Labour 6:01 pm, 6th July 2016

My Lords, in retrospect and in the light of 52:48—or more or less half for in and half for out—it could be argued that the people of this country should have been given a third option in the referendum. There should have been some variation of—if I may play with words—half in, half out, which is what a huge swathe of people probably wanted. To put the point another way round, the binary question “In or out?” is not the only way of looking at the question in people’s world view, or economic view for that matter.

One of the many questions is whether there is—certainly now at least—such a viable option, either economically or politically across the European Union. What I am saying is not, in one respect, a million miles away from what the noble Lord, Lord Maude of Horsham, was, I think, arguing in an interesting speech yesterday. He pointed out that we are already not fully in, in the sense that we are not in Schengen or the euro. Whether you call that 65% in, 75% in, or any other per cent in, I think that, as a nation, we probably want to be at least more than half in. Stated in those terms, I think it is what the noble Lord, Lord Maude, referred to as “variable geometry”. The question arises: why should people in the Council of Ministers not take fright if they think that Denmark, Sweden, Portugal, Greece, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Slovakia, et cetera, can also do their own thing along such lines?

What is the brief that the Cabinet Office or No. 10 will have ready for the new Prime Minister in only a few weeks’ time? Presumably whoever it is—let us say Mrs May—will go to see Mrs Merkel within days and put on the table an agenda for something such as staying in the internal market but somehow having fewer obligations. I think that the first reaction would certainly be that there is no such thing as a free lunch. I say that because it is contrary to the shameful propaganda of many Brexiteers who presented their fraudulent prospectus as if indeed there were. They deluded themselves and the voters that there was such a thing.

What emerges from these reflections? I think that it is the need to drill down into what people think it means to be a member of the European Economic Area. That is indeed, it could be said, half in and half out—let us call it 60%—paying country fees but not green fees, doing perhaps like the Norwegians do in terms of subsidising agriculture and fish. But Norway obeys all the rules of the internal market, paying something like half per head, proportionate to what it would be paying if it were a full member, but not sitting in on any of the meetings—at least not formally.

It should not be beyond the wit of man or, in this case, woman, presumably in a private talk with Mrs Merkel—as I have said, there will have to be such early contact; indeed, the Prime Minister in the first sentence of his Statement on the outcome of the referendum said that there were already informal discussions—to discuss what on earth, politically, is possible. They will have to bring the politics of Brussels and the so-called contagion argument, as one has to acknowledge that we cannot make a formula so attractive that everyone would like to follow it. In any event, the fact is that more and more things—far from opting out of them—have to be done together and be subject to common standards, whether in the field of energy, trade, investment, the City of London, running railways or airlines, pharmaceuticals, big science, not to mention agriculture, consumer standards, and so on.

This is not, I say in passing, in contradiction to the European Union’s role in the wider world, to which the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and others have referred. Much of the growth in the third world will of course be higher than ours—that is what we want; that is what we have been trying to do in international development all my life. Some of that is to do with differential population growth, but we also want to help with growth in productivity. That will of course help to reduce the push factor.

I am wearing my trade union hat to talk about workers’ rights. Some people do not seem to understand that the reason we have things like part-time workers’ rules across Europe is precisely because employers in single countries do not want to do it on their own, because they could be undercut. The social programme still, in my opinion, has to be taken further forward on such things as information and consultation rights and, indeed, on zero-hours contracts. This will also help with the labour migration question. Finally on that, I think that, yes, there is now scope for considering free movement. Let us take the new candidates in the Balkans. Some of us met the ambassadors of all the Balkan countries yesterday. Two, as we know, are already EU members—Croatia and Slovenia—but there were also Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Albania. The discussion touched on this question of whether a seven-year transition period would now be enough or whether some economic criterion—GDP per head—or other criteria, which would reduce the push factor as well as the pull factor, might be some sort of ceiling. Again, all these ideas have to be put in the pot. Who knows? Some may well be welcomed in some European capitals as helpful rather than disruptive.

We have to give what we think is a positive lead to what will happen in the autumn. I have made this attempt to begin setting out the bare bones of a programme. The Brexit campaign, ludicrously enough, did not have to be pinned down on a programme, unlike in a general election campaign. One Brexiteer said the other day that they had won on their manifesto— that is clearly one thing that they did not do. They did not have a manifesto. That is why, as the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, opined—and I share his view—referendums are not really, on this sort of issue, our cup of tea.