G20 Summit - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:55 pm on 7th September 2016.

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Photo of Lord Wallace of Tankerness Lord Wallace of Tankerness Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords 3:55 pm, 7th September 2016

My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement this afternoon. The Prime Minister’s Statement and the G20 leaders’ communiqué clearly set out the challenges facing the global economy at this time. As the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, quoted, it goes on to state clearly:

“The outcome of the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU adds to the uncertainty in the global economy”.

One wonders whether any of that uncertainty was dispelled by the numerous meetings that the Prime Minister had. She says that “Brexit means Brexit”, but I rather suspect that none of the other G20 leaders knows what it means; and as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, indicated, it appears that some members of the Cabinet do not know what it means either. When one hears that Downing Street spokespersons are dismissing a Secretary of State’s quotes as being personal rather than a statement of government policy, it suggests that the collective responsibility that we had in the coalition was a model that this Government ought to follow. Perhaps the noble Baroness the Leader of the House will take the opportunity now, and not rely on a No. 10 spokesperson, to make the position very clear with regard to the comments of the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU on Monday.

Since the result of the referendum in June, a number of Conservative Ministers have sought to give the impression that they could agree new trade deals in time for tea. The clear evidence from this summit is that that will simply not be the case. Although a number of world leaders have talked about maintaining good relations with the United Kingdom—which is very welcome—few gave the impression that a trade deal with the United Kingdom was a top priority for them. President Obama made it clear that a trade deal between the EU and the USA was a much greater priority. He was not the only world leader to take that position. The Japanese Government have released a detailed document setting out their concerns. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has warned the Prime Minister that Japanese companies need more certainty in order to stay in the United Kingdom, and Japan’s ambassador to the United Kingdom has highlighted that Japanese companies could disinvest from our country.

The Prime Minister’s statement refers to the leaders of Mexico, South Korea, India and Singapore, who said that they would welcome talks on removing barriers to trade between our countries. That is very welcome, but can the Leader of the House give the House some context? What percentage of goods are exported from the UK to these four countries in total, compared with the percentage exported to one country, Germany, with which we would inevitably be raising trade barriers unless we enjoy full membership of the single market? Even Australia, the country from which the Prime Minister had the warmest welcome at the G20, has been clear that any post-Brexit deal with the UK would have to wait until Australia had completed parallel negotiations with the European Union, a process which will not even begin for another two and a half years at the earliest. I fear it is a long time since Britain has stood so alone on the world stage. Can the Leader of the House confirm that, at the summit, the Prime Minister did not hold a single bilateral meeting with any other Europe Union leader?

Will the noble Baroness take this opportunity to end the current uncertainty? Do we not owe it, globally and to companies here at home, to indicate what our position will be with regard to membership of the single market? Does she agree that securing such membership should be the Government’s priority rather than burdening British companies with additional red tape and compromising our position as a global economic nation?

We on these Benches are also deeply disappointed that the Prime Minister failed to raise the issue of steel exports with China during her bilateral meeting with President Xi Jinping. Thousands of jobs at Port Talbot, and across our steel industry, are facing an uncertain future because of dumping of steel on the EU market by China, but although it was raised in plenary, it does not appear that the Prime Minister took the opportunity to make the case in a bilateral meeting.

Although there has been much aspirational talk by Ministers of preferential trade deals, one is conscious that the only concrete, substantive trade deal that we have heard about since Parliament returned on Monday is the continuing supply of military equipment to Saudi Arabia. Can the noble Baroness tell the House what discussions the Prime Minister had with Saudi Ministers at the G20 regarding the position in Yemen and international humanitarian law? Will she clarify her Government’s definition of a “serious” breach of international humanitarian law?

With regard to other matters, the communiqué states a clear commitment to,

“usher in a new era of global growth and sustainable development, taking into account … the Paris Agreement”.

Given the news that China and the USA have now ratified the Paris Agreement, will the noble Baroness commit to the UK ratifying that agreement in line with our international partners? Will she also confirm whether or not it will require parliamentary approval under Section 20 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 and, at the same time, whether the same parliamentary requirement applies to any Brexit agreement with the remaining EU?

The communiqué also states a clear commitment to,

“taking into account the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.

What action are this Government taking to ensure that the sustainable development goals are truly universal and that each government department is working towards these goals?

We on these Benches remain very concerned at the global refugee crisis. Given the attention given at the conference to the refugee crisis, will the noble Baroness be more specific about the Government’s objectives at the upcoming high-level meeting on refugees and migrants in New York later this month? Can she also answer the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, in relation to the some 380 children eligible to come to the UK who are currently in Calais?

We have heard in recent weeks that Brexit is Brexit, but we seem to be no closer to knowing what it actually means. From the briefings given on the Prime Minister’s plane, we know that it does not mean a points-based immigration system or that £350 million a week will be given to the National Health Service—that promise, given by those who are now senior members of the Conservative Government, is no longer worth the bus it was written on. There is much confusion from the Conservative Government, and in the face of that confusion, we on these Benches will continue to fight to keep Britain open, tolerant and united.