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European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill - Second Reading (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:25 pm on 20th February 2017.

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Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour 6:25 pm, 20th February 2017

My Lords, critics ask what right have I, an unelected Peer, to oppose the Bill or even to seek radically to amend it, especially when the Prime Minister is behaving as if she represents only the 52% of citizens who voted to leave. I do not deny that they won, or that the outcome must be respected, but what about the 48% who voted remain? What about Scotland, where independence is threatened, or Northern Ireland, where the peace settlement is threatened? The truth is that the country was split down the middle and it still is. If the Prime Minister were really acting in the national interest, she would be representing remainers, too. She would be pursuing a one-nation Brexit, not a partisan, hard, right-wing Brexit. However, I fully understand and respect that, for many MPs and noble Lords, the vast majority of whom, like I did, campaigned and voted to remain, the Bill is agonising and they feel duty-bound to act in line with the referendum result. However, for me, a one-nation Brexit would, as a minimum, mean protecting jobs and prosperity by remaining in the single market—in line, by the way, with the last Conservative election manifesto—albeit with a deal on movement of labour to and from the EU being linked to having a job, and on stopping or returning those who do not have one.

A one-nation Brexit would also mean guaranteeing a completely open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, with no security checks and no controls, physical or electronic. Otherwise, the peace process could unravel.

Cutting us off from our biggest market, where nearly half our trade is done, will have devastating consequences for the economy, jobs and millions of individual citizens’ lives. The detailed terms of the divorce are likely to be serious. There will be a cost, estimated at between €40 billion and €60 billion, for the UK to fulfil its existing obligations. The future relocation of the two EU institutions located in the UK, the European Banking Authority and the European Medicines Agency, will lead to a direct loss of highly skilled jobs and an exodus of companies located here which value proximity to these agencies, as the Japanese Government have warned.

Failure fully to protect property, contract, pension and residence rights under European Union law, which we, as EU citizens, have acquired, as well as social security, healthcare and mutual recognition of qualifications, could lead to the repatriation of an estimated 1.25 million British migrants from other European Union countries, both retired and working. Financial services, which provide 11% of Treasury revenue and 10% of our GDP, risk losing their “passport” to the EU of regulatory equivalency, already leading to the banks announcing plans to move jobs to rival financial centres, such as Frankfurt, Dublin, Paris or New York. EasyJet has drawn up plans to leave its Luton headquarters and relocate to the continent, as UK-based airlines risk losing access to the EU’s deregulated aviation market after Brexit. The car industry fears crippling tariffs, while the UK aerospace industry, critically including Airbus in Wales, also fears that European contracts may be at risk. These industries are key to maintaining the UK’s tax base and skilled workforce and are crucial to the regional economies where they are based. Is this really the outcome that voters in these vital sectors wanted to see? Surely not. They voted to leave the EU to take control, not to lose control.

Almost universally overlooked is that the right to free movement has never been unconditional, even under current European Union rules. In fact, the UK already has a number of effective tools available to it to manage migration from the EU, if it wishes to do so. Other European Union countries, such as Belgium, send thousands of people back to their own country every year; for example, if they are not in work. Rather than turning our backs on our largest export market in the EU, would not a more constructive approach have been to try to agree a new interpretation of free movement of labour; namely, that this should apply only to the 60% of EU nationals with offers of employment from British employers who need them?

We now learn that if we cannot get the EU trade deal we want, the Government want to jump into what you might describe as a “Trump Brexit” to make Britain a low-tax haven with lower labour and environmental regulation, in an attempt to attract foreign firms once we have left the EU. That would also mean continued shrinking of the state, even more savage cuts in public services and even greater inequality, hitting our poorest and most vulnerable citizens the hardest. That would be a betrayal of almost everything I have fought for in both Houses of Parliament for more than a quarter of a century. Despite our party leader’s three-line Whip to march through the Lobbies with the Conservatives for this Trump Brexit, and as a matter of principle and conscience, I will vote against the Bill if the Government do not accept key cross-party amendments that have been tabled.