European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill - Second Reading (2nd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:20 pm on 21st February 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Baroness Cohen of Pimlico Labour 7:20 pm, 21st February 2017

My Lords, batting at number 153 as I am, I do not seek to make a balanced and complete argument as many have done. I am here, however, to speak on two points where I have specific real life, worldly experience. I voted to remain but I am also among the 48% of us who want to find out as quickly as we can how our lives, families and jobs will actually be affected.

I am particularly concerned about the economic effects. We are a small island, unable to feed ourselves, and we live by trading, as we always have. I share the concerns of my noble friend Lord Harrison about our abilities to do all this. This sounds like history now but I started my Civil Service career in the Board of Trade—even before we joined the European Union—and I was concerned with the annual negotiations on how much butter, bacon and lamb the Australians, New Zealanders and Danes were to be allowed to sell in the UK. This took weeks every year and burnt up senior time. It would be as nothing to the negotiations we will have to undertake, sector by sector with the European Union or severally with the USA or Canada, on the full range of goods.

Nor can we have any confidence that negotiations will succeed. Our fellow members of the European Union are naturally disposed to seek to negotiate away our perceived advantages, most obviously in the financial services sector. Here I remind the House that I was a director of the London Stock Exchange Group for 12 years until 2013. The recent merger between LSEG and Deutsche Boerse is an example. The deal—I voted for it as a shareholder—provides that the headquarters of the joint group shall be in London and subject to UK regulation. The deal is under attack already from German politicians who now see the possibility opened by Brexit of getting the headquarters in Frankfurt, hoping that jobs and business will follow. The French are trying much the same. All that will happen if they are successful is probably that the jobs will go to New York because that is where financial services will move. A prominent Brexiteer in the other place sought to persuade me that clever investment bankers will adjust. Yes, they will. They will do the business where they can, move people where they need to, and it will not be here but most probably in New York.

In other sectors we will also lose business and jobs, particularly in the short to medium term, while we struggle to get our trading positions and prospects back to where we are now. Nor should we put much reliance on even the most potentially willing of our allies, namely the United States. However much President Trump wants to help us, he is also committed to keeping business and jobs in the USA, and in any conflict between the interests of an ally and the interests of his own core voters there can be no doubt which way he must go. Similarly, Australia and New Zealand would very much like to trade with us again but, since they are both knowingly exporters of agricultural products, what they mean is that they would like to sell us things, which will not necessarily be very productive for our balance of payments.

I suggest that that is an even more serious consequence, and again an area where I have experience because I was an adviser in the Ministry of Defence from 1998 to 2005, as well as being a non-executive director. We, and everyone else in Europe, have been sheltered by the American umbrella since the Second World War. The Americans have expected, and largely got in return for this a united Europe, a united defence against their perceived enemies. I wonder whether they will feel the same about us if we become yet again a small island, no longer attached to the European name.

I believe that we must all—remainers and leavers—be allowed to oversee and understand that the majority wish to resile; indeed, it is a course of action on which we are embarked. As the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, reminded us, we can do all that within the Article 50 process. We do not have to hurry and it is not for ever.

There is another point on which I have specific knowledge and on which I want to speak. My eldest son has lived in Germany for the last 20 years and my brother is married and lives in France. Despite this, I think it is a matter of honour that we should here and now announce that immigrants from Europe now in the United Kingdom must legally be guaranteed the right to stay. We must take this step because it is a moral duty. I also believe that it is an important step to keep the immigrants who are actually here and working in our most critical industries feeling reassured and welcome in a climate where they are suffering, quite unjustly. I also believe that it would be an important reassurance to our European partners that we are not hostile to them and prepared to treat their people decently, and that this would improve what is at the moment a very sour negotiating climate in which difficult negotiations will take place.