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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:42 pm on 21st February 2017.

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Photo of Lord Davies of Stamford Lord Davies of Stamford Labour 9:42 pm, 21st February 2017

My Lords, this Bill has come to us, as it should, with a White Paper. The White Paper has been dealt with quite frequently this evening and yesterday in the debate, and a number of things have been said about it. It has been described as “hubristic”. The noble Lord, Lord Warner, described it as Panglossian, I think, and I accept both of those epithets. But what struck me most about it was how very uninformative—almost insultingly uninformative—it was. Nothing precise was said at all about the benefits of Brexit and nothing whatever was said about the costs.

I looked in vain for even the words “cost” or “risk” in the whole document. If you put out something like that in the private sector as a circular to shareholders or a prospectus for a public offering, you would be faced with a criminal prosecution. Is it because the Government do not think that there are any costs to Brexit, or do they think that public attention should not be drawn to the costs and, if possible, people should be kept ignorant of them? Either of those explanations—and there are no logical third or fourth possible explanations—is deeply disquieting.

The fact is that the Government know perfectly well about some of the major costs of Brexit. Only a few days ago a Minister, Greg Clark, went over to Paris to offer Peugeot SA a large financial package wrapped up as grants for training or innovation or something of that kind—rather along the lines of the similar offer made to Nissan—to bribe PSA into agreeing to keep open their Vauxhall plants in Ellesmere Port and Luton if they go ahead with the takeover of Vauxhall in this country. There is no doubt at all that every other multinational automotive manufacturer in this country will want the same kind of treatment and will have to get it. So the British taxpayer is faced with having to pay out a lot of money for this purpose to reward the shareholders of these international companies, and have no idea with the cost is; the Government refuse to answer questions on that subject, on the spurious ground that it is commercially confidential. Of course, it is not: those payments will appear in the accounts of the UK subsidiaries in due time but, if the payments are not made until after Brexit, and the accounts concerned are not produced for a year or so afterwards, it will happen safely after the next election. That is just an example not merely of the costs but of how the Government are trying to conceal them from the British public, which is deeply disturbing.

The British public are at the very beginning of learning about some of the costs, particularly those of the Brexit devaluation and the inflation that we have had since. Real wages will fall this year, which will put most people in a very uncomfortable position—but it will be particularly bad for the poor and for those who are just getting by, the group that Mrs May says that she is so concerned to help.

A lot has been said this evening about many areas where there will be some real costs, and I will pass over important ones—such as universities, for example, which have been dealt with, and Euratom, which has been dealt with. I will just say in passing that it is an extraordinary idea, when there is such a shortage of nuclear scientists, to decide to duplicate a regulator of that kind. In January, there was an article in Nature, a very well-respected scientific journal, stating that this would almost certainly lead to increased costs and delays in the delivery of our own nuclear programme.

No one has said very much about the European Medicines Agency. What happens if we withdraw from that and set up our own regulatory registration of new pharmaceutical products agency? The answer, of course, is that you will duplicate the costs of registration to pharmaceutical companies. We have heard for years from those in the pharmaceutical industry that a major cost for them, and a major disincentive to put new products into the registration pipeline, is the cost of registration. Fewer drugs will be registered, unless the costs can be successfully passed on to the customer, in which case the NHS budget will be under further strain, as if it were not under enough strain already. Why is that? Why would any sane person do such a thing? I think it has something to do with trying to avoid any contact with the ECJ.

We had a series of very good debates on these subjects here in the House, the most recent one being about the justice and home affairs aspects of the whole question—the membership of Europol, the common arrest warrant, the Prüm exchange and information system, and so forth. It was an extraordinary debate because, very unusually in parliamentary circumstances, there was complete unanimity. Everybody who spoke on both sides of the House, and indeed the members of the sub-committee and its report, were absolutely agreed. They agreed on three things. The first was that these measures are vital for the protection of the British public against terrorism and other forms of serious international organised crime. Secondly, any other arrangement than the one we currently have with full membership of these institutions would be very problematic, difficult and time consuming to negotiate. Thirdly, no alternative arrangement would be anything like as good as the status quo. Everybody said that. So why are the Government doing such a thing? I realised during the course of the debate why it was, although the Government never admitted it. It is because they do not want any contact with the ECJ. This extraordinary decision against the national interest is driven entirely by ideology.

We have heard even worse problems in the last few days. We have heard that the Government propose to malversate money in the international aid budget to give it to east Europeans as a bribe to vote in favour of good terms for Brexit. We have had the most extraordinary suggestion by the Chancellor and the Prime Minister directly that if we do not get what we want in these negotiations we will start a kind of corporation tax war with the rest of the EU, cutting corporation tax and trying to undercut them. As I said in a letter some colleagues may have seen in the Times, we are actually the least well-placed Government in any EU country to undertake a war of that kind as we have the highest fiscal deficit already. So what is going to happen? Will we have a higher fiscal deficit? Will we take the money out of public services when public services are already underfunded—the National Health Service, social services and defence are dramatically underfunded—or will we increase other areas of taxation, put the burden on income tax or on consumption taxes? We have not, of course, been told.

The Government have gone far away—right over the hills and out of sight and beyond—from the referendum in coming up with these policies. They are taking the referendum as a mandate to undertake a series of steps that would have absolutely horrified the British electorate if there had been any mention of them last summer during the referendum campaign. Nobody dared to speak of such things at the time. We should not be in any way inhibited by the referendum in opposing them and we need to have the robust kinds of amendments that have been tabled in this House on this Bill to make sure that the Government do their job and to keep them under some kind of control, answerability and responsibility to the public and to Parliament.