My Lords, I think that one of the themes of these two days in Committee will be that there are no easy answers to the dilemmas we all now face in the United Kingdom. There are upsides and downsides to every option for Brexit and the country’s future. That includes membership of the European Economic Area.
Perhaps I may remind the Committee that we can retain our membership of the single market without membership of the EU only through maintaining our membership, which of course we have already, of the EEA. To spell it out, membership of one or the other is required; that is, either of the EU or of EFTA. That is why I need to say a little more about how we would work within EFTA, which currently comprises three countries: Norway, Iceland and the Duchy of Liechtenstein. We cannot, as we sometimes seem to be doing, rule out all of the options before us, and certainly not rule them out prematurely. Rather, we should look at the pros and cons of each, as has been done in the outstanding report of the joint sub-committee of the European Union Select Committee on Brexit and trade options, chaired by my noble friend Lord Whitty.
We were members of EFTA from its inception in 1960 until we joined the EEC in 1973. I declare a retrospective interest, having chaired the last meeting of the EFTA consultative committee, which was made up of national employers and trade union organisations in consultation with the Council presidency. The meeting was held in Vienna in December 1972. The EEA has a two-pillar structure: the EU on one side and EFTA on the other. They meet together in the EEA council at government level, with various joint committees on particular points, along with a joint parliamentary committee and the EEA consultative committee.
The substance of consultations with the EU depends to an extent on the weight of the member states involved, but I am told by contacts in Norway that these are not without value, and I think that something like this was also the burden of the message sent by the Norwegians who gave evidence to parliamentary committees in both the Lords and the Commons. On the objection to this approach, there is of course the constant complaint that plan B, C or D falls because, “We would not be at the table”. I have to point out that the famous 52% asserted—or supposedly asserted, if they knew what they were doing, which we assume they did—that, without equivocation, they did not want us to be at the table. So that can hardly be a drawback to where we go from here: end of story, full stop. Surely we can all agree that we have to balance influence on the one hand and freedom of action on the other.
EFTA has its own court of adjudication on issues such as interpreting the EFTA treaty and its application of rules of origin, technical standards et cetera. So we will be bound by the rules of EFTA consequent on the relationship with the single market, but obviously there is a great deal of legal alignment with the EU. The four freedoms can themselves be interpreted in different ways. For its part, the Commons Select Committee noted in paragraph 122 of its report that the Secretary of State for Brexit had indicated on
“give very high priority to both tariff-free access and access without tariff barriers … that may or may not include membership of the single market”.
The Lords committee report stated in paragraph 82 that in trade terms, becoming a non-EU member of the EEA,
“would be the least disruptive option”,
providing free access to the single market in services and partial access to it in goods. The trade agreements are often negotiated advantageously by EFTA itself. I believe that there is a score of such agreements rather than agreements with individual member states.
I turn now to freedom of movement, border controls, work permits et cetera. Every facet of this debate has now been opened up more than it has been for many years—and by “open” I mean open and not closed down in advance. There is a considerable degree of variance among EU countries on how free movement is interpreted. In Belgium, there is a requirement for a job to go to, it is necessary to pay the rate for the job and no job advertisements can be placed in eastern Europe without being placed also in Belgium. Our Secretary of State seems to have come up with a new form of words about the guarantees for people who are already resident and working in this country. I would simply say that this is an area where we all know that constructive thinking needs to go ahead on a bipartisan basis.
Regarding attitudes in Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein towards our application to become members once again, which have to be thought about, it is fair to say that we have very close relations—with a possible question mark in the case of Norway about something that happened 1,000 years ago—notably because of the North Sea energy fields from Shetland through to Aberdeen and further south, in particular in the north-east of England and down the east coast. This is true for the UK as a whole in a great variety of ways, including through the activities of the Norwegians’ well-managed, energy-based sovereign wealth fund, which is now worth £250 billion. A lot of that investment is deployed via London, as we were told in a recent briefing by the fund.
Without being presumptuous, and while recognising that EFTA would change its internal dynamics and, to some degree, its character and profile, the advice generally is that one would not expect hostility in Norway—the largest of the three—to any hypothetical application from the UK to rejoin the association. Positives would also arise from this for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, compared with the alternatives. This is becoming more and more obvious as the weeks go by.
In paragraph 58 of its report, the Lords committee observes:
“Various studies had shown that from the EU’s perspective, ‘the EEA is the most preferred model’ of association for third countries”.
That is not a consideration to be underestimated, and it may influence attitudes among the EU 27 countries. These options for trade, investment, tariffs et cetera have to be the subject of not just theoretical argument but practical experience, such as was given by a Mr Emerson, who pointed out in evidence reported in paragraph 70 of the report that the advantage of the EEA option is, inter alia:
“It is a system that exists, offers legal clarity and actually works. It is closest among other options … to the status quo in economic terms and it would avoid uncertainty and thereby minimise damage to the UK as a destination for foreign investment aimed at the EU market”.
These are among the reasons why it would be counterproductive to leave the EEA, certainly prematurely. I know that going down the route I am advocating would entail Ministers eating some words. But I am sure that their digestive systems will be up to it once they have all run a few times around St James’s Park. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the amendment moved by my noble friend as a way to probe aspects of the Government’s approach to our future trading relationship with the European Union. The EEA was created when the UK, Denmark and Ireland changed from being members of EFTA to members of the EU, but the scale of their commercial relations with the other EFTA countries made it necessary to abolish customs barriers between the two groups of countries. A similar imperative will operate in the current situation as far as the UK market is concerned, given the scale of our trading with the EU. Obviously, in many ways the EEA would not be my preferred option because I would prefer to be in the single market—indeed, I would prefer to remain in the EU. However, given where we are after the referendum, I certainly think it is worth the Government considering and responding to the points that have been made.
“EEA membership would be the least disruptive option for UK-EU trade, not least because it would maintain membership of the Single Market for services”.
I specifically ask the Minister whether this paragraph of the report, highlighting the importance of services to our economy and the way that that can be handled within an EFTA-type solution, has been discussed with the City of London, and what kind of response was made by the City to the point in the report.
Obviously, we will have a further chance to look at the report when it is discussed in this House on Thursday, but it is very germane to the discussions this afternoon, both on the EEA and on the single market. Therefore, it is quite right to highlight it today and I take this opportunity to do so. Certainly—this point has been made many times—whatever people voted for in the referendum, we are all pretty sure that they did not vote to make themselves poorer. As a result of that, exploring the best deal possible, in looking at all the possible options, is going to be vital. I believe that the Government need to take the amendment and the report very seriously.
My Lords, I agree very much with my two noble friends, who have set out very well the purpose of the amendment. I, like them, feel that it is a disaster for our country to leave the European Union in any circumstances, and that the economic costs have not begun to be properly assessed in this country, although as every week goes by we become more aware of some of them. However, I think it is common ground, even with those who think that we should leave the European Union and who voted and campaigned for that, that there are economic costs and even they would accept that those economic costs are very serious.
The economic costs essentially affect manufacturing, particularly areas such as automotive and aerospace where there are a large number of supply chains in the European Union going across countries, with parts and components and so forth going back and forth more or less the whole time. That business will be very severely affected by our leaving the customs union and the single market, particularly where we would have to pay tariffs, as we would do in the case of motor cars, for example. The other area is financial services, which accounts for 10% of the gross national product of this country, as we all know. The City at the moment is the financial capital of the European Union but that is likely to cease if we left the European Union. It is very difficult to imagine how it could continue to be that unless we had some way of remaining in the internal financial market.
The great thing about the EEA is that it is a way of avoiding some, if not all, of the economic costs—there would be a loss of investment in many areas and as time went by there might be threats to our competitiveness as a country, both in services and in some of the manufacturing areas I mentioned. Nevertheless, it would mitigate and very much reduce the economic costs, which everybody is agreed are considerable and serious. Therefore, it seems extraordinary that the Government have not even bothered to consider or negotiate the possibility of our remaining in the single market by virtue of becoming again a member of EFTA or otherwise.
The Government have very reluctantly conceded that there should be some parliamentary process in this procedure of leaving the European Union. They have very reluctantly conceded that they should report to us at least as much as the European Commission does to the European Parliament on the progress of negotiations. They have very reluctantly exposed to us some of their thinking on some of these points, which have been dragged out of them in different ways—and we have to go on doing that.
However, as we begin to get clearer sight of what the Government are doing, it becomes more and more curious because we observe that they are actually breaching some of what one had always thought were the golden rules of negotiation. They are behaving in a way that is clearly irrational. No normal person gives up an option unless he or she gets to the point when they have to. There is no point in giving up an option in advance so why did the Government state in advance they were not interested in becoming a part of EFTA and remaining in the single market on that basis?
Secondly, the Government have said that their priority is to prevent freedom of movement or stop freedom of movement in future so far as this country is concerned. We now hear from Mr Davis that he does not expect any significant reduction in immigration from the rest of the EU or anywhere else for the next few years. In other words, the benefit for which the Government are apparently prepared to pay this enormous economic cost is much less than it was always made out to be. That is very clear.
On the subject of giving away an option in advance, is my memory playing a trick on me in recalling that the noble Lord and others on the remain side during the referendum campaign argued that membership of the EEA would be the worst possible option because we would be bound by all the rules but have no say?
The noble Lord is uncharacteristically inaccurate; he normally does his homework before intervening in this way. He is quite right that I and many on the remain side argued against the EEA being the right solution but he is quite wrong to suggest that any of us argued that it was the worst solution. On the contrary, throughout the campaign I always said while it was a very bad solution, it was the least bad solution of all those on offer. I am on record as saying that and probably said it in debates in which the noble Lord took part. Indeed, that is my strong view today and is the case I now argue.
I wish we could stay in the EU—period, as the Americans say, or full stop—but if we cannot we must try to mitigate the enormous damage. That is the argument I have been making. The way to do that is to try to find a way to stay in the single market, and one way we could certainly do that is to rejoin EFTA, as my noble friend Lord Lea set out. It is extraordinary that the Government have excluded that possibility and I now come to their extraordinary behaviour.
The Government have not only revealed that the benefit for which they are prepared to pay this high cost is nothing like as great as it was always made out to be, but not even considered negotiating on the single market regime provided by the EEA and using that as a basis for trying to get some concessions on freedom of movement. My two noble friends suggested a way forward that might be possible. I do not think that we on this side of the House will be able to take over these negotiations but we want to know—it is important that everybody in the country knows—why the Government did not even think it worthwhile to sit down with our European Union partners and say we would like to stay in the single market but we would also like to curb freedom of movement at least to some extent. We could have a negotiation on that basis.
I think the previous Prime Minister was a completely incompetent negotiator. The way to make progress in European affairs—it is extraordinary that after all these decades the Tory party has not learned this—is to adopt a communautaire approach and the language of one’s partners, to say that what one is seeking to do is in the interests of everybody and not purely in the selfish interests of this country, and certainly not just to get a good headline in the Daily Express or Daily Mail. We make it clear that we share the long-term objectives of our neighbours and partners for the future of western civilisation, as well as for prosperity, competitiveness and employment and these important economic but ultimately subsidiary objectives. Then we say pragmatically, as we have a reputation for being pragmatic, “Would it not be a good idea to do X, Y and Z which would strengthen our common purposes and take further forward our common ambitions?”. That is the way to make progress but it is the opposite of the confrontational approach the last Prime Minister adopted. It is not surprising that he did not get very far.
I am glad that my noble friend made this brief intervention because it enables me to say that I am extremely worried—I am not alone in this—that the Tory party has learned nothing at all from this experience or from any other experience over the last 40 years of the European Union and so will make the same mistake again. It will find itself not achieving what it ought to in the national interest in these negotiations. They will be a disaster, and a largely avoidable disaster, precisely because the Tory Government have not learned the obvious lessons of the past which my noble friend was kind enough to give me the opportunity to remind them of this afternoon.
If you have somebody negotiating on your behalf—a solicitor, an accountant or some representative, agent, trustee or whoever—and you watch carefully what they are doing, you are entitled to get worried should they do something that goes quite counter to normal human common sense. I pointed out three ways in which the Government are behaving in an extremely irrational fashion. I will repeat them so that the Minister can address them when he sums up. First, why are we pursuing this particular objective with the same kind of intensity and passion when we have acknowledged that the objective that we are trying to achieve—what we are trying to obtain in exchange for the high price of giving up our membership of the single market—is not anything like as great it was previously made out to be?
Secondly, why have we not decided to negotiate on the basis of the available option, which we know exists, of our potential membership of the EEA and see if we can perhaps do a little better and achieve some additional concessions? We have not even tried to do this—why not? Thirdly, why are we proceeding in this negotiation by giving up options in advance, before we have even explored them and before we have even started the negotiations? It is a very extraordinary thing to do.
My Lords, I wonder whether the Labour Party could find room for others in this debate. Even if the noble Lord, Lord Lea, were right that we did not have to go through a process of joining EFTA and the EEA—I do not think that he was, actually—being a member of the EEA means accepting EU laws, as my noble friend Lord Forsyth has said, without any political representation or influence over them. This would, of course, result in less control for the UK over its destiny, rather than more. That is not what people voted for in the referendum. I oppose this amendment for those reasons and because it is directly inconsistent with the White Paper.
My Lords, there are those who say that, since voting to leave the EU was the only question on the ballot paper, it is legitimate to argue that people did not vote to leave the single market or the customs union. They are wrong, but we will deal with that in the fourth group of amendments. Those same people also argue that we can join the EEA and benefit from it while still leaving the EU. I believe that that, too, is wrong and misguided. However, your Lordships should not take my word for it: I will quote from the EEA website. After it describes what the EEA is, who are the contracting parties and when it was agreed, it goes on to say in point 4:
“What is included in the EEA Agreement? The EEA Agreement provides for the inclusion of EU legislation in all policy areas of the Single Market. This covers the four freedoms, i.e. the free movement of goods, services, persons and capital, as well as competition and state aid rules, but also the following horizontal policies: consumer protection, company law, environment, social policy and statistics. In addition, the EEA Agreement provides for cooperation in several flanking policies such as research and technological development, education, training and youth, employment, tourism, culture, civil protection, enterprise, entrepreneurship and small and medium-sized companies. The EEA Agreement guarantees equal rights and obligations within the Single Market for citizens and economic operators in the EEA. Through Article 6 of the EEA Agreement, the case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union is also of relevance to the EEA Agreement, as the provisions of the EEA Agreement shall be interpreted in conformity with the relevant rulings of the Court given prior to the date of signature,
Therefore, if we join the EEA, we would, in effect, still be in the EU to all intents and purposes, with the exception of agriculture, fishing, justice and home affairs. All the rest of it we would have, lock, stock and barrel. We would not have control of our borders, our laws, our courts or much of our money. We would thus betray the people who voted to leave the EU, and that is why we should reject this amendment.
My Lords, I will make four very brief points. Will the Minister assure the House that this amendment is actually within the scope of the Bill? The Bill is about notifying withdrawal: this seems to me, as with many other amendments, to be about something completely different. Secondly, it is not within our unilateral gift. Even if the Prime Minister is instructed to remain a member of the EEA on our behalf, she cannot necessarily achieve this on her own. Thirdly, it is not a good idea to tie her hands in that fashion, and fourthly, even if this amendment succeeded—and the same is true of many others—and it became a part of this Bill, as the two years unrolled, it might prove to be inconvenient and an obstacle. There would be nothing to stop the Government simply repealing, or bringing forward measures to repeal, this particular measure, were it to be added to the Bill.
My Lords, surely the problem with the EEA is that it is a waiting room for people who want to join the EU. It was never designed for people who wanted to leave it. I do not quite understand why we have to sit here saying that we must take one of the options on offer from the EU. We are the third-biggest economy in the EU. The EU sells 50% more to us than we do to it. Why can we not have a unique free trade agreement with the EU? Why do we have to go along with any of these things that are on offer from the EU?
Perhaps I may be permitted to correct the noble Lord, who I know is an expert on these matters and normally gets his facts absolutely right. We have sat on European Union committees together for quite a long time. But he is wrong about the EEA being a waiting room for applicants to the EU. Norway had a referendum which decided against joining the EU. It decided not to be a member of the EU but it decided to be a member of the single market and to join EFTA on that basis. For Norway, it is not an anteroom, it is an alternative, as it could be for us if we so wished.
I accept that but it was designed originally to be a waiting room for those who wanted to join and that is why it has been put in place and you have to comply with all the regulations of the EU. But I come back to my point that if we join the EEA, we do not join the customs union so we have all the problems of the customs regulations. It enables us to do free trade deals with others but it has many disadvantages and I still do not really understand why we have cannot have our own unique arrangement with the EU. I am sure that is the ambition of the Government and that is why the amendment should be opposed.
My Lords, in declaring an interest—which is really my only qualification for joining this short debate—as a half-Norwegian, I advise the Minister to test the noble Lord’s assertion that the Norwegians are broadly content with their situation. Conversations I have had over the years with relatives and friends suggest that they see all the disadvantages that my noble friend Lord Forsyth so forcefully expressed five minutes ago.
One of the major difficulties that might stem from membership of the EEA is its implications for freedom of movement. I ask the Minister, when he responds, to give the Government’s assessment of the implications for freedom of movement for the UK of membership of the EEA.
Not yet, no. While I understand the issues raised and agree with the desire to debate them in this House, I cannot accept the amendment.
I wonder if the noble Lord will allow me to make a little progress before he launches into the water. This Bill is about the process of our leaving the European Union. It is not about the Government’s approach. I will happily debate these matters with your Lordships, and I am sure that there will be other occasions on which to do so over the coming months and, indeed, years. But as the other place has shown, this Bill is not the place to put constraints on the Government’s approach.
What is it that the Minister says? I am obliged to him for giving way. As this is the first time we have heard from the Minister on this subject since the weekend, I wonder if he would care to comment on one of the most significant happenings. A very distinguished Member of this House, who sat through almost the whole Second Reading on Monday and Tuesday—a former Deputy Prime Minister for whom we all have the greatest respect—has said that he is going to oppose his own Government on this. He is completely against Brexit. What is the Government’s reaction? Are they not going to take account of the views of someone so distinguished, someone with such great experience of government and of the European Union? Would the Minister care to respond?
Yes, of course. The noble Lord to whom the noble Lord refers is not in the House today.
It is my intention to make some progress with this matter. The Prime Minister clearly set out her vision for the future of the UK post-exit in her speech on
The United Kingdom has always been a leading voice for free trade, not only in the European Union but globally, and we have been consistently clear that we want the maximum possible freedom to trade for businesses in both Britain and Europe. But we also want to take back control of our laws and control immigration to Britain from Europe.
Being a member of the EEA would mean complying with the EU’s rules and regulations that implement the four freedoms—in respect of capital, goods, services and people—without having a vote on what those rules and regulations are. It would mean accepting a role for the European Court of Justice that would see it still having direct legal authority in our country. It would mean not having control over immigration. EU leaders in the other 27 states have been clear as to their belief in the indivisible nature of the four freedoms, and we respect that. The people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU, not to maintain partial membership of its bodies or institutions. When the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union institutions, they did not intend that we should leave by the front door and rush back to attempt entry by the back door.
As set out in the White Paper, we recognise that we will require alternative forms of dispute resolution once we leave the EU and are no longer subject to the European Court of Justice. But again, these mechanisms are common both to agreements between the EU and third countries and in international agreements to which the United Kingdom is also party, of which there are many examples. Once we leave the EU, the EEA agreement will no longer be relevant for the United Kingdom. It will have no practical effect. It will be an empty vessel. That is because the agreement is defined as covering all EU members and those three EFTA states—Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway—which have chosen to join the EEA. As we are leaving the EU, we will automatically be outside this definition, as found in Article 126 of the EEA agreement. So there is no choice open to us to leave the EU and remain a member of the EEA, which would require a separate negotiation with the EU and the three EFTA states that I have just mentioned. For example, Switzerland, which is also a member of EFTA, has separate bilateral agreements with the EU even though it is not in the EEA. EFTA membership is not, of course, the same as EEA membership.
Although it will have no practical effect after the EU exit, we are considering what steps might need to be taken formally to terminate the EEA agreement as a matter of law, as we will remain a signatory to the agreement. This could be done through Article 127 of the EEA agreement on giving 12 months’ notice, or by some other means, but no decision has yet been taken on that. We have laid out in the White Paper, however, the relationship we are seeking: a new strategic partnership which includes a new customs agreement and an ambitious and comprehensive free trade agreement. We are seeking the greatest possible access to the single market as part of this.
The noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, referred to the fact that we would not be at the table. That is absolutely right, and that is not what 52% of our population voted for when they voted leave. It is one thing to have power without responsibility; it is another to have responsibility without power, and that is what we would have in these circumstances. It was suggested that freedom of movement could be open to a variety of interpretations. That is not the view in Europe. It is open to only one interpretation—one which we have been under for a number of years.
The noble Baroness, Lady Quin, referred to the report of the House of Lords committee. I can reassure her that we take the terms of that report very seriously, and we will be taking forward our consideration of it in due course. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, referred to the suggestion that somehow we could keep our options open so far as the EEA is concerned, but that is not the case. EEA membership is not an option that is simply open to us if we leave the EU. As I said, it becomes an empty vessel. We have to face up to the indivisibility of the four freedoms, as insisted upon. It is not a case of going to Europe and saying, “We would like to negotiate out of one of the four freedoms”. We are told repeatedly that they are indivisible, and we have to take that into account.
At the end of the day, we cannot embrace membership of the EEA any more than membership of the EU without freedom of movement in Europe. In these circumstances, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw this amendment on the understanding that we cannot retain membership of the EEA for the reasons I have sought to set out.
Before the noble Lord sits down, there is one issue on this question which is very important to the national interest. When the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, came to the Select Committee to answer questions about the Government’s negotiating strategy, I asked him whether—as part of a transitional arrangement—they had ruled out membership of the single market or the EEA, and he said they had not. Can the Minister clarify the Government’s current position?
Whatever the Front Bench opposite thinks, most observers think it will be impossible to negotiate a comprehensive trade agreement within the practical 15 months of negotiation that will be available after the German elections. This implementation phase that the Prime Minister talks about is in fact a transition. Are the Government saying that under no circumstances would we consider being members of the EEA, or the single market? If they are, we are facing the most horrendous cliff edge as an economy.
My Lords, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, I do not accept that we face a cliff edge—there is no cliff and therefore no edge. We fully intend to negotiate a suitable settlement within the period set out in Article 50 and that is the course of action on which we are setting out at this time.
The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, questioned whether this amendment was within the scope of the Bill. That is a question for others, but clearly it is not related to the purpose of the Bill. The Bill is concerned with process and, if we lose sight of that, we are liable to become rudderless in very difficult waters.
My Lords, on that last point, I would point out that the Government are very good at demolishing every possible hypothesis that is put up, but at some point they will have to look at them constructively—they will have to look at the report on Thursday, as we have just heard—and consider the costs and benefits of each of them. At the moment, what seems to be happening is that one after another various ideas are brought up in debate, which is what we are here for, and the Government produce a tremendous round of artillery to blow up that particular bridge—that is, that particular idea. However, they have never laid out how those couple of sentences in the Lancaster House speech, reproduced in the White Paper, will work. We on this side are opening ourselves up to the vulnerability of saying exactly what we think might be an option. It behoves the Government very soon, in the national interest, to look at what might work rather than at what might not. We will have to return to these matters and look at the pros and cons of this option as well as all the others.
Instead of the Government just saying what is ruled out, it would be good to hear a bit more about what is ruled in. Instead of concluding, like Mrs Thatcher, that “there is no alternative”, they should see that there are several alternatives to just walking away, but we have not heard about these in any detail. We are getting to the ridiculous position where we will have the so-called great repeal Bill, and this Bill will be on the statute book, but there will be no detailed prospectus at all, on the flimsy grounds that that would give the game away about our negotiating position. This does not bode well for the Government coming back with a satisfactory solution to the serious challenges facing the country. However, that is as far as we can take this today, so I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Moved by Lord Hain
2: Clause 1, page 1, line 3, at end insert—“( ) Before a notification can be given under subsection (1), the Prime Minister must give an undertaking to negotiate under the process set out in Article 50 to support the maintenance of the open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland as set out under the provisions of the Belfast Agreement of 1998 and subsequent relevant agreements.”
My Lords, this amendment is also in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Alderdice and Lord Murphy of Torfaen. It will be noted that this is a cross-party amendment by two former Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland and a former Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
In a few days, the people of Northern Ireland will go to the polls for the second time in eight months, at a moment when Northern Ireland’s self-government is in a political cul-de-sac and unresolved legacy issues and the past, including the prosecutions of long-retired British soldiers, continue to haunt everyone. The settlement in Northern Ireland is built on the delicate balance of the three strands of the Good Friday agreement: relationships within Northern Ireland, between Belfast and Dublin and between Dublin and London. Brexit will test each of these relationships and, if the Government pursue a hard Brexit, they could do profound damage to all three.
When I was Secretary of State in 2005, I flew many miles by Army helicopter from east to west along the mountains and fields of south Armagh that mark the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Knowing what had afflicted that area over so many years, it seemed to me that it had what Yeats called, in a different but related context, “a terrible beauty”.
Frankly, the border was, even at the height of the Troubles with security controls, impossible to police. Then it was dubbed “bandit country”. It is estimated that along the entire 300-mile Irish border there are up to 300 crossings and countless additional paths, with 35,000 people crossing each day and each month 177,000 crossings by lorries, 208,000 by vans and 1.85 million by cars. Since family farms straddle the border, there are goodness knows how many animals on the move, from domestic pets to livestock, conceivably being forced to carry ID tags if they stray either way in future—all because the border will become the customs frontier of the European Union.
Bertie Ahern, who served three terms as Taoiseach between 1997 and 2008 and was a central player in helping to secure the Good Friday agreement and deliver power sharing, was reported in the Observer recently as saying that the establishment of an Irish land border could have devastating results, putting Northern Ireland’s peace process in jeopardy.
“‘I worry far more about what’s going to happen with that,’ he said. ‘It will take away the calming effects [of an open border]. Any attempt to try to start putting down border posts, or to man [it] in a physical sense as used to be the case, would be very hard to maintain, and would create a lot of bad feeling.’”
I would suggest that “bad feeling” is an understatement.
“‘Any kind of physical border, in any shape, is bad for the peace process’, he said. ‘It psychologically feeds badly into the nationalist communities. People have said that this could have the same impact on the nationalist community as the seismic shock of the 1985 Anglo-Irish agreement on unionists, and I agree with that. For the nationalist community in Northern Ireland, the Good Friday agreement was about removing barriers, integrating across the island, working democratically in the absence of violence and intimidation—and if you take that away, as the Brexit vote does, that has a destabilising effect.’”
I agree with him. I am particularly aware that the consequences of a hard customs border between Northern Ireland and the Republic are potentially immense, and are not addressed at all in the Government’s White Paper. Frankly, I am not convinced that the Government have even begun to grasp the political significance of it.
I, like Tony Blair and my predecessors—my noble friends Lord Murphy, Lord Reid and Lord Mandelson—was utterly non-partisan when dealing with the Northern Ireland parties, even though in the space of two meetings we would be accused by one of being for a united Ireland and by the other of being rabidly pro-union. But I built as close a relationship with Ian Paisley as I did with Gerry Adams, with Peter Robinson as with Martin McGuinness. I remain unaligned today—and that allows me, I hope, to talk bluntly, and some might even say inappropriately, about the politics of Irish republicanism and nationalism.
For these people, an entirely open border of the kind that has operated without security or hindrance of any kind for many years now is politically totemic. It marks an everyday reality to all republicans that progress, albeit in their terms slow progress, has been made, and is being made, towards their aspirations for a united Ireland. It has been as if the border no longer mattered. Citizens resident on either side can and do take advantage of the health and education services nearest to where they live, on a cross-border basis. Northern Ireland businesses invest without hindrance in the Republic and vice versa. The two economies are being steadily integrated: there is even a plan to cut corporation tax in Northern Ireland to synchronise with the low rate in the south.
Of course the island of Ireland has not been united politically or constitutionally—to do that would properly require endorsement by referendum, and the principle of consent is one of the cornerstones of the Good Friday agreement—but it is almost daily becoming united in everyday life. That is welcomed by unionists as well, secure in the knowledge that there can be no change in the constitutional position without their consent. Above all, it is a symbol of the normalisation of relations between the two parts of the island. The Government disturb that at everyone’s great and grim peril.
Those who maintain that because the Prime Minister has said that she does not want a return to a hard border it will not happen should be aware that the Irish Government, who do not want a hard border either, have nevertheless, as a contingency measure, begun identifying possible locations for checkpoints along the border with Northern Ireland in the event of a hard Brexit.
The Northern Ireland peace and stability process is very far from over. The current disturbing breakdown and impasse in the Northern Ireland Assembly and its Executive is a manifestation of the extent of unfinished business. I do not say that we will go back to the murder and mayhem of the Troubles, but I insist that the process could easily unravel. It requires continuous forward momentum; a reimposed border with any form of restrictions is the very reverse of that. If the referendum means Brexit at any price, it might well be at dangerously high cost for the Northern Ireland peace process.
Apart from the politics, the post-Brexit border issue is fraught with practical problems. The excellent House of Lords report, Brexit: UK-Irish Relations, stated on page 65:
“The only way to retain the current open border in its entirety would be either for the UK to remain in the customs union, or for EU partners to agree to a bilateral UK-Irish agreement on trade and customs. Yet given the EU’s exclusive competence to negotiate trade agreements with third countries, the latter option is not currently available”.
The report added:
“Short of the introduction of full immigration controls on the Irish land border, the solution would either be acceptance of a low level of cross-border movement by EU workers, or allowing Northern Ireland to reach its own settlement on the rights of EU citizens to live and work there … which would require … an adjustment of the devolution settlement”.
In evidence to the House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on
“a special status for Northern Ireland”.
In subsequent testimony to the committee, Irish Ambassador Dan Mulhall said:
“I just don’t think it’s remotely possible to think in terms of having a border that would really control every movement of goods and people”.
He also warned that it was,
“essential that Brexit does not affect the Good Friday Agreement, and that the people of Northern Ireland can have confidence that this will be the case”.
Experienced customs officials from both sides of the border have questioned the practicality of reimposing controls. Former UK customs officer Gerry Temple told the BBC:
“The border runs through many properties and it would be impossible for customs to check what comes in the southern side and goes out the northern side. The re-opening of the unapproved roads has changed everything and made the task for customs impossible”.
The Police Federation for Northern Ireland has also expressed concern about the consequences of a hard border.
“We are still operating under what the government says is a severe threat, which means an attack on our members could happen at any time and is highly likely”,
PFNI chairman Mark Lindsay told the Guardian. He added:
“If we are saying in the future that police officers could be deployed to customs posts and other fixed points on a hardened border then they would become static targets. They would in effect become sitting ducks for the terrorists”.
I am assuming that he is talking about the dissident IRA groups.
“the issue of the common travel area is not dealt with by people simply saying, ‘The CTA has existed since 1923’, because it had never existed when one jurisdiction was outside the EU and the other within it”.
Your Lordships’ European Union Committee has already highlighted the danger of exacerbating an existing smuggling problem on the border, a judgment that reflects testimony from Northern Ireland’s Justice Minister and police service among others. A hard Brexit risks a double windfall for paramilitaries from increased opportunities for fraud alongside growing political tensions. One wheeze, apparently emanating from the Government, is to have electronic controls of some sort.
“I haven’t found anyone who can tell me what technology can actually manage this”,
Bertie Ahern said. David Ford MLA observed that it was “utterly meaningless” to talk about electronic controls as a preventive tool against cross-border smuggling. He noted that there was already evasion of the different excise duties on either side of the border. The leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, Mike Nesbitt MLA, agreed that electronic monitoring of the movement of goods,
“just will not cut it”.
We need maintenance of the common travel area, the right of free movement within it for UK and Irish citizens, and their right to reside and work in both countries. We need the retention of the right to Irish, and therefore EU, citizenship for the people of Northern Ireland. We need a customs and trade arrangement between the UK and Ireland if the UK leaves the customs union. We need reaffirmation by both Governments of their commitment to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and continued support for cross-border co-operation.
One suggestion is to negotiate for Northern Ireland as a special zone with exceptional status within both the UK and the EU, justified by its turbulent history. An authoritative paper by Professor David Phinnemore of Queen’s University Belfast illustrated the complexities. He identifies what he terms the “reverse Greenland” option:
“This draws its inspiration from the departure of Greenland, which is part of Denmark, from the then European Communities in 1985. The idea of a ‘reverse Greenland’ envisages the UK remaining in the EU, but not all of its constituent parts doing so”.
Scotland and Northern Ireland—as constituent elements of the UK that voted remain—would, as was the case with Denmark, remain in the EU; England and Wales, following Greenland’s example, would leave. Gibraltar is another fraught problem altogether and, with 95.9% of the votes cast in the referendum for remain, it might also fall into such a category.
“Such an arrangement would require agreement within the context of a post-Brexit UK-EU relationship for the free movement of people to extend beyond the border of the EU into but not across the entire territory of a non-member state. This would be unprecedented, but it would not be unprecedented for special or bespoke integration and cooperation arrangements to be put in place for particular regions or territories of non-member states. Svalbard enjoys special status within the context of Norway’s participation in the EEA. The EU has also granted some restricted concessions to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad which is situated between two EU member states (Lithuania and Poland)”.
Special status might mean a hard border with Wales, Scotland and England, but at least these would be at ports and airports, which are in any event already monitored and sometimes policed. Travellers now present passports or driving licences to board aircraft, for example, so would similar arrangements for the Liverpool ferry be so much of a problem? If these kind of checks were on arrival in Great Britain, would unionists see that as a de facto border between GB and Northern Ireland for the sake of free movement within Ireland and object? Alternatively, would the Irish be prepared to increase controls at their ports and airports, with any extra security presumably paid for by Britain, rather like we do in Calais? I wonder.
Creative, lateral solutions will certainly be needed, but a solution there has to be, with give and take on all sides. The free movement of people, goods and services on the island of Ireland is critical to continued momentum and deepening of the peace process. Cross-border trade and tourism have increased on the back of the peace process, as have business activity and investment. Today, crossing the border between Strabane and Lifford, Derry/Londonderry and Letterkenny, or Newry and Dundalk, is just as simple as crossing the border between Wales and England. In fact, it is easier in the case of south Wales because there is no Severn Bridge-type toll. I do not really mind how an open border is achieved, but it must be, which is what this amendment insists on.
Ours is not a wrecking amendment. It does not obstruct Brexit. It is not tying the Government’s negotiating hand. All it is doing is insisting that, as Article 50 is triggered, it is only on the basis that the Government negotiate to secure what they already say they want—an open border in line with the Good Friday agreement. I trust that we never have to confront the stark choice between delivering on the Brexit referendum and deepening hard-won stability and peace on the island of Ireland.
My Lords, I have always been a fervent European. It is an emotional thing as much as an intellectual one. In my own family there are people from outside of the UK. My wife and I make our home not just in Northern Ireland but also in continental Europe. As a former vice-president of the European Liberal Democrat Party and someone always committed to Europe, it is part of me politically; and intellectually, the principles behind the European project have been a driving force in my own way of understanding a better way of doing politics, particularly, of course, in my own part of the world in Northern Ireland.
The border was not the cause of our problems; it reflected problems that were there before but it also exacerbated them. The way that the European project worked for many years provided us with inspiration and a model to change relationships within Northern Ireland, between north and south, and between Britain and Ireland. However, for me, sadly, it was neither entirely a shock nor a surprise when the referendum went the way it did. For some years, as some noble Lords will know, I had been warning that, unless those with influence in Brussels and those of us who are pro-European influenced our colleagues in Europe to change the way that the European project was developing, we would find those opposed to the European Union increasing in number and in fervour, and it would not be good for the project—indeed, it would be destined for disaster if there was no change. I said so in your Lordships’ House on more than one occasion but there was not a preparedness to listen.
For me, the European project was essentially a peace project. It was not about the euro or the single market, and it was not about providing a space at the top table of global affairs for Presidents and Prime Ministers of small European countries. It was a peace project to try to make sure that Germany and France, in particular, and the rest of Europe did not go to war again, but now it has become the focus of division within Europe.
Those of us who are pro-European should have been looking for a long time at why things were going wrong. If a couple divorce after 40 or more years and the one who leaves does not do so in order to go to another partner, the one who is left needs to ask themselves some serious questions about the motivation for the divorce after such a long time. The answer is that the European Union was not developed on liberal principles of freedom, flexibility, organic growth and development, and sensitivity to differences of identity and culture right across Europe, particularly between northern and southern Europe. Instead, it was centralising and focused on itself and on the interests, concerns, preoccupations and beliefs of the elite, with the result that many ordinary people found themselves becoming disenchanted. This is a disaster. We know what happens when Europe becomes divided, but divided it has become, and our job now is to try to find a way of bringing it together.
Before turning to Her Majesty’s Government, I want to refer to our colleagues in Brussels. It is not a one-sided business—relationships require movement from both sides. Immediately after the referendum, Mr Juncker demanded that Britain implement Article 50 straightaway, saying that it was a requirement. It was not a requirement but it was an extremely unhelpful intervention because it was precisely the impression of Brussels talking down to everybody that had produced the problems.
Therefore, through the medium of this intervention in your Lordships’ House I need to say to our friends in Brussels and across the European Union, “Understand that relationships are a two-way affair. You have to be prepared to be flexible too if there is to be change for the better”. It may be too late to do other than have a relationship where the United Kingdom is outside the European Union, and it may be almost too late for some of the other countries, because this is not just a question of Britain. Many other countries are asking themselves these questions and have deeply dissatisfied populations, and this year in particular is likely to see developments of a thoroughly untoward order.
When it comes to the border in Ireland, I hope that people in Brussels understand that it is in their interests to start being flexible over it and not simply to say, “Well, take it or leave it. If you want to do Brexit, here are the consequences”. Rather, they should say, “First, this is a relationship. Secondly, we are a peace project, and we are not about disrupting a peace project that was painfully put together in Ireland. And, thirdly, if there was ever trouble again in Ireland, it would be trouble within the European Union, even if Northern Ireland isn’t part of it, because the trouble would be north and south of the border, as it was before”. But, of course, the amendment is particularly addressed to Her Majesty’s Government. I appreciated the fact that the Prime Minister, as one of her first initiatives, contacted the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, and expressed her appreciation of his positive regard and relationship. I know that, despite the difficulties he is in, he or any successor would be able to have useful and positive contact with the Prime Minister. However, it is not a question just of what we do and say, it is a question of our impulses.
I remember in 2013 when the then Crime and Courts Bill was being debated, one of the first things I did when I realised that problems were emerging in Northern Ireland over the question of whether there would be a legislative consent Motion in the Assembly was to meet the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, who was responsible for the Bill in your Lordships’ House, and to say to him: “Has the right honourable Theresa May”—who at that stage was Home Secretary—“had a consultation with the Minister for Justice in the Republic of Ireland? Because the NCA, which is going to be created by this Bill, has border security as one of its fundamental requirements. That is one of the things it is about. The only land border we have in the United Kingdom is with the Republic of Ireland. We have a British-Irish Council. We have a whole series of international agreements. We have meetings of Ministers in every context. Has the Home Secretary consulted the Minister for Justice in the Republic of Ireland about this question?”. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, is a very honest and open man, not given to dissembling. He was clear: it had not even entered their minds to have such a conversation. It had not even entered their minds. It was not nasty, it was not malevolent, it was not a snub or a dismissal; it just had not even entered their minds.
My fear is that now she is Prime Minister, Theresa May is bringing to the office of the Prime Minister many of the attitudes, the people and the approaches of the Home Office. If that is the case in relationships with Ireland, north and south, it will create problems for her and for all of us. So my appeal is to understand that being Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is not just about being Prime Minister of England and a few add-on bits. It is about Scotland; it is about Wales; it is about Northern Ireland; and it is about many parts of England that do not necessarily feel entirely at home with the approaches that are taken here in London. That will entail a stretching of imagination and political creativity, it will mean engaging with people and it will not be entirely easy, but it is absolutely necessary if we are to create the kind of environment we need within this United Kingdom and in our other relationships, of which I hope there will be many, not just in the EU but outside the EU. Indeed, goodness knows what kind of EU, if any kind of EU, will still exist by the time we come to March 2019. We have no idea. The world is changing dramatically before our eyes. However, there are some things that we know do cause trouble, even if we are not sure what things cause good to happen.
One of the things that will cause trouble is if people in the nationalist and republican community feel that the progress that was made in relationships, in understanding and in sensitivity are being rubbished because there is no longer the threat of violence. That is why—although I have not put my name to it, and I have some questions about the detailed drafting—I have great sympathy with the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, which reflects something that was said by the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny. That is that there needs to be an appreciation in the engagement with Brussels that if, as is the case under the Good Friday agreement, the people of Northern Ireland give their consent and show their wish to leave the United Kingdom—not something I expect in my lifetime at all—it would effectively mean that they would then become part of an Ireland which, in total, would be part of the European Union, if the European Union still existed in the same way.
It does not seem to me that this is in any way in contravention of the Good Friday agreement or any of the other agreements. It is certainly not talking about promoting a united Ireland; it is entirely different from the situation in Scotland, because Scotland would be leaving to be a separate country and then apply, whereas Northern Ireland would become part of a country that was already part of the European Union, albeit an expanded one. It does not affect other things, but it may well be one of those things that can give sufficient comfort to people in the Republic and in the nationalist community to enable us to negotiate in the way that we desperately need to. It is not about us proposing solutions but rather about insisting on the maintenance of relationships that can get us through the very difficult period that stands ahead.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord. His description of the difficulties that he saw arising within the European Union and the way in which the European Union has not been governed very intelligently by the people in Brussels was seriously meant and I hope that everyone will reflect on it. But I hope he will forgive me if I go back to the amendment in front of us. It is unnecessary. The amendment asks the Prime Minister,
“to support the maintenance of the open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland”.
The Prime Minister does that now. It is in the White Paper, so the amendment is unnecessary for that reason. That is a technical answer to the amendment, but I will move on to a general discussion of the common travel area.
As was mentioned in the debate, the common travel area has existed since 1923. From the mid-1920s onwards, tariff differences existed because tariffs were charged on the Irish border—and those continued right up until our entry into the European Union. So going back to having tariffs is not a new thing for us. Having to have regard to the movement of persons is not, again, a new thing. Noble Lords may not be fully aware that the impact of the common travel area on the free movement of people is not general. It applies only to citizens of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. It does not apply to other citizens.
I remember hearing in a news bulletin several months ago that the Irish police had intercepted a car that had just crossed over the unmarked border. Police stopped the vehicle in order to remove from it half a dozen persons who were travelling to work within the Republic of Ireland but had no right to do so. So that is an example of the movement of persons being monitored. How effective that monitoring is is another matter—and whether that monitoring can be done in a more effective way, again, is open. So there should not be any insuperable difference on the question of the free movement of persons, provided that there is serious co-operation between the British and Irish Governments. Without knowing the detail, my understanding is that very active discussion is going on at the moment between the British and Irish Governments about how that could be handled.
If there is a serious problem, it comes with the issue of tariffs. The tariffs that were charged from the mid-1920s to the 1970s were enough to stimulate smuggling. It was a local cottage industry, particularly in South Armagh. If significant tariffs come back, it will create, as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, mentioned, another line of activity for the boys down there who will profit from it. They might complain about it but they will certainly enjoy the profit and might not be too keen if someone took the profit away. So one has to be aware that there is more than one side to this.
There will be difficulties if there are serious tariffs, but the difficulties will exist mainly for the Irish Government rather than for ourselves. In the paper mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, Mr Lux talked about installations on the Irish side of the border. That is where they will be, because under EU law there is an obligation on countries that have part of the EU’s external border to have installations on that border. So if installations exist they will certainly exist south of the border. Whether they exist north of the border I am not sure; that is a matter for our Government to consider. However, the difficulties are going to be there.
The difficulty for the Irish Government is not just to do with the installations but with trade. Although the Irish have tried to develop their trade in other ways, their largest market is the United Kingdom. A tariff between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom would have very serious implications for them. Incidentally, their second largest market is the United States. Almost all their trade is done with Anglophone countries; they have very little trade with the rest of the European Union.
That actually points to a solution. When we joined the European Union in 1972 the Republic of Ireland joined on the same day; and it did so because of the economic factors I have mentioned. Those factors are still there. The Republic of Ireland is going to have to think very seriously, in a couple of years, about where their future prosperity will lie. At the moment the Irish Government are probably trying to do what they can to educate people in Brussels about the problems that they will face and about the desirability of having tariff-free access. That is also the objective of our Government. They, too, want tariff-free access, and if they achieve that there is no problem—although we should bear in mind what my noble friend Lord Lawson said in last week’s debate: that as things stand, it does not look as though there is much chance of getting agreement on the absence of tariffs. If we do not get that, the Irish Government will have a problem. We would of course want to be sympathetic and do what we can to mitigate matters; but at the same time that is not something that we need as a major element in this debate.
The amendment talks about,
“the open border … as set out under the provisions of the Belfast Agreement”.
Look at the agreement: what provisions? I do not see any. The common travel area was part of the background at the time that we were discussing this, but to say that this is something mandated by or based on the agreement is not correct. It is just a way of hyping up the argument, in the same way that some people suggest that the current peace might be threatened by what is happening here. That is the equivalent of shroud-waving and is not something that we should be too concerned about.
My Lords, when the Minister replies to this debate he has a choice. He can focus on the amendment and explain why it is unnecessary—which he can probably do fairly easily. If he does that, but does no more than that, the Government will be losing a very important opportunity, which is to reply to the remarkable speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and seek to reassure the inhabitants of Ireland, north and south, about the very real concerns that have been expressed by my noble friend Lord Alderdice and the noble Lords, Lord Hain and Lord Trimble, among others.
I am not Irish, although there are times when I wish that I were; but I have lived in Ireland as a privileged guest of the nation for 44 years. I am a member of the Bar of Northern Ireland and of the Republic. I have been frequently to the north, as well as living in the Republic. I say to the Minister—if he does not know it already—that the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, are not debating points; they are very real. As the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, said, Ireland joined the European Community when we did. I think that the Irish were always more European than we were; they saw John Bull’s island as between them and Europe and saw their destiny in Europe—and Ireland has benefited enormously from its membership of the European Union, as have we.
The troubles mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, are acute and I am concerned that, whatever happens with the amendment, which I regard as trivial compared with these issues, both in the debate on Second Reading and in the White Paper the Government have shown a disregard for the seriousness of the issues affecting Ireland as a whole. I urge the Minister, if not today then as soon as he possibly can, to make sure that full reassurance is given to the people of Ireland, north and south, about the concerns that have been expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Hain. That is far more important than the fate of this amendment.
My Lords, I declare two interests as the last surviving member of the Whitelaw commission which led to the Sunningdale agreement in the 1970s and as a long-standing fan of the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, who in his assessment of the situation in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland speaks for nearly all of us. The only questions for us today are what this has to do with the Bill before us and why this amendment is necessary now. If, as the noble Lord, Lord Lester, has just suggested, we are asking for reassurances, I think that we can give them. As my noble friend Lord Trimble has said, the common travel area has been in place since 1923. The trade interests of the Republic of Ireland with the United Kingdom are overwhelming and growing very fast, not only in goods and agriculture but obviously in services as well. It seems to have been largely overlooked that the services element in international trade is rising much faster than the goods element, leading to more and more of the earnings of both the whole of the United Kingdom and the Republic being expressed through digital and data transformation. Indeed, McKinsey has said that it represents more than half the total earnings of international trade. The whole pattern of trade has changed radically in the past 10 to 15 years with digitalisation and it should come into every assessment of the new relationship.
The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, is right to say that the problem lies with the European Union. Will it be able, first, to accept the common travel area—it must because it was there long before the European Economic Community was formed—and will it accept that concessions are needed, or bilateral arrangements of the kind that can perfectly well be organised now between the Republic and the United Kingdom, of which Northern Ireland is a part? In the low-tariff world we are moving into, indeed a zero-tariff world more generally with 80% of all industrial goods not covered by tariffs—people talk as though tariffs are a wall, but they are not—I think that we can be assured that a practical solution is possible. I imagine that it has already been discussed by Ministers and many officials in Dublin, Belfast and London.
I am absolutely sure that various elements of gluing the situation together can develop, with one that I cannot resist adding being that Dublin is showing an enormous interest in association with the Commonwealth. One of the most lively branches of the Royal Commonwealth Society—I declare an interest as its president—is in Dublin. It is attracting a great deal of interest because the Republic sees more and more that its future lies in its relations with the rest of the British Isles while working within the reforming European system, which is going to be difficult because the EU is going through vast political, economic and social changes. So I see very little problem—I do not say that there is no problem because the noble Lord, Lord Hain, speaks with authority—and believe that it can be resolved through good will on all sides. I see that that good will in place and there is absolutely no necessity for bringing this issue into the Bill before us.
My Lords, from our perspective here, Northern Ireland is the forgotten part of the UK. It rarely gets a mention in this House and there is little media coverage in the London-based press. I am worried about Northern Ireland, and two or three years of answering for the Government on Northern Ireland issues taught me that politics in Northern Ireland is not as solved as people in England often assume it to be. I am worried about Northern Ireland because it is clearly a difficult time, with the breakdown of power-sharing and the imminent election. Clearly there are difficulties in personal relations that have not always existed in recent years.
The political parties here seem to have abandoned the position of carefully balanced neutrality on Northern Ireland politics. Theresa May relies on DUP support in the House of Commons and the Labour leader’s office has members who are openly sympathetic to Sinn Féin. That situation has not existed in recent years; it used to be more balanced than that. UK political credibility in Northern Ireland is at a low ebb. To be honest, it is at an even lower ebb in the Republic, where the Brexit vote has already done damage and will continue to do more economic damage.
The big conundrum—I added my name to the amendment because I could not see a way out of it—is that whatever the Prime Minister really wants to happen about the border it seems a pretty insoluble problem. That was pointed out very effectively in this House’s EU Committee’s report. Symbols are important in Ireland. The powerful symbolism of a return to border posts would be hugely damaging. In contrast, the current open border is a powerful symbol of the peace process. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, that the border may not have been mentioned specifically in the Belfast process, but the whole thing was predicated on the concept of the open border and took it for granted.
Nowadays people more or less ignore the border. They cross it on a daily basis to shop, to go to the pub, to go to university and to visit relatives. They do not notice that it is there. That daily natural integration is a powerful lever for peace. Of course, to maintain an open border there has to be tariff-free trade with the Republic. That is pointed out in the EU Committee’s report.
It has been suggested that there could an electronic system, rather than physical border posts. That would be deeply distrusted: the idea that people are being tracked across the border would not be appealing in Northern Ireland. The third alternative is, as my noble friend suggested, giving Northern Ireland special status in the EU and moving the border so that, essentially, it lies between parts of Northern Ireland and Wales. Clearly, that would have a major adverse effect on trade, and an impact on Wales’s economy. My support for the amendment is based on my concern that none of those three options is anything like ideal.
Today we hear of government plans for a pre-emptive strike against EU citizens living here or planning to do so. This has come despite assurances from the Prime Minister that she wants to continue to welcome EU citizens, but cannot do so until the EU makes a reciprocal agreement. That news surely undermines the idea that we can rely on the assurances the Prime Minister gave about the Northern Ireland-southern Ireland border. If we have no consistency from the Prime Minister on EU citizens, surely we cannot rely on consistency in her assurances on the border.
The amendment would ensure that the island of Ireland is not forgotten and that Northern Ireland is, just for once, not an afterthought. Any deterioration in the peace process would be a very high price to pay for Brexit.
My Lords, I shall speak in general support of the issues raised by this group. I have not put my name to any particular amendment but I feel that the issues raised demand proper debate. This is the first time that I have spoken in any of the Brexit debates in this House. I have a personal interest: my mother came over from Ireland after the war and made this country her home. Due to a long-standing personal commitment, I made the start of the Second Reading debate but was not able to take up my speaking slot. Therefore, before coming to specific issues, I will say a few words about my overall position on the Bill.
I voted remain in the referendum. This did not make me a cheerleader for the EU. I could see its current difficulties and challenges all too clearly. Indeed, anyone involved in negotiations on EU structural funds would have been in no doubt about those challenges. However, on balance, I believed that it was clearly in the interests of this country to remain—if you like, a realistic rather than a reluctant remainer.
The referendum result answered one question: whether this country wished to remain in the EU. However, as others have said, it left a whole lot of other questions unanswered. Should we remain in the single market? How can we best secure the future of the United Kingdom, something I feel very passionately about? What should our approach be to EU and EEA citizens? Those are just three examples of questions that we should be debating in these amendments. To want to debate these issues is not the same as wanting to block or delay the Bill. Reviewing, scrutinising and proposing amendments to legislation is, after all, what we are here to do.
Much has been said about the ardent remainers, if I can call them that, being in denial of the referendum result. I have no doubt that there are some—maybe even some in the Chamber—who fit that description. However, my biggest concern is the ardent leavers, who seem to be in denial of the enormous risks that a badly handled Brexit will have for our economic, social and political interests or, indeed, how much we are going to have to give up in order to secure Brexit on the terms currently envisaged. We cannot simply hope for the best and leave these issues to the outcome of the negotiations. The likely result of that approach is that we will be left with Hobson’s choice: vote for a deal that we are deeply unhappy about or face being bundled out of the EU without an agreement. It is much better to discuss, debate and, where necessary, vote on the issues now.
Turning to the amendments in this group, the Government’s Brexit White Paper sets out 12 principles, one of which is:
“Protecting our strong historic ties with Ireland and maintaining the Common Travel Area”.
It rightly highlights the extensive movement of goods, services and people across the border and says that the Government will work with the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive to find “a practical solution”. What is much less clear in the plan, however, is how this principle will be reconciled with the other principles in the plan and, if they cannot be reconciled, which principle will take precedence.
Paragraph 4.4 of the White Paper says:
“When the UK leaves the EU we aim to have as seamless and frictionless a border as possible”.
So there will be a border. Like much of the White Paper, the clear headline principle at the start of the chapter is undermined by the text. The question is not whether we have a border, it is how seamless it is.
As many have said this afternoon, the issues here go well beyond free trade and free movement. The report of the EU Committee made it clear that the implications of Brexit for Ireland were more profound than for any other member state. Indeed, in my own discussions with the Republic of Ireland when I was head of the Civil Service, the prospect of Britain exiting from the EU and the potential consequences was by far their biggest concern. This fear has now become a reality. It seems clear that the harder the Brexit, the harder the border. It will in effect become an external customs border of the EU. While of course there may be some shroud waving, we cannot ignore the comments of former Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who was after all instrumental to the Good Friday agreement, that Brexit might put the peace process in jeopardy. There must surely be no circumstances in which we could contemplate that happening.
Of course, the EU Commission negotiators have an important role here. I recognise that, but in the end this will come down to the choices we make in the negotiations. What negotiating goal finds priority over another? In my view, our commitment to both the letter and spirit of the Good Friday agreement must—I emphasise must—stand above most if not all our other ambitions. I sincerely hope that the Minister will confirm this in his response.
Thank you. About 25 years ago, I was a member of the independent Opsahl Commission on the future of Northern Ireland. Through that, I learned a lot about the economic and social problems faced by Northern Ireland and also became acutely aware of how in the rest of Britain these problems, and Northern Ireland ,generally were pretty much ignored other than through the lens of the Troubles. Plus ça change, as the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, already noted.
The noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, quoted from the EU Committee report on UK/Irish relations that the implications of Brexit for Ireland are more profound than they are for any other member state. The report went on to say that the profound issues raised for the island of Ireland are often overlooked on the British side of the Irish Sea. That is why I very much welcome these amendments and believe that there is a role for us to debate them in the context of the Bill. They should not be overlooked by your Lordships’ House. It would be a tragedy if Brexit undermined the Good Friday agreement and the continuing peace process—as many fear it will, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, said earlier.
At Second Reading I spoke about some of the human rights implications of Brexit, which are especially profound for Northern Ireland, as the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission both underlined. I have just had brought to my attention a speech by a member of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission which raises important questions for the Article 50 negotiations. She asked whether human rights and equality could be mainstreamed into European Council guidelines for a withdrawal agreement, pointing out that,
“the EU is founded in its governing Treaties on stated values including equality and human rights”.
She goes on:
“What this could mean in relation to the concrete content of the negotiating guidelines and the withdrawal agreement we don’t know. Questions that have been asked in the European Parliament in relation to the peace process and Brexit have been met with stock answers pending the triggering of Art 50. But it might be important to remember the primordial status of human rights and equality when it comes to questions such as how human rights can be protected for all rights holders in NI, including those holding Irish or dual citizenship under GFA, and what consideration is to be given to provision for cross-border rights in relation to free movement, welfare rights and mobility, etc. Following from Arts 2, 6 and 21, the principles of human rights and equality should be included as core in the negotiating guidelines”.
So this is important for this Bill when we consider it.
She goes on to say that,
“it is vital that the EU-UK withdrawal agreement expressly protects the Good Friday Agreement. The EC treaty itself is a peace agreement which in its origins in the 1957 treaty resolved to ‘strengthen the safeguards of peace’”— as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said so eloquently earlier. She said that,
“it can’t be overstated that the exit agreement to be concluded between the EU and the UK must not now undermine the peace that has been achieved in Northern Ireland with such difficulty, perseverance and commitment on all sides. The GFA is founded on a golden thread of respect for human rights and equality. The EU’s external action is … a binding commitment ‘to preserve peace and prevent conflicts’ and the withdrawal agreement must honour this”.
Those are very important words and I would welcome the Minister’s observations on these crucial points regarding human rights generally, and the Good Friday agreement in particular.
My Lords, I will raise a point that was not raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, but was very much on my mind as someone who was closely involved in the negotiations over Protocol 36, under which the United Kingdom withdrew from a large number of justice and home affairs provisions, and then opted back into the 35 most important ones. This point was raised both at Second Reading, by my noble friend Lord Blair, and in the debate that we had on the new Select Committee’s report on justice and home affairs.
The relevance for the matter that we are discussing today is very real, because those of us who took evidence on that matter know perfectly well that the underpinning of the Belfast agreement, the open border and everything else depends on the strengthening of law enforcement co-operation that has taken place in recent years under EU legislation. The European arrest warrant, the exchange of criminal record information, Europol: this great raft of things underpins, and above all has helped to achieve, the depoliticisation of these law enforcement issues between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
All those bits of EU legislation are now at risk. There is no doubt about that. The Prime Minister herself, who, after all, is well aware of the problems in this area and negotiated very effectively in the case of Protocol 36, knows it extremely well. However, she has said that no deal is better than a bad deal. No deal means that we go over the cliff, as far as all this law enforcement legislation is concerned. I would therefore like to hear from the Minister, when he replies to this amendment—which I am speaking in favour of—just how the Government intend to avoid that situation. They need a better story to tell than they have had hitherto. Frankly, the story has been thin and threadbare so far: it is a statement of assertions, desires and wishes but of absolutely no sense of direction in how to get there. I hope that the Minister will address this issue, along with all the other ones that other noble Lords, and particularly the noble Lord, Lord Hain, raised. It is an important one and there is no plan B in this case. If we go over the cliff there are no WTO trade rules that we can fall back on: there is just nothing.
My Lords, I wish to associate myself with the amendment so ably and eloquently moved by my noble friend Lord Hain. I intend to raise the problems that beset certain industries in Northern Ireland, particularly the largest economic provider in terms of employment and revenue, the agri-food sector. I declare an interest at this point: I served in the 1970s as a Minister in the Callaghan Administration, in particular for agriculture, which experienced enormous problems—problems galore—as a result of the complexities of the common agricultural policy, which affected the north adversely in relation to the south.
One recognises that the Government, at least on paper, are committed to doing their level best to secure the best possible arrangements for a smooth transition to a cross-border solution between the north and south of Ireland during negotiations, and will work closely with the Republic of Ireland in so doing. However, these could be soft words unless meaningful action is taken. No meaningful indications appear to have emerged from the debates in the other place of any positive proposals of a practical nature. I hope that in the course of our endeavours, the Minister in this House will cover some of the positive suggestions that were made in the other place and will give us an indication of how the Government will address some of the problems that will certainly emerge in the weeks and months ahead—indeed, in the next two years. I intend at a later stage to mention one or two of the problems facing the Ulster Farmers Union.
In the White Paper, the Government stated their intention to have,
“as seamless and frictionless a border as possible”,
between Northern Ireland and the Republic, but it is not clear, certainly not to me, that this means anything that we can pin them down to. Once Northern Ireland and the Republic are no longer both members of the European Union, the question is: is a border inevitable? There are concerns among politicians from both the north and the south that the return of a border, even a light customs border, could bring about bad memories of a troubled past. Northern Ireland is distinctly different from Scotland and Wales in that it faces significant challenges from Brexit. The Irish border is a major factor for Northern Ireland, with its high dependence on the Republic. That has to be seen and understood by our negotiators and Northern Ireland needs to be armed with the necessary ammunition to fight its corner during these almost certainly difficult talks that lie ahead.
Although Northern Ireland has an overall high dependence on the EU, recent figures show that, unlike any other country in the UK, over 50% of Northern Ireland’s exports go to EU countries and almost 40% to the Republic in particular. From that it is clear that if barriers were erected, the situation in both the north and the south would be detrimental. Should trade barriers be erected, without question, the agricultural and related industries will suffer.
My Lords, I was coming to that, but may not put it as well as my noble friend did. It is understandable that farmers in the Irish agri-food sector are concerned that their fears will not be heard during these negotiations. Smaller producers especially are clearly worried, and this is where I come to the point that smaller producers and traders—fisheries, dairy farmers and meat producers, for example—cross the border daily to trade. It is of the utmost importance that we work to maintain existing trade connections between the north and the south during the negotiations before we consider withdrawing from the European Union. In both the south and the north, agriculture and the agri-food industries are highly significant to the economy. It is estimated by the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association that the number of jobs in 2010 in the agriculture and agri-food industries was 92,000, including direct employees, farmers and those in the supply chain. The situation, I suspect, has not changed very much since then.
The North/South Ministerial Council in Dublin and the Irish Government have agreed—as, we hope, will the Northern Ireland Executive—that, following the Brexit negotiations, they will work together to ensure that the important north-south co-operative structures are fully protected. Without setting up any new structures to existing frameworks, the current North/South Ministerial Council should continue to be the forum, although it may have to be strengthened in changing circumstances. The overriding aim must surely be that the sharing of information and co-operation between both sides of the divide are protected, as this will prove essential for the smooth running of Brexit.
Having served, as I said, as a Minister in the Callaghan Government, with my primary responsibility that of agriculture, I recognise that there are particular difficulties in so far as at that time the south had a massive advantage over the north. My throat is playing tricks with me, so with those words I merely say that I agree with this amendment and hope that when the Minister replies, he will recognise some of the important issues facing the agricultural industry in Northern Ireland.
My Lords, I will just make a short intervention. It is many years since I was happily debating, hour after hour, the Northern Ireland police Bill, and it is very heartening to see so many Members of your Lordships’ House show such an interest in Northern Ireland matters. As a recently retired member of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, I warmly support the amendment. I know how much concern there is about the effect Brexit will have on both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The foundations of the peace process are built on an open and accessible island of Ireland. It is welcome that the Government are committed to ensuring a frictionless border between the north and south, but they have not said how this might be achieved. Can the Minister enlighten us? We must have more clarity from Ministers on the practical implications of Brexit for the 35,000 people estimated to cross the border every day. Can the Government guarantee freedom of movement on the island of Ireland? I would like to think that they could.
This was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, but your Lordships also need to know that the Police Service of Northern Ireland is on record stating that the security risks posed to police and border control officers are of great concern. Officers are still acting under severe threat, meaning that an attack from dissidents could happen at any time. There have been recent attempts on the lives of officers in north Belfast and Londonderry/Derry. If police officers were to be deployed to customs posts on a fixed border, as the noble Lord said, they would become sitting targets. What extra measures are the Government taking to ensure these concerns are addressed and that the incredibly brave and dedicated officers and staff of the PSNI will be consulted on any future changes to their functions?
My Lords, I hesitate to intervene on Irish matters but no one has spoken to Amendment 30, which is grouped with these amendments, or explained the thinking behind it. It has extraordinary implications for Scotland. It says that it should be a,
“priority in negotiations … for the Prime Minister to seek terms that would not give rise to any external impediment to the ability of the people of the island of Ireland to exercise the right, on the
I assume—contrary to his position—that the noble Lord, Lord Hain, accepts the view that if people vote in a referendum that should be taken as the consent of the people. If so, that suggests—as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, pointed out—that it should be part of the Government’s negotiations to secure the right of Northern Ireland, if it voted in a referendum to become part of a united Ireland, to automatically become part of the European Union. If the Government were to embark upon such a negotiation, I would find it difficult to understand why that would not enable the Scottish nationalists to argue that what was good for the goose was good for the gander, or perhaps it is the other way round. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said that it is completely different because this is part of the United Kingdom joining a state that is a member of the European Union, and not the other way round. I very much doubt if Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond would present it that way.
The main point I want to make is that this is a Bill about firing the starting gun for Article 50. There are many issues, and there is great sympathy in the House for the position of Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister has said, in the clearest possible terms, what the Government’s policy is. Frankly, some of these amendments and speeches do not seem to be prepared to take yes for an answer. The idea that we have to amend the Bill in order to hold the Government’s feet to the fire for their policy on something as important as this is pretty extraordinary. We go back to the fundamental point: the President of the Commission, the leader of the Opposition and the then Prime Minister all wanted to implement Article 50 immediately. The Prime Minister is anxious to get on with the negotiations; these issues will have to be considered. The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, said, “We accept that, but we want to know how you are going to do it”. The very worst thing you can do in any negotiation is announce in advance how are you going to negotiate, because then you are committed to that position and the people on the other side will make it very difficult for you, so I worry about Amendment 30 in particular. It illustrates how foolish it would be to amend this Bill—which is after all starting the process. I have no doubt there will be many happy hours for us to discuss those issues of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in the future, and the implications for Scotland, the EEA and everything else. But I venture to suggest that this is not the Bill in which to do so.
My Lords, I remember that at the time of the negotiations leading up to the agreement in Belfast, the EU was there in the forefront being supportive, and indeed EU finance developed cross-border projects and played a significant part in the process.
I want to make two points. First, whatever we think, we know that the Irish Government are deeply concerned about this issue. We are belittling their concerns if we say, “We don’t need to bother about this amendment because it’ll be all right in the end”. We all know that the previous Taoiseach, the present one and many other people are very concerned. We owe it to them at least to show that we are concerned about the situation.
My key point is that I think it would be right to have the amendment in the Bill if for no other reason than that it would send a signal to Brussels. It is all right saying that the Prime Minister will do her best in the negotiations, but I would have thought that in her position she would be much better off if we had the amendment in the Bill; it would strengthen her resolve and she could say, “The British Parliament is so concerned about it that we have put it on the face of the Bill”. That is why we should move forward with the amendment.
My Lords, I notice that the amendment has been signed by virtually a who’s who of people who have had a high profile in Northern Ireland affairs over many years. For that reason, one has to take seriously what has been put before us. The truth, though, is that today we have really been having a Second Reading debate, not a debate on the amendment. I suppose that in the absence of a Speaker to slap us down, we will probably all be tempted on to that turf.
There are a couple of things I want to say at the outset. I have heard absolutely no one, in any political party or any Government, say that they wish to see a hard border. The closest we came to anyone saying we had to have one was the official to whom the noble Lord, Lord Hain, referred. No one wants it. The British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, which a number of us are associated with, is working to ensure that it does not happen. Both our Governments are working to that effect, and Brussels has openly said it has got the message. With that sort of momentum, I believe we will find means.
I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Hain, to the extent that at this stage I would rule out nothing electronic or technical, or indeed any form of technology. We do not need to paint ourselves into a corner; it all may have a part to play. I am quite sure that it already has a part to play in everyday life, in tracking criminals and so on, so we should not rule out what could be a contributing factor to finding what we all want, which is a solution other than concrete and barbed wire. Why should we rule out one possible solution at the very outset?
The House is greatly adorned by many senior legal figures who have demonstrated their robustness and capability in recent months. I am not a lawyer—I am absolving myself of any responsibility in advance—but we have had two recent cases that I wish to refer to. My fundamental disagreement with the amendment is that it is my belief that we are making a mistake in linking the Belfast agreement with triggering Article 50; they are two totally separate things. That is not just me talking. I refer to the two cases against Brexit that were brought to the Belfast High Court last September, one by a well-known victims campaigner and the other by a group of human rights organisations and Stormont politicians, including the leaders of the SDLP, the Greens and the Alliance and a Sinn Fein former Minister. The premise of each case was that taking Northern Ireland out of the EU would breach the Belfast agreement. The High Court heard both cases together and rejected them on every point.
It is worth a quick run-through of those points to demonstrate how comprehensively the breach has been debunked. The plaintiffs claimed that the constitutional establishment in Northern Ireland was being changed without the population’s permission, contrary to the consent principle underpinning the entire peace process. They said that the nine mentions of the EU in the agreement mean that membership is “inextricably woven” into the law enacting it. However, the High Court in Belfast came to the conclusion that references to the EU in the agreement are “incidental”—the judge’s own word. The Northern Ireland Attorney-General, John Larkin, decided to refer some aspects of this to the Supreme Court because, although he felt there was no link, he wanted to make absolutely certain that there was clarity at the highest possible level.
When the Supreme Court produced its decision in the Miller case—a split decision, although there was a substantial majority—it was unanimous on the issue specific to the Northern Ireland case, and said, without any caveat, “This is not a breach”. That is the highest court in the land. When it came to other treaty issues, such as the treaty between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland that deals with the border poll and issues surrounding that which are obviously linked to this group of amendments, it added that nothing about Northern Ireland’s removal from the EU breached any law, any treaty or any part of the constitution.
We were all horrified when the headline “Enemies of the People” appeared before us some months ago and, when the Gina Miller case came to a conclusion, everyone said that we must respect the views of the court and accept that a decision had been made. Here we have the clearest of clear decisions—that there is no breach of any treaty, of any Act or of the constitution as a result of the decision to leave the European Union, whatever we happen to think of that decision. I therefore contend that the amendment is defective, in that it tries to put on the face of the Bill an agreement that is not relevant, when no offence or violence is being done to the constitution of the United Kingdom.
The noble Lord, Lord Hain, said that one possibility was to devolve immigration powers to Stormont. If we did that, I assure noble Lords that people would need a pass to go from County Antrim to County Down. The last thing we need is to devolve immigration powers to Stormont. Stormont cannot agree a budget; it cannot agree anything at present. Sadly, the place has fallen in on itself again. The idea of giving it an immigration power is fanciful, and would be extremely dangerous.
The concept of special status has been mentioned. That term referred to the special category status of prisoners in the Maze prison—or Long Kesh, as it then was—which led to the hunger strike. “Special status”, certainly to a unionist, means something less than being part of the United Kingdom—and that is exactly what it would be. The fact remains that either we are in the United Kingdom or we are not. When we were trying to design the Belfast agreement—I thank my noble friend Lord Trimble for giving me and the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, the opportunity to be part of the team that negotiated it—we found ways, through that agreement, of resolving these very difficult issues.
The problem with leaving the European Union is not breaches of the Belfast agreement; the political problem is leaving the European Union. It may be what is upsetting a lot of nationalists, and a lot of people in Dublin, but it is not relevant to this Bill. There is something I want to say to Ministers about this—something I have raised with them many times, both privately and in this House. When it comes down to it, we need assurances that there are red lines in the forthcoming negotiations, and one of those red lines must be that there will be no internal border within the United Kingdom.
We have been talking about the border with the Republic, and I totally agree about an open free border. I had the privilege of being the Northern Ireland Minister who started up InterTradeIreland and Tourism Ireland—two of the north/south bodies—and I can say that nobody I have come across wishes to see any border, in terms of a physical construction.
However, Ministers must also be aware that the Prime Minister says that she is a unionist Prime Minister who believes in the union and wants to strengthen it. Therefore, can we have an assurance that there will be no internal border within the United Kingdom, whether it be up the middle of the Irish Sea or at ports and airports? If Ministers are telling us that they want an open border with the Republic, they cannot then turn round and say, “You can have an open border with the Republic but you can’t have an open border within the United Kingdom”.
I understand the real political issues behind this amendment. The concern with regard to nationalism is real. I spent many years involved in various types of negotiations—years and years and more years. We are still negotiating. You cannot be ambiguous on these issues, either there is a United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland or there is not. I believe that our colleagues in the European Union get this. I have absolutely no doubt that they will be helpful because they have invested a lot in this. In the time of Jacques Delors a unique funding system was brought in—the Northern Ireland peace funds. Nobody else ever got that. It is still going in its fourth iteration. We are all most grateful for the help we have received. Brussels has invested a lot in this process as it set an example of an attempt to solve an internal problem within the European Union. Unfortunately, some people have been invited into the European Union before some of their constitutional issues have been sorted out. That was done in breach of regulations, but when the euro came along the regulations were also breached. All I ask of Ministers is to give us an assurance and to be clear. The Bill is not the right place for the Belfast agreement. To contaminate that agreement by linking it exclusively to leaving the European Union does it a disservice. We have a unanimous view that we want to resolve our differences without having any borders. We should allow Ministers the opportunity to get on with this process. At the end of the day, we will have an opportunity to pass judgment on what they do. That is the correct role for this Parliament. However, I ask noble Lords to please bear in mind what the High Court in Belfast and the Supreme Court said. Given those two clear and unambiguous decisions, I believe that the amendment would be misplaced in the Bill.
What a depressing afternoon this is. If we in this legislature were trying to get rid of barriers, borders and frontiers between people, what a good day’s work we would be doing, instead of which we are talking about creating new barriers and frontiers between us and the continent, between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and possibly potentially between England and Scotland. Those are all very depressing thoughts.
One of the advantages of Committee is that we can have a debate. It is possible to respond to what other people have said and, if what they suggest is plainly possible, it is obviously very desirable to take it on board. I thought that my noble friend introduced his Amendment 2, which I strongly support, with a brilliant speech. I agree with every word of it except one very important sentence, to which the noble Lord, Lord Empey, referred in a very powerful speech—namely, it is utterly intolerable and inconceivable that we should have an internal border within the United Kingdom. I regard that as an utterly unacceptable solution. We need two sets of red lines in these negotiations. We must have no borders within the United Kingdom and no border between the Republic of Ireland and the Province of Northern Ireland—between the 26 and the six counties. Those two things should be absolutely immovable desiderata and requirements of the British Government in conducting these negotiations. I hope, and believe, that we would have the understanding of Brussels and the rest of the European Union in insisting on those two points.
I was mystified by one of the things that the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, said and quite shocked by another. I was mystified when he said that freedom of movement in Ireland, called the common travel area—it is exactly the same thing—has been in place since 1923, so it would be nothing new if it was somehow modified or constrained. The Irish Free State came into being only in January 1922 when the treaty was ratified, so there was never a border before then. Clearly we were then part of the same country. If there has never been a border since 1923, on that calculation there has been only one year in the course of the last 800 years of Anglo-Irish history in which there has been any restriction on freedom of movement within Ireland. That being the case—I believe it to be the case—it would be profoundly shocking and would have a traumatic effect if we suddenly started to introduce one now. What a very sad thing to do after the last 20 years. The thing that shocked me, though, was when the noble Lord appeared to say that if the Irish Republic was observing its own interests, it should leave the European Union. I remind him that the people of the six counties voted very substantially to remain in the European Union only a few months ago. Surely, in all courtesy, we should leave it to the people of the 26 counties to make their own decision on that matter and not lecture them from the British Parliament—a habit which I am afraid has become too bad a habit over too many centuries.
The matter we are discussing is particularly important because during the Bill’s passage we will debate other matters such as the single market. We have already had a go at that and will come back to it. If we make a big mistake in that regard—we know that we may well make some very big mistakes—we shall be the major sufferers. But in this matter we shall not be the major or the only sufferers; the equal or the substantial sufferers—certainly the equal, perhaps the greater sufferers—will be the people of the island of Ireland. Therefore, we should be particularly concerned to get matters right.
Some people, including probably the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, will not like what I am about to say. However, I remind the House that this country’s and Great Britain’s relations with Ireland over the last 800 years have been just about as hideous as relations between neighbours could ever get. Right from the 12th century, the Anglo-Norman invaders imposed on the Irish exploitation and a form of apartheid-type discrimination. In the Reformation that was followed by persecutions of a different kind. We had the massacres under Queen Elizabeth. We had the massacres under Oliver Cromwell of every man, woman and child in the cities of Drogheda and Wexford.
I knew that some noble Lords on the other side would not like this but they are going to hear it. We had the heartless expropriations of Catholic property by Oliver Cromwell, and again in the 18th century, contrary to the Treaty of Limerick. We had a series of broken promises—four major historic broken promises—the Treaty of Limerick itself, the promise made to Grattan’s Parliament in 1782, the promise made by Pitt in 1800 to introduce Catholic emancipation and the promise made by Asquith to bring in, live up to and carry out the third home rule Bill. All those promises were broken.
Even at that point the British Government did not get it. We did not get the Easter rebellion. We tried to impose conscription on Ireland. Even when Sinn Fein won every seat in the November 1918 elections except, I think, for two in the 26 counties, we still did not get it and, within two months, we had the Anglo-Irish war. We know what happened to that. After the treaty, we neglected Irish matters in this House. We allowed Stormont to get away with an absolutely scandalous programme of deliberate job and housing discrimination—job discrimination even explicitly encouraged by a unionist Prime Minister by the way—and other breaches of civil rights, and, of course we did not get it. We did not intervene after the attack on the civil rights march by Paisley’s thugs at Burntollet bridge. We then had the appalling violence and terrorism by the IRA.
In the last 20 years we have had the brightest moment in Anglo-Irish history that we have had in 800 years, starting with the Belfast agreement. It may have been prepared before the Belfast agreement in the great co-operation that took place between our two countries after we both joined the European Union. I remember Garret FitzGerald, a very great Taoiseach, saying to me once over lunch that that had transformed the position of the Irish and the British. After 800 years in which we had been the patronising imperialists and the Irish had been the petitioners, we were equals, involved in the same programme and the same agenda in the European Union, or the European Community, as it was originally, and we needed each other’s support and votes to get our business done. That was the basis on which a new relationship was created. That has been a great asset and great achievement of the last generation. It is now at risk if we gratuitously decide to impose a border upon the beautiful country and proud people of Ireland. It does not matter whether the border is a mechanical border, a human border, an electronic border, an analogue border or a digital border, it is a border, a frontier. That is the important psychological fact and we cannot get away from it. There is no way you can get away from it. It is completely and utterly out of the question. The Government are quite good at saying that we had the discussion on the previous set of amendments about them dismissing the idea of our remaining in the single market through being a member of the EEA. Why do the Government not—as they should—dismiss the idea altogether of being a party to the end of freedom of movement in the island of Ireland, let alone, of course, within the United Kingdom itself?
My Lords, we should remember Sir John Major and Albert Reynolds and the fact that my noble friend Lord Trimble shared the Nobel prize with John Hume for what they did to create the foundation for a peaceful settlement. No one in this Chamber needs a lecture from my friend the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, and a rehearsal of Irish history—a very poor rehearsal as my noble friend Lord Trimble interjects.
The noble Lord certainly left out Henry VIII and many other things. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, put the thing beautifully in context and gave a very remarkable speech. We should all be grateful to my friend the noble Lord, Lord Hain, for introducing the amendment in the way that he did but I hope he will not push it to a vote. I say that with great respect. He knows I mean that because I had many dealings with him when he was Secretary of State and I had the honour to be the chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in another place. I had members of seven parties on my committee and we remained unanimous throughout, even though we looked at issues such as organised crime, prisons and many others. He knows how closely we worked together as a committee.
What we need today—and I hope we will get it—is an assurance from my noble friend the Minister that the Government truly recognise the importance of the points that have been raised. They recognise that Northern Ireland is not only in many ways the most beautiful part of the United Kingdom but also the most vulnerable. We are not going to strengthen this procedural Bill by hanging this amendment on it. There may well be a time when we return in the context of the negotiations that will follow. There may well be amendments later in this Bill that I will feel I need to support to ask colleagues in the other place to think again, but this is not one of them and I very much hope that my friend the noble Lord, Lord Hain, will withdraw his amendment at the end of the debate.
My Lords, I actually live in Northern Ireland and have lived there for the past nearly 50 years; I have experienced the Troubles personally, having lost a child in a bomb explosion, and having nearly lost a son to a sectarian attack. Article 50 is about taking the United Kingdom out of the European Union—it is not about the Good Friday agreement; it is not about the security of Northern Ireland. To attempt to introduce it in this haphazard and hasty way—with great respect to noble Lords—does not serve the interests of the country. The interests of the security and the economy of the United Kingdom and the security and the economy of the Irish Republic will be best served if these things are dealt with in the course of negotiations, with complete flexibility. We should not, in any way, attempt to fetter the discretion of the Prime Minister. This is not an amendment that would benefit the United Kingdom or any part of it.
My Lords, on behalf of these Benches I shall speak very briefly in favour of Amendment 2. As has been said by other noble Lords, the people of Northern Ireland voted to remain in the European Union and there has been a commitment by all to no return to a hard border. The years of hard-earned peace have become an example to the rest of the world and we should acknowledge that this process has in no small part been aided by UK and Irish membership of the European Union and the equality of status that this has granted at European Council and Council of Ministers meetings. However, when the Government announced their intention to remove the UK from the customs union, the Northern Irish border with Ireland would de facto become the EU’s external border. Under EU law, a bilateral customs union between Ireland and the United Kingdom is not permissible for Ireland as an EU member state unless special status is granted by the EU. The people of Northern Ireland deserve clarity on how this will work in practice before Article 50 is triggered.
I welcome that President Juncker said last week that the EU does not want a hard border. He said,
“we want land borders being as open as possible”.
There has been concern that there is a lack of awareness in Brussels about the complexities involved in maintaining the Good Friday agreement post Brexit. My greater concern, however, is that there is a lack of awareness of these complexities among many British politicians, most particularly among the hard-line Brexiteers, who all too frequently have a very English focus. There are so many unanswered questions on how all this will work in practice. As the noble Lord, Lord Hain, said, there are 200 crossing points on the border, with 177,000 lorries and 1.85 million cars crossing per month. Since the Good Friday agreement, there are increased shared public services, with school and hospital provision frequently being based on the nearest available services irrespective of the border.
There are unanswered questions, too, about the freedom of movement of people within the EU. How will the promised frictionless Northern Irish border work with the promised curb on the freedom of movement of EU nationals announced in the Daily Telegraph today?
Visiting friends in Northern Ireland last month, I was struck by people’s very real concerns about the future and maintaining the progress made through the Good Friday agreement after Brexit. At the very least, the Government need to give much greater clarity on exactly how they propose to maintain a genuinely open border before they trigger Article 50. The people of Northern Ireland deserve no less.
My Lords, I want to comment briefly on one or two points. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Davies, in his historical analysis of Ireland forgot the Battle of the Boyne. I am amazed. Secondly, he forgot the fact that there used to be no Irish living in Ireland. They invaded the island. The Scotti lived on the island originally. The Irish invaded our island and drove the Scotti out, and they went 20 miles away to a country now called Scotland. That is where it gets its name from—the Scotti who were driven out of the island of Scotia. When the Irish invaded, they changed it to Hibernia. Read Magnus Magnusson’s book on the history of Ireland.
I am the one Member here who lives near the border and I do not want to see a hard border. I want to see the common travel area preserved. I speak as one who was a very active European. I was chairman of the European Youth Campaign in Northern Ireland. I campaigned strongly in the EEC referendum. I then became an MEP for 10 years and, after that, I spent seven years in the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly. Likewise, living near the border, I was very keen on north-south relations at a time when the Dublin Government refused to even recognise that Northern Ireland existed.
When I became chairman of the Young Unionist Council—in the middle of the last century—I said we would meet people in Dublin to see if we could start improving relations. We arranged to have a meeting in Dublin with the central branch of Fine Gael. The Ulster Unionist Party went crackers. They said I would get expelled. We should not do it. How can you talk to somebody who does not even recognise that you exist? We went to Dublin and had our meeting. I looked at the Irish Times three weeks later and what did I see? “Party branch expelled”. I thought, “My goodness”, but it was the central branch of Fine Gael that had been expelled for meeting the unionists. That is life in Ireland.
I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, who was quite right to say that the southern Irish are petrified about the impact of Brexit. I see it every day where I live. Thousands of people now come every day from the Republic to Northern Ireland for the obvious reason. The depreciation of the pound sterling means that the ladies all come up to our border towns to do their weekly shop. Our border towns are now—“exploding” is the wrong word to use—absolutely thriving, and people along the border who think about the economics say what a great thing Brexit is. However, it is worse for the Republic of Ireland. The largest number of its tourists come from England and, because of the 15% depreciation, tourism is now going into decline.
A second point is that meat cannot be exported from the Republic to Britain because, again, meat prices are down by 15%. Farmers are now demonstrating outside supermarkets in the Republic because of the collapse in the prices. Furthermore, mushroom plants are closing down. Hundreds of people have already lost their jobs for the same reason: they cannot export mushrooms.
Of course, a special status is required for someone but not for Northern Ireland. It is offensive to suggest that it should have a special status. It is the Republic that needs it. We must keep the common travel area there, and we must get Brussels to recognise, as the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland has stated, that the Republic will be more seriously damaged than any other nation in the European Union. It will suffer badly. It is suffering already, but what will it be like in two and a half years’ time when the United Kingdom leaves the European Union? The Republic of Ireland needs special status and we should support it in its attempts to get that in Brussels. As one who lives on the border, I say: keep the common travel area.
I was involved in the negotiations on the Belfast agreement and I have an original copy of it here. There is not one mention of the European Union in any of the four articles at the end of the agreement. Of course, human rights are mentioned but that is in relation to the Council of Europe; it has nothing to do with the European Union. I will oppose the amendment.
My Lords, this has been a fascinating debate lasting almost two hours. I am making a guest appearance at this Dispatch Box as the Minister for Political Development who partly chaired the peace process 20 years ago. When I look around this Chamber—I cannot look behind me but they are there—I see a large number of noble Lords who took part in the talks on that agreement.
I do not accept that the amendments in my name are intended to frustrate in any way the passage of the Bill. Because I am sure that the Minister will give us proper undertakings, it is unlikely that I will move them. However, I think that noble Lords would agree that the quality of the debate and the number of people who have spoken indicate the importance of the subject. I do not think that there has been anything more important in my political lifetime than the Northern Ireland peace process, and the second most significant process is what we are debating today: Brexit—and I say that as a remainer. The interrelationship between the two is extremely important. I see today’s debate as a starter—a reminder to the Government that they have to address huge issues with regard to Northern Ireland and Ireland, and in the few minutes available to me I would like to touch on them.
In the debate in the other place some weeks ago, there was a speech by Owen Paterson, whom I regarded as a very committed Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, but I disagreed with him on the following. He said that he wanted to correct the narrative that the European Union played a key role in the Northern Ireland peace process. When I was appointed as the talks Minister, I was also appointed Minister for Europe. That is no coincidence, because Europe played a huge and significant role in the peace process. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, that strands 1, 2 and 3 of the Northern Ireland talks referred to aspects of our membership of the European Union.
I will now comment on the remarks of my noble friend Lord Empey. He said, quite rightly, that it is not the legalities of this issue that matter but what produced the agreement, and it was the politics and the international treaty between the two countries that did that. There was a will on the part of the two countries and, above all, a commitment by all the political parties in Northern Ireland to come to the Good Friday agreement. It was our joint membership of the European Union, as opposed to any legalities or technicalities, that meant that Ministers from both countries were able to meet: the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister, Ministers at Council of Europe meetings, and Members of Parliament through the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly or its equivalent in those days. I remember taking the entire Northern Ireland Assembly to Brussels at the invitation of the European Union so that Members could see how important Europe was to the future of Northern Ireland. The excellent report produced by the House’s European Union Committee on British-Irish relations post Brexit says that joint membership has been a “vital ingredient” in those relations. Of course it has.
Money was important, too. Northern Ireland had Objective 1 status, and that was significant to the people of Northern Ireland. As noble Lords have said, there was also the peace money, which was unique in the whole of Europe. Money was designated by the European Union to help the process of making peace in Northern Ireland. However, it was not simply the money itself; it was how the money was distributed. I remember, as Secretary of State, going around Northern Ireland and talking to the groups which received the money from Europe and had to spend it between them. Unionists, nationalists, Catholics and Protestants met to distribute the money—and that in itself broke down barriers in Northern Ireland.
My noble friend Lord Hain made a very powerful speech. There is no question that over the last 20 years the border has diminished visibly and psychologically. I believe that the lack of a hard border allowed nationalists in Northern Ireland to develop a sense of common identity with their fellow European Union citizens across the border. In the same way, I vividly remember the meetings at Stormont House when there was a reluctance on the part of the unionist parties to accept devolution in Northern Ireland—that is, Strand 1. However, as soon as we had in Great Britain as a whole a Parliament in Scotland, an Assembly in Wales and an Assembly in Northern Ireland, it meant that it was easier for the unionist community in Northern Ireland to accept it. We had to make these compromises.
I am reminded, too, by my noble friend Lord Rooker of the milk travelling from Northern Ireland to the Baileys plant. I remember it vividly because I opened the plant many years ago—although I never appreciated the international nature of the milk. Of course, if you think about it, that applies not just to the milk but to the sheep, the cows and the whole of the agricultural industry, which straddles the border and has no match anywhere in the rest of the European Union.
So the issue of the border is hugely significant, and I know that the Government take it seriously. It is an issue that cannot be allowed to drift—it has to be top of the agenda. The brightest minds in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Dublin and in the Northern Ireland Office in Whitehall, not to mention the officials in Brussels, should be engaged in dealing with this very tricky issue.
Amendment 30 stands in my name, although I have no intention of moving it. It concerns what would happen if there were a united Ireland. Incidentally, I am not in any way advocating a united Ireland and I am not not advocating it, either—that shows my neutrality—but what if there were? The principle of consent is so important to the Good Friday agreement, so what if that were to happen in years to come? The Irish Government will undoubtedly raise this issue, so the British Government need to be prepared to react to it. What happens if there is a vote for a united Ireland and Northern Ireland goes into Ireland? What happens to its membership of the European Union? It is not a huge issue, and it is certainly not going to happen for a very long time if it happens at all, but it is an issue.
Noble Lords will also understand, of course, that Northern Ireland’s citizens can, if they so wish, post Brexit, become citizens of the European Union by becoming citizens of the Irish Republic. That is an issue which should be raised—and all this is against the backcloth of an election on Thursday to establish a new Executive and at least three weeks of negotiations—and I am convinced that the issues that have been touched upon in this House will be dealt with there. We should remind ourselves that the people of Northern Ireland voted to stay in the European Union. The people of Northern Ireland voted to accept the Good Friday agreement. The people of the Republic voted for that, too, but the people of the United Kingdom voted to come out of the European Union. This is a tough task and I wish the Government well in it.
My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, to the Front Bench. He played a hugely important role in negotiating the Belfast agreement and he brings huge authority to this debate. I also thank all those who have taken part in the debate on this group of very important amendments relating to Northern Ireland. All the contributions have been thoughtful, sincere and passionate. I pay tribute to the work of the EU Committee and, in particular, its report on Northern Ireland, which has been mentioned by a number of noble Lords. The whole House is very conscious of the political situation in Northern Ireland and the need to provide support to the parties there, with Assembly elections this Thursday and the aim of re-establishing strong and stable devolved government. I am sure that we are all united in this place in our sense of duty to the people of Northern Ireland who support the devolved institutions and want to see the forward momentum of the peace process maintained.
The people of Northern Ireland have seen the benefits that flow from the peace process: a reduction in violence, although it is still far too prevalent; economic and social progress; and the gradual normalisation of everyday life. Around this Chamber, on each side and in every part, are noble Lords who have made significant contributions to the peace process and to the progress Northern Ireland has experienced over the last 20 years or so. I have said many times from this Dispatch Box that we have enjoyed the longest unbroken period of devolved government in Northern Ireland for 45 years, a period that started in 2006 on the watch as Northern Ireland Secretary of the Noble Lord, Lord Hain, who opened this debate. In our House and in the other place support for establishing, re-establishing and then maintaining the devolved institutions has been a bipartisan effort. The Government recognise and are grateful for the level of bipartisan support that the parties opposite continue to provide. It is for the Northern Ireland parties to work together to form a functioning Executive, and we all have a role in supporting those efforts. Everyone in this House wants and is working for the same outcome.
The Government are very conscious that as we negotiate the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU and secure our position as an open, successful trading nation we need to make certain that the unique interests of Northern Ireland are protected and advanced. There can be no doubt about the priority the Government attach to the interests of Northern Ireland and, as the noble Lord, Lord Lester, noted, to providing strong reassurance to the people of Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech and the White Paper set out the 12 principles that will guide our approach to the negotiations. Two of these refer explicitly to the needs of Northern Ireland. The first makes clear that the Government remain fully committed to the Belfast agreement and its successors as part of securing a deal that works for all parts of the United Kingdom and strengthens the union. The second highlights the importance of protecting our strong and historic ties with Ireland and maintaining the common travel area. Nobody wants to see a return to the borders of the past. The border is clearly a vital economic and trade issue. We recognise that the Northern Ireland economy is deeply integrated with that of Ireland, as well as with that of the rest of the United Kingdom. The issue of milk has been raised very vividly on a number of occasions so I will not repeat what was said.
However, this is more than just an economic issue. It is a social and psychological issue as well. For example, it is about families who use hospital services or are signed on with a GP across the border, or about the coaches of Northern Irish rugby supporters travelling to Dublin to watch Ireland play in the Six Nations. It is about the ease of everyday living and how you feel about the place in which you live. The open border for people and businesses has served us well and none of us wants to see the border issue become a renewed source of tension or division between different parts of the community in Northern Ireland. We want to ensure that goods and people can still move freely across the border and the Prime Minister has been crystal clear that the Government want trade across the Irish and Northern Ireland border to remain as frictionless as possible.
Of course, I recognise that this raises practical issues of the sort that the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, and others raised at Second Reading about what specific solutions might be put in place to achieve our desired outcomes. Such questions have been raised again today. As we have said before, and as the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, expressed so succinctly and eloquently, this is a straightforward Bill that gives the Prime Minister the power to start the process of withdrawal; it does not concern the wider negotiating process that will follow or the Bills that will come before this House and the other place on such matters as immigration and customs to give effect to what is agreed. To address the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, we will look to negotiate the best possible deal to secure practical cross-border co-operation on matters of justice and security. However, we start from a position of shared interests and common ground. The relationship between the United Kingdom and Ireland has never been closer or stronger than it is today.
There is a very strong joint commitment from the Irish Government, the Northern Ireland Executive and the UK Government to find a practical solution that recognises the unique circumstances on the land border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and all the social, political and economic implications that flow from them. I believe that the EU will be sensitive to the specific challenges around the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Only last week the President of the European Commission, following a meeting with the Taoiseach, said:
“During the BREXIT negotiations, the EU and Ireland must look to minimise the impact. We don’t want hard borders between Northern Ireland and Ireland”.
I also welcome Guy Verhofstadt’s comments about prioritising,
“the specific needs of Ireland and Northern Ireland”,
and Michel Barnier’s remarks about doing the,
“utmost to uphold the success of the Good Friday Agreement”.
This reflects, I think, an acute appreciation in Brussels and in other European capitals of the important role the European Union has played in helping to ensure and preserve peace in Northern Ireland, a point touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice. I hope that this will continue.
Before I turn specifically to the amendments I want to address a point raised by both the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, on the even-handedness with which the UK Government deal with the political parties in Northern Ireland. Let me be very clear: the Government recognise the importance of establishing good working relationships with political leaders representing both unionist and nationalist traditions. We have always said that we govern in the interests of the whole community in Northern Ireland. In recent years, two very significant cross-party agreements—Stormont House and Fresh Start—have been reached, which demonstrates our ability to work effectively across the community with the major parties in Northern Ireland.
I turn now to the three amendments. Amendment 2 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, would include in the Bill an undertaking by the Prime Minister to support the maintenance of the open border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. No such undertaking is necessary in the Bill, as my noble friends Lord Trimble and Lord Howell have made clear, particularly in light of the strong assurances that I have given and our desire to keep this Bill clean and simple.
The Government’s intentions on this matter are already clear and there is no fundamental difference between us on the outcome that we seek. Maintaining the common travel area and protecting the high level of operational co-operation that underpins it will be an important priority for the UK in the talks ahead. As has already been pointed out, there has been a common travel area between the United Kingdom and Ireland for many years. Indeed, it was formed before either of our two countries were members of the European Union and reflects the historical, social and economic ties between its members.
Similarly, we recognise that Ireland is by far Northern Ireland’s biggest trading partner with goods exported worth £2.1 billion and imports of £1.6 billion in 2015. This underlines the strong mutual self-interest that exists. We will work closely with the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive to find practical solutions to keep cross-border trade as seamless and frictionless as possible.
In finding solutions to the land border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, my noble friend Lord Empey sought reassurance that we will not create an internal border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. I can give my noble friend firm assurance that this Government are clear that we must do nothing that makes any citizens of our country feel strangers in that country. Our guiding principle as we leave the EU will be that no new barriers to living and doing business within our own union are created.
Amendment 10 would exempt provisions derived from the Belfast agreement. The Government’s commitment to the Belfast agreement and the three-stranded approach—which makes clear that the government of Northern Ireland will be determined by consent—is rock solid, including the principles that recognise the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose. The United Kingdom’s departure from the EU will not change that. The institutions, including the North/South Ministerial Council and the six implementation bodies, remain intact. So while the Government do not disagree with the core sentiment lying behind this amendment—namely, unwavering support for the Belfast agreement—there is no need to legislate for it.
Amendment 30 would make it a priority for the Article 50 negotiations not to impede the ability of people on the island of Ireland to exercise the right to bring about a united Ireland and to be treated as a European Union member state. The Belfast agreement makes it clear that the constitutional position of Northern Ireland will be determined by consent. While this Government fully support the union and Northern Ireland’s place within it, Northern Ireland’s constitutional future will always be for the people of Northern Ireland to decide. We will always back the democratic wishes of the people. The majority of people in Northern Ireland continue to support the current political settlement, so the requirements in the Belfast agreement for a border poll are therefore not met.
If a majority of the people of Northern Ireland vote at some point in the future to become part of a united Ireland, the UK Government will honour their commitment in the Belfast agreement to enable that to happen. The amendment is therefore unnecessary and also not appropriate for a short and simple Bill that is designed to initiate the process of withdrawal, not the wider negotiating process that follows.
We must now work closely together to ensure that as the United Kingdom leaves the EU we find shared solutions to the challenges and maximise the opportunities for the United Kingdom and Ireland. We want to build on all the progress that has been made on the island of Ireland, not set it back. The outcome of the referendum will do nothing to undermine the absolute commitment of the United Kingdom Government to the settlement in the Belfast agreement.
As this debate has shown, there are clearly a number of crucial matters for the upcoming negotiation, which are recognised in the Government’s White Paper. But I ask that noble Lords accept the will of the people and the decision of the other place and pass this Bill unamended so that the Government can make a start on these important negotiations.
My Lords, I think that brevity is called for so I will briefly respond to clarify the point made by my noble friend Lord Empey. I did not advocate the devolution of immigration to Northern Ireland; I simply quoted from your Lordships’ European Union Committee, which said that that might be one of the issues on the table. The paradox I see is that everyone is actually agreeing with me, or so they say, except that as the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, pointed out, the harder the Brexit, the harder the border. I hope that the Minister, who responded very ably and encouragingly, will bear that in mind. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, there is no plan B for the border in that respect. The trouble is that if we get this wrong—and it is enormously complex, as all noble Lords have understood—for the United Kingdom it might be perilous, but for Northern Ireland it could be politically lethal. That is the problem. In light of the Minister’s firm assurances and undertakings, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 2 withdrawn.
Moved by Lord Newby
3: Clause 1, page 1, line 3, at end insert—“( ) No agreement with the European Union consequent on the use of the power under subsection (1) may be ratified unless—(a) it has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament;(b) the Prime Minister has obtained authority to put it to a national referendum; and(c) it has been approved by such a referendum.”
My Lords, this simple amendment would require the people to ratify in a referendum any agreement reached by the Government pursuant to triggering Article 50, and I thank my co-signatories from across the House who support it.
I set out the arguments for such a confirmatory referendum in my Second Reading speech. Fundamentally, we believe that the people, having initiated the Brexit process, should have the final say. It is clear that the Government’s preferred option is that they should have the final say. Under pressure, and no doubt as a result of votes that we shall have in your Lordships’ House, they will be dragged slowly but inexorably towards giving Parliament a final say on all the options. However, while that is better than the Government simply taking the final decision themselves, it simply will not do.
As we saw with Parliament’s votes in advance of last year’s referendum, the Government’s track record in judging the public mood on this issue is poor. While as a general principle it is accepted that parliamentarians should exercise their own judgment and not simply echo that of public opinion on this issue, Parliament has already said that our membership of the European Union is for the people to decide. Trying to take back power at the end of the process having ceded it at the outset is both devoid of principle and likely to stoke further public dissatisfaction, whichever way the decision goes.
Secondly, and flowing from this, is the fact that in contradistinction to what the Prime Minister asserted in the White Paper, the country is more divided than ever over Brexit. That is largely because those who were in favour of remaining in the EU were relatively passionless in advance of the referendum because they complacently thought that they would win it. They were wrong, of course. Now many of them are angry about the issue for the first time. No small part of that anger is caused by the fact that they believe that many people were decisively influenced in the way that they voted by what they see as a number of misrepresentations, most notably on NHS spending, which were assiduously asserted by the leave side, including of course a number of members of the current Cabinet. They are also angry that, by leaving the single market and customs union, the Government have chosen a particularly harsh form of Brexit. As a result, they believe that the people should have a vote on the final deal, when it will be impossible to conceal the real consequences of leaving the EU—as happened last summer.
At Second Reading, the Minister asked me why such a vote would help to bring the country together. The answer is that such a vote, conducted in the full light of the facts of the deal, would produce a result that could not be questioned, in the same way as last June’s vote, on the basis that the people were misled. I believe that that would apply to the losing side as well as to the victors. At Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Butler, asked why,
“those who base their arguments for Brexit on ?the will of the people are now opposed to consulting the people on the outcome of the negotiations”.
As he said:
“Do the Government regard the views of the British people on the outcome of the negotiations as irrelevant to our departure?”.—[Official Report, 21/2/17; col. 208.]
In reply, the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, said that the Government opposed a referendum on the terms on the grounds that it would dash the certainty and clarity that we need. I agree that we need that too, but nothing would give greater certainty and clarity than the people having expressed the final view on the deal. The Government’s attitude is that if the views of the people were to change significantly against Brexit over the next 18 months, the Government would still ask Parliament to ratify any deal it reached, or simply crash out of the EU. How could that be justified? They are saying in effect that the people are not allowed to change their mind—an approach that is the antithesis of democracy, which is that the people are regularly asked to express their preferences and do indeed regularly change them. This is from a Government with many members who have very publicly changed their minds from being convinced remainers to being cheerleaders for Brexit.
My Lords, the noble Lord may be coming to this in his speech, but the first requirement of his amendment is that any agreement must be,
“laid before and approved by”,
My Lords, we will spend a lot more time on Wednesday discussing the role of Parliament. The point I make in my amendment is that Parliament will want to express a view before the vote goes to the people again. We will talk in great detail on Wednesday about how it might do that. That part of the amendment is not its most central part.
Some have argued that if Parliament rejected the Government’s Brexit deal, the will of the people could be tested in a general election. I think that that would be extremely unsatisfactory. We all know that general elections are about many things. For example, any election called by the present Prime Minister with the same leader of the Opposition would not be simply or even primarily about Brexit, but be about who was best fitted to lead the country. We all know the answer to that. If the people are to be consulted, therefore, it must be through another referendum—and the people should certainly be consulted.
The noble Lord was talking about people changing their minds. Given that he campaigned for a real referendum in 2008—in or out of the EU—could he tell us when he then changed his mind to decide that we should not accept the judgment of this last referendum?
My Lords, I am arguing in favour of the principle that, when events change, people change their minds. I do not consider that to be a dishonourable practice. When I look at the Government Front Bench in either this House or another place, I see person after person who apparently had a miraculous change of mind either just before or just after the referendum; I accept that that is sometimes what people do. The noble Lord possibly has never changed his mind, but most people in your Lordships’ House have a greater flexibility of approach, which is to be welcomed. I beg to move.
My Lords, although I oppose this amendment, I can imagine two circumstances in which a second referendum might be justifiable. The first would be after we had actually completed the negotiations, left the EU and then people decided they wanted another referendum. That would seem perfectly justifiable.
The second situation where a second referendum would be well justified would be if the original referendum question had been framed in such a way as to say, “Do you wish the Government to enter into negotiations about leaving the EU, and then to put the result of that referendum to a second referendum later on?”. However, that was not the question on the ballot paper. As we have heard endlessly, the question was whether to remain or leave; it was quite unambiguous. It seems that we are slipping into the habits that the EU itself has with referenda. Mr Juncker on one occasion famously said, “If the people vote the wrong way, we must go on voting until we get the right answer”. I suspect that that is the real motivation behind the amendment. We saw this in the EU with the referendum on Maastricht. After the Danes said no, they had to vote again. We saw it with the treaty of Nice: when Ireland said no, we had to have another vote and that reversed the first one. We saw it most blatantly of all with the European constitution, as proposed, which was rejected in recommendations by both France and Holland. In order to avoid a referendum, that was then translated by a device into the Lisbon treaty. We absolutely should not go down that road.
I think that the question of whether they want us back is a very real one. I wanted to come to that very point. At Second Reading I quoted the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, as having said that he was firmly opposed to a second referendum. He is shaking his head; if he wants to correct me I will gladly be corrected, although I have three other press reports of where he said a second referendum was not desirable and should not take place: one in the Times on
I am content to be misquoted by the noble Lord and I am content to be able to intervene, not least because my words have been used in the past. I shall make an intervention later in which I shall clarify the position.
We look forward to that clarification. If we wanted to, we could quote many other Liberals, not least Mr Vince Cable, who I am sorry is not in this House. He made it clear that he thought that there should be no second referendum:
“The public have voted and I do think it’s seriously disrespectful and politically utterly counterproductive to say: ‘Sorry guys, you’ve got it wrong, we’re going to try again’, I don’t think we can do that”.
My noble friend Lord Cormack made the point that there is also the assumption that the EU definitely wants us to remain in. There is also the assumption behind the amendment that Article 50 is reversible. As I understand the position, this is legally an open question. The Supreme Court did not opine on it because the two parties to the case, Mrs Miller and the Government, agreed that they would not argue about the issue in front of the court, so it did not take a view. I understand that lawyers are divided on the matter, but it is by no means clear that Article 50, once it has been invoked, is reversible.
Regardless of what the legal argument is, politically it seems difficult to believe that Article 50 could be reversed. Would the EU really want to negotiate with a country that is saying, “Well, we will get some terms from you which we will put back to the people, and then we may come back and ask for a better set of terms if they are not satisfactory”? If my noble friend Lord Cormack and I are wrong about this and the EU definitely and 100% wants us to remain in, it will give us the worst possible bargain, knowing that it has to be endorsed by both Parliament and a referendum. The amendment that has been proposed seems to be opportunistic and it does not have any logic to it at all.
My Lords, “the will of the people” is a phrase much bandied around in the wake of the referendum and it has taken on a totemic significance. Anyone who suggests that the country should not now blindly leap off the cliff into the unknown that is hard Brexit risks being accused of trying to defy the will of the people. When the Supreme Court judges examined the Government’s plans to ride roughshod over the principle of the sovereignty of Parliament, they met with a disgraceful headline labelling them “Enemies of the people”. Their determination to stand up for the rule of law rather than the rule of the mob was seen as defying the will of the people.
I do not wish to defy the will of the people. Amendment 3, introduced so persuasively by the noble Lord, Lord Newby, proposes the opposite of defying the will of the people. It is about upholding democracy, not denying it. It simply proposes that once the terms of our withdrawal from the EU are clear, the public should be given the final say on whether to accept them. As I said at Second Reading, I cannot understand why even the most devoted Brexiteers would not wish to give the public the final say on the terms of such a momentous decision unless they feared that the terms might not be acceptable.
The process would demand simply that Parliament should approve the terms by a resolution of both Houses. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, it would be the vote of the Commons that was decisive; we know our place in this Chamber. If there is no deal, however, and the Government simply decide to withdraw from the EU, this too should be the subject of a resolution of both Houses. I will support a later amendment that calls for that procedure. I believe it to be absolutely crucial that, if the Government think that they have secured a good deal for this country, that deal should be put to the public in a referendum.
We are a proudly democratic country. We hold elections and we abide by the results even if the majority is wafer thin. The party with the largest number of MPs gets to govern. But the difference between a general election and the referendum is that a few years down the line the country has a chance to change its mind and to think again. People judge the efforts of those whom they have elected and, if they are not satisfied, they throw them out. A Parliament is not for life. However, when the country is now embarking on one of the most momentous decisions ever, a decision that will affect our children and our children’s children, there seems to be a perverse determination to insist that the people have made their bed and that, no matter how uncomfortable it may be, they are jolly well going to lie in it in perpetuity.
While we are on the subject of being uncomfortable, is my noble friend comfortable with the many press reports following the referendum of her saying that she would use her position in the House of Lords to prevent and reverse the decision taken by the people? Is she comfortable with the idea of unelected Members of this House using procedure to try to frustrate the result of the referendum?
My Lords, I have just said that I have no intention of defying the will of the people; I am giving the people a chance to exercise their will, which some noble Lords may not wish to do. I do not believe that we should not give the people the final say.
When a majority of those voting voted to leave the EU, they had different visions of what that would entail. In answer to my noble friend Lord Lamont, I do not think that the original referendum was, with the benefit of hindsight, drafted as well as it might have been, because I think that people were voting for different things. Some might have favoured an arrangement that continued to give us strong trading links with Europe while others might have voted with a view that we could remain very close to the single market. Some might have hoped that our students would be able to continue their education throughout Europe while others, particularly those in the financial services sector, would almost certainly have been hoping that what they were voting for was an arrangement that would allow their products to be passported into Europe so that they could continue doing business as they do now. That looks increasingly unlikely to happen, with dire consequences for our Exchequer. The one thing on which most voters would surely have agreed is, as others have suggested in this debate, that they were not voting to get poorer.
The most logical solution is that, once the terms of departure are clear, the public should be able to weigh them up and decide whether they want them. Do those who oppose such a suggestion not believe that the British electorate are capable of examining a deal and judging it on its merits? To take that view certainly would be to show contempt for the electorate and I do not. I am not a fan of government by referenda, but nevertheless once one has embarked on that route, it seems that only a referendum can complete the process. This is about listening to the will of the people, not defying it.
My Lords, I had not intended to speak but I need to, because so far no one has addressed the specific terms of the amendment that is before the Committee. There is no element of sarcasm in this when I say that that is uncharacteristic of the noble Lord, Lord Newby. I asked him a specific question about his amendment. Also uncharacteristically, the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, has made a speech that is not based on the terms of the amendment. So let me remind the Committee briefly of what the amendment states. Three conditions are set out:
“No agreement with the European Union … may be ratified unless … it has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament”.
I do not know what meaning that has other than that it has to be approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament, which the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, said is not a problem because we always defer to the lower House. If that is the case, it needs to be in the amendment.
Perhaps the noble Lord would be good enough to look at Amendment 32 tabled in my name, which will be debated on Wednesday. He will see that this point is addressed in the proposed new clause by using the phrase “both Houses”. I take the point that the noble Lord is making with regard to “each House”, but does he agree that if the phrase “both Houses” is substituted, the point is made?
I am a long way from reaching Amendment 32, but I shall certainly look at it in good time. Before we get to any question of consulting the people on an agreement, which was the thrust of the comments of both the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, and the noble Lord, Lord Newby, it has to clear the first hurdle of being passed, or I should say approved, by both Houses of Parliament. We need to know what happens if one House says yes and the other no, because it occurs to me that there is a considerable possibility that the House of Commons, with a Conservative majority, might well, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, agree to approve the Prime Minister’s recommendation. There is also a considerable possibility that this House, not being so bound by recommendations of Prime Ministers of whichever party, will decide that it does not agree with the recommendation made by the Prime Minister and the Government. That is the question: what happens if one says yes and the other no?
That is the first hurdle that would have to be cleared before there can be a referendum, but there is another. New paragraph (b) says,
“the Prime Minister has obtained authority to put it to a national referendum”.
That would require a Bill and an Act of Parliament. That is the second hurdle that would have to be cleared by the House of Commons and the House of Lords before we could reach the third stage, which is the referendum itself—new paragraph (c) provides that it should have been,
“approved by such a referendum”.
I say to those who have spoken so far that unless there are rather better answers to the question, particularly about the two Houses—
No—the amendment’s flaw is: are we seriously going to attempt to send an amendment to the other place that requires the accession of some 15 to 20 Conservative Members of Parliament to vote with the rest of the Opposition to keep it in the Bill? That is the only audience we have. It is not ourselves or the people; it is the 20 Tories in the other place who would be prepared to vote for what we send. They are not going to vote for this, so why are we going to try to send it there?
After the best part of 40 years over which my noble friend and I have been in Parliament, we do not disagree on much. I am delighted to see that we clearly do not disagree on this amendment either. In the absence of any satisfactory answers to the questions I have put, I hope that the House will decide against the amendment, should it be put to a vote.
My Lords, I intervene briefly in opposition to the amendment. In fact, referring to an amendment coming down the track that I hope will be discussed on Wednesday, I have tabled a new clause that would enable Parliament to direct a referendum. The amendment that we are discussing would require Parliament to hold a referendum. That seems to be fundamentally different in kind. If two years down the track the public mood has changed after the negotiations, I for one believe that the public’s opinion should be tested in a referendum, which Parliament would then decide. Alternatively, if in two years’ time Parliament decides not to approve agreed terms, I fancy that Parliament would decide that its decision had to be underwritten by a referendum.
That is different in kind to this amendment, which would require Parliament to direct a referendum, whether there is a change in opinion or not. That seems fundamentally undesirable, because we know that referenda are profoundly divisive mechanisms. They are the policy of last resort. If there is not a perceptible change in public opinion, or if Parliament is not minded to vote down the agreed terms, I see no need to require the holding of a referendum. This is a mandatory amendment; I am against it for that rather narrow reason.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Newby, is one of the most distinguished Members of this House. I gently say to him that I do not think that I have heard him defend an argument in such threadbare circumstances. We have sometimes been lectured on the fact that we have a representative parliamentary democracy. Now we seem to have developed referendumitis. What about the implications of this proposal for Scotland? What would it do to the Scottish nationalist argument? We said that we were having a referendum for a generation. This would open the door to the argument, “If they can do it for Europe, they can do it for us”. That is the second time that that has been mentioned today.
The ball was dropped, if dropped it was, when the referendum Bill came to this House. That was the opportunity to put in a back-up clause to say that we would put it to the test at the end. Speaking for those of us who have had referenda—in our case, the border poll in the 1970s, on the Good Friday agreement in 1998 and the potential for another one—if we are going to do this on an ad hoc basis to suit a party management situation, or a bright idea someone happened to come up with, we will destabilise the whole constitution of the United Kingdom. I caution Members on this. The time to fix this was when we started it. We should have put it in the Bill. If I recall, this House was silent when it came to that question in the Bill. That was the opportunity to do it. The question asked was amended by the Electoral Commission, if I recall correctly, which produced the clarity in the question. There was no caveat or qualification.
If we send Ministers to Brussels to negotiate with Michel Barnier and so on—
Further to the point that the noble Lord is making, I remember spending long hours discussing the referendum Bill in this place. One of the things that we particularly discussed was the need to make sure that this was a decisive result that was accepted by the losing side as well as the winning side. Those of us who then went into the campaign with all sorts of disadvantages because of the Government’s ability to spend and so on were none the less just about content that, if we lost, we would be able to accept the result. The other side appears not to have come to that conclusion.
I am grateful to my noble friend. Perhaps I should rephrase what I said: we were silent on amending the legislation to provide for a second referendum. Therefore, the Electoral Commission changed the wording, which was accepted to get the clarity that we need.
I fear that if we go down the road of trying to send Ministers to Brussels against the backdrop of a number of these amendments, we would not be sending Ministers with whom Brussels will negotiate. We are sending a second 11: we are sending delegates, not Ministers. As someone who has been in a prolonged negotiation, I know that it requires a stretch on the part of both parties. If you were sitting in Brussels and were minded to try to reach an agreement with our Ministers, why would you stretch yourself outside the four freedoms or take a big leap if you thought, first, that you were not dealing with people who could make agreements with you and, secondly, that you would be shot down because there were people in this Parliament and in this country who could undermine you after you had made the effort to reach an agreement? There are a number of amendments along these lines. We need to think carefully of the mechanics and atmosphere around the negotiating table.
On the territory about which the noble Lord is talking, I cannot understand, if negotiations have gone on for two years or more and we have finally agreed all the thousands of things that need to be agreed, how we could possibly then put it to a vote. The whole process of negotiating the deal with the EU will not work if we have a vote at the end.
One way of dealing with it would have been to make it clear that we were going to put things to a vote at the end. But now we are in a position of risking getting any kind of meaningful negotiation from Brussels because we would be sending people there who are incapable of making an agreement. We understand that it has to be approved by Parliament. Let us not forget that the European Parliament has to approve it—anyone who has had experience over there will know that that will not be a pleasant experience. I caution the noble Lord, although I understand what he is trying to say.
I cannot attribute the motivation. The noble Lord has his view. I am simply saying that if we are going to send people to Brussels to do a good deal for us—and whether they can, I do not know—the one thing we cannot do is saw their legs off before they go; otherwise we will get absolutely nothing.
I am not opposed to the concept, of course. We have already said that it is going to be ratified by Parliament. I make the point that if these amendments are inserted—and there are others on the Marshalled List to be dealt with at a later sitting—we are going to send a team of people to negotiate on our behalf. Clearly people in Brussels will say, “These people do not have the juice to do a deal so why would I take a political risk as a Brussels negotiator to stretch out towards them”—which is what is going to be needed on both sides—“because they know that they have no chance of getting a deal at the end of the day?”.
My Lords, we have already seen this afternoon in our very serious debate about the implications of the present situation—let us put it neutrally—for Northern Ireland that the referendum was, in fact, about a matter of the greatest constitutional importance and about the integrity of the United Kingdom, a great worry to any of us who come from Northern Ireland. However, although I agree with my noble friend Lord Empey that we should not tie the hands of negotiators, that a referendum at the end is a bad idea and that one constitutional error cannot be remedied by another constitutional error, nevertheless something needs to be said about the possibilities of no deal or of a bad deal. Those are two realistically possible outcomes. I think that at this stage it should be possible for the Government to say a bit about their plans in the event of either contingency.
My Lords, I have added my name to the amendment. I thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, and the noble Lord, Lord Newby, set out the case pretty well. I do not want to go over that ground again about a second referendum. However, I am a strong believer in the sentiment that those who giveth can also taketh away. It seems that that is an underlying principle: if the people have spoken but they are given new information, they can change their views at the end of the process.
I will say a bit about why I put my name on this amendment because the reason is a theme that will keep coming up on some of the other amendments. It will certainly come up on Amendment 8, which is in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Oates. Do we actually trust the Government to conduct these negotiations unsupervised after what we have seen of their behaviour so far? We are entitled to be fairly sceptical. We also have no reason to believe, if I may say so, that in Whitehall—and I speak as an old Whitehall warrior—there is this crack team of negotiators who we are going to send across the English Channel and who are going to do a fantastic job without any involvement in Parliament. We have no reason to believe that they will come up with a solution at the end of this process and we will all sit here and nod very sagely and say, “Fantastic. You have hit every particular button”. The world, on the whole, does not work that way.
We all have views about how to conduct negotiations. Many noble Lords have had a go at conducting such negotiations, and we will all have our own approach. Sometimes I have actually thought it quite useful in negotiations not to have too much flexibility—that I have got a mission that I want to deliver. It is quite good to be able to shelter behind that kind of instruction about the way in which I conduct the negotiations. As a former senior civil servant, I certainly did not want a lot of Ministers telling me to go out there and do my best. I would like to have a bit of guidance. I would have thought the same applies to Ministers. I have been a Minister and wanted to know what the Government and public were likely to accept while I did those negotiations. Therefore, I see nothing wrong in principle with the approaches in the amendment.
The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, knows as well as I do—he has been a Chief Whip—that it is often the case in Committee that we put down an amendment that may be technically a bit defective. We are trying to have a debate about a principle or an issue and we often withdraw them and come back at a later stage in the Bill with a rectified amendment that meets the concerns expressed. That does not mean it is wrong in principle to put these issues before the House and see what people’s views are. I support the amendment. We should think very seriously, as we discuss further amendments to the Bill, about whether we really believe that it is safe to send the Government into these negotiations without any requirements about the involvement of Parliament with that process.
My Lords, the noble Lord has made the central case for the amendment: do noble Lords trust the Government and the way that they have used the vote on the Brexit referendum or not? Frankly, we do not for very good reasons that I shall seek to explain in a moment. That is not to say that we challenge the fundamental decision made in that referendum. Since I have been substantially misquoted on many occasions, let me say what I said on the night of the referendum, because government Ministers have been frequently using this as though somehow or other we had behaved in a way inconsistent with these words:
“I will forgive no-one who does not respect the sovereign voice of the British people once it has spoken. Whether it is a majority of 1% or 20%, when the British people have spoken, you do what they command. Either you believe in democracy or you don’t”.
Those are my words and I stand by them because we do believe in democracy on these Benches. We accept the sovereign voice of the British people.
Noble Lords may laugh but that is the fundamental question: do we challenge the “yes” or “no” outcome of that referendum? No, we do not, and this amendment does not in any way. We accept the decision that has been taken, and the decision is that we should leave. We are naturally bitter and sad about that, but whatever our personal feelings the judgment of the British people has spoken. However, to say we leave is not the same as the British people providing a mandate unto the solution that the Government choose in order to leave. The Government have actually taken what they claim to be a mandate to leave—which we concede the Government have, of course—and turned it into a mandate for the most brutal form of leaving possible.
I ask noble Lords to look back to the conduct of that referendum, in which many of us took part. I had a number of interesting debates with the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, and very good they were too. On every single occasion during that referendum, we asked those who proposed Brexit to say what kind of Brexit. Did it mean leaving the single market? Did it mean a complete ban on immigration? Never were we given an answer. I have Mr Hannan, a well-known lion on the Brexit debate, on the record many times: there is nothing about this that says we must leave the single market. If I recall, in the meeting that I had with the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth—I do not think I am wrong—he too said that it was not necessary to leave the single market.
What I said, as the noble Lord will recall, was that there was a difference between being a member of the single market and having access to the single market and that those who were arguing for remain were deliberately deceiving the people.
As I recall, the conclusion that I and the audience reached—but we probably cannot go over this now—was that the noble Lord would leave but it was not necessary not to continue with access to the single market. However, that is what the Government have now said. We accept that the Government have a mandate to leave the European Union, but what mandate do they have to leave the single market or the customs union? None. The Conservative Party manifesto at the last general election committed the party, as a manifesto promise, to continue to stay in the single market. They have taken the British people’s votes—
Would the noble Lord please correct what he said about the Conservative manifesto saying we would stay in the single market? That was in the context of the negotiation that the Prime Minister promised to undertake, and was on the assumption that, as he wanted, people would say “yes” to remain. If the referendum went the other way, it was made perfectly clear that the single market would no longer encompass Britain.
The noble Lord could have been much quicker if he said, “Yes but we just changed our minds”—which is exactly what the Government have now done. The Government have a mandate to leave but they have no mandate whatever for this brutal form of leaving that will damage this country. By the way, it is not us that has been undemocratic but the Government. They have taken the British people’s vote and hijacked it for their anti-European prejudices. That is why now they need a referendum on the outcome—not a second referendum on “in or out” but a referendum on the deal. Noble Lords and the House will know the enormous difference between the hard Brexit that the Government propose, with no access to the single market and no membership of the customs union, and a Brexit maintaining access to the single market. The difference between these two options is huge for the people of this country, for our influence in Europe and the wider world, and for jobs, industry and our economy. Maybe the Government have got it right in their judgment—their guesswork—that the British people are content to leave the single market, but let them test that. They have no mandate from the referendum outcome whatever for that solution.
Surely the most brutal form of leaving would be to leave with no deal at all. The problem with this amendment is that it does not say, “We should have another referendum on whether we stay or leave”. It says, “We should have a referendum on whether we accept the terms of the deal”. If we say we do not accept those terms, that does not mean we stay in the European Union. Article 50 is very clear about that. Be careful what you wish for.
I am grateful that the noble Lord led me on to that because I was coming to it next. The Government say that this is the deal they will do. It will be the hardest possible deal with no access to the single market and huge damage done to our industry, jobs and influence. If they cannot get that, the alternative is to tow this country out into the middle of the Atlantic as some kind of mid-Atlantic Singapore: a total free market with no regulations at all. The Foreign Secretary has been very clear about that outcome. The difference between these two things is basically asking the people of this country and our Parliament to either say “yes” or jump over a cliff. That is not a reasonable option to put. When the High Court said that Parliament should have a say, it meant a real say, not an option between “take it” or “leave it”. That is not the kind of solution that will produce the best outcome for this country. Our proposition is simple. We accept the case that has been made and the judgment of the British people that we must leave. We do not accept that the Government have a mandate for a brutal form of Brexit that will damage our country’s influence and economy. They have no mandate whatever to take this country out of the single market. If they want to test that proposition, let them do so before a court of the British people.
My Lords, if we can get back to the amendment—I thought for a moment we had segued into the next debate—it is on a second referendum or ratification that I think initially sounded quite attractive to a number of noble Lords. However, when you actually look at the amendment it is flawed.
First, there is the point made about the two parts of the amendment. Paragraph (a), which says that it must be,
“laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament”,
fails to recognise the primacy of the other place. That is not how we have handled this Bill or other issues. On that point, our later amendment on a meaningful vote is a better way to judge parliamentary opinion and for Parliament to deal with this issue.
Demands for a second referendum started even before the polls closed on the first one. An online parliamentary petition called for a second referendum should the first have less than a 60% vote for either remain or leave on a 75% turnout threshold. That set a high bar and it received around 4 million signatures. We do not require that level of support for Governments; the last time we had a turnout of higher than 75% was back in 1992, nearly 25 years ago. This amendment does not seek such conditions. I agree that it would be strange to set new and different conditions for a second referendum from the first one but the point has been made previously in debates that for such a major constitutional issue to be decided by a simple majority has caused concern.
National referendums are rare in the UK. As we know, there have been three UK-wide ones. In 1975, Harold Wilson called a referendum on remaining in or leaving the European Economic Community. In 2011, during the coalition Government, we had a referendum on whether to change first past the post to the AV voting system. Then we had the EU referendum in 2016. I must confess that I am naturally cautious about politicians demanding a national referendum on an issue. If I was a cynic—of course, I am not—I would suggest that we do that rarely on a point of principle but more often because we think it will endorse a position we take and give us the result we want. However, I feel differently when there is public demand for a referendum. I accept that it is not always easy to judge that. Certain petitions and polls are not satisfactory. Yet it becomes clear over time and the polls for the EU referendum were evidenced by the turnout.
Let us look at the public support for these referendums. In the EEC referendum in 1975, 64% voted. That was probably depressed by most people thinking that it was clear the UK would remain. Some 72% voted in the referendum in 2016. Yet when we had the referendum on the voting system, for which there was no real public demand as it was politician-led, it motivated fewer than half our fellow citizens, with a turnout of just 42%. My fear now is that, with no significant public demand for a second referendum at this time, this is being seen as a campaign to challenge the result of the first referendum. That in itself creates a mood of opposition and hostility from the public.
The noble Lord, Lord Newby, reinforced that view in his speech, but in the The House magazine he said it was “implausible” not to grant a second referendum if public opinion shifts in favour of the EU. What if it shifts away and more people are opposed to the EU? Is that still grounds for a second referendum? Not according to his article. Indeed, the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, spoke of having a second referendum so people could express a change of mind. That is not solely a reason to have one.
As the previous debate illustrated clearly, the coming months of negotiations will be complicated and complex. We are pressing the Government to ensure that Parliament is kept fully engaged and informed throughout the whole process, and that Parliament has the opportunity for a real, meaningful final say on the exit arrangements or deals. The noble Lord, Lord Newby, made a good point on this when he said that the Government did not want to engage with Parliament through a vote and had to be persuaded to do so by a court judgment. However, Parliament will now have to make its judgment and the MPs who do so will be accountable to their constituents. That is what parliamentary sovereignty means: taking responsibility.
I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Newby, that his logic is flawed because he and others from his party feel no need to respect the result of the referendum. The noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, just refuted this but I find that hard to accept. I do not, as the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, said, call the result the will of the people. I am not sure that referendums express that. However, there is a clear result. The noble Lord’s party said that there is no need to respect that result and voted against it in the House of Commons. It is now calling for a second referendum. Is that to be the same, to be seen as advisory, or do we just accept what a second referendum says? I find it hard to see the circumstances in which a second referendum could deal with all of the detail that would be required on the terms of an exit deal and not just be a rerun on the principle of continuing the process to leave or staying in. That is, in effect, the same as the first one.
The final judgment on the exit deal has to be very measured. It is going to involve forensic detail and it cannot just be an appeal to the emotions without hard, actual facts. In the first referendum, we saw different sides campaigning; they lobbied around the principle of staying in or leaving. I am on record as saying that I was deeply unimpressed with both the remain and leave campaigns. I have not yet been convinced that the approach of a referendum works well when dealing with the detail of negotiations over a period of two years. We have to have some faith in our Members of Parliament and in your Lordships’ House to make a serious, factual judgment on the benefits or otherwise of a final deal. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Warner, who asked whether we trusted the Government. I have been clear that I do not trust the Government enough to wave them off for two years and come back, and that is why we have later amendments about parliamentary engagement and votes. However, there is no impediment: if, as time and negotiations progress, there is genuine evidence of a widespread public demand for a second referendum, that should be listened to, but at this stage, our priority has to be that Parliament has the final say.
My Lords, the House will be delighted to hear that I intend to speak briefly on this amendment, as I get the sense that many of your Lordships’ minds have already been made up on this issue. I am going to explain why the Government believe that this approach would be wrong in principle and wrong in practice. A number of your Lordships have already made a number of good points, which I will not repeat.
I begin by taking a step back to consider people’s trust in politics today. It is at a somewhat low ebb. For many people, there is a sense that too many politicians say one thing and then do another. There is a sense that Parliament is divorced from day-to-day life, and this frustration and disillusionment with mainstream parties encourage them to look to others to represent their views. This is the backcloth to the debate on this Bill and this amendment.
Let us not forget the democratic path that has brought us here. The Conservative Party promised to hold a referendum and respect the outcome. This Parliament gave people the choice of whether to leave or to remain in the European Union: a choice without caveat or condition. It was a choice that the people exercised, having been told by the Government in the leaflet sent to every household in the land:
“The Government will implement what you decide”.
The majority voted to leave, not to have a second referendum and not to think again. The people have spoken and this Bill delivers on their wish.
My first question to your Lordships is: would it help build trust in politics if we, the unelected Chamber, were to tell the people, “We did not like your first answer; please try harder”? I think not: quite the reverse. When Scotland voted against independence, what was the response from any politicians? I shall quote one:
“You have to abide by the outcome ... I don’t think re-opening old wounds would be good for Scotland”.
Those were the words of Mr Nick Clegg. Whatever the cynical machinations of the Scottish Nationalists today, I believe that what Mr Clegg said was true then as regards Scotland and is true today as regards Europe. We promised a referendum, not a “neverendum”. The government leaflet said the referendum was a once-in-a-generation decision, not a twice-in-five-years decision. We cannot keep asking the question until we get the answer that some want.
The Minister is making the case against a question that we did not ask, which is, “Shall we have another referendum on in or out?”. We accept that that is not going to happen. We accept that the Government have a mandate for Brexit. Will he tell us what mandate they now have for leaving the single market?
My Lords, I am sorry to say that the noble Lord is just making my point for me. We had a referendum in which people were asked very explicitly whether they wanted to leave or remain in the EU. The leaflet that I have here said it very clearly, and many people in this House and outside it—on both sides of the argument—made the case that a vote to leave was a vote to leave the single market. That was the choice, people were aware of it and that was the decision that they made. We are going to come on to this in the next hour or so.
Furthermore, many people on both sides of the argument, leave and remain, are now coming together to make a success of our exit from the EU and to forge a new place for our nation in the world. Why would we want to open up all those old divisions again by holding a second referendum, as this very debate has just shown? Well before last June, a number of politicians argued—
When the Minister talks about the advisory referendum which was giving an opinion, that was the result that we had to respect at the time. Of course, there are comparisons with other European countries; in the process of the European constitution and subsequent Lisbon treaty, it was very interesting that in France, Denmark and the Republic of Ireland, there was always under the compulsory written constitutions a “no” vote in that first referendum. Each one was reversed by their Governments because they knew it was a vote about the unpopularity of internal politics and nothing to do with Europe.
I hear what the noble Lord is saying, but I am sorry to say that that boat, and all this argument, sailed when we passed the referendum Bill. That is just simply the fact.
Well before last June, a number of politicians argued that a referendum on our membership of the EU was needed precisely because Europe was poisoning the body politic. One politician said some years ago that it was,
“time we pulled out the thorn and healed the wound, time for a debate politicians have been too cowardly to hold for 30 years ... Let’s trust the people with the real question: in or out”.
Again, these were the words of Mr Nick Clegg back in 2008. I agree with the Nick Clegg of 2008. Now that we have had that referendum, I would argue that another would put that thorn back into British politics, and rub salt in the wound.
Since this is an occasion for quotations, I remind him that John Maynard Keynes said:
“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”.
Is it the Government’s position that if, after these negotiations, they decide that no deal is better than a poor deal, the Government will not put that to the people of the United Kingdom?
My Lords, the Government’s position is very clear. We are absolutely going to stand by the instruction given to us by the British people to leave the European Union. That was the decision and that is the Government’s policy, and that is what it will remain.
Is not the real reason people are calling for a second referendum that one side lost and they do not like it? Then, might it not be the case that somebody loses another referendum and we would have to have a third one? Indeed, we might even have to have a fourth referendum to decide which referendum was the real thing.
I am sorry to say that I dispute what the noble Baroness is saying. The British people voted to leave. There was a very loud and passionate discussion, with lots of people issuing lots of papers about what it would mean to leave, and the British people made a decision.
My noble friend raised the issue of a “neverendum”. This brings me to certainty. One thing we all agree on is the need for certainty. Therefore, let us think of European families here, of British families in Europe and of the thousands of businesses right across this country that are listening to our debate. For them, the prospect of another referendum at some unknown date years ahead, with a Bill—as the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said—and a question we do not yet know, would simply create more uncertainty.
Let me say here a word about business in particular, given that my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft edited the Wall Street Journal. I would like to draw the Committee’s attention to a report just issued by the Institute of Directors. It recommends:
“A … measure to boost both political confidence and certainty for business would be for all parties to rule out a second referendum over the next parliament—either a repeat on EU membership or on the final terms of the deal”.
The IoD represents 35,000 businesses which employ hundreds of thousands of people. Those businesses are saying that they want certainty.
Perhaps I might press the Minister for clarification. He says that people want certainty. Is he saying that if that certainty is, to a business, “Yes, you must move your headquarters, you must take jobs out of this country”, and to people that, “You will face higher prices and fewer opportunities for your children”, that is what the Government will choose to make the British people live with—and with no voice to challenge it?
The noble Baroness and I have many interesting discussions, but I dispute the grounds on which she is approaching this. We have set out very clearly, to provide clarity and certainty, a view regarding what we wish to achieve in the negotiations. That has provided a considerable amount of certainty and clarity to many of the businesses I have spoken to and in nation states across Europe. That is exactly what we now need to deliver on.
I will turn quickly to the issue of parliamentary scrutiny, which the noble Lord, Lord Newby, slightly dismissed. Parliament will be heavily involved in the process of our leaving the EU. This Bill, the Bill to repeal the European Communities Act 1972, primary and secondary legislation, Statements, Select Committee appearances—the list is quite long. On top of that, the Government will bring forward a Motion on the final agreement to be approved by both Houses of Parliament before it is concluded. So the nub of the matter is very simple. On
The Minister has deployed with great moral strength the argument that the people have spoken. I remind him that the majority of those who voted have spoken—but, in fact, barely a third of the potential electorate in Britain voted. The situation is not as absolute as he suggests. I say to your Lordships that this is a very good reason for taking very seriously the argument that the road of referenda is a very dangerous road indeed.
My Lords, the Minister said a moment ago that the decision will come back to both Houses after there has been an outcome to the negotiation. What if both Houses reject the negotiated settlement that is forthcoming? Does Parliament then overrule the people or do the people have a chance to make the final decision?
My Lords, the Minister is entitled not to wish to answer the question—and I can understand why. I will make just three points. First, I am sorry to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, that I was so hard on him earlier on. I should have welcomed—and indeed do now welcome—his intervention because he has given me some very helpful drafting advice for the amendment that I will be bringing before your Lordships on Report.
Secondly, I have never heard the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, sound so defeatist. If this House took the view that the House of Commons might not accept an amendment that we passed, we would hardly ever pass any amendments. We would certainly not have passed the amendment on tax credits. Therefore, I urge him to take that as a precedent and think that, so impressed by the quality of our arguments, those 20 Conservative Back-Benchers might change their minds in an instant on reading Hansard and that we would get our victory when it went to the other place.
Thirdly, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Empey—a number of noble Lords spoke about the parallels with or differences from Scotland—this is a completely different situation from that which obtains in Scotland. The SNP wants a second bite at the same cherry. We want a vote of the people on a firm proposition, rather than the vote which did take place on 57 varieties of proposition that were assiduously and separately propounded by different people on the leave side. So it is a completely inapt parallel and I cannot accept it.
I have the greatest respect for the noble Lord but I am afraid that that argument simply does not hold water. The principle that we are putting forward in this amendment is straightforward: who decides at the end of a process initiated by the people? Our view is that the people should decide and nothing that any noble Lord has said this afternoon has made me question that principle in any regard. For today, I will withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 3 withdrawn.
This would normally be the time when the House would be looking to take dinner-break business. I have spoken to my noble friend Lord Hodgson, who has a regret Motion for debate in the dinner hour. He has agreed that we should adjourn that debate to a future day so that we can carry on with the Bill—because obviously there is a lot to talk about. Noble Lords who have expressed an interest have spoken to the usual channels and we all agree that this is the right course of action. I hope that the Committee agrees.
Moved by Lord Hain
4: Clause 1, page 1, line 3, at end insert—“( ) Before a notification can be given under subsection (1), the Prime Minister must give an undertaking to negotiate under the process set out in Article 50 on the basis of the United Kingdom retaining membership of the European Single Market.”
My Lords, Amendment 4 is sponsored also by my noble friend Lord Monks and the noble Lords, Lord Oates and Lord Wigley. Since I hope to divide the Committee later, I will be briefer than I thought I would be before proceedings went on.
The hard Brexit the Government seek will be the worst possible outcome for the United Kingdom, for which the referendum gave them absolutely no mandate whatever. Cutting us off from our largest market and seeking new trade partners elsewhere will cause huge job losses and many business closures. Over the 10 years or so that it will take to adjust to the shock of exiting the single market, we must expect a pound of pain for every ounce of gain.
When the country voted by a narrow margin to leave the European Union, the single market was not on the ballot paper. Voters were never asked about it. In fact, in the run-up to the general election of May 2015, the Conservative Party manifesto promised to,
“safeguard British interests in the Single Market”.
The manifesto said:
“We say: yes to the Single Market. We want to expand the Single Market, breaking down the remaining barriers to trade and ensuring that new sectors are opened up to British firms”.
There were further contributions.
“Absolutely nobody is talking about threatening our place in the single market”,
said leading leave campaigner Daniel Hannan MEP.
“Only a madman would actually leave the market”,
said ardent Brexiteer and Tory ex-Cabinet Minister Owen Paterson MP. Some leave leaders said that the UK could quit the EU while remaining a member of the biggest, richest single market in the world, accounting for nearly half our trade. Others talked variously of Norway, Switzerland, Canada and even, bizarrely, Albania. There was the very opposite of clarity on this issue. I know because I knocked on many hundreds of doors in the referendum campaign and people voted to leave the European Union, not the single market.
Reaching an agreement on withdrawal from the single market within two years of triggering Article 50 will be difficult, if not impossible—and extremely complex. In my drafted speech, I was going to go into the many complexities. It will also need to be followed by subsequent trade agreements, and not only with the remaining 30 EU and European Economic Area member states; new agreements, under WTO rules, will be required with around 52 third countries outside the EU with which we have existing trade deals through the EU.
Trade deal outcomes are about relative economic power and weight. Contrary to breezy and I think complacent claims by government Ministers and their Brexit acolytes, the UK and the EU will not somehow be equal partners in any negotiation of new trade agreements. The UK depends on the EU for 45% of its exports, whereas the EU exports only 8% of its produce to the UK. We have a trade surplus in services, mainly financial, with the rest of the European Union of £17 billion.
The Chancellor has said that if the United Kingdom loses access to the single market, it would consider abandoning a European-style social model with European-style taxation and regulation systems and becoming “something different”. Not only would this clearly mean lower labour and environmental standards, it would mean even further and more savage cuts in public services. That is why leaving the single market poses a threat to the social progress and increased prosperity which we have seen in this country over the last 40 years.
Fears about immigration were undoubtedly one of the main motivations for Brexit, as I discovered—if I did not know it already—on the door-step. However, the right to free movement has never been unconditional. Even under current European Union rules, the UK has a number of effective tools that are used by other countries in the EEA to manage migration effectively if we wished to do so. Rather than turning our back on our largest export market by leaving the single market, would not a more constructive approach have been to try to agree a new interpretation of free movement of labour?
It is quite possible to impose restrictions on immigration, reflecting a country’s needs, while remaining in the European Economic Area and therefore in the single market. Belgium, for example, does precisely this by returning to their European Union country of origin each year thousands of migrants who no longer have jobs or never did. Leaving the single market will cause untold harm to the economy and people’s jobs, which will be felt most keenly in the already disadvantaged nations and regions: for example in Wales, where I live. A hard Brexit will therefore have damaging consequences for the union of our United Kingdom and also for the island of Ireland.
I will just address a paradox that we find ourselves in. Both the Government and, sadly, my party leadership in the other place have effectively put the migration issue ahead of jobs and prosperity. That is fundamentally mistaken. Of course human rights and migration issues have to be addressed, and I will of course vote for our amendment on European Union citizens, but to put migration first, ahead of the jobs and prosperity which depend on the single market, is perverse in the extreme.
Then it is said that if we remain in the single market we will effectively have no representation. That is true—which is why it is not as good an option as remaining in the European Union. But we are where we are, and you have to go for the least worst options. Norway, for example, which is in the single market but outside the European Union, has considerable unofficial influence when new single market rules are drawn up. It may not be in the Council of Ministers—you need to be in the European Union to be in the Council of Ministers, making the rules and influencing the Commission—and it may not be in the European Parliament for the very same reason. But it has considerable unofficial influence. Is anybody telling me that the United Kingdom, with its massive economy, the third-largest in the European Union, as we have heard in this debate and previously, will not have substantial influence on shaping the rules of the single market? I do not think that that is credible.
Of course it is not ideal to stay in the single market without the benefits of being in the European Union and on the central, inner-core decision-making bodies, but it is the best solution, given that we are due to leave the European Union. Turning our backs on the single market could be catastrophic for prosperity and jobs, and especially for the most vulnerable citizens in our country. That is why I will, with the permission of the House, put this amendment to a vote later on.
At the outset of this debate, the whole focus is on the concept that we have benefited and will continue to benefit from being members of the single market, and that by being outside and only having access to it—like every other country that exports into the European region—we would be vastly disadvantaged. I am afraid I am going to say something that will probably be unpopular on both sides and which asks your Lordships to look more closely at what is actually happening in the patterns of both European and world trade currently. I am not talking about 1990, or the world of globalisation in the last century, but about the fantastic, revolutionary disruption and transformation of the pattern of trade that has gone on for the last five or 10 years. Unless we understand that, and the impact it is having on trade throughout the region and on the relevance and nature of the single market, which has changed beyond recognition from the single market of a decade or so ago, we will not reach very sensible conclusions.
Lord Keynes was quoted earlier. He said many things, but one of the interesting things he said was that his real quarrel was not with those who disputed his economic theories or arguments but with those who persistently failed to see what was actually going on. That is the theme I want to develop. We can expend enormous indignation on asserting that in the single market everything will be okay but that out of it there will be disaster. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Hain, has suggested that with great eloquence and clearly believes it to be the position. But we have to grasp what is going on and understand the nature of the flow of trade to see just what the disadvantages would be if, instead of having membership of the single market, with all the standards, regulations, access, tariff-free areas, co-ordination of regulations and so on, we were outside it, although still obviously able to trade into it like any other country.
I start from a rather remarkable statement made by the chief economist to the Bank of England, I think last week, that from his point of view whether we were inside or outside the single market would have no “material” effect on the UK’s growth over the next three years—he put a time on it. That is rather a remarkable statement from a very high authority, not someone known to be biased one way or the other but someone speaking totally objectively. I had to ask myself how he could come to that conclusion. Have we not been told that outside the single market it will all be disaster and we must somehow stay in as full members? This raises all the other issues we have so vigorously debated, including the problems in the island of Ireland and many other issues. If one begins to look at the detail, the answer is very interesting.
I suspect what he has seen, and what your Lordships might possibly turn their eyes to, is that the whole nature of international trade is shifting at record speed in two directions. First, there is the vast growth in services, digital information, data transmission and information exchange, so much so that McKinsey is telling us that more than half the wealth generated worldwide comes from the transmission of data and information and not from goods trade at all. The old world of trade being dominated by containers or great ships sailing out of Felixstowe, or whatever it was, is rapidly disappearing. Services are the huge growth area in every aspect of international trade, including into the European Union. The noble Lord, Lord Hain, is quite right that sales of services into the European Union have been large—they are about a third of our total export of services throughout the world—but frankly they are not doing very well. In so far as they have got in to Europe’s single market, services have gone through a bit of a struggle, not through tariffs—because you cannot put tariffs on those services—but through all sorts of local and national regulations and control. They have been pretty flat over recent years because there never was a glorious single market in services. We struggled for 40 years to improve one, got nowhere at all, and the chances are that countries outside the European Union have done rather better with our services and imports into the European Union than we have.
It may be that in future, outside the single market—this may be in Mr Haldane’s mind—we can do rather better with services in Europe. If we cannot do better in Europe—it is very difficult because of the all these local restrictions on how things are set up—we should look to the areas where service developments are growing at a very fast pace. This is certainly right across the part of the world that deals in the English language and has common legal, political, social, ethical and cultural practices, which tends to be a Commonwealth network in English-speaking nations, including the United States of America, which is our biggest export market of all. We have no single market and no free trade agreement with America, but it is by far our largest single market of any country.
That is the first point: services are growing at a phenomenal exponential rate and now dominate world trade and are beginning to dominate our own earnings overseas. Secondly, services know no boundary or tariff barrier, so the services we sell into Europe—this, again, may be in Mr Haldane’s mind—will not be very much effected by whether we are in the single market or not. It is a tough area anyway. We export £89 billion, gross, of services of every kind, including financial services, into the European market and that is about a third of the much bigger degree of service exports all around the rest of the world. It is not a question of tariff barriers. The tariff barriers are anyway extremely low, except for one or two things such as car components, which are at 10%. We would have to think about that, but generally we are moving into a zero-tariff world. It is quite different from 1990, when developing southern and eastern countries were taught that they would have to have high tariffs and heavy investment protection.
I shall just finish this sentence. The culture before 1990 was of high tariffs and protection against foreign investment, which was deemed colonial. The culture of the last 30 years has been the opposite, with low tariffs all around the world and direct investment agreements to encourage more investment. I give way.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I am listening to him with great attention, as I always do. He is making the case for certain aspects of the digital services market; he does not say much about whether we are part of the single market or not. Does he not agree that for manufacturing, which is about 10% of our GDP, the imposition of tariffs would be extremely serious? Does he also not agree that for financial services—which, as I have already mentioned in a different context, accounts for about 10% of our GDP as well—the loss of the passports which enable us to trade in the single market would be equally catastrophic?
Although manufacturing is very important, it is a smaller and diminishing proportion of our export earnings. As I think the government White Paper points out, at least 33% of the value embedded in any manufactural product—I think the figure is 37%—comes from services. When you think about manufacturing, you have to think about something that is really not quite a manufacture or a service; it is a product of a service and high technology. A good example for the noble Lord is the Japanese company Uniqlo, which produces garments—not from Japanese manufacturing, but from Japanese technology and services. All around the world, this pattern is developing. What I am trying to bring before your Lordships is the realisation—
Is the noble Lord aware that chapter 9 of the White Paper shows that the fastest growth in goods and services exported from this country is in Liechtenstein, at 40%? In the first 20 of the only 21 countries shown in the White Paper, the United States does not even get a mention.
I am not sure I follow the power or logic of that particular point. I am afraid that only three of the 20 fastest-growing countries in the last 10 years, in terms of exports, are members of the European Union—and we are not one of them.
Without delaying your Lordships further, I point out—in the words of the European Commission and their analysts—that “90% of world demand” over the next ten years,
“will be generated outside the EU”.
I suspect at least half or two-thirds of that will be generated from the fantastic, disruptive explosion in the transfer of know-how, information and digital technology of every conceivable kind. This is the world of the very near future: we may have arrived there already. What it means is that there is this apparent cliff edge, as it has been called, disaster, or dividing point between being inside today’s single market and being outside it, but we are dealing with many things that do not have a tariff on them—our services know no national boundaries and can be transmitted regardless of distance whether to a nearby European region or to the other side of the world—and it is becoming a completely new pattern in which we have to operate. To operate effectively, we must think in terms of a vast improvement in skills and a massive acceleration in innovation, and find our way into the gigantic, new growth markets of the future, which I am afraid are going to be largely outside the European Union.
Europe remains very important to us; the bilateral arrangements we have with European countries remain important to us. We are not all sure at the moment—this outlines the absurdity of trying to tie down the Government—who we will be negotiating with, how much power Mr Barnier will have or what the 27 capital countries will say. I noticed that the Visegrad group—four at the moment—are coming together and havesaid they want a separate treaty; they do not agree with the approach of the European Commission in Brussels and they are thinking about separate arrangements because they are not satisfied with the general approach. We all heard the day before yesterday one of Mrs Merkel’s chief spokesmen saying that they disliked the whole aggressive approach of Jean-Claude Juncker and the Brussels Commission. We have no idea what is being brewed up as a position on the other side of the Channel to approach us, or who we will be dealing with. What we do know is that the trade trends I have described are proceeding at a great pace; they are driven by technology that is growing at an exponential pace, with the development of Moore’s law, Metcalfe’s law and all the other aspects we know about; this is what we should take account of.
All I plead is that before your Lordships express too much indignation about whether we are inside the single market or outside it, we might reflect that as we proceed in this entirely new pattern of international trade, we can do pretty well in dealing with all the aspects—they will be complex—of all the industries and services that will ensure our survival and prosperity in an extremely competitive world.
My Lords, I would like to address the question of the single market, which the noble Lord, Lord Howell, has just been talking about and rather discounted its importance, both currently and in the future. I do not whether he and other noble Lords have noticed but there is rather a tide of protectionism running through the world at present, not least in the United States of America—“America first” has been said a lot of times. Just remember that that is the context in which we are operating. I am not going to bandy too many statistics, but if 42% of our exports are going to the EU, compared with 15% to the United States of America, that is still a lot on both accounts, but you do not throw 42% into some lottery for the future. You hang on to what you have got and you seek to improve elsewhere. I agree with the noble Lord about the need to improve our game and raise our skill level, our innovation level and business investment—which, by the way, is going down because of the uncertainty which surrounds the future of the British economy at the present time, and that is a major worry. We are not innovating to the extent that we should be, and certainly not to the extent that certain other northern European countries are. Chucking that away rather lightly in the hope that we will catch a surfer wave of innovation and become the new silicon whatever-it-is island seems to be a rather fanciful notion.
I am not familiar with what Mr Haldane said—I read it but I did not get the same impression as the noble Lord, Lord Howell—but the Treasury’s most recent forecast is that if we collapse out of the single market, that will cost us 7.5% of GDP after 15 years. I am not an expert and I do not know who is right and who is wrong, but we should bear those facts in mind.
I am not going to speak for very long as my noble friend Lord Hain covered this topic very well and the earlier debate about the EEA, on the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Lea, covered it too. However, I remind Members of the Conservative Party in particular of why they should consider the single market to be important. After all, Mrs Thatcher was, as much as anyone, the originator of the single market. She, with Jacques Delors adding on a social bit, basically came up with the idea of the big single market. I remember, as will my noble friend Lord Lea, Jacques Delors explaining at a TUC conference the conversation that the two of them had had. She said, “I want a big market”, and he said, “You can have one. I’ll do my best”. He added in some helpful social things that the trade unions liked; to be honest, they were about the only reason why we liked the single market. However, we may not like a free-trade agreement that does not have any social protections. A NAFTA-type agreement would certainly not suit us because that becomes a race to the bottom on labour standards, welfare and social considerations.
It was not just Mrs Thatcher, either. My noble friend Lord Hain reminded the other side about the number of people in the referendum campaign who spoke in favour of staying in the single market, not least the current Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, who said he would vote for the single market. He differentiated between the single market and EU membership, and that is what we are seeking to do today with this amendment.
The single market is important for inward investment, which is the point that was so important in the 1980s. It is important for companies’ supply chains; we have heard about the milk in Ireland but there are many other examples where things are going backwards and forwards—the car industry, Airbus and so on. Let no one dismiss those as old technology that the digital revolution is going to make redundant; they are not. They are fundamental to who we are and what we are, the kind of country we are and what it is going to be in future.
The tariffs on some goods will be substantial if we collapse into the WTO system. As for the passporting issues in the City of London, there are already signs of banks establishing extra offices and extra staffing within the EU—at the moment, particularly in Paris. Even HSBC, our biggest bank, is doing so, so we should not be complacent about this issue.
Membership of the single market would of course ease the problems in Ireland, as debated earlier, and would perhaps remove at least one reason for another referendum in Scotland. What is at stake here is jobs, living standards and rights. We should bear that in mind; if we go down the Government’s route, we will be playing poker with people’s livelihoods on a big scale. Are we likely to get that comprehensive free trade agreement within two years? I have not yet met anyone who knows anything about trade negotiations who thinks that is the case. Before we ditch the single market, we should be very careful. I was disappointed when I heard what the Prime Minister said at Lancaster House, and indeed in the government White Paper: that the Government are moving in that direction. I hope they will keep the scope to change direction.
We should also bear in mind the points that my noble friend Lord Liddle made earlier: could this be an issue on which there could be an interim provisional transitional measure while we negotiate a trade agreement? Is there something that we could put in place that we could continue with? In fact we do not have to put anything in place because it is in place already, so why do we have to give it up? It is in place and we should try to hang on to that, pending the negotiations that the Government seem so keen on.
That is my plea today: we should have a look at the amendment and at keeping our membership of the single market. I would like to see us keep it on a permanent basis, but if that is not possible, keeping it on a transitional provisional basis might just be possible. It might in fact be the only game in town when we get to the end of those two years.
My Lords, a distinction is made on purpose between access to the single market and membership of it but most of the speeches made on behalf of Remain make that confusion. No one is arguing—or at least I have never met anyone who does—that we should not have access to or do business with the single market, in the same way as they will still want to do business with us. The question is whether we want to be members of it. I so agree with what my noble friend Lord Howell said about the fact that the world is changing now. For a start, the single market is a trade bloc, and it has a long and noble history of being one. It is based upon German technological protection and general French centralisation and protection. That is the foundation of it philosophically. Britain is a high-seas trading nation and, I think, should not be part of that market, but of course it should of course be trading with it. No one argues otherwise, although of course one has to point out that it is a fairly sluggish market because that is what protected markets are.
On the idea that you can choose between access and membership—membership has some obligations regarding what you have to do on standards and so on—I ask the noble Lord to reflect on whether it is Alice in Wonderland to say, “Oh, we would much prefer to have access but not membership”.
Of course not. The choice is there. As has been said today from the Front Bench, the public certainly believe that by leaving the EU we will be leaving the single market as well. Of course we can make that choice, and of course the members of the single market will want to choose whether they want to continue trading with us, but since we are one of the largest markets the answer is likely to be yes.
I turn to my other point: my noble friend Lord Howell is absolutely correct in his diagnosis of the markets changing. The fact is that much of what is now up for grabs in negotiation is outside the terms of the single market. One example, which the proposer of this amendment and I have had discussions about in the past, is the air service agreements. People talk about Open Skies. When I was Minister for Aviation I started to negotiate that agreement, but I did so on a bilateral basis. The ASAs are outside the terms of the single market. That is just an example of what my noble friend was saying about other aspects of trade, services and so on.
I quite agree with what he said both in its detail and in its contemporary context. In its context, it becomes far less important—in fact, unimportant—to be a member of the single market, but of course we must have the biggest trading relationships that we can with it. In my view the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, made the same confusion about access and membership. I really think we have to get that sorted out.
My Lords, I have put my name to Amendment 4, which was so effectively moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hain. Amendment 5, which is in my name and grouped with it, covers some of the matters that have already been discussed in the debate on Amendment 1.
The issue here is vital to much manufacturing industry in the UK and I am grateful to the noble Lord who spoke a moment ago emphasising that. The EU market is absolutely critical for manufacturers. This is generally true throughout the UK, but it is particularly true in Wales, where manufacturing represents a significant part of the economy and where the service sector is somewhat smaller than it is in other parts of these islands. I note the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and I respect them, but those arguments do not carry so much weight in Wales, given where we are now.
That is why the Welsh Government, led by Labour First Minister Carwyn Jones, jointly with the official Plaid Cymru Opposition led by Leanne Wood, have taken the unusual step of publishing a joint White Paper, Securing Wales’ Future, which has been endorsed by the National Assembly for Wales as a body. The White Paper calls for us to have,
“a new relationship with Europe”,
so it obviously accepts that, as a result of the referendum, we are leaving the EU as it is presently composed. That is something that I greatly regret, but it seems to be the reality.
The central theme of the White Paper is encapsulated in the following summary paragraph:
“We believe that full and unfettered access to the Single Market for goods, services and capital—including our key agricultural and food products—is vital for the forward interests of Wales and the UK as a whole and we urge the UK Government to adopt this as the top priority for negotiation with the EU”.
The reason for putting so much emphasis on this dimension is simple. When the old heavy industries in Wales declined as a source of employment, the replacement strategy adopted by successive Labour and Conservative Governments in London, and thereafter by Governments of Wales in Cardiff—and central to the highly successful work of the WDA—was to maximise inward investment to Wales by companies from America and Asia wanting to secure a manufacturing base in order to sell to the EU market.
This approach has been the key strategic element that has helped Wales to build a new manufacturing economy over the past three or four decades. I personally saw the merits of this at first hand, having worked before entering politics with three American corporations—Ford, Mars and Hoover, which was at Merthyr Tydfil at that time—and then having helped to set up a small company, Alpha-Dyffryn, which I chaired for nine years. This company was the sprat that caught the mackerel and secured the Siemens factory at Llanberis, which employs some 400 people and was established to sell to the European market.
What I know about all American companies coming to be based in Wales—companies such as Ford at Bridgend—is that they do so in order to sell to a European market of 500 million customers. If such companies had to overcome tariff or technical barriers, they would think twice before locating in Wales—or, indeed, in north-east England, Merseyside or the Midlands. They would certainly think twice about increasing their existing investment. Such unhampered access is equally relevant to key Welsh industries such as agriculture: 90% of our exports of beef and sheepmeat go to the European market.
The Welsh Government are not blind or deaf to the outcome of the referendum. They recognise that two elements that influenced some, though not all, of the out voters were, first, migration levels from the EU to the UK—though this only amounts to 2.6% of the population in Wales—and, secondly, the wish to avoid what some saw as unnecessary regulation. Those two elements may militate against our continuing full membership of the single market—though we note that, as has been mentioned, this is a price that Norway finds worth paying. Indeed, as has also been mentioned, some of the campaigners to leave the EU argued during the campaign that we would be able to seek a Norway-type relationship.
The Assembly White Paper states explicitly that the Welsh economy,
“will continue to need migration from EU countries to help sustain our private sector economy and public services”.
This is true of the tourist sector, of food processing, of the university sector and of much more. It is in the interests both of Wales and of the EU to reach an agreement that allows barrier-free access to the single market in return for an agreement to allow EU migrants to come to Wales to work. I emphasise the words “to work”. That is the key element in the approach of the Assembly White Paper, which explicitly states that,
“freedom of movement of people is linked to employment”.
That is the requirement and it should be acceptable both to EU countries and to ourselves.
What we ask in the amendments is that the Government commit to such an approach in their negotiations with our 27 EU partners. Equally, with regulations that may be needed to avoid market distortion, it should be possible to agree, and for the UK to legislate, for such regulations as may be needed to maintain a level playing field. In fact, the European Union Committee recognises this in its report Brexit: The Options for Trade, which, in paragraph 43 of the summary, on page 76, says:
“The notion that a country can have complete regulatory sovereignty while engaging in comprehensive free trade with partners is based on a misunderstanding of the nature of free trade. Modern FTAs involve extensive regulatory harmonisation in order to eliminate non-tariff barriers, and surveillance and dispute resolution arrangements to monitor and enforce implementation. The liberalisation of trade thus requires states to agree to limit the exercise of their sovereignty”.
In the context of these amendments, that is a very pertinent paragraph.
What is being sought by the cross-party approach in Wales is neither unreasonable nor impractical. Indeed, the wording of the Government’s White Paper leaves a small chink of light that suggests that they may in their heart be amenable to such an approach. Indeed, in paragraph 8.3 of the White Paper they say that a new negotiated agreement,
“may take in elements of current Single Market arrangements in certain areas as it makes no sense to start again from scratch when the UK and the remaining Member States have adhered to the same rules for so many years”.
Precisely. So why will the Government not accept one or other of the amendments as a token of their sincerity in that approach, or at least table their own amendment along these lines on Report? Industry, business and agriculture would then sleep much more easily—and so would the Government of Wales.
My Lords, I have no problem in agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, that a good trade deal, and a fair trade deal, is important for Wales—and, indeed, for all parts of the United Kingdom. My problem with the amendments is that they fly directly in the face of what the people voted for. Since the referendum, many remainers have been peddling the myth that the people voted to leave the EU but not to leave the single market. The single market was not on the ballot paper, they say, so the people could not have voted for it. Apparently they just wanted to leave the EU but to stay in the single market; we heard that point put passionately by the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, a few moments ago.
Remainers have accused my right honourable friend the Prime Minister of “opting” for a hard Brexit. I submit that that is nonsense. The Prime Minister is not opting for a hard Brexit, a soft Brexit or any sort of squishy Brexit; she is merely attempting to carry out the wishes of the people to leave the EU. That automatically means leaving the single market, because if we stay in the single market we are still in the EU, to all intents and purposes.
Would the noble Lord respond to the notion that the people decided that they wanted access but not membership? So the 48%—let us get this right—wanted membership of the single market and the 52% wanted access? Was that on the ballot paper, by any chance?
My Lords, it would be difficult to respond to that without tying myself in circles, because the noble Lord has got it slightly wrong. But I will come on to the point about people saying we could access the single market. At one point during the campaign, it may have been my right honourable friend Boris Johnson who said, “We could leave the EU and still access the single market”. What happened? All hell broke loose. It is not that we were shot down but the Government and their advisers dropped the equivalent of all their bunker-busting bombs on us. “No, no”, said the then Prime Minister, the Treasury and the BSE campaign. “If you vote to leave the EU, then you are out of the single market. You are out of the customs union. You can’t have one without the other”, said all the government spokesmen. “You can’t have your cake and eat it”, they said. On that occasion that is what the Government said. Opposition Members have quoted various leave spokesmen who have said, “Oh yes, we want to be in the single market and leave the EU”, or, “We want to access the single market and be in the EU”, but the response from the official BSE campaign, the Prime Minister and the Government was, “No, you can’t. Leaving the EU means leaving the single market too”. On that occasion, the remain campaign was not economical with the truth.
I just make the point that the argument that leave made was that the remainers were exaggerating and they were wrong. To their credit, people believed them and voted on that basis. So if you were a leave voter and you had listened to Daniel Hannan, if you were a leave voter and you had listened to Boris Johnson, if you were a leave voter and you were at any one of the many hustings that I went to, you would have heard the leave campaign saying absolutely clearly that you would have identical access; indeed, you would be in the single market even if you voted leave. That happened over and again and there are witnesses to it throughout this House.
Is not the point a very simple one which the noble Lord does not appear to appreciate—that every country in the world has access to the single market? The issue was whether one was a member of the single market, which would mean that all businesses—that is, 90% of the businesses in this country—would be bound by these rules and regulations, which would apply to exporters. That was the distinction made.
My noble friend, as an expert in these matters, is absolutely right. He puts it very succinctly. Please correct me if I am wrong—I am very happy to be shot down on this point—but is it correct that if we stay in the single market, then we have to accept what the EU calls the four fundamental freedoms, including open borders? Is it true that if we stay in the single market, we have to pay into the EU budget to a certain extent? Is it correct that, if we stay in the single market, we have to let the European court rule over us? Is it correct that, if we stay in the single market, we have to accept laws made by a body over which this Parliament would have no say or control? That is not leaving the EU, and those who advocate staying in the single market know it full well. It is staying in the EU by the back door, and that is not what the British people voted for.
My Lords, the last thing I heard about Norway was in the news last week. I believe that a Norwegian Minister, or former Minister, said, “Whatever you do, don’t join the EEA like we did. It was a terrible mistake”. I am not here to answer for Norway’s decision. I am here to support the decision of the British people—all 17.2 million of them. I was part of the leave campaign, a little junior cog, and after we were successful, some detailed studies were done. Contrary to the public view that everybody voted leave to stop or control immigration, the vast majority of people—72%—voted leave because they said that they wanted to get back control and sovereignty of their country. Only about 23% put immigration at the top of the list. Of course, admittedly, if you are taking back sovereignty and control and putting Parliament in charge, that means Parliament is in charge of immigration and a lot of other things as well. But let us not pretend that people voted leave purely because of immigration or because they wanted to stay in the single market.
I conclude with a comment that I made in my Second Reading speech, when I quoted my right honourable friend Sir Oliver Letwin MP, one of the Government’s foremost remain campaigners, and one of the then Prime Minister’s gurus when thinking about these things. He said in the other place on
“I made it … clear … that … an inevitable consequence of leaving the EU would be leaving the single market”,
and leaving the customs union. He continued,
“it seems to me … that the people who voted to leave were voting with their eyes wide open, knowing that the consequence might be our falling back on the WTO”.—[
The Government made it clear at the time that leaving the EU meant leaving the single market. There is no excuse now to try to build in this amendment to thwart the decision of the British people.
I support Amendment 4. I do so because what the Government are doing is beyond me with their extreme form of Brexit in taking us out of the single market. Why are they doing it? Above all, why are those on the Conservative Benches who supported remain allowing them to do it? It is true that there was an instruction from the British people that we should leave the European Union but there was not an instruction for us to leave the single market, however much the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, might wish there was. That was for the very simple reason that, as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, pointed out, that matter was not on the ballot paper. The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, and other noble Lords on the leave side of this argument can speculate as much as they want about the reasons people voted the way they did, and I can speculate as well. However, the truth is that none of us actually knows. All we know is the instruction that was given on
What we do know—however much those opposite may protest—is what all the mainstream parties promised the electorate at the time of the last general election. It was that we would stay in the single market. That was at a time when the referendum was likely. Indeed, it was a pledge in the manifesto of the Conservative Party. As the noble Lord, Lord Hain, also mentioned, the Conservative Party manifesto could not have been clearer. To avoid any ambiguity it emphasised its clarity. It said:
“We say: yes to the Single Market”.
There was no caveat in the way that people suggest, so it is unclear to me why the Prime Minister has decided—given that she has no other mandate on this matter than that manifesto—that she is saying no to the single market. I have heard the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, and other noble Lords, including some Ministers, argue that the unambiguous pledge in the Conservative manifesto was somehow trumped by the fact that there would be a referendum and the Government would respect the result. You can respect the result of the referendum and withdraw from the European Union without withdrawing from the single market. Deciding to leave the EU does not mean leaving the single market, however much noble Lords opposite would like it to do so.
As has been mentioned, a number of countries are members of the European single market but not members of the European Union. Norway, in particular, was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. Norway sought to negotiate joining the EU at the same time as us in the 1970s. In the end, it had a referendum and voted against but it became a member of the single market. We should be very clear that when Norwegian Ministers were saying it was not ideal, they were not saying, “Don’t be members of the single market”; they were saying, “For goodness’ sake, stay in the European Union”. To suggest otherwise is just nonsense.
It is clear that it is possible to be both outside the EU and inside the single market. The question, therefore, is whether it is desirable. In my very strong view, it is. We know that the issue in world trade increasingly is not tariffs but non-tariff barriers. As the IFS noted in its report on the single market published in August last year, the service sector is particularly important to our economy and to our tax receipts and is particularly vulnerable. The financial services sector is likely to be disproportionately hit by loss of the single market.
For many of us, the decision to leave the EU is a tragedy that goes far beyond economics but it is compounded by the Government’s decision to pursue extreme Brexit no matter the cost to our economy. We have the opportunity tonight to ask them to think again. We should take it.
I can be extremely brief. I just want to take up one point that the noble Lord, Lord Hain, raised earlier. He acknowledged the significance of immigration to the result of the referendum. He did not say that it was the main reason but he acknowledged its significance. So it seems to me that a key question is whether we can stay in the single market and control immigration. He mentioned that other countries such as Belgium have found a way to control immigration within the single market by removing people without a job.
The situation in the UK is entirely different from that of Belgium. We have more than 2 million European citizens working here—which is fine, but we cannot skate over the fact that the whole situation is different. The numbers are much larger. Noble Lords may not know that last year 625,000 EU citizens took out national insurance numbers. They will not all be working; some will be short term. But the scale of it is enormous. We know that net EU migration is 180,000, equal almost to that from the rest of the world. There is no prospect of any serious measures of control if we remain in the single market.
My Lords, I am grateful to follow the noble Lord, Lord Green. I am going to be brief—I hope very brief. For far too long during the campaign and since we have had the fear of the stranger. The fear of someone who comes from another country and, none the less, comes to this country and wants to play by the same rules. I have no fear of such strangers.
I am not interested really in what was said during the campaign—
I hope that the noble Lord is not suggesting either that I have such a fear or that I am trying to create it. I am certainly not. For 15 years I have tried to bring to people’s attention the broad facts on the issue and I hope that the noble Lord will acknowledge that.
I acknowledge that fully and I hope that the record will reflect that I referred to “the campaign and since”.
I am not interested in what was said during the campaign—who said what and where they said it. What matters is now, and how we build on this. It was wonderful to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Howell—and he always listens with such generosity to others—but I am going to take a slightly different approach.
I want also to revisit something that was said by the Minister about people’s trust in politics. He is absolutely right. It was at an all-time low and it is our duty to pull it back up. However, at the root of that is a real fear, and I sense that that fear is growing. People are wondering what will happen to them and their rights when we start to negotiate our way out of the European Union. It is a fear shared by UK nationals living in other countries, such as the more than 1.2 million people living in Spain; it is a fear of others who have come to this country to live, work, study and contribute; and it is a fear that we must address. That is why, I suggest, there is such a large number of amendments to this very simple Bill; they reflect a real, deep concern outside.
I make no apology for my attachment to membership of the single market. It gives social responsibility to the market; it gives rights to consumers and to the people who work within it; and, as I said in my previous speech, it gives wonderful rights of non-discrimination, not least in the workplace and in access to training and vocational training. There is a fear that, when we remove the freedom of movement that quite rightly comes from membership of the single market, all those rights that people enjoy—although they no longer take them for granted—will disappear. That is why I very much support this amendment, as I do the protection of the rights of EU nationals.
In the light of what the noble Lord has just said, does he share my dismay that the leaders of the Official Opposition appear to have set their face against supporting this amendment? At the heart of the amendment is surely an instruction to the Government to put membership of the single market at the very heart of their negotiating strategy.
I promised brevity. I share the noble Lord’s dismay for the very simple reason that when I negotiate and have a vision, it is not for the short term or to pander to public opinion but about where I want this country to be in the long term, generations down the line.
I conclude by saying that my deep concern is that, when we no longer have access to the single market, the rights that are currently enjoyed will not be replicated in their entirety elsewhere. It has been suggested that no deal would give us the opportunity to do whatever we want. That is not the reality. No deal will bring great costs. One of those costs—or benefits, as has been suggested—is that we will become a tax haven. My deep and bigger fear is that we will become an offshore, unregulated sweat-shop of Europe, and I am happy to support the amendment.
My Lords, I have listened carefully to all the contributions on the amendments so far and I feel that I must intervene. I have been deeply troubled in trying to understand why the Government are so set on the idea that no deal is better than a bad deal and that we can contemplate leaving the single market and the customs union with some kind of equanimity. That was brought home to me by the comment of my noble friend Lord Howell about the failure to see what is going on. It brought to mind his eloquent description of how he sees the future of global trade and global business, which is not in manufacturing but in services. But that vision is not shared on other Benches across the House, and nor indeed by me. Indeed, I would argue that it is not shared by the majority of the people in this country. His remarks imply the destruction of our manufacturing sector and of millions of jobs across the country, and I do not believe that that is what the British people voted for.
The implication is not that at all; it is that the patterns and processes of production are now being internationalised on a scale that we have never seen before, so that even different stages in the processes of production are spread through fantastic new value chains right across many nations. Of course production will go on—but it is now very much an international rather than a national affair. That is happening now.
I do not disagree with my noble friend that that is what is going on, but by leaving the single market we are hampering our manufacturing industry and putting barriers in the way that will ensure the destruction of millions of jobs. Unless we get some kind of access to the single market, we are sacrificing the integrated supply chains so many of our smaller businesses depend on. If we believe that no deal is better than a bad deal, we are gambling millions of manufacturing jobs, 10% of our GDP and peaceful developments in Northern Ireland—our debate on Northern Ireland was particularly important this evening—in exchange for the hope that we will achieve the White Paper wish list. My noble friend the Minister did indeed set out what we wish to achieve, but we still have no idea what might happen if we do not manage to achieve that. We are giving up the integrated supply chains and Euratom membership, and leaving the customs union, the EEA, EFTA and the single market in the hope that we can benefit from the growth in services and technology.
We need to recognise that leaving the single market was never put to the British people. I believe that it will be hugely damaging to our economy. Somebody may decide to buy a house and, on the basis of the estate agent’s details, may make an offer that is accepted and decide that they will move there. If they then have a survey done, or their lawyer discovers some unexpected legal small print, they want the chance to change their mind. They do not want to be bound by their original decision if what they end up with is not what they imagined. Therefore, I believe it is the duty of this House to ask the other place to think again on some of the vital issues that are bound up in what is, I agree, a very short and potentially uncomplicated Bill.
My Lords, I am very pleased to follow the noble Baroness because, with her sharpness and clarity, she has brought this debate back to earth with a bump. Yes, whether we stay in the single market goes to the heart of the Brexit debate but, much more importantly, it goes to the heart of our future prosperity as a country—the lives, livelihoods, jobs and standards of living of all our fellow citizens—and therefore we should dwell on it.
In the coming negotiations, Britain should have three primary objectives: first, to secure, as far as possible, the continuity of our existing trade in the European Union; secondly, to be in the best position to attract future supply chain investment in Britain by international companies; and thirdly, to optimise our ability to make future trade agreements with other countries. All these objectives would best be served by our continuing in the single market, through the European Economic Area, as Norway did when, in the 1990s, its public rejected membership of the European Union but, seeking the economic opportunities available to it in Europe, decided instead to join the EEA. I believe this very strongly. I have to say this not only in opposition to the Government’s chosen path—what has rightly been called, “Brexit at all costs”, which is both desperate on their part and potentially very damaging indeed to our economy—but also in disagreement with the argument on grounds of sovereignty, made by Keir Starmer in the other place, that staying in the single market through the EEA would make Britain subject to rules that the rest of the EU has made. That is what lawyers would describe as a piece of Nelsonian knowledge. It is what happens when you intentionally place a telescope to your blind eye.
I accept that, hitherto, the EEA shows what small countries such as Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein were able to secure when committing to being part of the single market, but Britain is not of the same status, size or type as any of those countries. A British version of membership of the EEA—this is a key point—would retain much more influence and clout in setting the standards for our largest export market. By removing ourselves from the European Union and the single market, we would only theoretically be more sovereign and we would be considerably poorer. I am reminded of what the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, said:
“A man alone in the desert is sovereign. He is also powerless”.
I respect the result of the referendum, but I part company from the Government in my belief that we now have an absolute duty to obtain the closest and best possible economic relationship with our largest export and investment market after we leave the European Union. Merely seeking a future free trade agreement between Britain and the EU that deals with tariffs and some customs procedures will fall far short of actually being in the single market. Yes, that is the difference between access and actual participation through membership of the single market that the noble Lords, Lord Spicer and Lord Forsyth, drew to our attention. The former—access—we have to beg for; the latter, we have by right. That is a fundamental difference.
If we simply do as the Government are proposing and seek a free trade agreement, I assure noble Lords, as a former Trade Commissioner and this country’s Trade Secretary, that it will give us significantly less trade than we have at the moment, no automatic market rights in Europe and a paltry means of enforcing those rights that we have. Believe me, I have negotiated those things on Europe’s behalf with countries trying to access the European single market. I know how ponderous the European Commission can be when it comes to such negotiations. I know how difficult it is for third countries, which is what we would be, to get access on the terms that they want and need.
A free trade agreement would not cover all trade; it would not cover services as well as goods, which is a fundamental point. The agreement—if we ever get one, given how relations between ourselves and our European partners have gone downhill since the Prime Minister’s October speech to the Conservative Party conference—will take a very long time to obtain and will certainly stretch way beyond the two-year cut-off point of Article 50 itself. That is why John Major was absolutely right to make his speech this evening at Chatham House in which he strongly and in vigorous terms attacked the Government’s approach to Brexit and called, quite rightly, for a little more charm towards our erstwhile partners and a little less cheap rhetoric.
In a number of key national capitals—
Why am I not fighting to keep us in the European Union? My word. Judging by my email inbox, the noble Lord must be the only person in the country who does not believe that I am fighting for Britain’s continued membership of the European Union. Of course being a democrat, I respect—oh, there is no point his waving his hand in that Edwardian way.
I am afraid that we have had a referendum, but the point is this: we can now make a choice between leaving the European Union and wrecking our economy, or leaving the European Union and making the best economic job that we can of doing so. There is a huge difference between negotiating our future trade relationship from the safety of being a relative insider, which is what we would be as members of the EEA, as opposed to being an outsider and jostling for preferential access to Europe’s marketplace like any other country—fighting with many others for access at Europe’s border. Of course the single market is not perfect, notably in its coverage of all services. However, almost half of British trade in goods and services takes place in the European market. It should therefore be an absolute priority for us to secure the continuity of that trade we already have.
There is another crucial issue for us, given the nature of our manufacturing sector in this country. Other noble Lords have touched on that. The point is that the single market is not just a huge trading space: it is also a giant factory floor. Among mature economies trade is now increasingly less in finished goods than in part-finished goods moving back and forth across borders, often many times, as part of increasingly sophisticated value chains.
My Lords, it is not a question of everything being hunky-dory, but of how desperately worse off we would be were we not to remain in the single market. For goodness’ sake, let us apply a little reality to this. Even President Trump may wake up one day and realise that, given the nature of 21st-century trade in the world today, 40% of the content of Mexican exports to the US actually originates in the US. That is the reality of trade and of the single market; that is why I have no hesitation in describing it as a vast factory floor.
Another thing that is changing interests is that while tariffs and customs controls are important, as we will find out, increasingly so are product standards, copyright and intellectual property rules, investment rules and, yes, rules governing data sharing and transfer. The point is that in the single market we have a single rulebook that covers all these things and therefore we have an even playing field across the entire European single market on which our businesses can conduct their business. We will struggle outside it, especially if in pursuit of a US trade deal we choose to comply with equivalent American rules instead of European ones. The more we diverge from European rules, the more difficult we will find it to trade in our own vast home European market.
That brings me to my last point, which is the Government’s version of global Britain. We are right and they are right to seek greater access to global markets for Britain’s goods and services. I spent four years painstakingly doing that as the Trade Commissioner. But let us be clear: we are not pushing against an open door in the international trading system. Many fast-growing and emerging economies where we want to deliver our goods and services in the future are becoming more protectionist than ever. Public sentiment is hardly making the prospects for trade more positive in these economies, and President Trump will make things a whole lot harder. If we are not careful, the policy of “America first” and the protectionism that goes with it will spread like a contagion across the international trading system, making new agreements even more difficult to negotiate in the future than they are now. That is why I think that the Government are taking a huge risk in jeopardising what we currently have, the trade that we currently bank in the single market, for the sake of entirely speculative future gains elsewhere. They are not gains, they are speculations about what we hope we will be able to achieve elsewhere in the world later.
Let us remember that we cannot even begin to negotiate any sort of trade arrangement with the European Union until we have finally left it, and when we know what we will have to offer to other countries in future trade agreements will depend largely on our future relationship with Europe’s single market. If we entered the EEA and stayed in the single market but left the customs union, as Norway has done, we could trade more easily in Europe and form trade agreements with others in the rest of the world. That really would be having your cake and eating it. Out of the EU and the single market, on the other hand, it is not yet clear how the Government will manage the negotiation, but if the word on the street is right that Ministers will seek sectoral agreements in, for example, automotive goods and financial services, I think we are going to be disappointed. I would be very surprised if the EU negotiated on that basis because of its completely understandable objection to cherry-picking and because of the sheer practical difficulties involved in creating customs arrangements that would be very problematic to design and introduce, and even harder to police.
I have the feeling that the Government simply do not understand exactly what they are biting off in trying to negotiate a whole new trade deal on the basis that they are: with the European Union but outside the single market. Perhaps they understand how difficult it is going to be and secretly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, that, when it comes to it, it would be better just to pay the bill and leave without getting a deal at all. I hope very much that that does not happen. It would be an economic disaster for our country.
Let us be clear. Any deal on offer on the basis of the Government’s current approach would be highly suboptimal for us. That is why I support the amendment—to leave the European Union, if that is the will of the people and of Parliament, but to stay in the single market. Yes, it would mean compromising on some of the political objectives that many leave campaigners hold dear, but there is the whole country to think of, not just the ideologues among the leave campaigners. That is what Parliament is meant to do: reflect and represent the interests of the whole country, not just one part of it.
My Lords, we on these Benches fully support the amendment and the excellent arguments made by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and the other signatories, the noble Lords, Lord Monks and Lord Wigley, and my noble friend Lord Oates. We also support the tour de force from the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, and the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann. They are extremely convincing. My noble friend Lady Kramer answered the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, who said that it was clear that leaving the EU means leaving the single market. That is absolutely not the case. The point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, about the Conservative manifesto of 2015, which said:
“We say: yes to the Single Market”.
He answered very effectively the noble Lord, Lord Lamont.
The Government claim they want free, seamless and frictionless trade, at least as possible. Those two words “as possible” have great import and meaning, because it will not be possible to have free, seamless and frictionless trade if we are not in the single market and the customs union. Anything else is very much second best. The noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, summed it up: it is about integrated supply chains. If it was not important whether we are in the single market and the customs union we would not have had such reactions from successive car firms, such as Nissan and Vauxhall. Now, apparently, BMW is about to move production of electric Minis out of the UK. No doubt it will knock on the Government’s door very soon to try to get a similar comfort letter out of them.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell, talked about how goods sailing out of Tilbury was passé. It does not seem to be passé to manufacturers in this country. Any alternative to being in the single market and the customs union is more bureaucratic and more cumbersome. In addition, any terms for trading freely with the EU single market will mean compliance with product standards, other regulation and data standards, which were mentioned. That has caused huge problems for non-EU members, including the United States. On this fetish that the Government have to pretend that we have never heard of the European Court of Justice, they will have to face up to the fact that, one way or another, directly or indirectly, we will have to accord with EU law and the rulings of the court. As I said the other day, there will be some sort of smoke and mirrors there.
The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, stressed how important the single market is to Wales. I pick that up, because my noble friend Lady Humphreys stressed it at Second Reading. Indeed, she mentioned the Airbus factory in Wales, which must have the same integrated supply chain issues that were mentioned.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell, was dismissive of the EU market, which takes only 42% or 44% of our exports. That is three times as much as the US market takes. The point is that the EU is a battering ram to try and open up US and other markets. One of the problems is state-level public procurement in the US and with “Buy America” being reinforced by President Trump, we are going to need all the help we can get from the European base. We are not going to be able to open up those markets on our own.
The other red line, besides the Court of Justice, is the fetish of free movement. It has been made a red line by the Government and, I am afraid, by the Labour Opposition. It became apparent in exchanges we have had in the last few weeks in this House at Question Time that the UK Government do not even know whether they are enforcing the existing restrictions on free movement, and they are refusing to explore the flexibility and change that it might be possible to get across the EU or the EEA. The noble Lord, Lord Green, says that there was no prospect of any serious measures of control. However, what was interesting about the renegotiation of the former Prime Minister David Cameron was the quite extraordinary principle introduced of the possibility to discriminate on the grounds of nationality, which was actually pretty revolutionary.
The Government are not even trying to explore the flexibility there, as well as, of course, ignoring the two-way street and opportunities that it gives the British people. Just throwing away free movement is telling particularly our young people, as well as retirees, that they can dish any plans they had to work, study and retire in Europe. Therefore, from these Benches we fully support the amendment. I hope that the speeches from distinguished noble Lords on the Labour Benches—and even not on the Labour Benches—and the dialogue, will have persuaded the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, to join these Benches in supporting the amendment.
My Lords, what a nice invitation to have from the noble Baroness. It is almost impossible to disagree with my noble friends Lord Hain, Lord Monks and Lord Mandelson, and, indeed, most of the other noble Lords who have spoken, certainly from this side but elsewhere, about the benefit of the single market to the UK’s economic and social prosperity. As many noble Lords know—they have had to hear from me far too many times—my commitment to the EU long predates the creation of the internal market, although it was perhaps more for me the peace project referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, in an earlier amendment. I nevertheless believe that the internal market has contributed to these wider objectives in addition to the trade and prosperity that it has helped to generate.
Indeed, the arguments we have heard are exactly those that I used day after day during the referendum. However, some of the speeches today, I fear, were about trying to rerun that argument. Amendment 4 is rather as if the referendum had not happened and the result was not for leaving. The Bill is about authorising the Prime Minister to begin the process. It is not about going over the arguments. What it demands is a statement from the Prime Minister contrary to her White Paper. I think she is getting the approach wrong, but that it different from making it a statement from her, that only at that point could we trigger Article 50 because that statement makes it conditional within the amendment. I think asking a Prime Minister to eat her own words before she triggers it is something that this House probably cannot and would not want to do.
Anyway, our continued membership of the single market once we are outside the EU—that is, back in the EFTA, which we left in 1972—is also difficult as we would have to accept ECJ jurisdiction as well as free movement. I cannot see the problem with the ECJ. I simply do not understand the Government’s horror at accepting an international court. We will need some sort of adjudication system anyway in any free trade agreement with the EU. Whether the Government will then complain about that I do not know.
It is true that during the referendum I heard from a number of leave supporters that they wanted the UK to make its own rules but never once did I hear that they did not like the ECJ. The Government are just wrong on this. If that were the only obstacle to EFTA membership, I certainly believe we could win that argument. However, we cannot simply airbrush free movement from the referendum decision. If we turn round to those who voted out and say, “Yes, well, we’re out but still have everything exactly as it was, with free movement unchanged”, I think that might evince some surprise.
More than that, this Norway/EFTA option contains a large democratic deficit. My noble friend Lord Mandelson says that that is Nelsonian knowledge. I had to ask what that meant but I understand now and I do not think it is: there is a real democratic deficit in what would be on offer. It would mean that instead of being a member of a club that sets the rules we would be mere recipients of rules decided elsewhere.
With great respect, we would not be mere recipients. We would be large, senior, influential members of the EEA negotiating our membership of it on terms that would give us significant influence over policy-making and rule-making in the European Union. Everyone accepts that and I cannot understand why my own Front Bench cannot see it.
I wish that my noble friend Lord Mandelson was right on that. If it were the case, we might be in a different position but at the moment it is a hope rather than a guarantee.
When I worked in the European Parliament, as any noble Lords who may have been in the Commons at the time might remember, we saved 1000cc motorcycles. We also saved kippers and Scottish Arbroath smokies. As noble Lords may remember, on the 1000cc motorcycles we had those wonderful big bikes going round and round Parliament Square before they headed off to Brussels. I think it was Commissioner Bangemann who had tried to ban 1000cc bikes. Of course, other than the States they were only made in Britain. Elsewhere they made smaller ones and they came up with this argument that the larger ones were inherently unsafe. Actually, it turned out that they were safer than small bikes, partly because they are ridden by safer riders. Unfortunately, we won not because of the great display of bikes going round Parliament Square but because we had a Minister at the Council of Ministers as well as MEPs. He is not in his place but I think my noble friend Lord Tomlinson was probably the MEP concerned at the time. So we were able to challenge that argument and we won.
It was similar with the smokies, on a smaller issue. Some bright spark in the Commission thought they should be transported only below a certain temperature. Of course, they can be sent by post—in those days, we used to get them early enough for our breakfast. We managed to save those, too, but we did it because we had MEPs in the European Parliament, we had a Commissioner and we obviously had a Minister at the Council of Ministers.
What worries me—and, indeed, what worries me about the intervention just made—is that we would become rather like what we saw a lot there, namely lobbyists around the corridors of Brussels, using others to make the arguments for us. Norway said to us, “We use our Scandinavian friends; we have a very close relationship, for obvious reasons, and they make our representations for us”.
The other issue, of course, that we are all beginning to see, relates to the regulations. These are the regulations that your Lordships’ House will soon have to put into the great repeal Bill. These have all been passed by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, in both of which we are represented as a member of the EU. Once we put those into the great repeal Bill, others will continue to be made. In the short term, there will be no problem, and in the transitional period, membership of the EEA is extremely attractive because it will take a long time before those are replaced. Certainly, if we remain in the customs union, which I very much hope we will be able to do, we will have to abide by rules, even if we have not made them, on those elements with which we trade and by which we export. That, however, is different from being bound by the whole acquis and judged by the ECJ, with no British member, on rules that we have not made, in a Parliament in which we have no seats and in a Council in which we have no vote. That is not what the referendum said.
Therefore, my heart is with the movers of the amendment and with wanting to stay as we were, but I also have time, occasionally, to read books. I am a great fan of Lampedusa’s The Leopard, with its famous advice:
“Everything needs to change, so everything can stay the same”.
Alternatively, in some translations—Italian speakers will know better than I—he says:
“If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change”.
I want things to stay as they are, in that we should continue to trade freely with the EU 27, but to achieve this, we will have to change, and negotiate tariff-free, encumbrance-free access to that single market and it to us. That is what we must aim for. We have a fight ahead of us to keep our position in the customs union, to ensure that tariff-free trade and to work for the three objectives that have just been set out by my noble friend Lord Mandelson and the closest possible relationship with the EU 27. Our task is to persuade the Government that they have set their sat-nav for the wrong destination. That is where our energies must go. However, it is unfair to give people the unrealistic hope that staying in the single market, despite the referendum and our exit, is a possibility. We need to continue to trade as freely as possible with the EU that we have to leave. For that reason, we are not able to support this amendment.
I think that I would like to say a few words, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, says. I sense there is some division. Let me start by trying to mend some bridges—pardon the pun. All of us in this House wish our country to prosper. We all want to see more investment and more jobs. The very simple question raised by these amendments is this: in light of the vote to leave the EU, how can we best do that? I know that the noble Lords, Lord Hain and Lord Monks, and other noble Lords whose names are on these amendments, have long-held views that the best route to achieve that aim is, at least in part, for the United Kingdom to remain within the EU and within the single market. I respect their views and the steadfastness with which they hold them. I will try my best to be eloquent, but I am sure that what I am about to say will not deflect them and a number of other noble Lords, such as the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, from supporting this amendment. But I will briefly set out why the Government oppose the amendment. The first and most obvious reason is that it has nothing to do with the Bill. The Bill has one purpose only: to enable the Government to start the process of negotiation. It is not a means to dictate the terms of the negotiation.
The second reason concerns the democratic arguments. Very briefly, as I said earlier, the Government promised to hold a referendum and to honour its result. Yes, I know that the Conservative Government said that they would protect our role in the single market in the manifesto. But as my noble friend Lord Blencathra pointed out, the manifesto also promised to respect the result of the referendum—a promise which this Parliament endorsed by passing the European Union Referendum Act.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, said, the debate we have heard tonight has been a rerun of the referendum campaign. As I said earlier, during that campaign, every household was sent a leaflet which spelled out the consequences of leaving as regards our membership of the single market. A number of people on both sides of the argument pointed out that we could not vote to leave and then try to remain in the single market. Criticising the leave campaign, one of those arguing to remain said:
“Some of those advocating British withdrawal suggest that we can have our cake and eat it by staying within the European single market to retain the great bulk of our trade which is with EU countries”.—[Official Report, 2/3/16; col. 855.]
Those are the words of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and he was quite right. The four freedoms are seen by many across Europe as indivisible, and we should respect those views.
Much more than that, as other noble Lords have said, remaining a member of the single market would mean complying with the EU’s rules and regulations that implement the four freedoms, without having a vote on what those rules and regulations are. It would almost certainly mean accepting a role for the Court of Justice of the European Union. It would mean still not having control over immigration—relying on enforcement powers rather than creating an immigration system, which this Government intend to build, which allows us to control numbers and encourages the brightest and best to come to this country.
As to the customs union, were we to remain a full member, we would remain bound by a common external tariff, which would greatly limit our ability to strike our own trade deals and our freedom to determine the level of UK tariffs. Were we to remain within the common commercial policy, we would not be able to pursue freely our bold, ambitious trade agenda with the rest of the world. We would instead, as now, be ceding responsibility for this to the European Union. So to remain a member of the single market and to remain a full member of the customs union would, to all intents and purposes, mean not leaving the EU at all.
As to the EEA, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, that it suffers from a democratic deficit. Once we leave the EU, as my noble and learned friend said earlier, the EEA agreement will no longer be relevant for the UK. It will have no practical effect. But we expect a phased process of implementation to cover our withdrawal from the EU in which both Britain and the EU institutions and member states prepare for the new arrangements between us. This is intended to give businesses enough time to plan and prepare for the new arrangements. The interim arrangements that we rely on will be a matter for negotiation.
I have nothing further to add, other than to say that it is a matter for the negotiations. It is a matter for the negotiations and I am not going to go further. I checked the transcript of the Select Committee hearing that the noble Lord so rightly brought me up on earlier and that is what I said. It is exactly consistent with what I have said.
I turn to our approach to trade with the EU once we have left. My noble friend Lord Howell pointed out the intricacies of this. It is absolutely true—a basic point—that across the world countries which are not members of the single market trade with Europe. The single market is not a tablet of stone. As the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, so rightly said, in services, which drive so much of our wealth creation, the single market is incomplete; likewise, on digital services. With that in mind, the Government have a clear aim: to seek an agreement for the freest and most frictionless trade possible in goods and services between the UK and the EU. We start these negotiations from a unique position. The EU exports to the UK £290 billion of goods and services each year, and on day 1 we will have exactly the same regulations and standards as our negotiating partners. The focus will not be about removing existing barriers or questioning certain protections but about ensuring new barriers do not arise, and the scale of trade means that it should be in our interests, and Europe’s interests, to come to an agreement.
As to achieving frictionless trade, some have highlighted the non-tariff barriers—standards, conformity assessments and so on—that might arise when we have left. These are indeed important issues, as well as intricate and complex issues, and I am not going to dismiss what the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, said about the challenges that some of them pose. In the interests of time, I will address just one, customs.
As noble Lords know, sophisticated supply chains can operate between countries that do not, for example, have a formal customs union. The US and Canada do not have a customs union, but highly complex and integrated automotive supply chains operate across their borders. Next, there are many precedents of means to reduce border bureaucracy. The EU has agreements with China, Japan, the US and other countries, to allow businesses with “authorised economic operator status” access to simpler and faster customs procedures. Today, UK companies with AEO status account for around 60% of UK imports and 74% of UK exports. Next, we have one of the most advanced customs systems in the world: 99% of customs declarations are received electronically and 96% are cleared in seconds.
I am not disputing that there are challenges ahead; however, I am saying that there are precedents on offer and that we are building on a strong base. I would ask those of your Lordships who, like me, voted to remain, to stop fighting the battles of the campaign and to come together to help us to think of ways in which we can continue to thrive, continue to trade and overcome some of the challenges.
The issues raised by this amendment are indeed worthy of debate, but with the greatest of respect, this amendment has no place in the Bill and would undermine the expressed intent of the British people, which is to leave the EU. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, respectfully, I completely disagree with the proposition that the Minister has just made. Yes, I did say that the European Union was preferable to staying in the single market—that was my belief. That was also what he believed and what the Prime Minister of the day, David Cameron, argued. It is what all of us on the remain side argued—but now our task is very different. Given that we are due to leave the European Union, we have to make the best of a bad job. We have to rescue something from this which will protect jobs and prosperity, and that is what this amendment is about.
It is suggested that this will add delay. No, it will add no delay. The text of the amendment says that,
It talks about achieving and negotiating—it is about trying to go down that road. This would be a lot easier and quicker than the alternative under the WTO rules and the completely unknown waters that we are about to sail into. We do not know how difficult that will be and how long it might take. If the Minister is concerned about delay, he should support this amendment, because it will produce a much simpler outcome than the one that otherwise awaits us.
I would also say that remaining in the single market would not be against the outcome of the referendum. The referendum was about leaving the European Union. That was the question on the ballot paper; it was not about the single market. If we retain our membership of the single market, there is a much better chance of Scotland staying in the United Kingdom. If we retain membership of the single market, there is a much better chance of resolving the problems that we discussed earlier in respect of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
I do not accept the case put—very eloquently—by my Front Bench that staying in the single market will result in a democratic deficit. The WTO alternative will result in a much bigger democratic deficit than is perceived by those who criticise this amendment. As a very large economy we will still—as my noble friend Lord Mandelson said—have the opportunity to have significant influence; maybe not in the Council of Ministers or the European Parliament because those bodies require a membership of the European Union that we will no longer have, but by having the clout that we will have in the negotiation for future rules and so on in the single market.
I make no criticism of those on my Front Bench—they have done a fantastic job in very difficult circumstances. My criticism is of my party leader. I think that he will be judged by history as being on the wrong side of this argument and of forcing us to do something that we in the Labour Party do not in our hearts really believe in. What we will be doing, in my view, is nodding through a Conservative agenda for a right-wing, hard-right Brexit—Trump-like—of deregulation, low tax, small state, shrinking public services and even more austerity.
“Hear, hear”, they say—there we have the confirmation. I do not go lightly against my party Whip. In my 26 years in Parliament—in the Commons and in this House—I have only ever done this once or twice. But this for me is a matter of crucial importance to this country and to the future of the people, their jobs and their prosperity. The Minister—with all due respect—is doing a great job on a sticky wicket. But the truth is that he and the Government have no clue where we are going. They have no idea where they are taking us. For the sake of our jobs, prosperity and businesses, it is important to pass this amendment and I therefore wish to divide the House.
Ayes 136, Noes 299.
Moved by Baroness Quin
6: Clause 1, page 1, line 3, at end insert—“( ) Subsection (1) does not come into force until Her Majesty’s Government has laid before each House of Parliament an assessment of the impact of—(a) withdrawing from the European Union, and(b) Her Majesty’s Government's negotiating strategy for withdrawal,on the economy of the North East of England.”
My Lords, this amendment stands in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. It calls on the Government to lay before Parliament an impact assessment of the effect on the economy of the north-east of England of both withdrawing from the EU and their negotiating strategy. I say at the outset that this is a probing amendment and I do not aim to divide the Committee on it. However, through this amendment I wish to highlight the situation in my part of the country and the region where I live—the north-east. I recognise that this group of amendments raises a number of other issues about taking various parts of the UK into account in the negotiating strategy. I support many of those amendments, although I am obviously speaking to my own amendment in this instance.
In tabling the amendment, I was conscious of the fact that the north-east of England has a particularly heavy dependency on trade with the EU. Some 58% of its exports are destined for the European Union and its largest trading customers by far are in the European Union. I am proud of the fact that the north-east has a positive trade balance. It is unusual in that respect as compared with other regions of the UK. However, I am also concerned that this situation is very much under threat because of the Brexit strategy adopted by the Government.
In tabling this amendment, I also seek to ensure that the north-east has a voice in the Brexit process and that the Government are committed to taking the interests of the region to heart. I recognise that in many of the other amendments the importance of consulting the devolved authorities is mentioned and I would certainly not argue with those amendments in any way. I also support the amendments before the House that refer to the importance of environmental protection in the Brexit negotiations and those concerned that equalities provisions are not endangered. However, I am concerned that in our current devolved structure the regions of England—particularly the northern regions and the north-east itself—often risk being the Cinderellas of our political and economic system and are easily overlooked, despite the fact that the size of their populations and the importance and potential of their economies should give them a more important say.
My amendment is in line with some that were tabled in the House of Commons, in particular proposed new Clause 31 about the impact on regions and proposed new Clause 163 on the importance of consultation with regions. I echo some of the words spoken in the other place, particularly, as regards the north-east, the comments made by my honourable friends—if I can call them that—Catherine McKinnell MP and Phil Wilson MP. However, the amendments in the Commons overall received little attention and almost no response from the Minister, no doubt in part because of the rushed timetable and the programming that governed the Commons proceedings on this Bill. Therefore, I make no apologies for introducing my amendment and supporting other amendments before us this evening.
My amendment is about process so, given that earlier the Minister kept saying that the Bill should stick to process, I hope that it will appeal to him. Also, it cannot be criticised for giving away the Government’s negotiating strategy in advance or tying the Government’s hands in their dealings with our European partners. Where it tries to tie the Government’s hands is in committing them to a proper structure for dialogue and consultation with the north-east and the rest of the United Kingdom.
In the referendum, some areas of the north-east voted remain—Newcastle in particular—and some voted leave, but I believe that all parts of the north-east would not wish to become less prosperous as a result of Brexit. The Government should bear that very much in mind. The Government have a responsibility to do what they can to create a balanced economy throughout the United Kingdom and to ensure the future economic well-being of all parts of the United Kingdom, including the north-east.
Last month, the IPPR report The State of the North 2016 was debated in this House thanks to my noble friend Lady Massey of Darwen, who is in her place. The report expressed great concern about the possible effects of Brexit on the northern regions and it called specifically for a north of England Brexit negotiating committee to identify how the north can thrive post Brexit, given that it is more dependent on trading in advanced goods such as pharmaceuticals and automotives than the south of England.
I would like to know from the Minister the Government’s response to that proposal. Will he ensure that, if such a body comes into being, all parts of the north will be represented and not just those that have directly elected mayors? I say that because I believe that Brexit is too important to be sacrificed on the altar of disagreements between the Government and certain areas of the north regarding elected mayors. All regions of the north need to have their interests taken into account.
In conclusion, I imagine that the Minister will say something like, “Yes, don’t worry. We will consult. We are very much aware of the regional dimension”, and so on, but I would like something more concrete in his reply. I would like to know how the Government will consult, when and how often they will consult, and who will be consulted. If he cannot answer any of those questions, I would like an undertaking that he will come back to us with these details very soon. We certainly need specific answers, as well as kind words. We need clear answers and clear reassurances. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support Amendment 6, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Quin. I will speak to Amendment 9, which is in my name and refers to all parts of the United Kingdom and not just the north-east of England. This whole group relates to the impacts of Brexit and the need for there to be assessment before the Government go much further.
It is estimated that around 160,000 jobs in the north-east of England are directly linked to our being part of the single market. That is because 58% of north-east exports go to the European Union, against a national figure of 42%. After 2019, with a hard Brexit there will be no automatic access to the single market, which is the largest free trade area in the world. Therefore, what are the economic advantages to the north-east of England or indeed to any part of the United Kingdom of losing that automatic access? I would like the Minister to explain how the Government plan to protect it.
I understand that the Minister met the North East Chamber of Commerce last Friday following an initiative by my noble friend Lord Beith. Will this be the first of many such meetings? I ask that because there are structures in London, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for the Government to relate to, but what about the rest of the United Kingdom—the English regions? Regular meetings must be held with those regions to put them on an equal footing with Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London. For that reason, I think that we need regional impact assessments of leaving the European Union. As an example of the problem, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, emphasised, the north-east of England has a net balance of trade, with total exports amounting to £12.14 billion in 2015. No other region does so well in having such a positive balance of trade. The trade surplus in 2015 was £3.4 billion in the north-east—that is, the north-east local enterprise area and the Tees Valley local enterprise area added together.
It would be a disaster for jobs for this surplus to be lost. Chemicals had a trade surplus of £2 billion and the machinery and transport sector had a trade surplus of £2.3 billion. Some sectors had a trade deficit, which accounts for the overall surplus being £3.4 billion. Such a trade surplus is a very impressive figure for a small region in population terms such as the north-east of England. That is why I have concluded that the Government should establish resilience task forces in each part of the United Kingdom to work with the Government on the problems that will arise if we leave the single market and the customs union.
The abolition of government offices in England has not helped this situation and it has resulted in England being treated as a single entity run out of London. England is not a single entity and its differences should be reflected in the Government’s work on Brexit. In terms of EU funding support, we could look at our universities. The north-east universities are receiving £155 million in EU funding in the current funding period, 2014-20. They stand to lose access to much of that funding once we have left the European Union. Will the Government pick up the bill? Will they guarantee equivalent funding after 2020? In terms of structural funding, the north-east of England, including Tees Valley and the North East LEP, is receiving £590 million in structural funding from the EU in the 2014-20 period. Cornwall will receive £476 million, and Greater Manchester and Leeds City Region will receive more than £300 million each. England will receive £5.6 billion and the UK as a whole more than £8 billion. Will the Minister tell us what the Government’s plan is to make this money available after Brexit?
The question matters because it is the poorer parts of the country that voted more strongly for Brexit, but those are the very parts of the country that are in receipt of much higher levels of EU support. This is the challenge for the Government: have they any plans in place, eight months after the Brexit vote, to make those poorer parts of the United Kingdom resilient in the face of Brexit? The danger is that it is these very areas that will fall yet further behind once we leave the EU in 2019. What are the Government’s plans, in the face of Brexit, to generate growth in the poorer parts of the United Kingdom?
I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, for attempting to get in before him: I had forgotten that other noble Lords had amendments they might wish to speak on. I must warn my noble friend the Minister that I am very tempted to support these amendments, provided he can give me two firm assurances—first, that these assessments will be carried out by the Bank of England, the IMF and the same geniuses at the Treasury who forecast that by 2030 we would all be £4,322.15 worse of; and secondly, that he will send these assessments to Mr Juncker and Mr Barnier. I can think of nothing more likely to completely mislead those with whom we will be negotiating. Better still, he might get PricewaterhouseCoopers to do it, after its spectacular success at the Oscars last night where it could not count up a few hundred votes correctly.
In all seriousness, when have we ever seen an impact assessment attached to a government Bill which was remotely worth the paper it was written on? They are meaningless rubbish and no one takes them seriously. I did take one seriously when I was asked to chair the joint Select Committee on the original draft so-called snoopers’ charter Bill, which some noble Lords and Members of the Commons served on. We went through that impact assessment in detail and tore it to shreds. It estimated about £900 million as expenditure and our Committee calculated that the real figure would be about £2 billion to £3 billion. We all know that impact assessments are not very accurate.
On the other hand, let us suppose that the Government did manage to write a proper impact assessment. We could do that on a sector-by-sector basis for each industry. I suppose that we could get the leaders of all those industries and all the other experts to draw up a proper SWOT analysis where Ministers have a pretty accurate assessment of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to that industry from staying in or leaving the EU. Let us say that those SWOTs were spot-on accurate. Does anyone seriously suggest that we should then publish them and hand them straight over to the EU negotiators so that they can spot all the weaknesses in our position and the strengths that we want to exploit? It would be the height of folly to do such a thing. Indeed, it would be barking mad. If we were to do that, why stop there? Let us send Mr Putin a list of all our defence weaknesses and get MI6 to tell ISIL about any gaps in our security. Will Mr Barnier and the EU give us a paper on their strengths and weaknesses? Will they tell us their impact assessment of Britain? Of course not.
I am not being totally facetious. We will embark on negotiations that will determine the future of this country. The EU is reported to be demanding a £50 billion divorce settlement from us. I hope that we will strongly resist that. But if we are so daft as to publish any weaknesses in our arguments against it, we could end up robbing the taxpayer of billions of pounds. Billions of pounds are at stake.
I am not against impact assessments per se, although I prefer the SWOT analysis. Indeed, I hope that our Ministers and the Prime Minister have them. But I also hope and pray that they are keeping them under a top secret cover and keeping them very close to their chest. The last thing we want is to have them published or shared or laid before Parliament, which is probably even worse than publishing them in the press.
My Lords, I will be slightly less cynical than the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, on the subject of impact assessments. I will speak to Amendment 22 in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and my noble friend Lord Kerslake. I will take a less cynical view about impact assessments.
For the historical record, it might interest noble Lords to know that when we were negotiating our accession to the European Union, the first thing that we tabled in Brussels was an impact assessment of the European budget on the United Kingdom, which of course had not been part of the European budget until then. It was a very long way different from the one tabled by the Commission in return, but we were actually right. The consequence of being right was a very long negotiation in the 1980s under Baroness Thatcher that resulted in the rebate system. My point is that when we were negotiating with the European Union from the outside, we had no hesitation whatever about producing an impact assessment— and thank heavens we did. Otherwise, we would not have got the commitment from the European Union that if things went as we predicted rather than as it predicted, it would adjust the budgetary burden, which eventually it did.
I want to look forward now and not backwards, because this seems quite odd. We are now a little over eight months from the referendum and it defies belief that the Minister and his colleagues have not conducted impact assessments by now. If not, I am not at all sure what they have been doing—but since I know that he is an extremely hard-working person I can assume that they have in fact quite a lot of impact assessments but are not sharing them with anyone else. It was rather odd, when the Prime Minister spoke at Lancaster House, and even odder when a White Paper was published, that there was not a single blooming figure in either of those two documents—not one. That was a trifle odd. It is not what the Government normally do. It is even odder if they do have impact assessments; it could be that they are so awful that they do not want to tell anyone about them. That also would not be hugely comforting.
I would like to play the game by the Minister’s rules. He has argued several times that to publish impact assessments would be to give the game away and give the people with whom we are negotiating some deadly secrets that they would be unable to get from anyone else. Okay, let us play the game by those rules. In that case, there are two impact assessments that could be published which would not have the slightest possibility of doing damage to us. The first is an assessment of where we would be in terms of our economy if we stayed in the European Union. That is not difficult to do, because the previous Government did it. If he looks at the papers that were published last March he will find it all there.
The second one—this is the other bookend—the Government could perfectly easily publish the impact assessment of the effect of crashing out without an agreement and applying World Trade Organization tariffs, non-tariff obstacles and all that. Why would that be easy? Because we are doing it already. Those are the rules that we apply to third countries now. Those are the rules which, if we crash out, we will have to apply to our markets in the European Union—and vice versa. So that could be published, and it would not be giving away any secrets: it would simply tell us what the two bookends are. Bookend one is the impact assessment of staying in the European Union; bookend two is the worst possible scenario, namely that we crash out and apply World Trade Organization rules.
I am coming to the end of my remarks. I would like the Minister to say why the Government cannot publish those two bookends, because if we have them we will be able to judge what the Government are negotiating between the two—and I do not think the Minister will deny that they are negotiating somewhere in between those bookends. Somewhere in the middle there is a mysterious thing called a bespoke agreement. If I remember rightly, bespoke suits take longer to make and cost twice as much—but let us leave that to one side. It will be somewhere in the middle, and when we get it we will be able to judge whether it is near one bookend or the other—so why not do it?
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, seems to place great faith in these assessments or forecasts—but they have almost universally been completely wrong, ever since before the referendum. If noble Lords would like an example, I have from the House of Commons Library some comments on the Treasury:
“In May 2016, the Treasury published forecasts for the immediate economic impact of voting to leave the EU. It forecast for a recession to occur in the second half of 2016, with quarterly GDP growth of minus 0.1% in both Q3 2016 and Q4 2016”.
A second “severe shock” scenario was an even worse forecast.
“In reality, the economy continued to grow at its pre-referendum pace, with quarterly growth of +0.6%”.
That has now been adjusted by the Governor of the Bank of England to close to 2%. Frankly, the assessments and the forecasts are absolute rubbish and there is no point in publishing them.
I remind the noble Lord that the impact assessment he is reading from was of course produced by the Government that he supports—although he seems to have little shame about that now. Moreover, if one looks at government legislation that comes through every day, hundreds of impact assessments are produced by the Government he supports. Is he saying that they are all rubbish?
My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the court of Newcastle University. The amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, asks for an impact assessment of the effect of Brexit on the economy of the north-east. When we think about that economy, perhaps our thoughts turn first to the EU funding that the economy receives and then to the manufacturing sector. But the city of Newcastle is deeply enriched by the presence of two first-class universities, and there are 50,000 students in Newcastle. Tomorrow a report will be released to the media which details the extraordinary contribution of Newcastle University to the economy of the north-east.
The university adds £1.1 billion to the economy overall. Newcastle University alone, not including all the other universities in the north-east, is the fourth-largest employer in the region and accounts for 6% of all jobs in Newcastle. In addition, research grants totalling £105 million have helped to support major investment in research projects ranging from research into ageing to subsea and offshore engineering on the banks of the Tyne. I hope that the Minister can reassure us that the Government will assess the impact of Brexit on our universities, and in particular on our universities in the regions, which clearly are major players in our economic flourishing. If universities are undermined by not being able to attract students from this country, Europe and beyond with limitations on immigration and if they are not able, as Newcastle University does at the moment, to go for staff who are at the top of their field and not see nationality as a limiting factor, as well as being able to attract the EU funding referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, it will have an impact on them as world-class institutions and on their contribution to the economy of a place such as the north-east.
Newcastle University, like other universities, is a major player, so I hope that the impact assessment will value the economic significance of universities and the contribution that they make to our economy, as demonstrated by the report to be published tomorrow on Newcastle and the north-east.
My Lords, I rise to speak finally to the three amendments in this group tabled in my name, Amendments 13, 14 and 15. These are not about the negotiations or begging the EU for a decent Brexit, they are about the things we have to do here in the UK to make sure we have enough environmental protection for the future.
Amendment 13 would ensure that, in relation to EU-derived environmental protections, the UK judicial system would be ready, following departure from the EU, to perform effectively the enforcement functions currently undertaken by the institutions of the EU. As has been noted by many Members of the Committee, the environmental protections currently guaranteed by our membership of the European Union rely on an established and robust system of monitoring and enforcement provided by EU institutions and agencies. We must make sure that we replace them with something. The most important part of the system has been the strong pressure to implement the law, and to do so within a specified timescale. This incentive to adhere to the law arises from the monitoring role of the EU agencies and the Commission acting as the guardian of the law and responding to legitimate complaints. If the Government are serious in their ambition to be the first to leave the environment in a better condition than that in which they found it, Ministers must give details on how this complex and robust system of legal enforcement will be replaced here in the UK.
Amendment 14 concerns environmental regulators and would ensure that, following withdrawal from the EU, the UK’s environmental regulators and enforcement agencies—that is, the Environment Agency, Natural England and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—are adequately funded and authorised to perform effectively the regulatory functions currently undertaken by EU institutions. Again, effective and robust environmental protection relies on well funded and staffed institutions to monitor compliance with environmental law. It also needs powerful regulators and courts to ensure that breaches of the law are challenged.
For the past 40 years this system of environmental enforcement in the UK has been grounded in the institutions of the European Union, the European Commission and the European Court of Justice. So far, we have had only a few offhand comments from Ministers and one line in the White Paper giving no detail about how this important system of checks, balances and safeguards will function once we are out of the EU. The Government are basically asking us to vote blindly and without caveat for a major upheaval in the way our countryside, wildlife and natural environment are protected. We still do not know whether the Government intend to rely on existing regulators to fill the gap after we leave the EU. It is time to be very clear about what we are going to do, because millions of people care about this.
Amendment 15 concerns access to justice relating to environmental legislation, so that the UK Government would remain committed to providing access to justice on environmental issues for citizens of the UK following withdrawal from the EU. The enforcement mechanisms established by the EU legal framework have been sophisticated. If a member state is deemed non-complaint with EU environmental law, the European Commission can bring infringement proceedings that can ultimately lead to large fines. This independent accountability mechanism has proved quite effective and the risk of penalties for non-compliance has been particularly important in motivating Governments to act, albeit rather slowly at times. But there has been little indication so far of what institutional mechanisms would perform this role. Many of us are concerned that there will be no mechanism at all.
I have listened to most of the debate in this House, either in the Chamber or from my office. I want to combat something I heard earlier. Somebody on the Benches opposite said something about the will of people being that the Bill passes unamended. That is complete nonsense. It is a Bill dreamed up by the Government. Although I understand exactly why the Government have made it this simple, it is our duty to amend it because it simply is not enough.
Somebody else mentioned how it is quite anti-European to be talking in these terms. Personally, I am very pro-European. I can manage to get by in two European languages—three if you count English— and I have many friends who are from the European mainland. I want to dispel the myth that what we are doing from these Benches in trying to amend the Bill is in any sense against the will of the people.
My Lords, it most certainly is against the will of the people. The noble Baroness is quite wrong. The Bill is about firing the starting gun to bring forward what the people voted for, which is our withdrawal from the European Union. The mechanism the Government have chosen is the use of Article 50. I have some sympathy with some of the amendments, including hers, but these are matters that will become the responsibility of the United Kingdom’s Parliament. An amendment I should like to make is to the Long Title of the so-called great repeal Bill. As a name, I can think of nothing more inappropriate—