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Queen’s Speech - Debate (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:41 pm on 28th June 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Hooper Baroness Hooper Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 5:41 pm, 28th June 2017

My Lords, in the interests of time, I shall move directly to the main focus of my remarks, which concerns the overseas territories. These issues may be niche business but, after all, the devil is in the detail. They were not mentioned in the Queen’s Speech or in my noble friend’s otherwise admirable introduction. I, too, wish her the best of luck in her new department.

I start with border issues. It is not just for Northern Ireland that there is a problem. Two of our overseas territories have borders with EU countries. The first is well known in your Lordships’ House and figures in the European Union Committee report that we debated in March. I speak, of course, of Gibraltar. The second may come as a surprise. It is Anguilla—one of the smaller overseas territories in the Caribbean—which has a border with metropolitan France in the shape of the island of St-Martin.

I am aware that assurances have been given by Brexit Ministers to the Government of Gibraltar—for example, pledging to defend and protect not just Gibraltar’s sovereignty but its economic well-being, and stating that the United Kingdom will not enter into any new agreement with the European Union that may be relevant to Gibraltar if the Spanish Government try to exclude Gibraltar from the application of such agreements. It would be helpful if, in winding up, my noble and learned friend confirmed that those assurances will be adhered to during the Brexit negotiations. I hope that he will even be able to give us additional comfort.

In Anguilla’s case, we are talking of a marine border. The islanders suffer an effective curfew in that each night French St-Martin closes its border with Anguilla, denying the only viable access to the island. Incidentally, Anguilla is also rare among our overseas territories in that most of its developmental aid comes from the European Union and there is no UK equivalent to which it is currently entitled.

All the overseas territories are anxious about our exit from the European Union, whether in relation to the replacement of current EU funding, educational opportunities, environmental research and regulation—which impinge on the considerable biodiversity of the overseas territories—climate change or, as in the case of the Falkland Islands in particular, fisheries regulation. The Government must ensure that the interests of all these tiny territories are not forgotten or swept under the carpet. I would be glad of confirmation of this from my noble and learned friend.

I will make two other different points. In the brave new world that we are told awaits us post-Brexit, we expect to enter into bilateral trade agreements all over the world. I hope that Latin American countries are included in the preliminary meetings and discussions being undertaken by the relevant Ministers. I look forward to discussing the possibilities more when we consider the proposed trade Bill.

My final point is this: like others, I am generally unhappy at the tone of some of the Brexiteers in seeking new arrangements with our partners in the European Union. It seems unnecessarily belligerent. Members of the other place who suggest that if the Lords attempt to oppose the Brexit process they will,

“be courting … the kind of political meltdown we have not seen for a century or more”,

should realise that these exaggerated statements invite more moderately minded people to take exception and maybe even consider amending or opposing the Bill in an equally belligerent way.

Like my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral, I hope that we will be able to forge a new special relationship with all those countries with which we have been working, for the most part happily, over the last 50 years. We should not just be looking for the best deal.