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Queen’s Speech - Debate (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:51 pm on 28th June 2017.

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Photo of Lord Wigley Lord Wigley Plaid Cymru 5:51 pm, 28th June 2017

My Lords, I will concentrate on the economic framework for the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, both in general and with regard to the implications for Wales. Other important matters for Wales, such as the cynical bypassing of the Barnett funding formula to buy the DUP, can perhaps be pursued another day.

Let us first recall the background to the general election. The Prime Minister called it supposedly in order to get a mandate for her approach to the Brexit negotiations. She clearly felt that she did not have a clear mandate from either the previous election manifesto, when her party advocated remaining in the EU, or from the referendum. That certainly gave her a mandate to leave the EU, but no mandate for negotiating any specific alternative relationship with the EU, which should have been central to an exit strategy. The Prime Minister was right to seek a new mandate in these circumstances. She needed democratic endorsement of the principles that she had outlined in her Lancaster House speech and the subsequent White Paper. She needed a mandate because, up to then, quite simply, she did not have one for those or any other proposals.

Sadly for her, she still does not, for it all blew up in her face. The general election has not given her a mandate for her approach to the Brexit negotiations, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, acknowledged earlier. So we in this Chamber, notwithstanding the Salisbury/Addison convention, have every right to consider each proposal on its merits and not be expected to rubber-stamp what we in all conscience may believe to be a mistaken way forward. Both Houses have the right to consider, approve or reject the package that may eventually be negotiated with our EU partners. That should always have been the case: for if the Parliaments of each of the 27 other member states have the right to reject the final agreement, surely, on any basis of equity, so must we.

If Parliament were to reject such an agreement, it would trigger one of two options before final ratification. There could be a general election—and if the Government lost, it would be a matter for a new Government, depending on the mandate that they had secured, to renegotiate, to quit the EU without agreement, or to withdraw the Article 50 application—as EU partners have indicated is possible. Alternatively, a second referendum could approve ratification, with a refusal to approve leading to a withdrawal of the Article 50 application and the UK remaining in the EU. Knowing that these are options awaiting this battered Government two years down the road, the most sensible way forward now would be, as other noble Lords have suggested, to seek cross-party agreement on the type of Brexit that might command widespread support. That needs all parties to recognise that Brexit is going to happen—something that I find hard to swallow—but that the type of Brexit has to accommodate the economic needs of these islands.

I believe that the key principle is that of full single-market participation. That was proposed by the Welsh White Paper, which got cross-party support in the National Assembly. Its principles have the support of the Scottish Government and of individual politicians in Northern Ireland. This approach would require the EU to accept some controls over open-ended migration, but an acknowledgement by the UK that those coming here specifically to work would have the right to do so. It would deliver the free movement of goods and services without tariffs or technical barriers, and as such it would overcome the difficulties for trade between Ireland and the UK. It could also solve the Gibraltar difficulty.

This would hopefully allow the UK to negotiate at least associate membership of certain EU-based organisations such as Euratom, the Erasmus programme and Europol. We would need to respect EU regulations which provide a level playing field for traded goods. That, presumably, is the Government’s intention, since the repeal Bill does not, of itself, change any EU regulations that currently apply to the UK. The repatriation of powers over matters that have been devolved to Wales and Scotland should automatically be transferred to the devolved Administrations. If there is a case for UK co-ordination, let that come about by agreement, not by central diktat.

The single-market participation model would provide a status that would be analogous, though not identical, to that currently enjoyed by Norway. During the referendum, some advocates of Brexit recommended Norway as a model of the way forward. I noted with interest the points made earlier by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, with regard to EEA status. We will, nonetheless, be outside the EU. As such, we in Wales, who have benefited so much from EU structural and regional funding, will expect that funding to be fully replaced by the Treasury, as promised at the time of the referendum.

Brexit will dominate this Parliament and might well define its duration as well as its agenda. The election result has told us that the people do not see any one party having a monopoly on wisdom. They instructed us to find a consensus. I appeal to Ministers to seek new level of co-operation—and in that I echo the noble Lord, Lord Hunt—both between parties at Westminster and also between London, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast, and, I suggest, Dublin. The survival of both this Parliament and this Government depends on such new thinking—as does a sensible outcome to the Brexit crisis.