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Queen’s Speech - Debate (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:08 pm on 28th June 2017.

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Photo of Lord Jay of Ewelme Lord Jay of Ewelme Chair, EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee 9:08 pm, 28th June 2017

My Lords, I welcome the noble Baroness to her new position as Minister and pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, whose openness and courtesy I greatly welcomed while he was in the job.

I believed that our interest lay in remaining in the European Union and regret the decision to leave, but it was a democratic decision that must be respected. I do not believe, however, that the result of the referendum a year ago said anything about how we should leave the European Union. That is partly, of course, decided for us by Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty. It will partly also be decided for us by our 27 soon—alas—to-be former European partners, because that is the nature of negotiations.

However, how we leave will depend also on what we ourselves seek in the negotiations, and the only criterion for determining what we seek in the negotiations—here I very much agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong—is what will be in the interests of the British people; of business; of the thousands who work in the north-east and elsewhere in companies owned by Europeans and indeed by others; of the City; or of those in our security, police and other services who work night and day to protect us. I cannot believe for one moment that it is in any way in their interests that we walk away from the negotiations and leave without an agreement. I can see that advocating that may have some rhetorical value, but—I hope the noble Baroness will forgive me if I say this—it does not seem to show great confidence in our ministerial negotiators or our official-level negotiators to conclude before the negotiations start that they are not going to be able to reach an agreement that is in our interests.

In any case, I suspect that the day after we walked away we would have to walk back. We will still need to trade with the EU; we will still need to co-operate on foreign, security and defence policy; and we shall still need the closest possible co-operation with other European countries on our security. I shall focus on that last point for a moment. One of the most telling conclusions of the inquiries held by the EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee, of which I am a member, has been the virtually unanimous view of the security experts, the police and academics that our interests lie in the closest frictionless co-operation that we can achieve with Europol, Eurojust, the European arrest warrant and the other institutions and bodies that are so essential to our own security. That is easy to say but as Julian King, the British Commissioner with responsibility for security, has said recently, it is not straightforward to achieve. Still, it must surely be in our interests.

The outcome that I fear most from Brexit—here I echo the noble Baroness, Lady Symons—is the risk to security along the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. That risk was given far too little attention before, during and immediately after the referendum campaign. I do not know what effect the deal with the DUP will have but it can surely only be a complication. It is none the less encouraging that our Government, the Irish Government, the European Parliament and Michel Barnier, who well understands the importance and sensitivity of the issue, are giving it a high priority. I hope the Minister can give an absolute assurance that whether or not we leave the single market and the customs union—and it will be far more difficult if we leave the customs union—the objective of the Government in the negotiations will be the maintenance of a trouble-free border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.