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Queen’s Speech - Debate (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:36 pm on 28th June 2017.

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Photo of Baroness O'Loan Baroness O'Loan Crossbench 9:36 pm, 28th June 2017

My Lords, I am very sorry that we are leaving the European Union. That means that we are leaving the single market and the customs union as we know them. The freedoms and benefits that they bring us and the attendant responsibilities and liabilities will no longer apply.

I sometimes think that, despite all the talk of hard Brexit and soft Brexit, there is still very little understanding of what those terms mean. However, I do not believe that in leaving we will be able to secure exactly the same benefits that the UK currently has as a member of the single market and the customs union, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, has suggested. The treaties are not written like that. Indeed, were we to do so, we would have to continue to allow migration into our country, the associated benefits and the subjection to the rule of the European Court of Justice. I think it is very clear that the European Union will not entertain such an idea, so we are losing the advantages of the single market itself, to which we currently export, I believe, some £220 billion worth of trade, and all the free trade agreements which the EU has negotiated over the years.

So where does that leave us? The noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, earlier described the EFTA option with great clarity. We could join Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland in this option but we would pay a price for it. I believe that Switzerland has more than 100 bilateral agreements with the EU, which is trying to create a single framework agreement, including subjection to the European Court of Justice. I believe that Norway pays £140 a head for its access to the single market alone. It is outside the customs union but has to accept free movement and must comply with EU legislation. So, whatever we decide to do will have significant costs and disadvantages.

I want to talk about the complex and challenging issue of the border between the EU and the UK. It will have several manifestations as UK citizens move from the UK into the EU, but the most important for us in Northern Ireland is the border between the north and south of Ireland. It goes some 300 miles across the island of Ireland and has about 200 crossing points, an awful lot of which were blocked off during the Troubles, but which have now been opened completely. It is not an easy border to manage. Now we can move freely, and that freedom is profoundly important, as the figures for trade and movement across the border demonstrate. In 2016, it was reported that 37%—£3.6 billion—of Northern Ireland’s goods and services exports went to Ireland. It has become an increasingly important market for Northern Ireland. Outside the single market and the customs union, we risk facing tariffs which would make our products perhaps less competitive than those of other EU manufacturing countries or other countries.

The risk is not simply an economic one. The ability of people to move freely across the border has been a significant factor in growing that trust which has been essential to the establishment of our embryonic post-Troubles society. It has enabled a greater understanding of culture, politics—although I am not altogether sure that that is possible—sport and tourism opportunities. It has allowed the people of Ireland, north and south, to come to know each other better, and it has facilitated the peace, just as the huge sums of European peace funding and other funds have enabled the development of Northern Ireland as a whole.

Poverty, marginalisation and unfair structures were the causes of the Troubles. It is very noticeable now that in areas such as Ardoyne and East Belfast, where there continues to be significant deprivation, there also continues to be significant paramilitary activity, with people being beaten, shot and exiled and with businesses still subject to extortion. Recently, the deputy chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland told us that on average, 20 police officers are still driven from their homes each year by paramilitaries, both republican and loyalist. We cannot allow a situation to develop in which the fragile economy and peace of Northern Ireland are damaged by Brexit.

So what will happen when that 300 miles of border becomes the route through which people and goods, moving freely in Europe and into Ireland, seek to enter the UK? A single journey, say, from Armagh to Monaghan, takes you across the border several times. You only know you have crossed the border because the signal on your phone changes from O2 IE to O2 UK. There seems to be agreement—other noble Lords have referred to this—between the EU, Ireland and the UK that we must avoid a new hard border. My questions for the Government are: how do we regulate a border without a physical border and can they tell us what the options are for this? Across the world, the borders I have seen have all tended to have some physical shape, and it is hard to imagine that occasional checking of a percentage of vehicles crossing the border will allow member states of the EU and the UK to be satisfied that they are collecting all the duties which are payable, and that will be important. It is equally hard to imagine that our respective security structures would not seek to regulate the free movement of peoples across the border in some way to protect us against organised crime and terrorism. We would have the common travel area, and we must maintain it, but it is not enough.

We will lose, as my noble friend Lord Jay said, the European arrest warrant and all the benefits of our current EU security structures. The fight against terrorism is not won in Northern Ireland, the global fight against terrorism is becoming more difficult, and we will have to negotiate with 27 individual states to replicate these arrangements unless the fact of our very significant contribution on this front can facilitate the negotiation of an EU-UK agreement which parallels and works in complete harmony with EU structures. Any lacunae between the UK and the EU in this context will be exploited by terrorism, in whatever form it manifests itself at the particular time.

I conclude by wishing those who are engaged in these negotiations on our behalf every success and much patience. So much rests on that for the future security and prosperity of the 28 countries of the EU—as we presently are—and for the other countries with which we trade and do business.