European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Second Reading (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:26 pm on 30th January 2018.

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Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade) 7:26 pm, 30th January 2018

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord. I agree with much of what he said, and I hope that his Front Bench will agree with him before the Bill has passed through this Chamber.

As referred to earlier in the debate, we received a delegation of Norwegian MPs in Parliament this week. I met them yesterday, and as they were leaving, one of the MPs, a member of the EFTA parliamentary group, took me aside and said, “We think in Norway that we have a closer relationship out of the EU than you have in, so what are you going to do now that you will be out of everything?”. The only thing I could think of, as a proud trustee of Sir Walter Scott’s home in Abbotsford, in my beloved Borders, was the quote from “Marmion”:

“O what a tangled web we weave

When first we practise to deceive!”.

This measure seeks to disentangle the tangled web of deception by some who put forward the arguments for Brexit in the referendum. It is preparing us for an unknown destination, as many Members, on all sides, have said.

This measure is not just a continuity Bill. It is not merely a technical measure, as some have argued. It establishes a new category of law in England and in Scotland. It alters the characteristics of our 20 year-old, settled approach to devolution. It is worth stressing for those who have made the point on devolution—from my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace, to my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, in her very measured contribution—that, between the referendum in 1975, the devolution referendum and today, we have had devolution for half of the period that we have been members of the European Union. These are norms and practices which have now been an established part of the British constitution for half the period of time that we have been members.

In the absence of a written, codified constitution, our constitution is based on norms and statutes. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and others have said, these norms are being up-ended and our constitution is being affected. As a direct consequence of the Bill, it will be necessary to form new common frameworks of governance within the United Kingdom over policy areas which had previously come under the auspices of the EU. There is some agreement at executive level on the areas that these will cover, but so far there has been nothing about scrutiny and how the legislation will apply to those.

The breaking of the norms is in many ways more significant than the breaking of the rules—norms based on trust, respect and the recognition, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, said, that those with power need oversight. That is the same when it comes to the relationship between certain component parts of the United Kingdom as it is for the citizen’s relationship with government. These norms have become even more important in the more complex world that we live in.

I have lived all my life in a country that is a member of the EU and its previous smaller Community. The world I was born into in 1974 had 3.9 billion people living in it; today, there are 7.5 billion of us. Then, the world economy was worth $5.5 trillion; last year, it was nearly $77 trillion. Then, there were only 34 democracies in the world; today, there are 87. The expectations of people of their rights and of their hopes of their democratic Governments are exponentially greater now than when we joined the European Union. The world is incredibly more complex than it was then.

It is no surprise, then, that while we hear much about tariffs and trade, the growth in non-tariff measures is now much more significant than the tariff measures. There were 1,500 in the mid-2000s; today, there are 2,500. Because these non-tariff measures are about standards—health and safety, and the environmental standards to which we have become accustomed—it is very troubling that we will see the Trump and country first approach.

To take one sector in particular, one vital for the British economy, aviation is worth £57 billion to the British economy. The UK, through our membership of the European Union, has led the debates on liberalisation. We have led, not followed, and the regulations that apply have in many respects been designed by the United Kingdom, using the European Union as a platform for the world. When I was born, there were 400 million air passengers in 1974; in 2016, there were 3.7 billion. To ensure safety and efficiency in this complex web of regulations, it is very worrying that the Government do not have today a clear position on the EU-US Air Transport Agreement.

We do not need to forecast or repeat assertions; we can simply look at the record of the Government since the referendum. There are the red lines which were set which are now being blurred. There was the comment from the Foreign Secretary that the European Union could go whistle rather than demand the £39 billion to which we have agreed. The UK said that we would start the talks only if we could negotiate the new relationship at the same time as the withdrawal agreement, which we have now gone back on. We have said that we will follow all the single market rules during the transition period, and that we will seek to adhere to European rules on medicines, aviation and financial regulation. Those strong Brexiteers have been critical of all those areas.

Our relationship with the European Union will not be healed by this process. Sometimes, the relationship between the UK and Europe has reflected what our former colleague, Earl Russell, described as the relationship between England and Scotland:

“England could brook no equal, and Scotland no superior”.

Our relationship with Europe is not the same as other countries’ relationship with Europe, but our process now will not heal the wounds in the Conservative Party.

However, I am more concerned about healing the wounds of those who were disfranchised in the referendum —the 16 and 17 year-olds who will have to live with the consequences longer than any other. They did not have their say. I hope that they will have their say. Those who will be living with the consequences need to have a voice.

I have quoted Scott before:

“Faces that have charmed us the most escape us the soonest”.

That was present with many of the promises from those for Brexit. They said, “Let the people decide”. When it comes to whether the withdrawal agreement is in the best interests of those who will live with its consequences, I feel I have to say, “Let the people agree”.