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European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Second Reading (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:54 am on 31st January 2018.

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Photo of Lord Stevens of Ludgate Lord Stevens of Ludgate UKIP 11:54 am, 31st January 2018

My Lords, I am grateful that I have not yet been annihilated. It is disappointing that those who lost in the referendum are still demanding another one. It does not help for a government Minister to describe certain Eurosceptics as “swivel-eyed”. I had hoped that we had got past that level of debate.

In a high turnout, the people voted to leave by a majority of 1.5 million—huge in electoral terms. In the last election, if 40,000 voters in the most marginal Labour seats had, instead of voting Labour, voted for the runner-up, Labour would have lost 40 seats. It was that close. Let us suppose that the leavers were to lose another referendum—unlikely, in my view—then we would have every right to demand a further, deciding referendum. Let us respect the people’s wishes. We are not the EU, which asks members to vote again when it does not like the result.

We cannot argue that the remainers did not fire every barrel, from Mr Cameron’s “World War Three” to Mr Obama’s “back of the queue”. He was sadly so ill informed that he did not know that there was a queue of one—the EU. President Hollande, Madame Lagarde and every other leader you can think of all warned of economic disaster. Even the poor old CBI, which opposed the ERM, was in favour of joining the euro and is partly financed by the EU, is still at it. The Bank of England has got it wrong yet again. The governor is still muttering that the GNP would be 1% higher if there had been no vote to leave. How on earth he works that out is quite beyond me. As for the latest leaked economic forecast, it must have been leaked by remainers. In 2005, UK trade with the EU was 55% of the total. It is now 45%. If present trends continue, it will be 35% in 10 years’ time, or 10% of GDP. Are these forecasters seriously suggesting that EU trade would halve if their 5% reduction in GDP occurs if we choose the EFTA route? It is simply not realistic.

The case for remaining was set out. The Government even spent £9 million of our money doing just that. Everything we have seen since the referendum has justified our decision. There is general dissatisfaction throughout the EU with the present arrangements. Incentives are given to big businesses to locate in Luxembourg, contrary to the rules. Then there is the situation in Poland; no stable government in Germany; upcoming elections in Italy; the state of the European banking system; and even President Macron says that the French—how wise—might vote to leave if given a referendum.

Quite why the EU is so desperate for our cash, I do not know. With a budget of some €150 billion, surely it can be cut by 10% or 15%? One has to ask how the proposed sum we are thinking of paying the EU is arrived at. Yes, we should pay for commitments entered into when we are a member, but why should we pay for access? Surely it should be paying us. It has the trade surplus, not the UK.

I am somewhat nervous about how the Government will use the so-called Henry VIII powers. For many years, we have had to accept all regulations and laws from Brussels with no possibility of rejection. I hope we can trust our Government more than the unelected bureaucrats in the EU. As was mentioned yesterday, let us be careful of having a Corbyn Government.

I wish our negotiators well, but the signs are not auspicious. We are allowing the EU to dictate the agenda. Normally, an agenda is agreed between the parties. One gets the impression that we are going into these meetings with no clear objective other than to listen to the other side and to try to compromise. Negotiations are better if both sides feel that they have won the argument. So far, we have been the givers. We need to get back our territorial waters and our ability to do trade deals, spend our own money and make our own laws, and we need to keep Gibraltar and keep an open border in Ireland. However, how one can get 27 countries, all with their own agendas, to agree to this I do not know, unless we give a lot away. We must adopt a harder line in the negotiations. The EU has much more to lose than we do. We have the world to expand into.

Any implementation period must be as short as possible. Two years is more than enough; otherwise, it will be dragged out for ever. We must not be subject to any more EU laws or regulations during this period. Financial services should be included in any deal if possible, but let us not panic if they are not. We are the world’s financial centre, and the EU business through us is a small percentage and not that critical. Already many of those threatening to move staff away are scaling down their estimates—Deutsche Bank, for example—and the governor of the Bank of France has stated that the numbers leaving are exaggerated. Even the chief executive of Barclays is telling us to be prepared to sacrifice access to the single European market after Brexit if it means gaining control of our own financial rules.

The more that we argue here, the weaker we make the Government’s negotiating position. Should we not be implementing the people’s vote, unelected as we are, pulling together and presenting a united front? By all means improve the Bill before us, but let us not frustrate it.