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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:55 pm on 31st January 2018.

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Photo of Lord Lea of Crondall Lord Lea of Crondall Labour 12:55 pm, 31st January 2018

My Lords, the Bill before us is a dog’s breakfast. In my view, it is inevitably so, for the reasons touched on only a few minutes ago, first by the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, and then by my noble friend Lord Judd; namely, it was obliged to spatchcock parliamentary sovereignty and procedure with plebiscitary democracy. As my noble friend Lord Judd said, the two do not fit. That is why there are several examples of where we are struggling, such as the Henry VIII powers and the interface with the devolved Administrations.

There is, however, one novel feature in the Bill, which came in a late amendment in the House of Commons that was, I think, carried by four votes: Clause 9 provides that Parliament shall consider the outcome of the negotiations. I wish to develop a point made by my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton, concerning whether there needs to be a mandate at the start or at the finish. As a TUC official for many years—the TUC is accountable in innumerable ways—it strikes me that one does not go into a negotiation without first determining some basics about what one wishes to achieve; in other words, the remit or the mandate. If you do not have a mandate, the union executive will, when you get back, say that you did not achieve what you were asked to do. So, first of all, you have to define something about your priorities and, secondly, you have to make them less than extravagant or else you will come back looking foolish. HMG have done none of that.

We saw an example of that at Lancaster House. Not only was that speech not a parliamentary presentation, it was simply a glorified press conference, where the fourth estate replaced Parliament. It is not just that it was not adopted and ratified by Parliament; it was not even put to Parliament—I do not think any parliamentarians were invited. What was said at Lancaster House was certainly not a road map that Monsieur Barnier or anyone else across the channel finds helpful at all to the negotiations.

Taking my trade union analogy one stage further, I want to talk about a parliamentary mandate, which we need to include. That will be the essence of an amendment on the remit—namely, having a mandate at the outset of the negotiation and not just a vote at the end—which will complement the Commons amendment. Some of us hope to table that amendment with the Public Bill Office tomorrow, and later we will put some flesh on its bones. Whether this is helpful to the Government depends on whether Boris Johnson and Philip Hammond can be joined at the waist like Siamese twins—we will have to wait for the results of that little exercise.

When it comes to the negotiations, something is very clear. If you look around at all the think tanks within two or three miles of here, you will find they all acknowledge that there are five options. The first is full divorce; the second is free trade with no express alignment and some trade-offs; the third is pick-and-mix on free trade with greater alignment in particular areas; the fourth is associate membership, which roughly means the EEA—I will come back to that; and the fifth is adjusted membership, with EU law directly applicable. I think we will probably come down on number four, but I thought I would simply set out the menu.

The last three of those options involve free movement, give or take specific tests of different types that can be defined. Number four would tie in with a deal done on the island of Ireland. I noticed the other day that the EU Council is now insisting in public that the 8 December agreement is signed and sealed before the totality of negotiation is set in motion. Perhaps the Minister could confirm in his reply that that is the position.

There is no point in disguising the fact that I am for the European Economic Area, which is the only option outside the EU that enables us to retain participation in the single market, the four freedoms and so forth. However, that means something like a beefed-up co-ordinating committee within the EEA twin-pillar structure between the two sets of Councils of Ministers.

In my concluding sentence, I want to say a word about workers’ rights and the TUC. Frances O’Grady made the point the other day that, if we are not careful, the Bill could open Pandora’s box and that workers’ rights are at risk. If we are talking about workers’ disillusionment with the whole of this exercise, then it is very important that we get a guarantee that that cannot happen.