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European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Report (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 18th April 2018.

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Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench 5:00 pm, 18th April 2018

I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this fascinating debate. Some made speeches that were more predictable than others, and the Minister’s was a classic restatement of the position that the Government have explained all along; I am grateful to him for repeating so clearly what he has said so many times before.

I ought to pay tribute to my past—my various masters from the past—who are marking my homework so harshly. I owe the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, an apology. I am sure that he explained to the country at large the truth about the customs union and that he did it every day, morning, noon and night, but I am not sure that the country was listening. What I remember is the man who is now the Foreign Secretary telling the country, “Nobody is even talking about leaving the single market”. He published that the day after the referendum, having said it throughout the referendum campaign. So I exonerate the noble Lord—I have to; he was my boss.

As for the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, and a number of others, including the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, I ask them to please read what the amendment says. We are not asking for Britain to stay in the EU customs union—we cannot. As a non-member of the EU, we cannot be a member of the customs union. We are asking for an arrangement that enables us to participate in “a” customs union, and I say to the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, that it does not follow that we can only get the deal that the Turks got. At the time, Turkey’s main concern was the export to the EU of its walnuts. I do not believe that that would be the principal concern if the Government were to act on this and start negotiating for a customs union. I cannot answer the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, but he is much better informed about Labour Party policy than I am.

In the course of my speech I was very worried to see the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, nod enthusiastically. I hesitated, but I realised that it was only because I had cited Professor Patrick Minford. I will know not to do it again.

Although the Minister’s response was a beautiful restatement of government policy, it did not deal with any of the arguments advanced by those of us who tabled the amendment. The best argument made in the debate was that of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. The customs union was not fully debated in the House of Commons as it dealt with this Bill. It is the job of the House of Lords to give the House of Commons the opportunity to debate whether we should seek a customs union. There are plenty of customs unions of various kinds between various countries around the world, and they are all sui generis. I do not know what terms we could get but we will never know unless we find out. I should like to test the opinion of the House.

Ayes 348, Noes 225.