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European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Report (6th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 8th May 2018.

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Photo of Lord Mandelson Lord Mandelson Labour 6:15 pm, 8th May 2018

My Lords, this House has already voted in favour of the customs union to stop the imposition of trade barriers that would decimate our manufacturing base. We did so, I suggest, with the tacit support of half the Cabinet, and a majority of Conservative MPs, including in her dreams, I suspect, the Prime Minister. We have to do the same for Britain’s services industries as well. Unlike manufactured goods, cross-border services trade does not have effective WTO rules to fall back on in the absence of any preferential trade agreement between Britain and the European Union. It is absolutely fundamental for us to be clear in our minds that services are not the same as goods. WTO rules effectively provide for goods; they do not provide for services.

Such a free trade agreement between Britain and the EU would be extremely hard to negotiate services into; there is almost no precedent for it—goods tariffs quite possibly, but services very unlikely. Therefore we are not talking of a trade agreement between ourselves and the EU, which is Canada-plus, plus, plus. This is far from it. I have been both a British Trade Secretary and a European Trade Commissioner, so I have seen these issues from both ends of the telescope. It is not possible, given EU rules, and the red line of the British Government, for us to achieve anything like the sort of trade agreement that the Government speak of.

This, therefore, is the crux of the matter in the debate. Without effective WTO rules for trade in services, and without the likelihood of a full bilateral agreement covering all services, we have to maintain our services access by other means, and the only dependable means available to us outside the European Union is membership of the EEA. This would give us coverage by right of all the regulatory standards and rules, harmonised within Europe’s single market, and would give us what amounts to free trade in services. Such single market rules apply to Britain’s pre-eminent EU exports. Our exports to Europe in financial services, including other business services and broadcast services, are colossal. These sectors represent over half of our services economy, which in turn amounts to 80% of Britain’s economy as a whole. This is how important they are to our future economic well-being in this country. Financial and professional services alone account for 25% of all UK services exports, using the automatic passporting arrangements that presently come with our membership of the European Union and the single market.

If we quit the single market as a result of leaving the EU, without the access that the EEA gives us, these rights and their powers of enforcement would be forfeited—no ifs and no buts: that would be consequence that we would face. The impact on cross-border delivery of services to Europe would be savage. A significant proportion of our broadcast content production, as well as cross-border banking and insurance, would be hit for six. This will have a major knock-on effect on the whole of our creative industries in this country and on employment in Britain. In financial services, Frankfurt, Paris, Dublin and Amsterdam will be the principal beneficiaries, as we are already beginning to see.

Our economy simply cannot afford this loss. We are not talking about the next few months; we are not talking about the next couple of years. We are talking about the medium-term consequences, as investment strategies shift to reflect our exclusion from the single market. I understand why the hard Brexiters will probably not lose any sleep over this at all because, for them, it is not economic—it is political. But for the rest of the country, it is their jobs, their livelihoods and the future of their businesses, as well as our country’s income and, moreover, our public services and what we will be able to afford to spend on them, that will be at stake.

I know fully well the arguments about the obligations as well as the advantages of being out of the EU but in the single market via the EEA. We would indeed be presented with a dilemma over rule-making because we would no longer be full voting members of the EU. But no economy of our size and status as a former EU member has ever attempted to join the EEA before. We would be in a reasonable position to frame the negotiations over our EEA membership. It would be a first—but it would also be a welcome first for the EU 27 seeking to keep trade barriers to a minimum, and I think we would be entitled to expect and receive some flexibility.

As for free movement of labour, it is already open to Britain to operate less liberal labour market policies, and we can do so as EEA members. Let us be honest: we all know, do we not, what the Government’s intention is? They know fully well that businesses and public services in our country, including the National Health Service, will continue to need EU nationals as employees, which is why they intend to allow them to keep coming, whatever they say or do not say now. To pretend otherwise is simply to perpetrate another Brexit fraud on the British public.

As I say, as a former Trade Commissioner, I know only too well what is at stake and how we would need to navigate our EEA membership application to gain the maximum national advantage—and I believe it can be done. On Brexit, the time has come for economic reality and common sense to prevail over political dogma and wishful thinking. In this House, in making up our minds on these crucial issues, we are not so easily bullied, and we know why. That is the privilege we have of being Members of this House. This amendment gives us the opportunity to do the right thing for the country and, in my view, that is what we have a duty to do and why we should support this amendment.