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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 8th May 2018.

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Photo of Lord Bilimoria Lord Bilimoria Crossbench 6:30 pm, 8th May 2018

My Lords, I have put my name to these amendments, and I will start by putting this in context. When you make a change in business, you do so if there is a burning platform—if you have to make the change—or to make a change for the better, to improve things. Now we keep hearing about equivalence, and about whether we will be able to get terms as good as those we have now when we leave. To follow on from what the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said, we have heard comments from other members of the Conservative Party, and not just Boris Johnson. Jacob Rees-Mogg has accused the Business Secretary, Greg Clark, of,

“promoting ‘Project Fear’ by saying that thousands of jobs were at risk if Britain did not minimise friction in trade”.

That is the Business Secretary saying that, and it is called Project Fear. Boris Johnson has said that the proposals for a customs partnership after Brexit are “crazy” and that it will not work.

On the Irish border situation, we had the customs vote and the Irish border vote here, which were both won overwhelmingly. That is all about a frictionless border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. All the discussions and the Government’s plans for a frictionless border are as frictionless as sandpaper is smooth. There is no plan whatever. It is not just about the customs union being the solution to the Irish border situation; the equivalence of a single market is also required to sort out the Irish border—the free movement of people, capital, goods and services.

We have already voted overwhelmingly on the customs union, and now we are talking about this Norway option: the EEA. It is not the best option; we are proposing it as an alternative. If things come to it and we have to leave the European Union, it should be considered the least worst option. It is not about thwarting the will of the people, as the Prime Minister keeps saying, or about how EEA membership would leave the UK a vassal state, as has been said. The complication, which has been addressed, is Labour’s stance on this. Labour said clearly that it wants a softer Brexit and that it wants to remain in the customs union but to stay as close to the single market as possible. Let us go no further than Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit Secretary, and his six tests. First, he asked:

“Does it deliver the ‘exact same benefits’ as the UK currently has as a member of the single market and customs union?”

Am I misreading something? He said “single market and customs union”. The second of his six tests is:

“Does it ensure the fair management of migration ‘in the interests of the economy and communities’?”

The EEA is the best option by far, apart from remaining in the European Union. It incorporates the four freedoms but also gives us freedom: we do not have to be in the customs union; we can we can take the common agricultural policy and fisheries policy out of it; it does not involve the ECJ as it is regulated differently; and there is some flexibility on movement of people.