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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:00 pm on 8th May 2018.

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Photo of Lord Howarth of Newport Lord Howarth of Newport Labour 7:00 pm, 8th May 2018

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Alli addressed the House on the basis of principle and with passion—and so did the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. I greatly respect the commitment to the national interest of all who have spoken, including of course those who have spoken in support of the amendment. I suggest that it would be good for our proceedings if, whatever side we are on in these passionate debates, we could all work on the assumption that each other’s motives are to be respected.

Of course the future of UK services industries is of immense importance—that is not in doubt at all, and it has to be a major concern of the Government as they develop their negotiations with the European Union on the terms of Brexit. My noble friend Lord Mandelson is pessimistic about their prospects, but it seems to me that it must be in the interests of the European Union as well as of the United Kingdom that the EU does not put impossible barriers in the way of our services exports.

I feel bound to point out that membership of the European Economic Area does entail certain conditions. Non-EU members of the EEA have agreed to enact a large volume of legislation similar to that of the European Union. Non-EU members are consulted on prospective legislation, but they are not represented in the governing institutions of the European Union. The Norwegians refer to the legislation that is presented to them as “fax democracy”: they wait by their fax machines in Oslo to find out what the legislation is that it has been determined in Brussels should govern them.

It is also worth noting, as my noble friend Lord Alli did, that agriculture and fisheries are not part of the terms of reference of the European Economic Area and, therefore, that membership of the EEA would do nothing to assist us in resolving the problems of the Irish border.

A second condition of membership of the EEA is to accept the principle of the free movement of people. My noble friend Lord Alli suggested that somehow this could be got around. My noble friend Lord Mandelson and the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, drew attention to the possibility that, under existing EU provisions, it would have been possible for us to have operated a tighter regime on immigration. Those things may be so, but the fact remains that, if you are a member of the European Economic Area, you accept the principle of free movement of people. The noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, explained calmly and clearly what the possibilities and the difficulties are.

A third condition of membership of the European Economic Area is that those who are in membership have agreed that they will pay in considerable sums of money to finance grant schemes intended to reduce the economic and social disparities within the EEA. We should note that the size of those payments greatly increased following enlargement in 2004.

As we all know very well, those who voted leave in the referendum—a majority of our people in, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, rightly reminded us, the biggest exercise in democratic participation that we have ever seen in this country—voted advisedly to take back control of our laws, our borders and our money. In respect of the three principles of membership of the European Economic Area that I have just mentioned, it is clear that, if we remained in the EEA or applied to join it—whatever the precise status would be—we would not have taken back control of our laws, our borders and our money.

We were told again this evening that it will be a cataclysm for the economy if we do not find ourselves members of the EEA. I am afraid that the citizens of this country, who were unimpressed by the forecasts of doom that were presented to them when they were so strenuously advised that it would be a terrible mistake to vote leave, will not be impressed by renewed forecasts of doom. They expect the wish that they so clearly expressed in the referendum—a referendum which they were told by the Government would be determinative and not advisory—to be met. If they perceive, as I think they would if this amendment were passed, that your Lordships’ House is seeking after all to keep them effectively in the EU by another name and to thwart the very clear decision that they expressed at the referendum, they will, to use the term of my noble friend Lord Mandelson, feel that a fraud has been perpetrated on them.

We of course have the right in this House to send our advice to the other place by way of amendments. The question that we have to judge is not whether we have that right but whether it is wise in these circumstances to exercise it. It seems to me that now is a time for a politics not of confrontation but of healing.