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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:15 pm on 8th May 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 7:15 pm, 8th May 2018

Because that is what EFTA rules say. It is true that, if the negotiations were in our hands and we were in government, I would have a great deal of faith that, if my right honourable friend Sir Keir Starmer, my noble friend Lord Mandelson or the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, were navigating through the negotiations, they could find a new course for the UK, retaining the benefits of our EEA membership —perhaps even continuing our membership—while forming a customs union with that massive market just off our shores.

We have been clear throughout that any Brexit deal must deliver a strong new relationship with the single market that ensures full tariff-free access, no new impediments to trade and no drop in rights and protections. No doubt this will require a new UK-EU treaty, which must also include a new customs union and a close relationship with the EEA. Any such new arrangement must be based on a negotiating mandate. Thanks to Amendment 51, moved by my noble friend Lord Monks and passed by this House, that mandate would have to be approved by Parliament. It is at that point, when the mandate could be amended, approved or even rejected, that Parliament should help steer the course for our future long-term trading relationship, and other relationships, with the EU. Then, Parliament could decide on whether we are in or out of a customs union, the internal market, the agencies we have just discussed or any such issues. That is what Heidi Alexander’s amendment was about: not sweeping things off the table until Parliament had its vote.

As we heard and witnessed, last week, over the weekend and even this morning the Cabinet has struggled to find a coherent approach to the customs union. Unbelievably, as has been referred to, we even heard the Foreign Secretary call his Prime Minister’s customs plan “crazy”. Our priority now should be to nudge, encourage and persuade the sensible Members of the Government to heed pleas from Ireland, business, the professions, unions and others to close off the possibility of frontier posts, import duties, and checks and hold-ups at borders. At the moment, the Government are risking the end of our hassle-free trading, as well as risking employment and growth. Because of this House’s requirement of Parliamentary approval for the negotiating mandate, this House’s support for a customs union and possible practical problems associated with EFTA membership, we ask our colleagues to abstain on the amendment.