It does not seem to have the evidence to support the idea that we could. Indeed, the trade policy experts, of which of course my noble friend is one, think that our status as a supplicant means that we will struggle to secure good deals, especially from the US, China and India—and, no doubt, Japan as well.
Furthermore, we face a highly protectionist President. What is his catchphrase? America First. He is a President who is unleashing trade wars with China, the EU, Canada and Mexico. He has filed five WTO complaints against his own trading partners and even queried the future of the WTO. He has imposed import tariffs on solar panels, washing machines, steel and aluminium. What does he want from the UK? When he is not calling the EU a “foe”, he claims that the EU has treated the US unfairly, so he wants more access to our market, not opening up their market to us. It is a predatory policy towards a Brexit Britain, designed to take advantage of our need for trade deals. He wants America to sell us more agriculture and cars—and I see that Liam Fox is offering to reduce tariffs on US cars imported here. I am not sure that that will help our automotive industry. Trump is not interested in a deal if we maintain EU standards. He says that that Prime Minister has probably killed off hopes of a deal by staying close to those EU standards.
And what of business? The CBI president says that, without a customs union, sectors of manufacturing risk becoming extinct. Following Chequers, more than 100 entrepreneurs and business leaders wrote:
“The cost, complexity and bureaucracy created by crashing out of the customs union and adopting alternative arrangements is the last thing that our businesses need as we seek to grow and employ more people”.
Your Lordships have often heard in this House from Airbus, Rolls-Royce, the Freight Transport Association and others, but there is a new example in UK publishing, the world’s largest exporter of books, one-third of them going to the European Union. The Publishers Association fears that Brexit could damage this, as:
“It’s not just tariffs … It’s the non-tariff barriers, customs checks and delays … That means having books sat in a customs warehouse in Calais rather than in a bookshop in Duesseldorf”.
Services are even more alarmed, not only as it is often impossible to distinguish goods from services, as complex manufactured products—for example, aircraft engines—combine servicing, design, IT, training and marketing into the physical components which get screwed together. Even more, banking, medicine, leisure, law, accountancy and IT comprise 80% of our economy and an even higher proportion of employment. Their healthy trade surplus helps to offset a deficit on manufactures and agriculture. Yet services drew the short straw in the White Paper, causing alarm to financial organisations and companies, which describe it as a,
“real blow for the UK’s financial and related professional services”.
The financial sector had anticipated a deal based on “mutual recognition”, with the EU accepting that its and our financial regulations were equally robust. The City was therefore deeply disappointed that this was abandoned in favour of an “expanded” equivalence, which is patchy and unilateral. The White Paper itself admits that we,
“will not have current levels of access”,
to EU markets, yet it is vague on how services and millions of jobs will be protected, and on how our competitive advantage will not be shipped to New York or the continent.
What do our partners think? The plan has yet to find favour with the Commission, which insists that the four freedoms are indivisible, added to which, we seem to want only the EU’s most talented citizens, apparently putting the rest in the queue with Koreans and others with whom we trade. The Commission doubts that the facilitated customs arrangement, which is hardly business-friendly, could be made to work, and has yet to be convinced that we have sorted out the Irish border.
As for the public, only 13% think that the Prime Minister is handling Brexit well, 75% judging that she is making a mess of it. They may be right about that. But it is not just remainers. The Labour Brexiteer John Mills reckons that the negotiations could hardly have been worse handled. Indeed, he goes further and says it is not now clear that there is now a good Brexit solution available. Yesterday’s poll must make hard reading for the Government. They must know that the more they pretend that no deal is viable, the harder it will be to sell a negotiated deal as satisfactory. So all their dancing around a band of irreconcilable anti-Europeans itself undermines navigating a realistic way forward.
For Labour, the absence of a deal for services is a major shortcoming. This is not a “nice to have” add-on but key to our future prosperity. Both for Ireland and across the borders, the facilitated customs drivel is simply impractical. IT cannot check the safety of food in vans, the composition of manufactured goods to assure compliance with rules of origin, let alone the imposition and forward allocation of tariffs, which I think the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, was querying.
The truth is that the Prime Minister is stranded in a mire of her own making. She tried to escape the clasp of the ERG, only to retreat at the first whiff of gunfire. She must now complete the task of facing it down, move away from its impossibilist demands, discard red or blue lines and step towards the majority opinion in Parliament—indeed, along the lines that Labour has long sketched out—embracing a customs union and a single market deal. The Prime Minister must unite the Commons and the country by prioritising the economy, jobs, agriculture and the environment, peace in Ireland, and the national interest.
Another former Conservative Prime Minister, Sir John Major, said yesterday that, every Tory should prioritise “People, people, people”. That means negotiating a deal which is in their interests, and putting a good deal ahead of the Conservative party’s civil war. If the Prime Minister changes course, she can deliver a majority for that deal—a majority that this White Paper will not create.