Brexit: Preparations and Negotiations - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:56 pm on 23rd July 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Chair, Economic Affairs Committee 4:56 pm, 23rd July 2018

The Economist has a particular view of these matters—but if the noble Lord is correct and the WTO is collapsing, the least of our problems will be leaving the EU.

The Prime Minister should reject the bogus posturing of the Taoiseach, the latest recruit to Project Fear, who claims that if the UK left the EU it would mean that our planes could not fly over Ireland. As flyover rules are a matter for an international treaty and have nothing to do with our EU membership, the most charitable interpretation I can put on that is that he did not know what he was talking about. The least-charitable interpretation is that he has the same advisers as George Osborne, who promised a punishment Budget, higher taxes, soaring interest rates, rising unemployment, inflation and a recession within weeks of any decision to vote to leave the EU.

Even Mr Osborne did not suggest civil unrest, which the UK chief executive of Amazon is predicting on the front page of today’s Times. He would do well to address the unrest among his own workforce arising from Amazon’s poor employment practices. If we leave the EU we will be able to introduce a tax on internet sales and level the playing field for our retailers, who pay rates and taxes and face unfair competition from online retailers. As members of the EU we cannot do that. Amazon in 2016 routed its revenues for the whole of the EU through Mr Juncker’s tax haven in Luxembourg, and paid a total of £15 million in tax on revenues of £19.5 billion.

The Irish Prime Minister has a short memory. When the EU left Ireland swinging in the wind after the financial crisis it was the United Kingdom that lent it tens of billions to lessen the catastrophic consequences of its membership of the euro. The Taoiseach’s position on the border is, to say the least, confusing. The Irish Times of 19 July reports him as saying that the European Union had assured him that no physical checks would be needed on the border even if the UK crashed out without a deal. Ireland’s exports to Britain across the Irish Sea are essential to the Irish economy. For example, 70% of their beef comes to the UK. There is already a land border for tax, duty and currency differences between the Republic and Northern Ireland. Customs officials on both sides have said that our leaving the EU does not create a need for a so-called hard border. The actual trade across the land border is a tiny fraction of that with the UK. If both Governments say they will not countenance a hard border, who exactly is going to put one there? The EU? I think not. This border issue is a Trojan horse pushed into the negotiations by people determined to reverse the UK’s decision to leave the EU—and we have heard a lot from them this afternoon.

My noble friend Lord Heseltine asked what the people voted for. The reasons why people voted to leave the EU were not just economic, although I believe that in time our leaving offers a bright future for our country once we are unshackled from the sclerotic bureaucracy that is the European Union. It was about being free again to make and unmake our own laws, to hold Governments to account for the rules and regulations that dominate our daily lives, to decide for ourselves our immigration policy and how our money is spent, to be free of the jurisdiction of a foreign court, to control our own natural resources, and to offer markets to developing countries around the world.

As a boy I was brought up in Arbroath. I watched a great fishing fleet, along with its associated industries, being destroyed by the CFP, with successive Governments of this country powerless to help. It is not for this or any other Parliament to give away the powers which come from the people and with which it is entrusted without their consent, far less wilfully to ignore the results of a referendum.

The year 2020 will be the 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath. It was a letter, in Latin, to the Pope, signed by eight earls and 45 barons, some of whose descendants are actually in the House today. The words come tumbling down the centuries: “We fight, not for glory, nor riches, nor honours, but for freedom alone, which no honest man surrenders but with his life”.

Those words were delivered to Rome; today we should dispatch them to Brussels.