Brexit: Preparations and Negotiations - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:13 pm on 23rd July 2018.

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Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat 5:13 pm, 23rd July 2018

My Lords, the point I am making is that either side cannot deal with it unilaterally; we have to work together. We are condemned to work together.

We cannot manage our Channel border on our own either. We have several hundred UK Border Force personnel stationed in France with the agreement of the French Government. We also depend on active co-operation with customs and border staff in Belgium and the Netherlands.

There is a similar contradiction at the heart of the White Paper’s approach to foreign policy and security. The executive summary proclaims that we will reclaim the UK’s sovereignty and assert,

“a fully independent foreign policy”.

Chapter 2, in contrast, goes into great detail about the Government’s,

“ambitious vision for the UK’s future relationship with the EU … that goes beyond existing precedents”.

It then lists a long succession of EU agencies in which we wish to remain either as a full or associated member. These include Europol and Eurojust, the Schengen Information System, the European Criminal Records Information System, passenger name records and the passenger information unit, the Prüm data exchange arrangements on DNA and fingerprints, the European arrest warrant, joint investigation teams, the European Union Satellite Centre, the EU military staff, the EU intelligence and situation centre, the European Defence Agency, the European defence fund, Galileo and the European defence technological and industrial base—15 different legal and institutional frameworks. We wish, that is, to move from being a full member with a number of significant opt-outs to being a non-member with a lot of significant opt-ins.

The UK also proposes close co-operation across all foreign policy areas, with invitations to informal sessions of the EU’s Political and Security Committee, regular dialogue between officials, reciprocal exchange of personnel and expertise and provision for discussion between EU 27 leaders and the British Prime Minister on as regular a basis as possible. There is no mention here of the Government’s earlier proposal for a new security treaty with the EU—perhaps the Minister will tell us whether that goal has been explicitly abandoned—but Chapter 4 sets out an extensive institutional framework, with layers of committees, which will clearly require legal backing and ratification.

That is all very ambitious—and unavoidably constraining of British sovereignty. The White Paper notes, as others have said, that,

“where the UK participates in an EU agency, the UK will respect the remit of the Court of Justice of the EU”.

That will be hard to sell to the members of the European Research Group and the columnists of the Telegraph and the Mail. It suggests that,

“much of this can be done within existing third country precedents … There are opportunities to build on existing precedents”.

This contradicts what the Prime Minister has said repeatedly and in the foreword about the unprecedented character of the deep and special relationship that the UK wishes to build. I ask the Minister specifically to tell us which precedents the White Paper is referring to as a model for our future foreign policy and security relationship. Is it EU-Turkey, EU-Ukraine, EU-Georgia or EU-Azerbaijan? I assume that it is not EU-Norway, because that is a closer association than the Government think is compatible with UK sovereignty.

Chapter 2 of the White Paper tries desperately to bridge the gap between sovereign independence and intensive co-operation—and fails. Perhaps that is not surprising when for the past two years our Foreign Secretary has entirely failed to engage with the question of the future institutional framework for Britain’s place in the world. He said in his resignation speech last week that:

“We do not seek to hold on to bits of membership as we leave … but as great independent actors on the world stage”.

In effect, that dismisses almost everything presented in Chapter 2. His only formulation of Britain’s future place in the world was,

“to take one decision now before all others, and that is to believe in this country and in what it can do”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/7/18; cols. 449-450.]

If we just believe, everything will be all right. That is rather like Peter Pan or like the song in Disney’s “Pinocchio”—

“When you wish upon a star, your dreams come true”.

However, one difference between Pinocchio and Boris Johnson is that when Pinocchio told a lie, his nose grew longer; our former Foreign Secretary’s nose remains unchanged.

In 1962, some 56 years ago, the US Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, famously said:

“Britain’s attempt to play a separate power role … a role apart from Europe … is about played out”.

All these years later, the Eurosceptics are still dreaming of some sort of global Britain apart from Europe. The White Paper tries to offer them independence while struggling to maintain essential links with Europe and fails to resolve the contradiction. This leaves Britain without any coherent foreign policy drifting offshore in the eastern Atlantic while Russia becomes more threatening, the Middle East more dangerous and the United States more erratic. What a position for a Conservative Government.