Brexit: Preparations and Negotiations - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 23rd July 2018.

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Photo of Lord Davies of Stamford Lord Davies of Stamford Labour 6:30 pm, 23rd July 2018

My Lords, I want to make four points, the first of which is a rather sad—perhaps very sad—observation. The British have been associated over the generations with different qualities—some positive, some negative. We have often been thought of as being arrogant, complacent, too self-satisfied. There may be something in all of those criticisms, but we have never ever, until now, been considered incompetent. That has now changed. We are in a situation in which the Government have been presiding over a shambles which has been watched right across the world, with, first of all, unbelief, sometimes amusement and, frankly, horror by all of those who wish us well in the world.

The Prime Minister decided to give notice, under Article 50 of the treaty, that we were leaving the EU, without any preparation whatever, without even establishing in a written document what her own view was. We have had to wait two years for that—in the paper before us, and we have heard about its many shortcomings today. This paper has been brought forward just eight months before the deadline, before the day we may go over the cliff. What an extraordinary way to plan for any kind of negotiation. We have had delays, an inability to keep to deadlines, vacillation, indecision, changes of mind, and the incoherence of the Government once the whole principle of Cabinet responsibility had been suspended. All of that is unbelievable. Whatever comes out of this, we have already lost, sadly, quite a lot of the soft power that we had in this world, as a result of this process—even long before the process itself has been terminated either by an agreement with our European Union partners or in any other way.

My second observation is this. If you read through the White Paper, it is impossible honestly to come to the conclusion that it is in the interests of this country to leave the European Union. On every single subject mentioned in this paper, except for one, which I shall come to in a second, it is quite clear that the deal we currently have is much more advantageous to the United Kingdom—in many cases, spectacularly more advantageous to the United Kingdom—than anything that is on offer, either in this paper, or having been suggested by anybody else, or having been asked for by ourselves as a substitute. That is a pretty extraordinary set of affairs. Before I go any further, I had better mention that the exception is fish, but even that is misrepresented in the paper.

The White Paper makes it apparently clear that, if we leave the European Union, we can claim all the fish within our exclusive economic zone and drive everybody else out. That is not true for three reasons which were not mentioned. One is that our British fishermen catch in other EU waters about a quarter of the amount they catch in UK waters, so they will presumably lose that, which mitigates the benefit. Secondly, quite a number—more than 10% some time ago, but I do not know the latest figure—of British licensed fishing boats, are licences held by other EU nationals, so that muddles the calculation somewhat. Thirdly, customary international law and positive law in the form of the 1964 fisheries convention makes it clear that the rights of traditional and historic fishermen cannot be ignored. They cannot just be driven out when they have been fishing in those waters for two generations or more.

The situation is almost unbelievable. If we look at everything in this paper, except for fish, such as Euratom, goods, services, civil aviation, pharmaceuticals, the very important security issues, our membership of Europol, the common arrest warrant, and so forth, on every single instance it is more advantageous to stay in than to leave. The present regime is more advantageous than any conceivable alternative.

The third observation I have on this paper, which hit me quite hard between the eyes when I read it, is the extraordinary abandonment of services in this country. I thought we were very proud of our success in services in the world—success in the City, success of our media industry, which is so important, the success we have in technology and IT. I thought that, as a nation, we were proud of that. I thought that all Governments considered it part of their obligation to nurture these strengths, these industries. Far, far from it, this paper rejects them completely. They are forgotten about and cut off. The paper suggests the means by which we can help producers of goods, but on services there is nothing at all. That seems to be a fundamental dereliction of duty by this Government, and would be by the Government of any country to do such a thing to large sectors of investment and employment with all the human and financial consequences that would flow from that.

My fourth point is this. The great issue in this country is: why? Why are we being condemned with this self-destructive policy? Why do we have a Government who are actually in the process of destroying important industries in this country? That is unprecedented. I cannot think of any historical instance of that being done, and certainly not in a civilised country in recent times.

When one asks why, one gets from Eurosceptics two different sets of answers. One is, “Because we are implementing the referendum”. Leave aside the fact that the Supreme Court made it quite clear that the referendum was an advisory referendum. Leave aside the fact that no Parliament can commit its successor, because Parliaments have to take a new view on where national interest arises—we have had a new Parliament and two years have gone by, so it is the responsibility of Parliament to look at the matter again. Leave aside the fact that the referendum has been very much discredited because it was corrupted by serious breaches of electoral law, by gross overspending which in a Westminster election would cause the immediate unseating of the apparent winner of the election. Apparently, that sanction does not exist in this particular context. Leave aside the fact that the whole referendum was based on a lie—the famous lie by Boris Johnson about the National Health Service, and now we have, no less, the Office for Budget Responsibility confirming that far from having a dividend from Brexit, we have a penalty—less ability to spend money on any public service, the National Health Service included.

The other answer from Eurosceptics and the Government is, “We have wonderful new opportunities around the world that we can seize”. We know that that is nonsense. I have spoken on this on several occasions. We will not get a trade deal with the United States. It is has nothing do with the volatility of Mr Trump personally, but because no US Congress would ratify a trade treaty that did not provide for the sale of American agricultural products, and we will not accept in this country, as would not be accepted anywhere else in the European Union, chlorinated chicken and antibiotic-infused beef, and so forth, which we would have to accept in the circumstances. We will not do a trade deal with China because the Chinese will never accept steel quotas against them, and we cannot accept getting rid of steel quotas unless we abandon the British steel industry and Port Talbot, which the Government have promised not to do.

That is all rubbish, complete nonsense and pie in the sky. Who believes it? I heard the other day on Radio 4 somebody asking Dr Fox, “Where will you start replacing all the business we may have lost in the EU?”. He said that India would be a good place to start. I have the figures here showing that our exports to the whole of the rest of the EU are about €300 billion and exports to India including goods and services are about €7 billion. What does that mean? It means that if you were to increase that by 50%—which we never would of course, but let us suppose that we were to increase them by 50% as a result of a a trade deal with India—we would gain another €3.5 billion of exports. If we lost 10% of our business with the EU, as we might well do, as a result of either new tariffs, quotas, or just the ill will we are generating, we would lose €30 billion, and on that basis we would lose €16.5 billion.

What businessman would accept that as a good proposition? No businessman would do so. What politician would accept that as a good proposition for his or her country? Only a Brexit politician, and only a politician for whom Brexit was more important than the future of the country that he or she is representing.