Brexit: Preparations and Negotiations - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:39 pm on 23rd July 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Smith of Newnham Baroness Smith of Newnham Liberal Democrat 6:39 pm, 23rd July 2018

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, pointed out that, speaking at number 20 or so in the order of speakers, he was a little surprised to have heard only one Member of your Lordships’ House actively supporting the White Paper. Speaking at number 26, I find myself at the disadvantage that the noble Lord said many of the things that I had written in my notes, starting with the very idea that this document is not, as the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, suggested, a welcome one. It is, rather, too little, too late. The time for a White Paper on the UK’s relations with the European Union was before the Prime Minister triggered Article 50. The time for the United Kingdom—for members of the public, Members of your Lordships’ House and the House of Commons, and members of the Conservative grass roots—to know what the Prime Minister thought that she wished to negotiate was not two weeks ago at Chequers but before she triggered Article 50.

For two years, the Prime Minister kept suggesting, “It doesn’t do to show our negotiating hand—it will weaken our position”. But the EU 27 told us their position almost on day one; before the negotiations began, we knew where they were positioning themselves.

Perhaps the Prime Minister did know what she wanted. Indeed, that appears to be the case—because, in the White Paper, in her opening words the Prime Minister already begins to suggest that the White Paper is not the starting point but already the product of some sort of compromise. She points out that we need “pragmatism and compromise”. The noble Lord, Lord Bridges, suggested that we need pragmatism and compromise for an effective negotiation, but I suspect that a former Conservative Prime Minister might be turning in her grave at the suggestion that the United Kingdom should be compromising. The only thing that might stop her turning in her grave is, I suspect, that she believes, in death as in life, that turning is not something that we should be doing.

This White Paper suggests that already Prime Minister May has begun to turn, that the document before us—many noble Lords have been focusing on it today—is a response to two years during which the EU 27, and Monsieur Barnier in particular, have been saying what the EU position is and making clear what the United Kingdom might be able to get.

Right at the start of the White Paper, the Prime Minister says that,

“we have evolved our proposals, while sticking to our principles”.

The noble Lord, Lord Callanan, in his opening speech this afternoon, said something very similar. How would we know what the principles are that are being stuck to? It is wholly unclear.

The idea that the document is non-negotiable is, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and others suggested, rather mistaken. Already it has become clear that, if you are a Tory Brexiteer and one of the European Research Group and you threaten to rebel in the House of Commons, you will be rewarded with a government-sanctioned amendment. If you are a rather more loyal remainer threatening to put forward an amendment, you are told by the Prime Minister, as I understand it, “No, you mustn’t put forward an amendment—if you vote against the Government you will bring them down and that will be catastrophic”.

So what principles are these that underpin the White Paper? Are they really in the UK national interest? I am not persuaded that they are. What is clear in the White Paper is a whole set of contradictions. The Prime Minister tells us that the days of sending vast sums of money to the EU every year are over. Yet, as my noble friends Lord Newby and Lord Wallace pointed out, there are many cases—62, I believe—where the Government say that they want to go back into this agency or be part of that policy. How are we going to do that? We want to contribute financially. So this great Brexit dividend, the £20 billion going to the NHS that we have been promised, is a mirage. There is not going to be a £20 billion dividend from leaving. As far as we can see from the White Paper, the costs are wholly unclear. So I should be most grateful if the Minister, in winding up, could tell us whether the Government have done any costings of what opting back in to various agencies and policies will mean in practice. Can he tell us politically where we stand? We want to pay to be part of a whole set of agencies—and, obviously, as somebody who was a passionate remainer and still believes that we would be better off in the European Union than outside it, I can see that we might want to be part of 62 agencies and policies. But apart from the financial cost, what role will we play? As a member of the EU, we have a seat at the table; what this White Paper suggests is that we want to go almost grovelling to ask to participate. What say are we going to have?

The noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, suggested that this was taking us to a Norwegian model. I am a great fan of Norway, but I am afraid that I am not a great fan of the Norwegian model—and this is no Norwegian model. As the noble Lord, Lord Davies, pointed out so eloquently, this White Paper at best talks about goods. It ignores any meaningful deal on services, which comprise 80% of the UK economy. What do Her Majesty’s Government think that they are doing? Why are they going for a set of proposals that look like a watered-down version of Norway? Where do they see the United Kingdom in the long term? So far, they do not appear to be offering anything that offers great succour to erstwhile remainers, ongoing remainers or even the Brexiteers. So far this evening we have found that the Minister’s opening remarks merely served to unite the noble Lords, Lord Liddle, Lord Forsyth and Lord Hannay. That does not very often happen. The Minister and the Government might think that they are doing very well if they have found a way in which to unite such disparate voices—but they were all voices that were very sceptical about the White Paper.

Where are we going to end up? The Minister told us that there would be a set of technical documents. Finally, I will ask a specific question on that, because I believe that technical documents are intended to say to EU citizens resident here, “This is what you need to do”. The Minister told us, with regard to these technical documents, that planning for no deal has been going on for two years. Those EU citizens resident in the United Kingdom have been led to believe, since the end of 2017, that their rights would be secured. Is there any truth in that whatever, or should they look to find some secure future elsewhere? Are the Government letting them down as they are letting UK citizens down?