Brexit: Preparations and Negotiations - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:24 pm on 23rd July 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Labour 7:24 pm, 23rd July 2018

It is good to follow the noble Lord, Lord McNally, in his robust defence of common sense. I refer noble Lords to my interests as a former MEP for Birmingham.

I wish I could say, like the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, that the Chequers agreement—or disagreement, as it is now—could be a practical way of ensuring anything like economic and security progress in our country after Brexit. I am a remainer; I take what I can get, so I cling like a limpet on steroids to anything that looks like maintaining relations with our largest and most important trading bloc.

If Chequers was the practical way forward, it could have been that jumping-off point in the next round of negotiations on our future relationship with the EU. However, once again, the White Paper, now with its absurd wrecking amendments from last Monday night, is at heart about the Conservative Party—or, rather, the battle to keep the party together. Just as the referendum was at heart about those extreme members who never accepted the result of the 1975 referendum—and probably did not accept the result of 1066 for all I know—the Rees-Mogg acolytes think nothing of scuppering their own Government, past and present, and, indeed, scuppering the whole country in some extraordinary homage to a “la-la sovereign land”, untroubled by pesky foreigners, which never existed and never will.

The country cannot believe that, in such uncertain times for everyone, Parliament is making such an exhibition of itself rather than finding a way through— Thailand cave rescue-style—the complexity of Brexit. I do not exempt from that criticism a certain gang of four in my own party in the House of Commons.

The Chequers White Paper lays out its key objectives on the economy, jobs and the Irish border, and many of us would be hard-pressed to disagree with those objectives. However, the means by which those objectives are arrived at are so head-scratchingly obtuse, far-fetched, bureaucratic and, in some instances, whimsical that it is hardly surprising that Mr Barnier’s Gallic shrug on receiving the White Paper was in danger of resulting in a pair of dislocated shoulders. In the chapter on economic partnership, I cannot see how our integrated supply chains and our just-in-time processes, so vital to our manufacturing base, will survive the convoluted conclusions of the White Paper. At least here the Government admit that there will no longer be the current levels of access to EU markets for UK firms. I wonder how that anodyne sentence will translate into job losses over the coming years in the West Midlands, the north-east and other regions.

On any future security partnership, there is in the White Paper a call for operational consistency in the future between the EU and the UK, while also stating that we will of course no longer be part of the EU’s common policies on foreign defence, security, justice and home affairs. Well, good luck with that consistency, as highlighted by my noble friend Lord Browne. The paper offers us a facilitated customs arrangement that relies on new technology that has still to see the light of day, and a consumer workplace and environmental set of rights that promises only non-regression. Have we already given up on leading the world in these areas?

What is our future? I have no idea, and in that sense I am at one with the Government, Parliament and the rest of the country. If the Chequers White Paper is the best that is on offer, after £700 million of additional funding for planning to leave the EU, a further £3 billion in the last Budget, 313 workstreams set up across government and up to 8,000 more civil servants taken on to boost work on leaving the EU—I thank the House of Lords Library for those figures—another way has to be found out of this unholy Brexit mess.

Shortly, I understand, 70 technical notices—it should really be emergency notices—will be sent to British families and businesses explaining what to do if there is no deal and we crash out of Europe into a WTO bargain-basement regime for trade. No major trading nation trades with the EU on WTO rules alone. Will there be food and medical shortages? I do not know. Will lorries be backed up at our ports? I do not know. Will EU skies be closed to UK flights? I can but give a Gallic shrug. We are entering emergency territory and the clock is ticking. If we are not careful, we will indeed be “midnight’s children” on 29 March, and Parliament is deadlocked. Never mind asking the House of Commons to think again; it is time to ask the country to think again.