Brexit: Preparations and Negotiations - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:44 pm on 23rd July 2018.

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Photo of Lord Cavendish of Furness Lord Cavendish of Furness Conservative 7:44 pm, 23rd July 2018

My Lords, I follow a powerful and analytical speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Deech.

I fear that this White Paper cannot fly. In fact, I wonder if it is not already a casualty of gravity. My principal and reluctant reason for opposing the White Paper is that the more I read it the plainer it becomes to me that its adoption would render this country worse off than we are now. And that is our opening shot. No one seriously believes that the Barnier team are just going to leave it there. Attrition is the means by which these people work.

I home in on two issues. The first is the common rule book. Its commonality is limited to Britain’s participation in a rule book that is written by the EU and run by the EU. Here I echo the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, when he quoted Mr Martin Howe QC. The UK would have to obey and apply in all respects the laws promulgated by the EU without having a vote on the content of those laws. Further, the UK would be obliged to interpret those rules in accordance with the rulings of the ECJ under a system that would, directly or indirectly, bind UK courts to follow ECJ rulings. I think that on that the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, would agree.

Secondly, will we be able to alter current laws? I find nothing in the White Paper to suggest that the UK would be in a position to change any of the existing body of EU laws, however damaging they may be or become in the future. I have in mind restrictive EU laws that block the development or deployment of new technology, such as in the biotech area, where the UK enjoys global pre-eminence. This is a seriously important point. Here in Britain we look to innovation as the single most important pathway to growth. The EU appears to turn its back on it.

As significantly, the system is skewed in favour of existing technologies and against innovators. Once we leave the EU and no longer have a vote on the framing of these types of rules, the EU will have a positive incentive to frame the rules in order to disadvantage UK producers. The recent notorious Dyson case illustrates how the EU regulatory system for goods can already be skewed in favour of continental interests against British manufacturers.

In her speech, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, rehearsed project fear again. Unlike her, I have been in business—as listed in the register of interests—for 50 years, operating in scores of different markets. I have never woken up to certainty in my life—I have never looked for certainty—and I am utterly comfortable with operating under WTO rules, as are an enormous number of people to whom I speak and colleagues in business. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, that it is a vanity of politicians that they run trade. In fact it is the people who produce commodities that can be bought and willing buyers who drive trade, not trade deals. In all of the markets in which I have operated, I never once over 50 years asked, “Do I have a trade deal with you?”

So what is the background to this mess? My inquiry stems from a little-mentioned fact that, for the first time I can remember in my life, the laws and the people have diverged. People used to look to the laws to protect them from an overbearing Executive and overbearing House of Commons—no more, and probably never again.

It is probably a good rule that politicians do not criticise civil servants. However, such has been the extraordinary and partisan involvement on the part of civil servants throughout the Brexit process that it is hard to ignore their role, especially when we reflect on the background to this White Paper. Let me say straightaway that our generally brilliant Civil Service has had to endure great provocation in recent years and better-qualified people than me need to address the many problems that beset the service and find enduring solutions to them. However, there can be no denying that Britain has a new ruling class—new to the extent that the power and influence of the official class has risen steadily as the power and influence of the political class has declined. I venture to suggest that this decline corresponds to the diminishing role of the modern Member of Parliament, a consequence of membership of the European Union. Nature abhors a vacuum.

Perhaps the Bench of superannuated mandarins in your Lordships’ House and the role that they have played in the Brexit process have attracted too little attention. Talk of “coming to heel” is not so far removed from “We are the masters now”. Plainly, former civil servants who come to this House are quite rightly liberated from the constraints of impartiality. They might even be forgiven for being a little demob happy. Some might question, however, whether it is right or indeed dignified for these very clever men to huddle in what my noble friend Lord Ridley has described as an “incantation” of mandarins—a collective term normally applied to warlocks—and, as they are driven by groupthink, they chant and parrot all the most absurd and disingenuous remainer slogans.

It is rather chilling to reflect that a group of people possessed of such famously bulging brains should lend their support to a measure as crassly ill-crafted and unsuitable for English law as the ECHR, a document which attracted, when it first appeared, almost universal derision and which was repudiated by senior members of both main political parties. In that case, it was instructive that the noble and learned Lords, with actual experience of the legal process, did not support that amendment.

We see a class composed of clever, well-paid, unelected, London-centric men and women who have gathered to themselves unprecedented levels of unaccountable power. They show conspicuous solidarity with their opposite numbers in Brussels and conspicuous contempt for the voting public. I suppose that one should be grateful that Mr Olly Robbins remembered to show the White Paper to the Prime Minister. This new power is being harnessed against the rest of us—the majority, as it happens—who ask for little more than to keep our well-tried institutions and preserve the freedoms that we used to enjoy through the ancient and always evolving system of representative democracy.

I conclude with a vivid memory. On Second Reading of the withdrawal Bill, The noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, expressed strong opposition to Britain leaving the EU, on which he has been consistent. He said that the wording of Clause 1 of the Bill,

“strikes a dagger to my soul”.—[Official Report, 30/1/18; col. 1411.]

It was a much-quoted phrase. Well, of course, out of respect and affection we all felt keenly for him in his anguish. However, we had barely regained control of our emotions when he went on to describe how mistaken the EU was in its rush towards a federal union, which, in the noble Lord’s own words, “may lead to disaster”. It was to avert just that disaster that thousands of people like me campaigned for Brexit and 17.4 million people agreed with us. The prescience of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, is already being borne out with yet more eurozone crises looming and yet more federalist solutions being proposed.

People understand the great issues of the day more than the likes of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, give them credit for. While I cannot say that all the election results of my adult life have always given me pleasure, I believe that in every case the people merited the trust that the universal franchise conferred on them. Unlike many, I was privileged to know both my father and grandfather. Both returned from the horrifying conflicts of the 20th century and both bore the scars of those conflicts for the years that remained to them. They and those like them suffered and died so that we might enjoy the freedoms that have been defended by our forebears for probably 1,000 years. It is this priceless legacy that more than 17 million of my fellow countrymen voted to preserve. I can find nothing in this White Paper that will offer these people the hope and reassurance that they are entitled to expect.