Brexit: Preparations and Negotiations - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:14 pm on 23rd July 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Razzall Lord Razzall Liberal Democrat 8:14 pm, 23rd July 2018

My Lords, it is apparent that, since the publication of the White Paper, all hell has broken loose within the Tory party. It is not for me to intrude on private grief, so I shall concentrate my remarks on a number of concerns where, if we are not careful, withdrawal without agreement will throw a spanner in many works.

I speak for my party on manufacturing, and the concerns of manufacturing industry have been clear since the referendum. Some companies are concerned about tariff barriers, although those may not be the major issue, as they are often simply a function of how a product is priced. In any event, apart from President Trump’s interventions, worldwide tariffs have in recent years been coming down. However, as most noble Lords will have realised by now, the overwhelming concern for manufacturing industry is frictionless borders. We all appreciate that the Government have been going through endless dances to come up with a scheme that provides for frictionless borders, solves the Irish border issue, but does not involve remaining in a customs union. Who knows whether that is achievable, but it is clear that, unless a satisfactory solution is arrived at, we are at risk of losing many major manufacturing companies from the UK. The motor car industry depends on just-in-time delivery of components which often pass two or three times across our borders. Airbus has similar requirements and has made it very clear that unless it can continue with its current arrangements, significant capacity will be moved to France or Germany.

The second major requirement for manufacturing industry is access to skilled labour. I appreciate that this is a concern also in relation to many other sectors, such as care home assistants and workers in the NHS, let alone fruit pickers and restaurant staff, but unless industry can continue to recruit qualified workers from the European Union, the tendency for many manufacturers will be to relocate outside Britain.

As always in international negotiations, the devil is in the detail. My noble friend Lord Newby mentioned more than 60 European bodies in which we would like to participate after Brexit. In the time available, I want to highlight a few of the 62.

The first is Euratom. Last year Theresa May notified the EU of the UK’s intention to leave the EU nuclear safety and research watchdog. As Ken Clarke memorably said on “Question Time”, he did not think his constituents who voted leave had Euratom in mind. I understand that even Vote Leave’s director, Dominic Cummings, has questioned the value of this—he has other problems at the moment, of course. Is this wise? Secondly, there is framework programme 9, the successor to the EU Horizon 2020 science funding programme. We are currently a net recipient of funding from 2020, but will the EU allow this to continue? Should we negotiate associate membership, similar to Norway, with a likely increase in contributions? What do the Government intend?

Thirdly, I want to highlight Copernicus. The European Space Agency’s programme has currently launched six earth observation satellites, with UK companies involved in the manufacture of hardware and instrumentation. The programme is 70% funded by the European Union. What is the Government’s intention regarding the status of these manufacturing contracts? Fourthly, we have the European Medicines Agency. While NICE makes judgments on drugs’ cost effectiveness for the NHS, the European Medicines Agency rules on safety and efficacy. Until now, the EMA has been based in London, but following Brexit it will move to Amsterdam. It is not clear how drugs will be regulated in the United Kingdom following Brexit. Can the Government give an indication?

Fifthly, there is Galileo. This system is a rival to GPS and was commissioned in 2003 for completion in 2020. I understand that there is deadlock, as the European Commission has decided to block the United Kingdom working on the system and we are threatening to demand a £900 million refund of contributions. Will the Minister tell the House the latest position? Lastly, I want to highlight aviation. The Government’s policy is to secure liberal aviation market access arrangements following Brexit, including continuing participation in EASA, but time is running out. Does the Minister believe that this is still achievable, or is there a danger of significant disruption to airline travel after Brexit?

If I had time I would add to the list of issues where decisions are urgently required, as the six I have mentioned are simply the tip of the iceberg. Those of us on the remain side of the argument are terrified that the current government chaos could lead to a no-deal Brexit, producing financial chaos, industrial disruption, planes not flying, queues on either side of the Channel and shortages of medicines and foods. Let us hope and pray that it does not come to that.