Brexit: Preparations and Negotiations - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:04 pm on 23rd July 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport) 9:04 pm, 23rd July 2018

My Lords, on 5 July 2016 this House held a debate on the referendum results. I spoke on the impact of Brexit on transport, which is, after all, the foundation on which our economy rests. I reread this morning what I said on that day, and what struck me forcefully was the fact that all the issues I raised then remain unresolved today. The impact on the Channel Tunnel, the Single European Sky, our EASA membership, the freight industry, the time taken to clear customs, vehicle standards and driver safety: all these are not yet sorted.

The transport industry, in all its many iterations, has been in a state of suspended activity since the referendum, waiting to know exactly what will happen, holding back on investment decisions and decisions to transfer jobs abroad, hoping that things will get organised. I was speaking to a senior figure in transport manufacturing last week, and to that person the Government have crossed the Rubicon with the Chequers White Paper. The picture is very different from that just painted by the noble Lord. The transport industry now simply has to move in preparation for the previously unthinkable. Plans must now be implemented and jobs will move abroad, because the Chequers plan is simply impossible for the industry to implement.

The big issues for transport-related industries remain: flexible and rapid access to labour, skilled and unskilled; delays at the ports, which play havoc with just-in-time delivery in a modern global industry; and certainty about what is to come—because such a complex industry needs at least five years to prepare, not the five months it now has. The Government have no answer to any of these things.

In recent days the tone of discussion has been very dark. Yesterday Dominic Raab significantly failed to deny that the Government were planning to stockpile food. Amazon warned of civil unrest preparations. The EU has warned member states that planes may not be able to fly, and that they must recruit many more customs officers. The National Audit Office has produced a critical report that points out that the Department for Transport has 63 new Brexit-related SIs to draft and get through Parliament by March 2019—and that is in addition to 64 others that it has to produce on normal day-to-day business. Major companies like Airbus, Jaguar Land Rover and several others warn of job losses as they move at least part of their operations abroad.

In short, people are really turning their minds to the realities of a no-deal scenario now. Two years have passed since the referendum and a lot has changed—not just the economy but the level of the terrorist threat, the threat from Russia and instability in the attitude of our closest non-European ally, the USA. It is a different world out there. Given the chaos that the Brexit vote has unleashed on our politics—the endless, bitter, inconclusive argument and the failure of the leavers to come up with any kind of coherent plan—there is just one of their arguments that holds any traction nowadays. That is their claim about the will of the people.

In 2015 the will of the people was to give the Conservatives a working majority in the general election. By 2017 the will of the people was to deny them that majority. That is the process of democracy in action. As John Major said yesterday, quoting John Maynard Keynes:

“When the facts change, I change my mind”.

The people must be allowed to change their mind in the face of a changing world. That means setting before them a referendum on the terms of the final deal by giving them a people’s vote.