Brexit: Preparations and Negotiations - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:57 pm on 23rd July 2018.

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Photo of Lord Risby Lord Risby Conservative 9:57 pm, 23rd July 2018

My Lords, I am not entirely sure what conclusion I have come to about a betting experience I had while attending the racing on Saturday at Newmarket. I bet on a horse called Brexit Time. It was 20-1 and not expected to win, so I was cautious and bet both ways. For the first six furlongs the horse led the field, but at the seventh and final furlong it fell back. Nevertheless, although it did not secure victory, it was regarded as a very good and successful effort by the horse. I do not know whether there is any moral to be drawn about what might happen in Brussels in the next few weeks.

The first thing to say is that we should welcome this White Paper as a way to address the advance in a comprehensive negotiation taking place to fulfil the commitments made by the Government to the British people while trying to ensure the continuity of our close relationship. Given that EU member states will be involved in any ultimate agreement, I greatly welcome the energy and activity now being shown by government Ministers to explain our proposals to the member states directly.

Of course, the EU would fall apart if there were not a comprehensive and tight rulebook, but, if the mantra is solely the indivisibility of the four freedoms, the negotiations could fail. If we move on to the complex proposed tariff collection processes, the European Commission will—wholly legitimately—require assurances about fraud. Will the Minister be able to flesh this matter out this evening to enhance our understanding? The British commitment to no tariffs and adherence to EU goods regulations is hugely important to our businesses.

We have historically suffered a trade imbalance, not only with the EU but with the world, compensated for by the attractiveness of the UK as a recipient of enormous foreign direct investment. All of us know that much of this crucial investment was based on unfettered access to European markets. This has been supplemented in the White Paper by a clear and welcome commitment to parallel standards across the full spectrum of activity.

One concern which has come through this debate is anxiety about future defence and security relationships in Europe once we have left. That applies particularly in middle and eastern European countries. For whatever reason, the absence so far of any agreement is a source of concern to them. As the European Commission examines these concerns in our discussions and looks at the handling of the Galileo project, criticised even in the French press, some fresh thinking, out of the box, should be required urgently.

I should also be grateful if my noble friend could elaborate on the model of expanded equivalence, and how it will ensure that the City of London remains a jewel in the crown of Europe overall. This was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Butler. Competition for us in future does not lie in Europe, in Paris or Frankfurt, but in New York, Singapore and elsewhere. Frankly, it is greatly to the disadvantage of Europe overall if financial services activities here are impaired. It is not clear to me why our world-beating financial sector, with its unique reach, experience and reputation, is not seen as an asset for all of Europe and recognised as such. I note with interest that Mr Barnier has rejected our financial services proposal—but, given the centrality of importance of our financial sector for the whole of Europe, I hope that the view that it requires unilateral authority can be revisited, because it certainly should be.

I do not want to delay the House at this late hour, but I will make reference to Northern Ireland. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bew, for his contribution and the pragmatic proposals put forward by my noble friend Lord Cope. As a new Member of Parliament, I had a very minor role for a short period in Northern Ireland at a tense and difficult time. At different times, it was appropriate for those who were leading a resolution of this problem, such as Sir John Major, Tony Blair and Members of this House to whom we pay great tribute, to make bold public statements. However, quietly and discreetly, much progress was made in discussions to move the peace process on in a totally different way.

Today, resolution of the border issue is of course most important—indeed, it is regarded as pivotal by the European Commission. However, it is a matter of regret that the lessons of the past have not been absorbed in dealing with some of the problems on our neighbouring island. Megaphone diplomacy has not made the issue any easier to resolve. Indeed, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Bew, it has been overinflated.

Every interested party wants this matter to be sorted out, and everybody agrees that there should be no hard border. This is not an insoluble problem. The matter is now centre stage, and I hope that greater wisdom and discretion will now prevail.