Brexit: Preparations and Negotiations - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:10 pm on 23rd July 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Verma Baroness Verma Chair, EU External Affairs Sub-Committee 10:10 pm, 23rd July 2018

My Lords, I start by agreeing with most noble Lords who have said that we have a White Paper and need to be constructive about it and help the Prime Minister to get some order back into our Parliament.

I want to speak on the concerns of small and medium-sized businesses and the supply chain with regard to customs issues. The trusted trader scheme is often floated by noble Lords, but we have come to find that those schemes are very difficult to navigate for small businesses. They add cost and administration and often require small businesses to put up huge financial collateral. What will my noble friend the Minister do to ensure that we make the processes easier as a third country, when we leave the EU, for the supply chain and small and medium-sized businesses?

I listened very carefully to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds and my noble friend Lord Heseltine. I was going to read the speech that I prepared over the weekend, but I decided to change course because so much has already been said of what I was going to say. I want to come back to something that my noble friend Lord Heseltine said about immigration. I am tired—actually, I am sick to death—of immigration and immigrants becoming the scapegoat for every single problem that any country has. I now feel as I did as a child in the 1960s, growing up with the “rivers of blood” speech, and I am really sick to death. If we have not learned anything, we have a lot more to learn.

I want to say to all noble Lords who think that Brexit will stop immigration and stop people from coming here because they want to have a better life that they really need a real reality check. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Green, that yes, we do talk immigration, but the noble Lord keeps bringing it up as a negative process. Immigrants have been great for wherever they have gone, and it is up to Governments and government policy to make sure that they do it in the interests of their country, through policy, and not blame people who just want to make a better life.

I have been in your Lordships’ House for 12 years, and in all that time I have listened very carefully to debates and I have tried to be very easy on the ear, because, as a Minister and in opposition on the Front Bench I was bound by collective responsibility. I was absolutely ashamed that, after a collective decision at Chequers, people should come out and give the Prime Minister such a difficult time. The Prime Minister has more than enough to do to try to unite a country that was split almost down the middle by this decision. It is up to all of us—including Ministers who may not agree with our point of view—to come together and give the Prime Minister some space. If we cannot bring something constructive to the table, we should sit at the back, keep our opinions to ourselves and not self-indulge in what I can see only as self-promotion for a new job some time in the future.

I will end by saying that some noble Lords have said that maybe we should be part of the EEA for a short while during our transition, perhaps to work out some of the difficulties we will face, and that may be a useful idea. Maybe it is time we considered these things without dismissing them without any proper debate.