Brexit: Preparations and Negotiations - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:15 pm on 23rd July 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Young of Old Scone Baroness Young of Old Scone Labour 10:15 pm, 23rd July 2018

My Lords, much that could be said has been said. I am just grateful that I am speaking immediately before rather than after the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, with his eloquence and humour. How is that for a build-up?

I want to give two examples of what a mess the process is in and why crashing out—a no-deal Brexit—is a strong possibility but cannot possibly be contemplated. I will try not to sound like someone out of “Dad’s Army” saying, “We’re doomed! We’re all doomed!”, but to give a practical appreciation of the fact that this thing is much more complex than any of us ever realised and that we are rapidly running out of time.

The example that I want to give is aviation, and perhaps “crash out” is not a phrase that we should use about aviation, so let us call it “a non-negotiated withdrawal”. That could have significant implications for the aviation industry. The White Paper plan is to maintain membership of the European Aviation Safety Agency. If that does not happen in time, the CAA here in the UK will need to kit and organise up to take over the safety regulatory tasks. It cannot possibly do that in time. I therefore share with my noble friend Lord Whitty the belief that we are running out of that precious commodity, time.

Without design organisation approval, UK manufacturers currently holding EASA design certificates will not be able to deliver products to EU manufacturers, which will dramatically slow down the production of aircraft. That is why Rolls-Royce is moving its engine design approval work to Germany. The aviation industry has called on the EU Commission to allow technical talks to proceed between the EASA and the CAA on the transition of responsibilities. So far, the Commission has rejected these requests.

The noble Lord, Lord Razzall, highlighted air transport agreements governing the rights to fly between two countries which need to be negotiated before Brexit or continuity of service will be threatened. UK carriers are signalling their lack of confidence that such agreements will be negotiated in time and are setting up entities in EU 27 states to protect their right to fly. What evidence does the Minister have that these complex agreements can be reached in time, or, indeed, at all?

There is a similar situation in the chemicals industry, which is the UK’s second-largest manufacturing industry. The White Paper says that we will seek to participate in the European Chemicals Agency, but this negotiation has not happened yet. The industry is in a state of high uncertainty about what it needs to do. If we crash out, the UK will have to create its own system for authorising and regulating chemicals, with additional cost and complexity for companies having to register chemicals in two different systems. Again, what evidence does the Minister have that all this can happen in time? Last week, your Lordships’ EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee was magnificently unconvinced by the Defra Minister on this.

Those are simply two practical examples of the cliff edge that we are rapidly approaching. They are mirrored across virtually all of the 131 Brexit work streams. Whatever you think about Brexit, crashing out cannot be an option. It is a recipe for chaos for businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, and for the people of this country.

I am angry and sad about all this. I am sad that, in reality, the split in views about Brexit across the nation and across politics means that our political institutions are simply not working any more. In reality, the lack of coalescence around solutions is due to the fact that there is no effective majority for Brexit at all. In any other walk of life, for a cataclysmic change—a major, brave change like this—I would want 75% support behind me before I decided to push out the boat, but we simply do not have that; it is virtually a 50:50 issue.

I am angry that so much of our negotiating energy and time have been spent on the Government trying to pacify their paramilitary hard-Brexit wing, but I am also angry that all of us in this House acquiesced to a simple majority for a referendum on something as fundamental as leaving the EU when there was no clarity about what that would mean. Therefore, we need to wake up and smell the coffee. Crashing out would be disastrous but the negotiated exit enshrined in the White Paper is unlikely to be negotiable in time. It is only not the worst of all options because crashing out is the worst of all options. There is indeed an insufficient public mandate for the lunge into the dark that Brexit represents. We must not shut the door on remaining in the EU. As negotiations continue and when the meaningful vote takes place, if remaining looks, on a practical rather than a political basis, like the only sensible option, we must not duck that conclusion.