Brexit: Preparations and Negotiations - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:25 pm on 23rd July 2018.

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Photo of Lord Balfe Lord Balfe Conservative 10:25 pm, 23rd July 2018

My Lords, may I first declare my interests? Next year will be the 40th year that I have been in Brussels—25 years in the European Parliament and since then as chair of the 28-member voluntary pension fund of the Parliament, as a member of its Former Members Association executive, and as a board member of the charitable foundation that it supports. So I am an eternal disappointment to my noble friend Lord Forsyth, for a start. I am also vice-president of BALPA, the pilots union, and very much welcome the points made by the noble Baroness opposite.

I shall start by repeating, or firming up, some of those points. The White Paper recognises the special needs of aviation, and I pay tribute to the Minister who was formerly in this job and his successor, my noble friend Lady Sugg, for the attention they have paid to the representations received from BALPA. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said, the pilots are looking for a Canadian-style agreement with a Swiss-style involvement with the European Aviation Safety Agency. However, they are concerned because the principle “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” is stopping meaningful conversations at official and regulatory level. It is no longer sensible not to start those conversations. I do not expect the Minister to have the answer to this in his brief, but I would welcome an assurance that he will write to me, and possibly copy in the noble Baroness, on this subject—in particular on the limited subject of whether we can get further discussions going.

My second point is also taken from the good book, the Command Paper. The second paragraph of the Prime Minister’s foreword to the White Paper talks about,

“ending the days of sending vast sums of money to the EU every year”.

I contend that we do not send vast sums of money to the EU every year. We have let this idea come into our national discourse in a way that it should not have done. The principle of the EU—a fundamentally sound one—is that generally speaking the richer member states are contributors to the budget and the poorer states are beneficiaries. Our net contribution of £8.9 billion, which has been mentioned, is around 1% of UK government expenditure. The cost of what is called the settlement after we leave is estimated in the House of Commons briefing paper as between £35 billion and £39 billion—in other words, four years’ worth of full payments straight away.

The cost of the EU per head of population depends on the exchange rate, but my figure is £130. I heard a slightly different figure earlier, but it is in that ball park. We are not the biggest contributor, by a long way. Per head of population we are number six. The countries above us are, in order, Germany first, Denmark second, France third, the Netherlands fourth, and Sweden fifth. They all pay more than we do per head of population—as, incidentally, does Norway, which I add to the list just in case we want a Norwegian-style deal.

What is happening here is a good basic principle of international relations, which is that richer nations are helping to support poorer nations. So when we talk of bringing “our money back”, we are substantially talking about withdrawing from such programmes as those which support the development of poorer regions through the regional fund. Is this what the Government want? Do they want to desert the new democracies of eastern Europe? Is this now their programme? Do we want to save money by withdrawing from the Erasmus programme that supports students, or are we going to carry on with it so that there will not be any savings from Brexit anyway? I assume that the money that is spent through the EU on aid will continue to be spent, because it comes out of our aid commitment, so that will also not be saved.

Have the Government counted up how much it will cost to participate in the various agencies, numbered at 62 in this debate, and policies that, according to the White Paper, we wish to join? I see all of the supposed saving of this modest amount disappearing before my eyes.

We talk about a trade agreement but we will not get one without paying for it. It is not a free trade agreement—it will be a costed trade agreement, as Norway has found. Do we think we will be paying more or less into the budget than its £135 per head per year? How much better off than Norway will we be? I predict that we will not be any better off at all. We have already said that we are going to keep all sorts of programmes going, and that will cost us money. That is not a bad thing except that we are withdrawing money from a lot of people who need it.

If we decide that we are going to crash out, or whatever we call it, what message will we be sending to British public servants who work for international organisations? International organisations at the Foreign Office used to have a programme to get people through the concours so they could work for the European Union. Will we be saying to the brightest brains in Britain, “Go and work for the international organisation; if we get fed up with it we will desert you and leave you without your pensions, your pay and your promotion prospects”? Is that the Government’s message to the brightest and best in Whitehall, who used to be encouraged to go into international bodies?

I ask the Minister to look at the facts behind this. I think that he will find that we are indulging in a very paltry saving for a truly disastrous policy.