Brexit: Preparations and Negotiations - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:16 pm on 23rd July 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Ludford Baroness Ludford Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union) 11:16 pm, 23rd July 2018

My Lords, today is the start of a summer charm offensive at home and abroad to sell the Prime Minister’s Chequers Brexit deal and the White Paper. I hope it is more successful than her efforts in her own party, and more successful than the translations of the White Paper that the Government have had done. I believe that the new Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is starting his own grand tour today in Berlin. I hope he can do a good job of translating “dog’s breakfast” into German. One native German-speaking senior EU official is reported to have said of the German translation:

“To be honest I haven’t seen it. I have worked with the English translation so far and while my English isn’t perfect, the questions I would have are not related to language problems and more related to content”.

The attitude of specialness and unreality that permeates the White Paper—we can have a tailored deal breaking all the EU structures just because we are British and do not have to fit the rules that others live by—has done us a lot of harm over the years, not least now. As a member of the EU we have had opt-outs, rebates and special treatment, but it was never enough. I was going to say it was summed up in the memorable words of the witty liberal Prime Minister of Luxembourg Xavier Bettel:

“They were in with a load of opt-outs. Now they are out, and want a load of opt-ins”— but the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, got there first. An example of this cherry-picking is accepting the common rulebook only for standards checked at the border, which would not include food labelling, pesticides or GMOs. Michel Barnier asked:

“How are we going to protect European consumers?”

The new Brexit Secretary is hardly on the right course to persuade and charm. His idea of diplomacy is to resurrect the mindless threat of refusing to settle agreed debts via the divorce bill. This is not only in contradiction of the Prime Minister’s pledge in Florence that the UK would honour its commitments, as the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, pointed out, but it would mean that no country would trust a Conservative Government to negotiate a trade deal in good faith.

Le Monde notes that the Government have sent “contradictory messages”—really helpful. The whole country is tired of the Conservative civil war. Brexit was always going to be a painful process, as many noble Lords, not least on my side, have explained, but this civil war inside the Tory party—not the easy deal they promised—has made Brexit chaotic and incoherent. They have created a mess that is now the stuff of nightmares. Was it the will of the people to be issued with ration books? Will they be blue like the passports, but printed in France?

Many Tory Brexiteers are in fact irresponsible nihilists and anarchists, just wanting to destroy, with no positive ideas of their own and mostly too lazy to engage in the detail, such that all the hard work of trying to make any sense out of Brexit without destroying the country has in fact had to be done by remainers. Many Brexiteers are either irresponsibly cavalier about a kamikaze no deal or positively wish for it, as the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, said.

I fear that the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, confirmed this when she said that we should Brexit “at almost any cost”. The noble Lord, Lord Cavendish, said that he was “comfortable with uncertainty”. Those people leading lives where they are only just keeping their head above water cannot afford more uncertainty.

I would say that it is us remainers who are in a way the heirs to Thatcher. We may not agree with her on much, but at least on the EU she sought to change, not destroy, and she would have been sharp on the detail and committed to the economic benefits. As was reported in the press this weekend, a draft of a 1988 speech by her read, regarding her attitude to the EU:

“Above all, it means a positive attitude of mind: a decision to go all out to make a success of the single market”.

Margaret Thatcher would surely be horrified by the insistence of one of her successors on pulling out of the single market and the customs union.

Theresa May has taken her Cabinet to the north-east today to prove that her Government are listening to the nation beyond London. I understand that she was take part in a televised Q&A with workers at a local firm near Gateshead. I hope that she heeds the one valuable comment made by Boris Johnson in his Personal Statement last week—although in his case, it is a bit pot and kettle—when he said that,

“we continue to make the fatal mistake of underestimating the intelligence of the public, saying one thing to the EU about what we are really doing and saying another thing to the electorate”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/7/18; col. 450.]

There are many such examples in the White Paper and in the amendments that the Government accepted to the customs Bill last week. That has been explored, so I will not dwell on it. There is no reciprocity in the White Paper; there is reciprocity in the customs Bill. The Minister said today that the Government are asking for a “reciprocal revenue formula”, whatever that means. He might have a chance to explain further.

The Government have pledged not to lower high standards of employment, environmental and consumer law, yet we know from their previous statements that many Brexiteer Ministers want to do just that.

As for human rights, not only have the Government refused to embed the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in domestic law and played fast and loose with abolishing the Human Rights Act and pulling out of the ECHR—imperilling cross-border co-operation in law enforcement and data flows—but now the Home Secretary has, unbelievably, said that he is relaxed about the US imposing the death penalty on British citizens. This is contrary to the fixed policy and decades of effort by the EU as well as the UK. It will go down very badly when we try to argue about continued participation in EU extradition and database arrangements.

Another example is the European Court of Justice. The noble Lord, Lord Callanan, said, “We will end the jurisdiction of the ECJ”—not even the usual formula of “direct jurisdiction”. As my noble friend Lord Campbell of Pittenweem and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, pointed out, this is fiction. We will be subject to a lot of ECJ case law. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, pointed out, the ECJ will interpret the common rulebook. He made a persuasive case for the Supreme Court to continue to be able to refer.

As my noble friend Lord Wallace pointed out, where the UK participates in an EU agency:

The UK will respect the remit of the ECJ”.

That is the wording of the White Paper. We will be in about 15 agencies in the security field—and about 60 altogether, said my noble friend Lord Newby. So we have just smoke and mirrors here.

As for the assertion that we will be taking back control of our laws and reclaiming UK sovereignty—having domestic regulatory freedom, said the Minister—in fact we will be implementing the EU’s rulebook. The word “common” is a fig leaf. If Parliament refuses to implement it, we will face the withdrawal of trade access. It is a sham, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, and it will unravel, as the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, said.

There are other examples that I do not have time to explore, including fisheries and financial services. A large motivating factor in Brexit is recognised to be mistrust of politicians and the elite—which, despite their protestations to the contrary, very much includes Brexiteers—and their failure to tell the truth about the reality of trade-offs. The White Paper will just compound the problem.

I hope that the Prime Minister can explain the double standards to the people in the north-east, where Jacob Rees-Mogg is feathering his own nest with licences in Dublin while telling ordinary people that they will have to wait 50 years for the benefits of Brexit. That is not a good look. Did the Prime Minister tell the people in the north-east about the accurate forecast of one of her predecessors this weekend—John Major—who said that those who have least will be hurt most.

Boris Johnson made one other pertinent remark last week when he said:

“It is absolute nonsense to imagine, as I fear some of my colleagues do, that we can somehow afford to make a botched treaty now, and then break and reset the bone later on”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/7/18; col. 450.]

That is precisely where the Government are headed on the political declaration on the future relationship that will be appended to the withdrawal agreement. If that consists of only vague principles and nebulous aims, as looks likely, it would amount to jumping off a cliff without ensuring that a safety net awaits at the bottom. We need a political declaration that is comprehensive, detailed and unambiguous about rights and obligations.

Finally, many noble Lords have tonight backed a people’s vote on the deal. There is a very encouraging trend of increased support. The people must have an option to remain—and, instead of Brexit, we need a new fairness deal for Britain and a national discussion on our identities and feelings, grievances or otherwise, in order to heal this country.