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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement. I welcome him back, though I regret that, while we were all at the seaside, his Government—as is clear from the Statement—have failed to provide a workable path through the morass of negotiating objectives. To quote Bloomberg:
“As politicians dither, Britain’s economy is taking a hit”,
with Brexit costing 2% of economic output, even before we have left.
During a summer of government squabbles, I spent time watching how fast lorries could load on to European ferries at the moment. I then went on to feel the effect of the falling pound, while hearing about the likely lack of Danish sperm—I kid you not—portaloos along the M20 and the ending of the EMA pharmaceutical approvals for our Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. Meanwhile, I was reading Charlie Clutterbuck’s Bittersweet Brexit, though I have yet to find the sweet bit.
Meanwhile, back here, we have a plethora of groupings, mostly within the governing party. There is Better Brexit, Stand Up 4 Brexit, the ERG’s “Hell, any sort of Brexit”, David Davis’s “I won’t vote for Chequers” Brexit, Boris Johnson’s “diddly squat” Brexit, the Leave.EU members in the Conservative Party’s Brexit, an alternative Best For Britain Brexit, Macron’s “blind Brexit” or perhaps a Europe of concentric circles, a “half DExEU staff leaving” Brexit or even a “jump off the cliff” Brexit. These sound funny, but this is serious stuff. What is clear is that, 44 days before the October summit, Chequers will not fly. We said so at the time; we said that it ignored services, failed Northern Ireland and was logistically unworkable. We now know that the EU will not accept it, but neither will the House of Commons, where there is simply no majority for it.
So, please, no more nonsense of just “some risks” to no deal. And, please, let there be less money wasted on preparatory work which is somewhat otiose. We need a deal that can work. It is time that the Government got honest and ruled out no deal once and for all. It is time that the Prime Minister ended the uncertainty for UK citizens in the EU and for EU citizens here and made firm commitments not just “when” the agreement is “signed”, as in the Statement that the Minister has just read out, but now.
I agree strongly with the No. 10 spokesperson who said:
“What we need at this time is serious leadership with a serious plan”.
But that is not what this Statement provides. Indeed, a survey in the Conservatives’ most marginal seats showed that three-quarters are dissatisfied with the Government’s handling of Brexit—they clearly have judgment.
It is time for the Prime Minister to ditch her red lines and get real. If we want trade to thrive with our nearest neighbours, if we want to continue inward investment as a path into European markets, if we want to continue free flow of our food and agricultural products and if we want a border-free Ireland, we have to be in a customs union with the EU and we need a deal on services. We also have to recognise that while the withdrawal agreement has only—“only”—to win the approval of the Commons, the European Parliament and the European Council, the subsequent trade deal will need the consent of every member state, their various parliaments and assemblies. That will mean us negotiating a deal to win their support. Closing off doors now, with unrealistic demands, will mean only U-turns down the line.
It must be evident to this House that the Government must change course and propose a credible plan that can command the support of Parliament, protect jobs, the economy and the environment, avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland and be acceptable to our partners. The Statement that the Minister has read out gives us no confidence that that is the way that we are going. The Government have six weeks to get this right. More of the same will not do. So will the Minister pledge not just to listen to his hard-Brexit friends but to seek to navigate a way forward that can win parliamentary and EU endorsement?