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Brexit: Negotiations and No-deal Contingency Planning - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:38 pm on 4th September 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Ludford Baroness Ludford Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union) 6:38 pm, 4th September 2018

My Lords, the DExEU website today displayed a rather apt message:

“We’re experiencing technical difficulties. Please try again later”.

That perhaps sums up the incoherent, divided and irresponsible position—or, rather, positions—of this Government. That the Trade Secretary could on Sunday dismiss the Chancellor’s forecast of the need for extra borrowing of £80 billion by 2033 while staying in post shows the Prime Minister’s utter, weak inability to impose rationality or discipline on her Government. The Chequers plan is a dead parrot, so the important question is: where do the Government go from here? I would like an answer and I think that Parliament deserves an answer, as do the people.

The Statement claims that the no-deal notices, of which we expect another batch, “prioritise stability”. The way they seek to get any continuity at all in the event of no deal is, in fact, by relying on a series of mini-deals to prevent the absolute disaster of grounded planes and the absence of crucial trade. The Government are saying, “Please, Brussels, can you rescue us from our absurd no-deal threat?”

There will be a particular set of 5 million people who will be badly hit by no deal: the 3 million EU citizens in this country and the 2 million Brits in the rest of the EU. The failure to give a unilateral guarantee two years ago—which would have been reciprocated, as the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, said at the time—is creating an agonising limbo of anxiety and depression. Meanwhile, Brexiteers are moving assets or citizenship to other EU countries.

To get a little personal, I do not know whether the Prime Minister gets her glucose patches—on which I can comment, as she is commendably open about them—from abroad, but my type 1 diabetic husband gets his glucose sensors and insulin from elsewhere in the EU. There are many other people with medical conditions who are vitally dependent on such imports. That a Government could calmly contemplate upsetting such a flow and creating distress and potentially worse is breath-taking in its dereliction of a basic duty of care.

The prominence of no-deal planning seems to fulfil a number of purposes, all of them within the Tory party. It is a sop by the Prime Minister to the hard Brexiteers, who positively want this outcome, and a warning to the “chuck Chequers” brigade to accept Chequers as somewhat less bad. There are two things that it does not do: it does not put pressure on the Brussels negotiators and it does not inspire confidence in the public—on the contrary.

There is this sentence in the Statement:

“While it is not what we want, a no-deal scenario would bring some countervailing opportunities”.

This is obviously a bone thrown to the ERG faction. What exactly are the “countervailing opportunities” for small businesses losing their export markets, or patients losing their essential medical supplies? The no-deal scenario means lots more costs to businesses, higher prices for consumers, an avalanche of new bureaucracy—such as pharmaceutical companies having to register medicines twice, showing that EU red tape ain’t got nothing on Tory red, white and blue tape—and more taxpayers’ money spent on quangos and civil servants, stockpiling and so on.

Panasonic and Muji are but the latest companies to announce that they are moving their HQ across the Channel. We face this dire outcome because the Tory Government have proved totally unable to deliver a workable or tolerable Brexit deal. Indeed, not only do they provide absolutely no reassurance about how to resolve issues between the UK and Ireland in the event of no deal, they actually advise businesses and individuals to contact the Irish Government. We know that the Tory Government love outsourcing, but this surely goes shamefully too far in abdicating responsibility for the border communities.

Can the Minister tell us that the Government will reverse their refusal to guarantee that MPs will see the full impact analysis of a no-deal Brexit before the final vote on any departure from the EU? Both the previous and current Brexit Secretaries have, in the past, supported a second referendum, so presumably they think that it is a demonstration of democracy, exposing the PM’s comments as a sham. We on these Benches insist on a final say on the deal. We are joined, it is announced today, by 70% of Mumsnet subscribers: a very sensible bunch.