Trade Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:24 pm on 11th September 2018.

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Photo of Lord Dykes Lord Dykes Liberal Democrat 6:24 pm, 11th September 2018

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Monks, and once again to acknowledge the value of someone coming to this House with such experience of a particular sector, representing as he does modern enlightenment in trade unionism and its respectable and necessary role in modern economic society. One recalls all the work that he did along with famous people such as Jacques Delors, Michel Rocard and others in Britain gradually to change the minds of trade union members and officials in this country about our membership of the EU, which was a fantastic achievement.

Although she is not here at the moment, I want to add my congratulations to those offered to the noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, for her riveting and devastatingly moving maiden speech. I have not met her before nor heard her speak, but I was so struck by it that I think that she will be an immensely valuable Member of this House. I happen to have the pleasure of knowing her husband, with whom I had a few words beyond the Bar of the House earlier. I am glad to see that he has at long last begun to recover from that most awful attack that he suffered in Victoria station. I am sure that we wish both of them well.

Debates such as this always please me in the sense that, as usual, in the civilised House of Lords, the significant pro-European majority comes out, with speeches that imply that they would much prefer to stay in the EU. I entirely agree. Why leave? There is no reason to leave at all. That is not to disrespect the result the referendum of 23 June 2016. However, others have taken a different view, and the contributions have been many and varied. Although he is not here now, I want to praise in particular the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, for his unstinting work on behalf of the good cause of Europe.

We have all been aided and abetted by the excellent documents on this Bill provided by House of Lords officials. While it is a necessary, technical Bill in the sense of our having to be ready if there were to be a Brexit—I understand the Minister’s utterances in that regard—none the less I always feel in these debates like Ian McEwan apparently still does, who said at the beginning of the whole ghastly process, “No, this can’t be happening. It’s just a dream. I’m only dreaming it. When I wake up in the morning, everything will be all right”. I think that, quite rightly, he still says exactly the same thing.

I was particularly pleased to receive the excellent NFU briefing on these complicated matters. It is anxious to make sure that UK food production standards, which have been maintained under the EU membership system, will continue if the worst were to happen—which I hope it will not.

I declare a personal interest as an officer of the Food and Drink Manufacturing All-Party Group. Submissions from Food and Drink Federation officials remind us that this is the largest single manufacturing sector, with many and variegated items in it. We have huge food and drink exports to all over the world. There has been a big increase in exports to the EU and the rest of the world in the last period. Those are important sectoral interests that have to be maintained.

It was interesting to hear it implied by some in the debate that it may be okay to go to WTO rules. I was grateful for some remarks about that made recently in the press by a leading expert on how the WTO works. He wrote:

“However, since representing ourselves as a single country against 163 others wields less influence than being represented by the largest single market on the planet, the UK parliament nominated the EU to represent us at the WTO. As the UK is the third largest member of the EU28—after Germany and France—the country punches above its weight inside the Union and therefore is also over-represented at the WTO—as things stand”.

Giving that up and going into all the expense, tariffs, rules and regulations of the WTO would be a nightmare for this country after that experience led by the combined EU effort. One can understand why the Prime Minister really does not want to leave all aspects of our EU membership and has now reached an extraordinary state of acceptance of things, which of course causes huge headaches for the strong and often hysterical Brexiteers, particularly in the other House—we know some of the famous names.

The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, who is not here now, referred to what Denmark was doing. The Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, wrote recently that, while the UK is not shy about proclaiming its soon-to-be-regained “freedom”—by which, I mean this Government—it is simultaneously begging the EU to continue co-operation on 60 different policy areas. The article points out that the UK wants to maintain a semi-strong relationship with the EU rather than completely burning all its bridges; this is particularly clear when one looks at the UK Government’s White Paper. Apart from some exceptions, the UK Government wish to maintain the close relationship as well as the benefits that EU co-operation provides.

Jyllands-Posten points out that the term “common rulebook” is mentioned 44 times where the UK is proposing a set of common rules covering the EU and the UK. In contrast, the word “sovereignty”—what an old-fashioned word nowadays, in an interdependent world where we all work together—is mentioned only 11 times. This is surprising considering that Prime Minister May emphasises that Brexit is about regaining control and sovereignty. On the home front, Brexit is spoken of as an event that will allow the UK to determine its own destiny. It is thought-provoking that the UK has concluded that there is much more in the EU it wishes to embrace than to get rid of.

The fact remains that this is the continuing nightmare—the tragedy—that this Government have inflicted upon the country, without any authority from Parliament in terms of numerical support and other background factors. The 8 June election came two years after the previous one. It is interesting that people say we cannot have another vote of the people so soon after the previous one—although it would not be connected with the previous one, the result of which we still respect. The public were so disgruntled with their own socioeconomic weaknesses, as a result of government austerity, that that is the way they voted, for all sorts of reasons, in an advisory-only referendum, giving an opinion. Now we see that Mrs May lost her mandate completely in the 8 June election—she had only a shaky one before. She thought she was going to triumph; it did not happen: Parliament refused to give that mandate. That is the reality that I hope the Labour Party will at long last build on, and come out strongly in favour of what is needed to save this country from total perdition.