Brexit: Negotiations - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:48 am on 15th November 2018.

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Photo of Lord Newby Lord Newby Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords 11:48 am, 15th November 2018

My Lords, I commiserate with the noble Baroness who had to repeat this Statement, because we know that she does not agree with it. It appears that she was one of 10 Cabinet Ministers who expressed severe reservations about the agreement. Will she explain her reservations in her reply? I think that the House would like to know.

There is a lot of real and mock surprise and indignation about the contents of the withdrawal agreement. Yet how could anybody reasonably expect it to be materially different from what has emerged? Once you accept a frictionless border in Northern Ireland, provisions such as those now in the agreement become inevitable. That was recognised by the Government in the agreement they reached with the EU last December and, incidentally, which they have spent the last 10 months denying. They have now reaffirmed that December commitment.

If the outcome on the transitional period and the backstop are predictable, I am genuinely shocked at the outline of the political declaration. In some ways, this is a much more important document because it covers our long-term relationship with the EU, not just the position during the transitional phase. I had expected the document to be layered with fudge, but I could not imagine that it would be so vague and unspecific—a mere seven pages.

It is vastly less detailed than the Chequers agreement, which listed some 68 programmes or bodies by name of which the UK wished to remain a member post Brexit. This document mentions hardly any. I believe that we are to get a somewhat extended version next week but, based on the seven pages we have before us today, it is unlikely to answer any of the difficult issues which remain. Fisheries and the European arrest warrant are but two of the myriad tricky issues that are clearly nowhere near being resolved. I cannot believe that the country would accept this pig-in-a-poke Brexit.

However, it is clear that we are not going to get to the point where these things matter, because the agreement document bears all the hallmarks of Monty Python’s dead parrot. It is bereft of life. In her statement last night, and again this morning, the Prime Minister admitted for the first time that there are three possible outcomes to the Brexit process. We can accept her deal, we can crash out without a deal, or we can remain. The noble Baroness has said many times that remain was not an option. The noble Lord, Lord Callanan, has probably said it hundreds of times.