Brexit: Negotiations - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:36 pm on 20th November 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 5:36 pm, 20th November 2018

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave

When first we practise to deceive!”.

I am not talking about the figure on the bus but the Brexiteers’—and the Government’s—mantra that withdrawing from nearly half a century of an alliance would be “smooth and orderly”; this has even been repeated today. Indeed, so often did Ministers—the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, at the time—repeat “smooth and orderly” that my then researcher Chelsey Mordue got to writing “S.A.O.” every time she heard it. Smooth and orderly it has not been.

The other deception was that a deal could be negotiated by the Government alone, without business, the Opposition, trade unions—or Parliament itself. I do not usually quote my own speeches but, on 10 October two years ago, I warned Ministers that negotiating without an agreed mandate would lead to trouble. I asked for Parliament to be able to,

“vote on their negotiating objectives”,

since the referendum did not,

“give the Government a blank cheque”,

and that,

the national interest—not just the Conservatives’ interests—must come first”.—[Official Report, 10/10/16; col. 1704.]

If only the Government had agreed to work with Parliament on the objectives for the future framework. Instead, they did everything wrong. The Prime Minister laid down red lines in January 2017, before she even understood the task, and without the involvement of Parliament. She refused to agree a mandate—as requested by this House in the Monks/Lea amendment—which would have won her the necessary buy-in at the start of the talks. She appointed Brexiteers to this challenging task—men who refused to heed any evidence which countered their blinkered view, and who then walked away when neither was able to negotiate a deal that either of them could live with.

Sir Simon Fraser, who saw it at close quarters, wrote:

David Davis was a terrible Brexit Secretary. He could hardly be bothered to go to Brussels and rapidly lost respect there”.

We now learn that he still does not understand the basics, writing just yesterday:

“If we need to leave with no deal and negotiate a free trade agreement during the transition period, so be it”.

No, Mr Davis: without a deal, there is no transition period. We will have crashed out by the early hours of 30 March. No wonder Elmar Brok, a leading MEP, characterised the Government’s negotiating approach as “disarray and disaster” if our lead Minister does not understand the basics.

The clock is ticking. The European Parliament will disappear in April, yet it has to endorse any deal. Business is desperate to know where we are heading and certainly wants to know that we are not facing no deal. As the City of London, which serves not just our economy but those of our trading partners, says, no deal “would be in nobody’s interests”. Terry Sargeant, the head of thyssenkrupp UK, said that the Conservatives were putting their survival ahead of industry, describing negotiations as,

“a complete shambles … The Tory party aren’t making decisions for business, they are making decisions to prevent an implosion in their own party”.

Business, the Opposition and even the Prime Minister’s former aide, Nick Timothy, judge the results a disaster—the latter accusing Ministers of dishonesty and saying it is now clear that no one,

“believes the proposal can win a majority in the … Commons”.

Given this, Parliament must have a bigger role over our future with the EU. First, we must state—in this House as well as in the Commons—that no deal is unacceptable. We must have the transition allowed for in the heavyweight document that we have. Not only is no deal unacceptable for the country but the Government’s technical notices indicate that 15 quangos would either have to be created or have their remits expanded; 51 bits of legislation are needed by the end of March; and 40 new international agreements and 55 new systems have to be set up. Even that is not as bad as the gridlock at Dover, Folkestone and Holyhead, the uncertainty for UK citizens abroad or EU citizens here, supermarkets lacking fresh produce and hospitals lacking vital equipment and medicines, along with vehicle manufacturing at a near stoppage, the end of data sharing and European judicial co-operation. We even read that there are “army plans for troops” on the streets.

The Government have shown a dereliction of duty in getting us to November with no acceptable deal. They must now face up to their responsibility and avoid a no-deal crash. One way is to rethink their blind Brexit—a veritable “dance with chance”. It is simply no good throwing all the possibilities up in the air to watch which way they fall or we risk another “Groundhog Month” in December 2020, when we again will not know the future. More seriously, the Government’s six and a half pages provide none of the requirements for a future close economic and security relationship with our allies and near neighbours. Indeed, it contains a mere three pages on our economic relationship with the EU—our major trading partner, market and supplier. As it stands with that future outline, we would be completely out of any customs union in 25 months’ time. England, Wales and Scotland would be out of the single market and with no alternative; it contains no aspiration for frictionless trade, no assurance on common security or the European arrest warrant and no undertakings on agencies. Worryingly, it allows for the hardest of hard Brexits.

That is a future which the Opposition will not countenance. We have always prioritised a close economic relationship with the EU and thus cannot accept a political declaration with no aspiration, let alone guarantees, about this—especially as there is an alternative on offer. Sabine Weyand says that the agreement, as we have just heard,

“requires the customs union as the basis of the future relationship”.

That is a welcome starting point but more is needed. The future framework must plan for a comprehensive and permanent customs union, a strong single market relationship giving frictionless access to European markets for goods and services, continued close involvement with agencies, clarity on immigration, full future safeguards for Gibraltar and, vitally, a robust security arrangement. Instead, we are faced only by an outline of the political declaration while:

“Negotiations on the full Political Declaration continue”.

These are promised,

“by the end of November”,

and with an undertaking that next year they will “negotiate expeditiously the agreements” concerning the future relationship. We are meant to trust to that.

The Government must sit down now with business, unions and consumer reps, who have been excluded so far, to find a way forward. They must also heed the objectives outlined by the Opposition. This House will not need reminding that 28 years ago today, Mrs Thatcher lacked sufficient votes to defeat her challenger. Of course, that was in the days when assassins knew how to be assassins; judging from last night, perhaps the DUP MPs still do. We look forward particularly to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord McCrea, later this evening. Today Parliament, and the Opposition, warn this Prime Minister: take us with you over these negotiations and build a proper consensus, for the sake of the whole country, at this highly momentous time.