My Lords, as we heard, the withdrawal agreement is intended to provide for a smooth and orderly transition to the future relationship for people, businesses and organisations across the country, so I will focus my attention outside this House and the other place to consider the impact of the agreement on two business sectors crucial to the UK’s future success: higher education and the creative industries. In doing so, I declare my interest in the former as an employee of King’s College London.
For all its bulk, the agreement offers these sectors, and, no doubt, others, little more certainty than exists at present. For this, we have to look to the much slimmer declaration on the future relationship. It is encouraging to see in it mention of terms for participation in Union programmes in science, education and culture, but it has little of real substance and none of the detail that would allow these sectors to begin planning ahead—nor, as we know, is it legally binding. It is worryingly light on trade in services and there is no suggestion that the EU and the UK will seek a solution on the country of origin principle which has helped to make the UK a global hub for international media companies. Can the Minister give any clarity on the Government’s intentions with regard to this principle, which is of key concern for the sector?
The agreement provides more clarity on citizens’ rights, but the future declaration does not go nearly far enough on mobility—just two brief bullet points that have to be seen in the context of the Prime Minister’s comments last week that positioned the end to freedom of movement as something to be celebrated. In higher education and the creative industries, the freedom to move people, services and ideas within the UK and the EU is fundamental to continued success. The most economically productive parts of our creative industries hire up to 30% of their staff from the EU. The university sector employs just under 50,000 EU nationals. EU-domiciled students—135,000 last year—are crucial not just to the higher education business model but to continuing quality. Their economic impact on the UK each year totals £3.2 billion.
Can the Minister give any indication of when we might get more clarity on future immigration policy for staff and students so that universities can plan for the admissions cycle that begins in autumn next year? When will we have more detail on UK participation in Horizon Europe, Erasmus+ or Creative Europe? Can he give an assurance that any terms agreed would support the movement not just of highly paid established talent, but of those people who would not meet salary thresholds but will be the talent of the future? Without more clarity, the promised benefits of a transition period are denied to businesses in the creative and higher education sectors, and, I have no doubt, in other sectors too. How are they supposed to use this period to plan effectively when there is still no detail on what they are planning for?
The Prime Minister said, as we have heard repeatedly tonight, that there are three choices left to the UK: no deal, this deal or no Brexit at all. No deal would have devastating effects on the creative industries and higher education—sectors that earn the UK billions of pounds each year and make us the envy of the world. No deal would damage these sectors when we will need them more than ever before. So we are faced with this deal, which aims simultaneously to break from the EU, honour the Northern Ireland peace process, protect the integrity of the UK and continue to interpret the 2016 vote, rightly or wrongly, as a popular desire to end free movement. No wonder it is a deal that suits no one. So that brings us to the last option. Two and a half years on from the referendum, with the clock ticking and the stark reality of a post-Brexit Britain hoving into view, the Prime Minister’s third option is now, to many people across this country, the most attractive option of them all.