Brexit: Negotiations - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:27 pm on 20th November 2018.

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Photo of Lord Balfe Lord Balfe Conservative 8:27 pm, 20th November 2018

My Lords, I draw attention to my entries in the register and my, I think, fairly well known position as a very strong remainer. The key thing about this deal has been mentioned on many occasions, including by me. It is that you are never better off outside a club than you are inside a club. I happen to think that our civil servants who have been negotiating in Brussels have probably done as good a job as they could do. In the end you might have got a slightly different this and a slightly different that, but it has not been an easy negotiation.

The first thing I would say is that we are facing a second Suez. We have totally misjudged our place in the world. We have totally misjudged our importance to the European Union, and we are going to regret leaving the European Union every year we are out. I have no doubt about that at all. The fact of the matter is—and this document proves it—that we have got to live with Europe. You can change politics, but you cannot change geography, and Europe and Britain are inextricably linked. This document confirms us as the rule takers, not the rule makers. We will no longer be at that table, although we will be consulted. As one of my colleagues in Brussels said, “You will be consulted but you are no longer part of qualified majority voting and you will no longer be part of the strategy that shapes the decision”.

What do we get back from this? I heard that we get back control of immigration. That is useful, isn’t it? But we have always had control over half the immigration into this country, and government cuts to the coastguard service have meant that there is a fair bit of immigration going on at the moment in boats being brought across the channel, so I am not sure about that. And most of the immigration from the EU has helped to make Britain a fairly prosperous place economically. I find it difficult to believe that taking back control of immigration has been a great achievement.

Technically we leave the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice—but only technically, because if we are going to export into and deal with Europe then we are going to have to obey its rules, and its rules are set down by the Court of Justice of the European Union. So we do not really have that. I am told we can negotiate trade agreements. The EU is busy negotiating a trade agreement with Vietnam, and when I happened to be in Vietnam recently I said to one of its Ministers, “Would you negotiate a trade agreement with Britain?” He said, “Of course we would”, but he went on, “Of course it would have to fit in with our obligations to Europe. We could not negotiate something with you that Europe objected to”—for instance, exporting a product such as rice to Britain and us then sending it across the channel under our agreements. So even the trade agreements do not work that much.

I saw our friends the Spaniards coming in at the last minute today, as they always do. Josep Borrell, former President of the European Parliament and Foreign Minister of Spain, has said the agreement has to be amended to take account of Spain and Gibraltar. You will find that the bill will go up. I have never known a Spanish Government who have not been susceptible to financial inducements, and they will certainly be presenting the bill here.

I say this to colleagues: this is probably the best deal we can get, but it is a sad day that we are even seeking it.