My Lords, the three principal documents that we are looking at today are very different in nature. A sketchy seven-page document on the all-important new relationship between the UK and the EU is so skimpy as to be almost laughable, and there I agree very much with the noble Lord, Lord Bridges. It is more a flyer than a serious blueprint for the future. The document called the Explainer for the Agreement on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union, which I take to be the Government’s sales pitch for the deal they have concluded, is odd too. Paragraph 58 states flatly that all four of the conditions that the Prime Minister laid down in October for the Irish backstop have been met. But at the time she laid down those conditions, the Government were trying to get a fixed duration and a unilateral right to leave the backstop. Neither of those is in the agreement.
Then there are the provisions on dispute settlement in paragraphs 148 and 149. The dispute panel, which is frequently referred to as arbitration, is not an arbiter because paragraph 149 states quite categorically that when a dispute involves the question of the interpretation of EU law, the panel will not decide the matter but request that the European Court of Justice give a ruling. You cannot be much clearer than that, and that is not being free of the European Court of Justice.
The fact is that all these examples demonstrate that beneath the surface there are fatal flaws in the Government’s approach to these negotiations. Divided counsels at home; intemperate drawing of red lines that have subsequently had to be smudged and smudged again; the use of doublespeak all the time. What of the implementation period? Oh dear. In fact, it is a standstill. Everyone knows that a standstill is being proposed.
It is said that we will get back control of our laws, money and borders, but during the transition period—and possibly for quite a lot longer—we get none of that. As a document on the future relationship, it is as yet little more than warm words and worthless waffle. It will not be easy to change this week, and I rather doubt whether very much substantive change can be made. The trade arrangements in the document, for example, are all things to all men. They could come out in a multitude of different ways. That is no doubt necessary since there are a multitude of different views in the Cabinet as to how they should come out. It is not so much a plan as a sales catalogue.
Then there is the triumphant claim that we can negotiate and ratify trade agreements with third countries during the transition period. Which third countries are going to negotiate with us when they do not know what our relationship is with the European Union and how long they will be held up waiting to find out? The best that can be said for this deal is that it is less bad than no deal, and I hope that both Houses will rule out that option.
The key test, surely, is to compare what we have on the table now with what we have around us as a member of the European Union. On that test, despite all the valiant efforts of our negotiators and of the Prime Minister, it fails on every respect. As the Irishman told the traveller who was asking the way, “I wouldn’t start from here”.