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Brexit: Legal Position of Withdrawal Agreement - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:21 pm on 3rd December 2018.

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Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench 7:21 pm, 3rd December 2018

My Lords, may I take the Minister back to his answer to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, who alluded to the statement in paragraph 158 of the explanation document published on 14 November? The Minister’s answer built quite a lot on “best endeavours”, which in diplomatic parlance is an oxymoron. The Attorney-General seems to me to have thrown a lot of very honest and clear light—in the memorandum, in his Statement and in what he said to the House after his Statement—on what is to me a desperately humiliating proposal.

If we were in the backstop, we would be observing the common external tariff and common commercial policy of the EU, policies in which we would have no say. The backstop makes clear that we would be informed about any changes in the tariff. We would be informed—not even consulted—about any changes in our external tariff. The potential longevity of the backstop is therefore quite an important issue. I thought the Attorney-General was very honest when he said it was a calculated gamble and he did not believe that we would be likely to be trapped in it for ever. In other words, he accepted the possibility that we might be trapped in it, wholly or in part, for ever. I myself would not wish to run that risk. The French have a saying, “Nothing lasts longer than the provisional”. Would the Minister like to try to give a more complete answer to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Thomas? I do not think “best endeavours” is quite enough.