Brexit: Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration - Motion to Take Note (1st Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:07 pm on 5th December 2018.

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Photo of The Earl of Clancarty The Earl of Clancarty Crossbench 7:07 pm, 5th December 2018

My Lords, I shall talk about free movement. I want to do so in part because the ending of free movement “once and for all”, as the Prime Minister puts it, is arguably the most emphatic and oft-repeated point that she has made in trying to sell her deal to the country. Yet in doing so the Prime Minister commits a sin of omission. Her line about ending free movement once and for all is intended to play not to the whole country but to a specific and, up to now, less quiet audience. What she omits to draw attention to is the movement of people in the other direction, into the rest of Europe, because any curbs to movement that we place on those coming into this country will have to be reciprocated, and the stronger her rhetoric on curbing immigration, the stronger it should be for any British person moving the other way. Of course, that cannot be part of her selling pitch, yet the effect will be severe limitations placed on such movement, in particular in our service industries, including the creative sector which the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, has already referred to, as well as severe limitations on opportunities for young people to travel, work and study in Europe.

Many service industries—often ignored in favour of conventional goods despite being 80% of our economy, with 46% of service exports going to Europe—depend inherently on movement of workers within Europe, not just to one country but across multiple borders. That will affect Brits, both freelance and employees, living not just in the UK but abroad. Whatever rights and security are afforded to them in their country of residence—and Europeans living within the UK are far from being reassured—those freelancers and employees may find themselves effectively landlocked and in danger of losing their livelihoods.

Both short and longer-term jobs are threatened. I want to give some examples. The Incorporated Society of Musicians states bluntly that the Government’s deal represents a serious threat to the British music industry, which is worth £4.5 billion a year to the British economy, and that the end of free movement would mean significant new barriers for musicians seeking touring work in the EU.

Jayne Hamilton, a British software developer based in the UK, said in a letter to the New European earlier this year that:

“I will lose two-thirds of my livelihood at the very least because of Brexit. While companies export products, we freelancers export ourselves. The freedom of movement and work in the single market is vital for us … It has taken me over 12 years to build up my network and clients. Many of them are in Germany and the Netherlands. My languages in addition to technical skills often secure me a contract and allow me to fend off tough competition … agencies usually need freelance candidates fast, sometimes within days … The great irony is that British freelancers often gain niche skills on projects in the EU which they can deploy on projects back home”.

We are to understand that the Government favour what they term a “mobility partnership”. Yet, outside the single market, even when movement will be possible, the inevitable lack of flexibility, the red tape and the costs will always mean that EU workers will have an edge in competition which should not be underestimated. Anything less than what EU citizens have will be, in comparison, an immobility partnership. The only mobility partnership worth considering is the partnership we now have, not just for competition but for co-operation.

The effects of an anticipated loss of free movement have already been felt. Where they can, many creatives are moving abroad. We heard yesterday that, remarkably, over 3,000 British tech jobs have relocated to Brussels. We heard last year that 40% of the British video gaming industry is thinking of relocating. I have heard no change to that estimate. The pressures being placed on our British and European creative talent by the threat of Brexit is already a scandal.

It has been instructive to listen to the Prime Minister’s response to the recent questioning by Pete Wishart and others on the loss of opportunities for young people of all classes to travel, work and study in Europe if this deal is accepted. The response is, once again, as always, a selective line: free movement is ending. The Prime Minister’s refusal to engage with these concerns is deeply insulting to the young people of this country. For many young Europeans, including British people, free movement is a principle in itself. More than that, it is the right to explore at will your continent, a right that will be lost if we accept this deal. Will the UK be involved in the new iteration of Erasmus+ and Horizon Europe? We get no inkling from the political declaration. We know that Switzerland lost full access to Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020 when it voted to restrict EU migration, since partly reversed. It is entirely logical that the same thing will happen to the UK if this deal is accepted. The resignation of Universities and Science Minister Sam Gyimah, even though he was not a Cabinet Minister, was both significant and heartfelt.

Free movement is a two-way street. What is most heartbreaking is the willingness of Brexiteers, for whatever reason, to betray the opportunities of their fellow citizens. Some who have spoken today are remainers who have accepted the 2016 referendum. I am a remainer who in the last two years has become even more convinced by the arguments to remain than I was then. Either Parliament stops Brexit or we have a people’s vote. If the latter is the case, I hope that the country takes a decision to reverse the first referendum and remain within the EU.