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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:25 pm on 5th December 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Hooper Baroness Hooper Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 8:25 pm, 5th December 2018

Sorry, we seem to have missed somebody.

My Lords, exiting or extricating ourselves from over 40 years’ membership of the European Union was clearly never going to be as simple or as easy as was suggested by some ardent Brexiteers during the referendum campaign. As a remainer, I am sad that even during our early years of membership we tended to take a negative stance, waiting for another country to suggest a policy and then criticising it. The big exception to this was, of course, the single market, pioneered when I was a member of the first directly-elected European Parliament, ably carried through by my late noble friend Lord Cockfield and strongly supported by the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.

We have also been reminded today by my noble friend Lord Heseltine of the creation of the European Space Agency, which was another British initiative—and indeed there are others, but not enough. Taking control of our future, which so many people have advocated in the course of this debate, could have been done just as easily within the European Union as by going it alone, had we taken all the opportunities that Ted Heath envisaged when he led us into membership at our third attempt—let us not forget—way back in 1973.

I am also saddened by some of the language that has been used in these debates and in the press, giving the impression that our European partners and neighbours are now our adversaries, when they have been very forbearing about our rash decision to leave and made clear their feelings only last week at the conclusion of the withdrawal agreement talks, expressing that this was a sad moment and saying how sorry they would be to see us leave. There were no corresponding expressions of sadness on our part, I am sad to say.

Even today, in my noble friend’s otherwise excellent introduction to this debate, she stated that the agreement meant that we would no longer be sending billions of pounds to Brussels every year—implying that we had been giving it away when, in fact, it has all gone towards paying our dues for overseas development and overseas trade negotiation, among other things. All of these payments will have to be replicated on a national basis now and we have only to look at the brand new Department for International Trade which has been created with—as I understand it—over 600 civil servants to know where all these billions will be going in the future.

On the subject of trade and trade deals—this is where I see at least a glimmer of hope and possible excitement in the future—I would like to point out that there has been nothing to prevent our trading with third countries throughout our membership of the European Union. Trade deals and trade agreements by themselves achieve nothing. What is needed for increased trade is getting businesses and potential investors on the ground overseas, seeking possibilities and negotiating contracts. So what we need is more trade promotion, and I hope that, in winding up, my noble friend will be able to reassure us that this is all part of the Government’s planning—although I realise that we shall have plenty of time to discuss such things if and when we overcome the present hurdle of the withdrawal agreement.

The other area of concern for me is the fate of the overseas territories. It is not just Gibraltar that has border issues; Anguilla also has an EU border in the Caribbean. In fact, all the overseas territories will be adversely affected as a result of our withdrawal from the European Union. So in welcoming the protocols on Gibraltar and the sovereign base areas, and the Prime Minister’s continuing assurances that Gibraltar will not be forgotten, I express the hope that all the overseas territories will be taken into consideration and their specific needs safeguarded.

My preferred option at the conclusion of all these discussions would be to remain as a member of the European Union—that would certainly suit Gibraltar—and I would support anyone who had the temerity to put forward a Motion to rescind Article 50. Whoever considers doing that will have my support. I certainly do not want another referendum—ever—although I understand those who feel that, with clearer information now, people might vote in a different way. However, like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, who put it so well at the outset, I too have come to the conclusion that the best way forward is to support the Prime Minister’s hard-fought agreement.