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Brexit: Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration - Motion to Take Note (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:53 am on 6th December 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Kramer Baroness Kramer Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Treasury and Economy) 11:53 am, 6th December 2018

My Lords, like many in this House, I see a no-deal Brexit as an extraordinary act of self-harm. In this House, discussion often focuses on the immediate impact—long border queues, stockpiling and chaotic airports—but although some of those are inevitable, they pale against the long-term consequences of living under WTO rules, which are no more than imperfect measures to limit some tariff barriers in some sectors.

It is a great sadness to me that after two years of negotiation, the May deal is not much better, frankly. When you read the political declaration, it is clear that it leaves the issue of frictionless trade completely unresolved. We see that in the backstop conundrum, in a sense. If it cannot be resolved, it will not resolve the frictionless trade problem for the economy at large. We are left with a situation where friction becomes part of our future relationship with the EU.

People talk a great deal about free trade deals, but only the largest companies are ever able to take advantage of them because they require a mountain of documentation and are extraordinarily complex. The suggestion that they are in many ways a panacea is misinformation that, frankly, is often presented to this House.

I recognise that a number of businesses have been sympathetic towards the May deal, but let us be honest as to why. It is because they see the transition arrangement embedded in it as a mechanism for delay. But it is not a delay to keep business, opportunity and jobs in the UK; it is a delay that enables them much more smoothly to transfer out of the UK those operations and jobs which will serve the 450 million people of the 27. If anybody has spent time talking with major companies and asked them about their investment plans in Europe for the next five or 10 years, they will all tell you that their overwhelming focus is to invest in the 27 money that, without Brexit, typically and historically would have come into the UK. It is an extraordinary act of self-damage. It is why the Bank of England scenarios talk about a reduction in openness. That is what Brexit is: a reduction in openness from a country that supposedly prides itself on being open. We are putting up huge barriers between ourselves and our major trading partner and hoping only marginally to reduce them with other countries around the world.

I want to raise an issue that seems seldom discussed in this House; that is, the crucial impact of Brexit in any form on our young people. I wonder why Brexiteers do not talk about it more often. At the heart of the Brexit plan is to remove from those young people their European citizenship and the rights and opportunities that go with it; for instance, the right to engage in a relationship with somebody else from the EU and being able to live near or with them—that essentially disappears. We have no right of residence. Young people who want to work abroad will never qualify for the various visas discussed, where one needs to earn £30,000—we assume that it will be reciprocal—to be able to work abroad. Very large companies want to hire young people who can work in any of their European offices, be they in Madrid, Paris or London. Why would you hire a young Brit when they need a visa for every one of those countries, whereas somebody hired from the 27 needs none? We are seeing that reflected in a drop in hiring that is happening now and impacting our young people already.

I have heard in this House a lot of people say, “We have to accept the May deal as the general compromise”. There was a brilliant letter in last Monday’s Financial Times written by John Ure, who is an associate professor at Hong Kong University. Decrying that approach, he quoted from the old nursery rhyme, suggesting that those who take that view are basically saying:

“Keep a-hold of nurse, for fear of finding something worse”.

This is the time to have courage. No deal is completely unacceptable; the May deal is completely unacceptable. When people say, “The British public are weary of Brexit; they just want it over”, that might be true for this minute, but when they face the consequences of Brexit and see the impact on their lives, that will be forgotten in a flash. There will be huge anger. They will turn to people in this House and the other and say, “When the facts were on the table, why did you deny me the chance to become familiar with those facts and then express my opinion again? Why did you take that from me and deny it to me?” If this House is concerned about anger, it should recognise the anger that will come from those who have to live with the consequences of any form of Brexit, knowing that they were denied the opportunity to express their views about their future and their country when information was on the table.