Brexit: Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:09 pm on 9th January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench 5:09 pm, 9th January 2019

My Lords, following the noble Lord, Lord Fox, I too have decided I will not repeat what I said five weeks ago. I learned from the noble Lord, Lord Newby, and the most reverend Primate. Speaking then about the deal on offer, I said how shocked I was by the humiliating nature of the treaty, and by how vacuous the declaration was and how toxic the combination was, in particular since, to me, it in no way predetermines or indicates what the nature of the future relationship will be. It seems the only certainty it guarantees is that there will be continuing uncertainty and rancour for a very considerable period, once we are trapped in the backstop.

What I said produced some unusual support; this was unaccustomed support for me from the Robespierres of the government Back Benches—the rebellious revolutionaries. I fear I must disappoint them today, because I want instead to talk about two things which have happened since our debate started. In particular, I want to draw the House’s attention to the Commission’s announcement on 19 December about what happens if the British crash out on 29 March. The Commission has told the member states that if the treaty is not approved and ratified by the United Kingdom, it must apply the Union customs code in full to all goods coming from the United Kingdom from 30 March. It did so in spite of the suggestion made from the government Benches by a former leader of the governing party—a very distinguished noble Lord—that the answer to the problem of disruption was a 12-month moratorium, during which we would,

“not place any tariffs, tariff barriers or obstacles against the importation of goods and services into the United Kingdom from the European Union”,—[Official Report, 5/12/18; col. 1034.] in the hope that the EU would reciprocate. He emphasised that we should do it anyway, even if it did not reciprocate.

Why has the EU not responded to this extremely kind and generous proposal? Because the EU is a member of the World Trade Organization and is legally obliged to play by WTO rules, including the fundamental rule known as “most-favoured-nation”. If the EU allowed tariff-free access for our goods when we are a third country, as we will be from 30 March if the Government get their way, it would have to do the same for similar goods from any other third country. That is what WTO rules mean. If we were to do as the noble Lord suggested, we would either have to abolish all our import tariffs and quotas for any category of goods which we also import from the EU—a step which would hardly thrill British industry or agriculture—or, from the start, we would be in breach of the very WTO rules which the Robespierres tell us would suit us so well. I give way to the noble Lord.