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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:13 pm on 9th January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Labour 6:13 pm, 9th January 2019

My Lords, I speak in support of the Motion of my noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon, and I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, for a number of reasons. He has given me an opportunity to use a sentence that I never thought I would in my political career, which is that I agree with him. The Prime Minister’s deal is unacceptable. I am not tempted to engage with the elements of his excellent speech simply because I want to change the subject.

When she opened this debate on 10 December, the noble Baroness, Lady Evans, the Leader of the House, sought to persuade us that the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration represent the national interest and that they should be considered and,

“voted on as a package in the other place”.

She described the political declaration as outlining,

“the scope and terms for our country’s future relationship with the EU”.—[Official Report, 5/12/18; col. 979.]

Others have spoken before me, such as the noble Lords, Lord Dobbs and Lord Forsyth, and it seems to me that there is much more scope in this political declaration than there are terms. That relationship, she said, included security and defence, law enforcement and criminal justice, and referred to a security partnership which the Government assert will keep our citizens safe and will require negotiation of the broadest and most comprehensive security relationship in the EU’s history.

The UK’s internal security is a matter of the greatest importance and consequently I shall confine my remarks to the internal security challenges that the Prime Minister’s deal has generated for us, although, largely, these challenges are ignored by the Government Front Bench in this place and in the other place. On occasions their treatment of this issue has been more egregious than that.

On 17 December, when Theresa May returned from the European Council she said in a Statement to the other place,

“our Brexit deal includes the deepest security partnership that has ever been agreed with the EU”.—[

At best, that language was odd; at worst, it was misleading. To clearly state that we have an agreement when no such agreement exists is misleading.

Thankfully, others were more straightforward. During the Recess, this issue dominated the news agenda for two days, on 27 and 28 December. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, said in an interview on the “Today” programme that the consequences of not having a security deal—a no-deal Brexit—will,

“be more costly, undoubtedly … and potentially, yes, put the public at risk”.

In the same interview she said that our security would be lessened even if the Prime Minister’s deal is approved. That latter point received less publicity, but essentially is the issue that I want to expand on in this speech.

Apart from the Leader’s passing reference in her opening remarks to the necessity of the further work required to turn the political declaration into a legally binding treaty and the aspirational vocabulary of the declaration itself, no government spokesperson has ever given us any further information about how they plan to achieve their ambitious objective of,

“the deepest security partnership that has ever been agreed with the EU”.

Importantly, they have not admitted what they know to be the case—that the full benefit of membership of the EU in security terms cannot be replicated under the proposed deal at its very best. That was the very point that Cressida Dick made in her “Today” interview.

On 17 February 2018, at the Munich security conference, Theresa May pleaded for an urgent deal with the EU on post-Brexit security co-operation, warning:

“This cannot be a time”,

to,

“jeopardise the security of our citizens”.

Rightly, she said that the,

“threats we face do not recognise the borders of individual nations or discriminate between them”,

that a “deep and special partnership” in security was needed and that,

“we cannot delay discussions on this”.

In particular, she warned that if there is no special deal on security by the time Britain leaves, extraditions under the European arrest warrant will cease, and if the UK does not continue to be part of Europol, information sharing will be hampered, undermining the fight against terrorism, organised crime and cyberattacks, and putting all of our citizens at greater risk.

On 19 June in Vienna, in a speech at the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, Michel Barnier clearly set out the EU 27 position on security co-operation. The European arrest warrant, Europol, The Schengen Information System, the European Investigation Order, and the ability to enforce judicial decisions across Europe in real time have obvious benefits for all Europeans, he said. Co-operation of this nature is both unique and unprecedented throughout the world but, as he set out in his speech, the trust that underpins this legal infrastructure requires common rules and safeguards, shared decision-making, joint supervision and implementation and a common court of justice.

What Monsieur Barnier described was an “ecosystem”. He was blunt in saying if you leave this ecosystem, you lose the benefits of this co-operation. While explaining that the EU wants an ambitious new relationship with the UK, he admitted that realism demands that we are honest about what is possible when the UK is outside of the EU’s area of justice, freedom and security and outside of both the EU and Schengen. My intention in this speech is to give the Minister the opportunity to be honest about what is possible in these circumstances.

I remind the House that in her Statement on the December European Council, the Prime Minister could not be said to have been fully honest with us when said that we already had the necessary security partnership with the EU. Intelligence officers, police chiefs, security officials and even the Security Minister are constantly stressing how crucial quick and efficient data exchange is to counter-terrorism, policing and law enforcement co-operation, and to Europe’s security. Most of this is done through access to EU databases, to which access is limited to those with EU or Schengen membership. There is clearly no guarantee that the UK could have access to this data post-transition, and there is no precedent for a non-EU country having such access.

At Munich, Theresa May reminded us that the UK has extradited 10,000 people through the European arrest warrant. For every eight warrants issued by other member states, we issue only one. She reminded us that the EAW had played a crucial role in supporting police co-operation in Northern Ireland and is fundamental to the security situation there. I remind noble Lords that before the European arrest warrant entered into force, 13 out of the then 25 member states, including Austria, Germany and Poland, had constitutional restrictions on extraditing their citizens. Some prohibited the extradition of their own nationals for all crimes. That is the situation in which we will find ourselves with those countries post our leaving the European Union.

In her opening remarks, the noble Baroness echoed a point that has been made repeatedly by the Prime Minister and other Ministers: that negotiating requires compromise. The question that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen of Elie, cannot duck in his response is: on what elements of security and to what extent are the Government willing to compromise? In the absence of an answer, the Government cannot expect our support. Nobody voted for less security when they voted for Brexit.