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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:32 pm on 9th January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Wales) 7:32 pm, 9th January 2019

My Lords, my hearing is not what it used to be. I am struggling to recognise whether, in what the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, has just said, he was speaking positively of the noble Lord, Lord Callanan—who is now leaving the Chamber—who contributed, through the wonderful institutions in Brussels, to the well-being of the British reputation on the continent and beyond. If I did hear that, then before he goes let me pay a tribute to him.

I share with my noble friend Lord Watson of Invergowrie the need to confess the stimulus that brought me into this debate, when I had not felt I wanted to add to the amount of words being spoken. For him, it was an interview with Iain Duncan Smith on the “Today” programme on Monday; it was nothing as esoteric for me. For me, it was the need to mention that in neither of the documents that lie behind this debate—neither the agreement nor the political statement—are Wales or Scotland mentioned. That is worth saying.

I know there is a debate next week, brought by the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, about the effect of leaving the European Union on the stability of the United Kingdom’s union. That may well be a better place for me to make my remarks, but I wanted to register my concern in this debate as well as contribute to that one. There is a consequence—it may well be an unintended one, but one we can perhaps see coming—that the union of the United Kingdom, forgetting about Europe for a moment, will come under serious threat once we have to cope with new realities, and the strains that already exist within the countries of the United Kingdom will become even more apparent then.

In Wales, within a few short months of the referendum more thinking was being done, with White Papers being prepared and position papers being discussed, than happened here for a very long time. One of those rather key discussion papers, called Securing Wales’ Future, laid out some of the core principles that the devolved Government of Wales would be looking for in any agreement reached between the United Kingdom and Brussels. I will not spend much time on it, but the bullet points drawn from that paper speak their own message.

The first refers to participation in the single market and customs union, which was thought to be essential for safeguarding trading and other arrangements. We must remember that, since devolution came about, nearly all the Welsh and Scottish lawmaking that has happened has been in a context where we belonged to the European Union. Unpicking something that is so completely integrated in that way is going to be very difficult. We are very afraid that in Wales we are going to lose, since 60% of our trade is done with the European Union.

The second bullet point is:

“A new migration system that links migration more closely to employment … while protecting employees from exploitation”.

A link to employment means that anybody who could show that they have a job, or a reasonable chance of getting one, would be entitled to come. There was no mention of £30,000 as a threshold figure before they come—which is a ridiculous figure when you think about those who will be excluded from thinking of coming.

Other bullet points include:

“Maintaining … social and environmental protections … The vital importance of a transition period to avoid a ‘cliff edge’”,

and,

“Wales not to lose a penny of funding due to Brexit, as promised during the referendum”.

There were lots of promises made, and we need to do some fact checking, if and when all these things come to pass, as to how many of them are even vaguely addressed, let alone kept. For Wales, European funding has been vital to the regeneration of large parts of the country, so not losing a penny of funding is going to be a point that we come back to again and again, as we look at the actual proposals that come in subsequent legislation we have to consider. Another bullet point refers to the need for,

“A fundamentally different constitutional relationship between the devolved governments and the UK government”.

Having been involved in the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, especially with the devolution clauses and in looking at how we could relax with what was promised and establish frameworks for the business we could not solve before we passed that Act, I recall that the Welsh Government were satisfied with those promises. Good work is being done within those frameworks, but in a debate in December in the Assembly the Welsh Government put forward some Motions that noted the agreement that is before this United Kingdom Westminster Parliament. When the Assembly debated it, amendments overturned the decision to “note” these agreements, in favour of rejecting them.

There is a head of steam in Wales, which when it sees more and more of what will come in its direction off the rich man’s table, is getting very agitated indeed. It feels marginalised. It is not core to the considerations. Who has mentioned it in this debate, among all these hundreds of speakers? We heard about Welsh pubs; that is about as near as I recall. We should note the legitimate concerns of the devolved Governments, and the legitimate anxieties about the future of the United Kingdom and its constituent elements, and avoid consequences that would be harmful to us all, wherever we can.