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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:28 pm on 9th January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Vaux of Harrowden Lord Vaux of Harrowden Crossbench 8:28 pm, 9th January 2019

My Lords, I declare an interest, as I am a farmer who receives payments under the CAP. I commend the Prime Minister for doing exactly what she said she would do when she became Prime Minister. In really difficult circumstances, she has successfully negotiated an exit deal with the EU. I agree with her that it probably represents the best, or at least the least bad, exit deal that could realistically be agreed. The EU is also very clear that negotiations are now at an end.

It may be the best deal available, but is it a good deal? This is where I start to struggle. Every reputable economic analysis shows that we will be worse off. I would be prepared to live with some short-term damage, but the Treasury’s long-term economic analysis clearly shows that we will still be materially worse off after 15 years. This pernicious long-term decline concerns me more than anything else.

These are not just numbers. It is very easy for a rich fund manager who can move his business to Ireland, a billionaire engineer who manufacturers in Asia, or—dare I say it?—a retired politician with a gold-plated state pension to say that a 3% lower GDP is unimportant or worth risking, and that we will survive. They have nothing to lose. But what about the car worker in Sunderland or the small sheep farmer in Cumbria? What about the rural business providing services to that small farmer? It is the poorest who will feel the impacts of this. These numbers will translate into real job losses, real impacts on livelihoods and, most importantly, reduced opportunities for our younger generation. Like many noble Lords, I have enjoyed the right to study, live and work in Europe, and I greatly regret the loss of this right for our young people.

Our public services depend on a strong economy to generate the tax to pay for them. As just one example, our financial services industry generates total tax of around £75 billion a year, 11% of our total tax take. Most financial services businesses have already had to execute their plans and, with the uncertainty of outcome, have had to assume no deal. In fact, the political declaration refers only to third-country equivalence rules anyway, which is close to no deal in itself. It is not just about losing 5,000 jobs, or whatever the figure is. The activities that these companies are moving are revenue-generating—revenue that is currently taxed here. I assume that a responsible Government would have carried out an analysis, so perhaps the Minister could tell us how much of that £75 billion they expect to lose and how they propose to make up for it.

As has often been rightly said, this is not just about economics. Will this deal heal our divided society? I fear not. It simply pushes the most important decisions about our future down the road, a process likely to drag on for years and with all the same acrimony. The political declaration is full of the usual platitudes we have come to expect: “ambitious”, “broad”, “deep” and so on. They are all very laudable but meaningless and non-binding. I am quite surprised to find myself in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, on this. We have agreed to pay £39 billion up front just for a period of transition, with no certainty of where we will end up.

The Prime Minister has told us that the alternatives are no deal or no Brexit. No deal is clearly disastrous. The arguments have been well made by other noble Lords and I will not repeat them. The Government, however, continue to threaten us with no deal, and to spend billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on increasingly farcical preparations, the latest being driving 89 lorries from Manston to Dover—apparently, it was supposed to be 150 lorries, so presumably the missing 61 are still waiting for ferries at Ramsgate.

I find it really difficult to understand the Government’s position on no deal. They acknowledge how damaging no deal would be, say that they do not want to do it, and, as we now know with absolute certainty, have the power to prevent it. No deal can happen only if the Government actively decide to do it. It is high time that the Government ruled it out and stopped wasting time and taxpayers’ money on it. I will therefore be supporting the Motion in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith.

I do not like this deal, and no deal should not even be an option. That leaves me with a referendum on the deal, with remain being the alternative. I find myself supporting this with a very heavy heart and some misgivings. I hear clearly what other noble Lords have said about how divisive another referendum would be. However, as I have said, I do not believe that this deal will heal the divisions. Perhaps a clear result, in either direction, in a referendum on the deal, might provide the closure we need.

I am also deeply anxious about creating a precedent for Scotland. Sadly, though, I think that cat is already out of the bag. If we go ahead with Brexit, the SNP will say that it was against the will of the Scottish people, and if we have a referendum, its members will argue that we have set a precedent.

I find the argument that letting the people make the final decision is somehow anti-democratic entirely bizarre. We now know what deal is proposed, not just the general concept of Brexit, and we have a much clearer picture of the consequences. My noble friend Lord Lisvane put it best in his brilliant story last year about his timid aunts. I fear for his aunts now—they are in danger of being made to sit through a double bill.

People are allowed to change their mind in a democracy. There are also over 1.5 million young people who have turned 18 since the referendum. It is their future we are talking about and they should be allowed their say. So let us trust the people.