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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:34 pm on 9th January 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Viscount Trenchard Viscount Trenchard Conservative 8:34 pm, 9th January 2019

My Lords, it is often said that the principal reason people voted leave in the referendum was concern about immigration. However, subsequent research has shown that an even more important reason was that most people want control of our laws and regulations returned to this Parliament. Unfortunately, the agreement in its present form fails to achieve that, because the Irish backstop threatens to reduce us to the role of rule-taker, without a direct voice in the formulation of those rules, as was clearly explained by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, in his speech on 6 December. Even if it is true that the EU does not want the backstop to be applied, its existence as the default position hands all the cards to the EU in the negotiations over our future trade relationship, which was, after all, supposed to be largely agreed by now but is not.

I do not believe that the apocalyptic predictions of serious and sustained damage to jobs and to the economy, as suggested by many, would be the result of leaving the EU and trading under WTO rules. Many predicted from the outset that the only deal that the EU would offer us would be a bad deal, and we should have done more preparation for the no-deal scenario. We should not call a clean Brexit “crashing out”. There would of course be difficulties, but economic necessities would ensure that the worst impediments to trade, whether accidental or wilful, would be fairly quickly sorted out. We need to remember that it is not Governments who make trade; it is businesses. The advantage of a clean break would be that we would be able to negotiate the new trading relationship we want with the EU without our hands tied behind our backs. We would of course honour that part of the £39 billion that is due and for which we are liable. We would anyway not have to pay the £20 billion net contribution for the two-year implementation period. We would not be crashing out but cashing in, as explained so well by my noble friend Lord Lilley in his excellent paper 30 Truths about Leaving on WTO Terms.

Whatever economic challenges may arise, the UK economy is well placed to adjust to them. It is among the most flexible and open of the advanced economies in its product and labour markets, and it has both a flexible exchange rate and an independent monetary policy. We also have full control of our fiscal policy and, at the moment, a highly competitive exchange rate.

Although we have debated the withdrawal agreement for many hours, comparatively little has been said about security and defence. I have a high regard for Sir Richard Dearlove, a former head of MI6, and take seriously his warning that the withdrawal agreement clearly puts British forces and our intelligence and security interests under the rules of the common foreign and security policy. The European Commission has apparently also confirmed to the Government of Cyprus that the proposed future security and defence co-operation with the UK would not involve decision-making.

Noble Lords may also have noticed that Germany, the Netherlands and six other member states tried unsuccessfully in December to prevent the adoption of the new directive permitting member states to require telecoms companies to provide them directly with e-evidence on criminal suspects anywhere in the EU without requiring judicial approval in the host country. As the German Justice Minister explained, the principles of the rule of law are not respected equally everywhere in the EU. The first duty of the state, above trade, is the security of its citizens. Does the Minister believe that the security and defence aspects of the withdrawal agreement do not in any way impede the ability of the state to carry out its first duty?

Does he not also accept that they would have a damaging effect on the Five Eyes intelligence partnership? I would much rather we leave the EU under an agreement to enter into a future relationship similar to CETA or, better than that, a Canada-plus-type deal, such as has been clearly offered by Messrs Tusk and Barnier. My choice would be Plan A+, proposed by the IEA. This sensible and comprehensive plan explains how it is possible with existing technology to conduct the necessary border checks without installing new infrastructure. We have allowed the EU to blow up the question of the Irish border to a level of significance far greater than it warranted. This has been used by the EU because it quickly understood that it is our soft underbelly, and by the Irish Government because it assists them in their objective of prising Northern Ireland away from the UK. The excellent speech by my noble friend Lord Trimble on 6 December pointed out that it is not the act of leaving the EU that is damaging the Belfast agreement; rather it is what the EU is attempting to do by way of reprisal that threatens to damage it.

I admire the Prime Minister’s resilience and determination and I have stood loyally behind her throughout the two and a half years since the referendum. As your Lordships may have noticed, Mr Abe, the Japanese Prime Minister, who arrives in London tomorrow morning and will hold talks with our Prime Minister tomorrow, has on several occasions stated that Japan is a strong advocate of the UK’s accession to the CPTPP, six of whose 11 founder members—Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei —are Commonwealth countries. Under the proposed deal, I fear, the prospect that we will be bound to align our standards and regulations closely to those of the EU will make us unattractive as a potential trade partner. Indeed, Gavin Barwell acknowledged this as a point of concern in reply to my question at a meeting in December. Will the Minister confirm that it nevertheless remains government policy to seek accession to the CPTPP, and confirm that the Government think that other countries will still be interested in entering into trade agreements with the UK under the terms of the proposed deal? I strongly recommend that your Lordships s read the excellent paper Trading Tigers, published by Policy Exchange, which explains well the case for UK accession succinctly and concisely, in just 12 pages.

As the most reverend Primate said on 5 December, quoting from Proverbs:

“Where there is no vision, the people perish”.

I would like to see more vision, more optimism and more confidence shown by the Government. This is not a damage limitation exercise. It is a great opportunity for this country to revert to our natural state as a strong advocate of competitive free trade throughout the world, which is the best way to achieve economic growth and prosperity for future generations.