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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:53 pm on 9th January 2019.

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Photo of The Earl of Clancarty The Earl of Clancarty Crossbench 8:53 pm, 9th January 2019

My Lords, I shall return, as least for part of my speech, to the question of free movement of people within the EU, and I do so because the Prime Minister has made the ending of free movement perhaps the central argument for delivering Brexit, as the noble Lord, Lord Hutton, noted. I wish also to develop further my argument from the first debate.

The White Paper on immigration published since that debate presents only half the story—the effect of a proposed skills-based immigration system on European citizens. The other half would outline the effect of such a system on British citizens and how it affects our rights with regard to the EU, because we would expect any agreement to be reciprocal. It is the half of the story with which the Prime Minister consistently refuses to engage and that of course will not be published because that story is negative—as, indeed, the effect of Brexit already is on the European citizens who live here in the UK, as well as those who wish to work or study here in the future. What will then also stem domestically from the severe restrictions proposed is the effect on our own economy, including the loss of significant work that is carried out across many areas of the economy on salaries of less than £30,000, including in the creative industries, and the loss of that talent, many of whom will be young people.

The Prime Minister has repeated that the only choice, which seems increasingly unrealistic, is between her deal and no deal but, because of the loss of freedom of movement, with both those alternatives young people will lose everything that is most important to them with regard to the EU: the loss of the automatic right to travel, work, study and live abroad at will. Freedom of movement is now quite rightly regarded among young people in Europe as no less than a democratic right. For British workers, both in the EU and here, especially those in the service industries, there is particular concern about onward movement which, if not enabled, will put at risk the livelihoods of many of them. Will the Minister address this important concern in his response? This question was also posed during Question Time today by the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, and it was not properly answered.

Knocking down walls and barriers or, better still, not erecting them in the first place needs to be understood in the 21st century as an integral part of the process of the betterment of society, because society crosses borders. The effect since 1951, when freedom of movement humbly began within the limited scope for workers within the coal and steel industry, has been peace and increasing understanding between those European nations and cultures who have been part of it, yet now it appears that there are, not just within the UK, those who seem intent on wrecking that project. At the political level, too, we should not be abrogating our responsibilities within Europe. If there are things wrong with the EU, which there are, we should be in there helping to improve it. We cannot do that from the outside.

During the 2016 referendum campaign, the right of free movement for people across Europe was buried. It was something the remain camp did not want to talk about too much. If there is another referendum, the right of freedom of movement across our own continent should be shouted from the rooftops as something we should be immensely proud of having. The EU passport—the travel, work, study and residence permit rolled into one—is one of Europe’s and Britain’s greatest achievements. This needs to be said more often, and it would be a tragedy if British citizens lost it.

The Government presently say that they do not countenance a people’s vote. That may change, but I join others in saying that a fear of further behaviour of the sort that has taken place this week outside Parliament or, indeed, worse is no reason whatever not to have another referendum. That attitude is accommodating those who have participated in or condoned such behaviour and, of course, it would not stop there.

It is becoming ever clearer that the policy of austerity pursued since the financial crash and the discontent and sense of abandonment that it has caused were factors that contributed hugely to the result of the referendum. A report last month by the Institute for Public Policy Research North estimated that £6.3 billion has been cut from public spending in the north since 2010, and that has happened in those areas where the Brexit vote was strongest. The use of food banks, which is surely the blackest mark on our country, has risen from tens of thousands of food parcels in 2010 to millions today. It is vital that austerity is reversed, and despite the Prime Minister saying in October that austerity was over, there is no real sign that that is happening.

I do not accept the mood of resignation which some noble Lords appear to have fallen into, particularly those who say that they voted remain but accept that the Prime Minister’s deal is the best there can be. That is not so. There is increasing hope. My noble friend Lord Kerr provided evidence earlier that the Prime Minister’s deal and no deal are not the only options. I remain convinced that the solution is to remain in the EU, and I support a second referendum.