Brexit: Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration - Motion to Take Note (Continued) (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:28 pm on 14th January 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 9:28 pm, 14th January 2019

My Lords, the Motion in the name of my noble friend Lady Smith, first, acknowledges the Commons’ responsibility for deciding whether the deal is ratified, a decision echoing that of 28 October 1971, referred to earlier, when the Commons, including our Lord Speaker and 19 other current Members of your Lordships’ House, voted to enter the Common Market—albeit another 13 voted no. Our role—indeed, as my noble friend Lady Ramsay says, our duty—is to offer our advice, which is what we do today.

Secondly, the Motion rejects no deal. That inane slogan,

“no deal is better than a bad deal”,

was voiced before the Prime Minister understood what no deal meant. We know now: food and energy prices up; fresh produce down, even rationed; fewer medicines, although they are going to be safe in Matt Hancock’s new fridges; ports jammed; manufacturing damaged; and checks and delays clogging just-in-time supply chains. Have the Government never listened to Toyota, Jaguar, Honda or Nissan? As for the economy, the value of the pound would fall and we would have perhaps the steepest slump since the war. The CBI has warned of profound economic consequences, with GDP cut 8%. Our security would be jeopardised: no deal would have a real impact on the Government’s ability to protect the public. Virtually overnight, a million UK citizens across the EU would suddenly be in limbo. To those who say we are crying wolf, may I remind them that that four-legged beast did turn up? It is no wonder that the Civil Contingencies Secretariat briefed the Privy Council on no deal. The ABI begs Parliament to avoid crashing out. The City of London says it would,

“undermine financial stability, disrupting services … to households and businesses on both sides of the channel”.

The Business Secretary labels it a “dire prospect” causing “incalculable damage”, even as his own Government spend £80 million a week and redeploy 4,000 civil servants just to minimise the resulting disruption. That is what would happen, but even for those who want to go out on WTO terms, no deal means doing that with no transition. Therefore, no deal must be emphatically rejected.

The third arm of the Motion regrets the agreement’s damage to our prosperity, security and global influence. The majority of the 240 speeches over five days voiced deep anxieties about a deal which, even the Chancellor admits, will make the country poorer—a poverty, as we have heard from the Bishops’ Benches, borne largely by the poor.

On Northern Ireland, the deal’s shortcomings were exposed by my noble and learned friend Lord Goldsmith, my noble friend Lord Murphy and the noble Lord, Lord Bew, in December. Since then, and just as we restarted this debate, the Government issued 47 new paragraphs on Northern Ireland, evidence of their absence from the agreement itself. The document raises problems, not just because it requires primary legislation, in addition to the seven other Bills we have to do before exit, but because, as the Prime Minister said today, the Assembly could have,

“a seat at the table on the joint committee”.

But she made no mention of the same for Wales or Scotland. Interestingly, the document gives the Assembly a right to consultation on extending the transition, although, as we were warned by our EU Select Committee:

“It is far from clear … what role Parliament would have in approving any such extension”.

We might also note that the joint committee’s decisions, despite having the same legal status as the withdrawal agreement and being able to amend the withdrawal agreement, require no parliamentary approval. Meanwhile, as my noble friend Lord Griffiths noted, there is no mention of Wales or Scotland at all in the agreement, and nothing about improving the joint ministerial arrangements dealing with powers repatriated to devolved Administrations. So it is no wonder that the Welsh Assembly rejected the deal and asked the Lord Speaker to make that known to this House.

Perhaps most seriously, the political declaration is dismally inadequate as the architecture for our future relationship. It really is what the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, called a gangplank into thin air. It fails to foster trade and prosperity through a permanent customs union, even ruling this out by restating that independent trade policy red line. It ignores our wealth-generating services: the legal, accounting, financial, education and creative sectors. It fails to guarantee environmental, food safety, employment or consumer protection, while the loss of EU workers threatens food production, health and social care, SMEs, the cash-strapped start-ups and, of course, young people, with a £30,000 threshold for entry confusing pay rates with skill. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, who knows a thing or two about talent, said:

“Salary levels are not a proxy for skills”.—[Official Report, 5/12/18; col. 1074.]

Furthermore, the framework’s lack of certainty means that businesses cannot now begin to adjust to an unknown landing place, while the absence of assurances on civil jurisdiction leaves companies unable to plan for continued EU activity because, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, warned, cross-EU civil enforcement would end.

Meanwhile, there would be weakened ability to use EU competition law when cartels are taking advantage of us, and there is nothing about staying in the EU Intellectual Property Office, meaning that trademark protection would have to be duplicated. The mere 26 pages offer little comfort to services, including financial services—some 10% to 15% of our GDP—where exports to the EU could halve.

On science, scholarship and medical advances, we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, my noble friend Lady Thornton, and now the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, that all of these would be undermined in the plans that appear before us. Accounting, auditing, design, education, culture, business and legal services are all just cast adrift. Worse, perhaps, is what the framework allows. Without a guarantee of being in a custom union with a strong single market relationship there would be no stopping the PM continuing to appease her ERG minority, with all the collateral damage described by the noble Lord, Lord Patten.

The framework should be more than just a bucket list, because Article 184 of the agreement requires the parties to negotiate an agreement in line with the political declaration. So what is in it matters, but it does not provide confidence regarding the continuation of our trading, diplomatic, security or cultural links with our close allies, near neighbours and long-term friends. It is written to favour trade deals with third countries—a mythical future ignoring the protectionist “America first” tendencies of the US President. The PM wasted two years negotiating with her own party. She put blinkered Brexiteers in charge, who rejected all evidence at variance with their ideological obsession. Labour’s alternative—we have spelled it out—is a customs union.