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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:39 pm on 14th January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury) 3:39 pm, 14th January 2019

My Lords, leaving the European Community after more than half a century of membership is clearly an enormous and testing task and, as noble Lords have already indicated, the Government are scarcely showing themselves up to it. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord King, who indicated that we do this in the context of an international situation in which there are many shocks so that we are bound to find it difficult to make progress on certain aspects of international relations. Getting new trade treaties in this context is fraught with real problems. We all recognise that many international powers are talking rather more about protective tariffs than about opening up fresh opportunities for trade with the UK and economies like it. The challenge of coming through this process with any degree of success is enormous.

As a Treasury spokesman for my party in normal circumstances, I intend in this debate to concentrate on economic issues. At the end of the day, our fellow citizens look to Parliament and the Government to provide a context in which they can work successfully, earn what they are entitled to earn and get rewards from the economy. The great danger is that the Government are pursuing a strategy which puts that in doubt. I recognise that economic forecasting is much disparaged in many quarters, but we cannot discount the significance of so many sources of serious economic analysis which demolish the case for no deal. It should never have been on the agenda. The Government have a bounden duty to make sure that we do not leave the European Community with no deal. Sources that identify just what that would mean include the Governor of the Bank of England, who said that if there is no deal the country will suffer as much in the next decade as it has in the period since the great global financial collapse.

The search for no deal is the Prime Minister truckling to the small group of die-hard right-wingers in the Conservative Party who see some vista of great achievement the moment we are free from Europe. They turned their position in the rigid red lines which made it so difficult for the Prime Minister to achieve any reasonable deal with Europe. We may be the fifth-largest economy in the world, but we have considerable programmes at home at present. We can ill afford putting at risk some of our outstanding existing opportunities. I point out the obvious issue: we have played quite a considerable leadership role in the service industries in Europe, as we would expect, given our expertise and the significance of the service industries to our economy, but there is nothing in the proposals which are emerging under the Government’s scheme for any progress in that area.

It is quite clear that we have to think in very different terms. My party will emphasise that we intend to present proposals, when we have the opportunity, to participate in a permanent and comprehensive customs union with a British say in future trade deals and we will deliver a strong relationship with the single market to guarantee that the UK does not fall behind EU in rights for workers and consumers and in the protection of the environment. We want a deal that puts jobs and the economic position first, and we trust that this House will support our amendment today against a background where we hope the other place will support progressive positions tomorrow.