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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 14th January 2019.

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Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative 6:45 pm, 14th January 2019

I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool. I declare my interests as having practised European law in Brussels, having advised MEPs in the European Parliament and having been elected as an MEP for 10 years. I also served 18 years as a Member of Parliament, for five years of which I chaired the EFRA Committee.

Let us consider what people voted for in the referendum. Put most simply, they wanted to remain in the common market but not in a political union. They wanted to reduce immigration, and to take back control. Not all immigration is bad. We need to differentiate the needs for the economy, and to recognise the needs of health, social care, food, farming and the hospitality industry. We need to recognise that backbreaking work such as fruit picking, vegetable growing and that of the horticultural industry will no longer be done by students and people already living in this country. We need access to a reliable source of skilled and unskilled labour for farmers, who will otherwise be held back by the lack of access to a workforce.

Let us also look at what our trading relations will be post Brexit with both the EU and third countries. Trading in agricultural produce has huge implications for food and farming. We must legislate for the same high standards of health, welfare and hygiene on leaving the European Union as we currently enjoy. We must recognise the implications of chlorine-rinsed chicken and hormone-produced beef from the US, as well as substandard foods from Brazil and Argentina, which may negatively affect both consumers and home producers alike. There will be an enhanced role for the Food Standards Agency post Brexit, as it will have to check all imports from the EU as well as from third countries.

We must be very clear. Leaving with no deal means leaving on the World Trade Organization’s “most favoured nation” rules. We will have to treat all countries the same, so we can show no preferential treatment in exports or imports. However, “most favoured nation” means delivering equal treatment to all countries on the principle of non-discrimination; we cannot simply treat our erstwhile EU partners more favourably than any other trading nations in the circumstances of no deal. What a pity that the ardent proponents of no deal do not explain that in such stark terms, particularly the implications for the Irish border explained so eloquently and simply by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern.

Potential tariffs on livestock could reach 40% on beef and lamb in particular. That is the greatest threat to hill farmers across the four nations of the United Kingdom. These farmers, whom I grew up with and then represented for a number of years, play a key role in feeding the nation and delivering the biodiversity of the countryside. They could never be replaced. The most drastic change we would see on leaving on World Trade Organization terms would be border checks on paperwork and the application of tariffs and non-tariff barriers. Let us consider nomenclatures for a moment: that means we have to identify every item in every individual product. We have to describe it and recognise and state the provenance and its content. Only then can we attach the appropriate tariff to the finished product.

The impact is not just of tariffs but of non-tariff barriers and other regulations, such as paperwork. I remember when the 120 pages that used to be issued in the European Union were replaced by one page with 120 boxes—what had actually changed? These checks could result in delays at borders, which could destroy perishable goods such as foodstuffs.

In considering the options before us today, in my view, the Prime Minister’s deal is preferable to crashing out without a deal, to a second referendum and to a general election, which would probably return a similar result to now, with no overall majority.

In the long term, we should seek the closest possible relationship with the EU that delivers frictionless trade, such as is enjoyed by countries who are members of the EEA and EFTA, leading to access to the single market but with the added benefits of a customs union to be negotiated through a separate protocol. In the short term, if the Prime Minister loses the vote on the deal, I see no alternative but to apply for a short pause in the Article 50 process. The elections to the European Parliament are an issue, but we could apply for observer status for those British MEPs, or at least some of them, currently serving there. They could then oversee the arrangements in the intervening months.

A second referendum holds no attraction for me. Why repeat the exercise when the last one was so divisive and inconclusive, and resulted in the murder of an MP, Jo Cox? The final say has to rest with the House of Commons and the democratically elected representatives of the people. The House of Commons must be allowed to vote on each of the options available; you simply cannot expect the electorate to enter into the minutiae of policy detail. What else would taking back control really mean, other than restoring parliamentary democracy?