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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:17 pm on 14th January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour 8:17 pm, 14th January 2019

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. I see the latest exchange of letters between the EU and the Prime Minister, and the advice from the Attorney-General as just window dressing—aspirational, but having very little meaning. I compare it to a vision of Neville Chamberlain coming back from meeting Hitler, saying, “Peace in our time”. It was peace in our time, but it just delayed things for a bit longer. This is what we have now—just delaying things for a few more years. Today and on other days we have discussed endlessly the question of Northern Ireland and southern Ireland and where the frontier is. If we have a different single market and customs union between us here and the Republic, we will have a frontier somewhere. It may be in the Irish Sea; it may be between Northern Ireland and the south. But it will be somewhere, unless we somehow integrate. We should be told, if we are not having a hard border, what are we going to have? It is pretty fundamental.

What did the public actually vote for in the referendum? To leave the EU. It seems that the Prime Minister and her Cabinet have since added several red lines that are very unhelpful to the economy and people’s understanding of what may happen. I do not think it is what the people voted for in the referendum. To give a couple of examples, there is a continuing obsession with immigration, and an inability to separate asylum seekers—enormous numbers, coming in the shape of 20 people in one boat—from the hundreds of thousands who come from other parts of the EU to work here, very hard and very well, most of them sending money home to help wherever they come from. The NHS, agriculture and the hospitality industries spring to mind. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, talked a lot about the agricultural sector. But considering that something like 90% of the workers in slaughterhouses come from Bulgaria, who will replace them? Who will pick our fruit and veg? I think Michael Gove, speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference last week, said that it will be all right because everything will be automated. I am not sure how you pick raspberries with an automatic machine—maybe somebody can—but we need these people. Unless we are going to instruct unemployed people here to do particular jobs, we are lost. I lived in Romania in the communist era in the 1970s, and watched the way local people were forced to do jobs. If they wanted to live somewhere—to have a flat—they had to work. It was not pleasant, because the people who did not work did not have anywhere to live and sat begging in the streets. I suspect that the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, is calling some of us on this side Marxists or communists. I am not one of those, but we should be free to choose what job we have. But we have to encourage people to come here, work, and work hard.

My second example is the single market and the customs union, about which many noble Lords have spoken. Queues will form at frontiers, not just at Dover but in other places and on the island of Ireland. We have all been working on it and have seen what has happened. There will be queues because there are controls, and you cannot do anything about the controls—it is not only about customs and so on, but also about controls such as the phytosanitary ones. Then there is the consequence of big and small companies leaving the UK because they cannot get their goods in and out. We all read about the motor manufacturers, but SMEs are equally important. I have a friend in Cornwall who runs a company with eight employees who has already moved to the Netherlands because he cannot cope with the problems that are likely to happen after Brexit.

Very briefly, and as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Liddle, the third example is competition and state aid, which are very important. I know that maybe the leader of the Labour Party thinks we want to abolish state aid rules so that he can give lots of government grants to his friends, but the Tory party has got there first, giving a £13 million contract to a new ferry service to go from Ramsgate to Ostend without seeking competitive tenders or saying what it is for. We all need the state aid legislation and I hope it will continue.

Where does this lead us? Many noble Lords have spoken about this but Parliament has to honour the wishes of the people in the referendum two and a half years ago. Would Parliament do that five or 10 years ahead? I do not know but surely in a parliamentary democracy it is for the Members of Parliament to make the final decision. It seems that the only solution, if we are to increase our prosperity and retain jobs and business, is for the Members of Parliament to make a decision themselves. Why should they not do that on a free vote? I am sure that those who have been in the House of Commons will tell me that is completely impossible but why should they not? They are quite sensible people—most of them, anyway—and probably much better at making a decision than the general population.

I hope that we will see sense. I will fully support my noble friend’s amendment tonight but let us remember that while we have been in Europe for 40 years for many reasons, the most important thing is to have preserved and retained peace. We must continue to do so.