Brexit: Proposed UK–EU Security Treaty (European Union Committee Report) - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:14 pm on 16th January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea Lord Anderson of Swansea Labour 7:14 pm, 16th January 2019

My Lords, there is a spectre haunting this debate: yesterday’s vote in the House of Commons, which makes us see the future even more darkly than was the case when the report was drafted by the committee. In the heady days of the referendum campaign, Brexiteers would talk on their platforms and in the media about decoupling from the EU being easy and not a serious problem. Boris Johnson spoke triumphantly of an independence day, when the UK would no longer be a vassal state. With one bound, we would be free, on our own again, our borders, our finance and our laws no longer subject to the judgments of foreign judges. Indeed, the removal of the jurisdiction of the court of justice was a key red line. It seems odd that No. 10 is apparently briefing today that that red line will continue, notwithstanding yesterday’s vote.

We have certainly narrowed our options. That is one reason we owe so much to the noble Lord, Lord Jay, and his committee. He has given us a great dose of realism—we cannot expect the benefits but avoid the laws and regulations. He has also shown us very clearly the complexity of disengagement from our European alliances and those conventions built up over the past three or four decades, including access to databases, a point very well made by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope.

It is clear that we have made some movement, and I welcome the fact that, at least during the proposed transition period, we can continue to participate in key agencies, but of course not in their governance, which must logically mean, over time, the erosion of our influence on policy and direction. One example of that is the European arrest warrant, which has been of enormous benefit to us, as we have seen in a number of key terrorist cases and cases of abducted children, when we can quickly get the malefactors back to the UK—an enormous improvement in speed and finance on the previous Council of Europe convention. The Government’s position may mean, however, that we will have to fall back on that rather inadequate convention.

There is a further problem relating to Article 168. The noble Lord, Lord Jay, said that he had written to the Government but answer, as yet, there is none. Problems will arise, and not just in relation to Germany. It would be interesting to know from the Government which other countries may have similar domestic problems. The Government repeat the mantra that this would not involve giving the Court of Justice of the European Union jurisdiction over the UK. But what else can using those agencies mean? This is surely just playing with words.

The same is true in respect of Europol. Colleagues have already quoted its former director, Rob Wainwright. I think it was my noble friend Lady Massey who said that in an ideal world there would be no change to the UK’s current arrangements and that any change would be second best. We are indeed involved in a process of damage limitation. Rob Wainwright praised the contribution of the UK as a lead member in key multinational operations and mentioned that there is no precedent for a third country having suitable arrangements on the lines that we seek. I will not mention the security treaty—the title of the report—because that has almost certainly been overtaken by events.

Finally, I turn to the European Court of Human Rights, mentioned in paragraph 158. Surely the Government need to explain urgently how fundamental rights will be protected after Brexit. They have said they will reform the Human Rights Act after Brexit. What will be the nature of that reform? They have talked about a framework of the European Court of Human Rights. The European court and the convention are fundamental to the Council of Europe. The Government claim that they do not envisage leaving the Council, where, on the whole, we have an exemplary record, pace the case of Hirst.

I have a final positive reflection. The Government claim they will seek,

“a deep and special partnership”,

with our allies, but this task has been made more difficult by the red lines. I take comfort from there being throughout this dossier a mutuality of interest between us and our European partners. I hope that mutuality of interest will lead to relevant compromises that will at least ensure that the clear damage is limited.