Trade Bill - Committee (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:45 pm on 21st January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Davies of Stamford Lord Davies of Stamford Labour 3:45 pm, 21st January 2019

My Lords, it is quite unjustifiable that anybody should accuse people in this House of filibustering on this matter. One can see that we have taken only 35 minutes on a very important matter and I do not think that a single intervention has lasted for more than three minutes. By no stretch of the imagination can that be regarded as a filibuster; it is quite possible that, given the gravity of the situation in our country, the public may well feel that we have spent too little time so far on this Bill.

It has already been said that we live in exceptional circumstances. Is it not exceptional that, over two and a half years, we have had a negotiation with the EU about our future relationship with it and have just decided by an enormous majority that the whole of that negotiation has to be terminated? It was the right decision, but it is the most extraordinary situation. Equally, on the matter of trade agreements, Dr Fox has been happily running around the world for the last two and a half years, no doubt at the taxpayer’s expense, and achieving precisely nothing.

This country’s handling of the whole Brexit issue has been marked by the most extraordinary incompetence; the whole world knows that. That incompetence has often consisted of a quite extraordinarily naive tendency to overestimate our own bargaining power and underestimate the intelligence and bargaining power of other people. That is the very basis of incompetence in a negotiation, but that is the way this has been handled.

If you go to any country and say, “I am afraid we have just walked out of the trade arrangements that we have had for many years. We are in a bit of a mess and would like to negotiate a trade agreement with you. We would like to roll over the existing agreement you have with the EU and have the same benefits as we had when trading with you under it”, they will naturally say, “We will be interested to talk to you about that, but we have a number of points ourselves that we would like to settle on this occasion”. You have somebody else with an agenda, seeking advantages, and it takes a long time for the negotiation to come to any conclusion. That is the rule of business throughout the world. I do not think that Dr Fox has much experience of international business, so he might be surprised to find that is the case, but it would not be a surprise to anybody with the slightest experience of the field.

This is a serious matter. Is it really true, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said, that if the Government are completely paralysed and completely fail in achieving their purpose after two and a half years, Parliament should do nothing about it? Of course it should: we exist to make sure that there is a proper balance in the constitution. If one part of the constitution is obviously not performing as it should, the other parts should do something about it. There is no question of filibustering on the Bill. It is an extremely urgent matter. All noble Lords should be paying attention to it and deciding what the country needs to do about it. Under no circumstances should this House abdicate its responsibility for doing that in this crisis.