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Trade Bill - Committee (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 4th February 2019.

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Photo of Viscount Trenchard Viscount Trenchard Conservative 5:30 pm, 4th February 2019

My Lords, against the framework of what the future relationship will be, I do not think that the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Lea, that we do not follow the procedure set by Article 50 for withdrawal but instead combine a withdrawal agreement-plus with seeking to accede or re-accede to EFTA would find much support among our European friends and partners. They would say that that is not what Article 50 says.

The noble Lord has made clear on many occasions his view that the UK should seek the softest possible Brexit, and his amendment would achieve that. If we were to become a member of EFTA—I think that Norway, for one, has not expressed any enthusiasm for our accession or re-accession—it is true that we would escape the jurisdiction of the ECJ and instead be subject to the EFTA Court, but that court follows closely ECJ judgments.

The leader of Norway’s European Movement has stated clearly that it is in neither Norway’s nor the UK’s interest for the UK to become again a member of EFTA. Continued membership of the EEA would require us to accept future EU rules and regulations, but without a seat at the table and with a greatly reduced voice in the formulation of those rules and regulations. It would also prevent the UK having its own trade policy and remove the raison d’être of my noble friend the Minister and the Department for International Trade. We would not be able to enter new free trade agreements with other countries or accede to broader free trade partnerships such as the CPTPP, which includes Japan, an enormously important trade and investment partner, and leading Commonwealth countries such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand, whose trading regulations, policy and law share origins with our own.

The EEA/EFTA proposal would make this Bill redundant, because we would have no need to novate existing EU FTAs and it would negate the whole upside of Brexit, leaving us as effectively a vassal state of the EU. That is not what the people voted for and your Lordships’ House would not be serving the nation’s interest by supporting the amendment.