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Trade Bill - Report (1st Day)

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

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Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development 6:45 pm, 6th March 2019

My Lords, I am conscious of the time, but I also want to ensure that noble Lords have an opportunity to reflect on the serious issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lea. We may deal with them briefly this evening but we did not deal briefly with them when they came up in Committee. There was quite some debate on them on 4 February, and for those noble Lords who are interested, they can read it in glorious technicolour between columns 1360 and 1370 in the Official Report of those proceedings. Perhaps if the noble Lord, Lord Lea, will permit me to summarise what the key arguments were at that point, I will try to answer two of the points that he raised.

EFTA membership would not be acceptable because it would mean accepting the free movement of people between its four existing members. To gain access to the 29 existing free trade agreements negotiated by EFTA, the UK would have to negotiate its way into each and every one of them with the relevant third countries. There is no guarantee that that would be successful: EFTA’s trade agreements were not negotiated with the size and type of Britain’s economy in mind. Were the UK to join EFTA, it would constitute 71% of the enlarged area.

If we rejoined the European Economic Area to stay in the single market, we would not have control over our borders. It would mean having to accept all four freedoms of the single market, including free movement of people across the 30 EEA states. On laws, it would mean having to implement new EU legislation covering the majority of the sectors of our economy. In contrast, we are making an up-front sovereign choice to commit to ongoing harmonisation with EU rules on goods, covering only those necessary to provide frictionless trade in the context of our agreement.

The noble Lord, Lord Lea, said that if we crash out, we need to keep the right to rejoin EFTA. If we leave the European Union without a deal, we fall out of the EEA and EFTA. We would be able to apply to rejoin, but this is contrary to government policy for the reasons that I have explained. He asked what the impact on the EEA Agreement would be if we extended Article 50. If we were to extend Article 50, the UK would, of course, stay within the EEA under the EU pillar until we left the EU. With regard to citizens’ rights agreements made with the EEA and EFTA states, these would enter into force only when we leave the EU or at the end of an implementation period.

I hope that, with that brief summary, the noble Lord—whose contributions I always enjoy and listen to attentively—will not feel that I have not responded to him, but in the context of the wider consideration of this issue in the debate, the Government’s position remains as it was in Committee. I therefore ask him to consider withdrawing his amendment at this stage.