Further Developments in Discussions with the European Union under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:54 pm on 11th March 2019.

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Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch UKIP 3:54 pm, 11th March 2019

My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, with his unique insight into the processes which have been going on. However, I hope his drastic solution will not have to come about.

I have spared your Lordships a speech in our two most recent Brexit debates, so my last contribution was in our debate on 14 January this year. Listening to and reading those debates, and previous ones, I continue to be struck by the large majority of your Lordships who still believe that the project of European integration has brought peace to Europe and that it has been and is good for our trade—in short, that it is a good thing.

One important influence which prevents many people from seeing the EU as an idea which has failed is the BBC. Here I must declare an interest as the secretary of a cross-party group of Eurosceptic MPs, which has been sponsoring research into the BBC’s EU coverage by the News-watch media monitor. An almost unbelievable statistic to emerge from this work is that there appears to have been only one programme since the referendum which has examined the opportunities of Brexit—not promoted those opportunities, but just examined them. The BBC cannot point us to any others.

Since the referendum, the ratio of BBC interviewees has never been less than two against Brexit to one for, and sometimes up to six to one. Going further back, of the 4,275 guests talking about the EU on Radio 4’s flagship Today programme between 2005 and 2015, only 132, or 3.2%, were supporters of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, yet British public opinion in favour of withdrawal hovered around 40% to 50% for the whole of that period.

I suppose we have to accept that the BBC is the Guardian newspaper of the airwaves. That is a pity, because it should be dispassionately helping the British people to see through the mess that our politicians and bureaucrats are making of Brexit. However, it is not; it is batting for the remain side.

Coming to that mess, there remains a very simple and speedy way out of it, which I have mentioned before and with which every leading businessman who understands Europe and with whom I have discussed it agrees. Businessmen know how to do deals, but the Government clearly do not. So I will try again. We should sidestep the Commission and make a public offer to the people of Europe, via COREPER and the Council. We should offer them continuing reciprocal residence for, say, two years. This is more in their interests than ours, because there are some 4 million of them living here and only 1.2 million of us living there.

We should also offer to continue our present free trade together after 29 March, but under the auspices of the WTO, not the Luxembourg court. This would get rid of the Irish border problem and is not the same as trading under normal WTO terms in the event of no deal. This is also more in their—and their exporters’— interests than ours, because under normal WTO terms, they would pay us some £14 billion per annum in new tariffs, where we would pay them only £6 billion. That is according to a recent government Answer, HL13121, from 23 January this year. When that has been agreed, we could discuss how much money we may give them—which should of course be nothing, if it is not agreed. We could also go on collaborating on intelligence and any scheme which is in the national interest of both our peoples. We would agree to do that later, as a sovereign nation.

Of course, the sticking point for the Commission and Brussels will be allowing EU exporters to continue in free trade with us under the WTO, rather than the Luxembourg court. However, leaving the EU should end that court’s jurisdiction anyway, so why not do it now? Why are the Government so reluctant to ignore paragraphs 2 to 5 of Article 50, which force us to deal through the Commission, when we have resiled from 52 multilateral treaties since 1998—see the Government’s Answer to me on 27 November, HL11478—and the Luxembourg court has said that we are free to do so? Why do we not just tell Brussels and the people of Europe that this is our offer and that if they do not accept it we will leave on 29 March anyway, not pay them the £39 billion we have foolishly discussed and look forward to pocketing another £8 billion per annum under normal WTO tariffs? Of course, the silliest thing the House of Commons could do on Wednesday is rule out no deal.

I would be grateful if the Minister would reply to this concept when he comes to wind up. I ask him not to repeat what his colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, has said in the past to the effect that we cannot break with Article 50 because we are a law-abiding country and Article 50 says that we have to negotiate with the Commission. Surely the Government can see that we will never get a sensible or honest deal out of the Commission because its only aim in life is to stop us making a success of Brexit and therefore prolong its unfortunate project. Why do we not just do it? Incidentally, why should it take more than a fortnight?