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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:27 pm on 11th March 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Labour 6:27 pm, 11th March 2019

My Lords, I have a confession to make: I deserted the field of battle in the last two Brexit debates as I felt I had run out of things to say and the indignation to go with them. But I am back for one last rant—or maybe it will not be the last. Who knows? That is surely the point: no one knows what is going on. My next-door neighbour does not know what is going on, as he continually tells me. Honda certainly does not know what is going on. The CBI does not know what is going on and neither, it seems, does our Prime Minister—in the air or on the ground. Never has such uncertainty gripped this country, I believe, in peacetime. Uncertainty is bad enough for the country’s mental health, but the fact that people are starting to lose their jobs and financial security because of it makes the Government seriously negligent in their primary safeguarding responsibilities. If they were a local authority they would be in special measures by now.

We have less than 600 hours to go to a possible no-deal Brexit, and the Government’s own 26 February analysis of no deal—even on the assumption of, as they put it,

“a smooth, orderly transition to WTO rules”— is the stuff of nightmares, as my noble friend Lady Quin said in her powerful speech. In the long term our economy is predicted to be up to 9% smaller—and exceeding that in areas such as the Midlands and the north-east, with Wales and Scotland also being hit badly.

For Northern Ireland, the news is even worse. The Government’s analysis suggests:

“Overall, the cumulative impact from a ‘no deal’ scenario is expected to be more severe in Northern Ireland than in Great Britain, and to last for longer”.

Of course, we all know what happens in Northern Ireland when the economy tanks. In their analysis, we are told that the Government are to publish shortly—they had better hurry up—further details of their immediate temporary arrangements for trade between Northern Ireland and Ireland in a no-deal scenario. Then comes the menacing sentence:

“The Government would need to work urgently with the Irish Government”— and here I recall the words of the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs—

“and the EU to find any sustainable longer-term solution”.

That sounds like giving up to me. So, in a no-deal scenario, not only will the economy in the UK go to hell in a handcart but it will send Ireland and the EU that way too.

The Government give us their health warning on all this: despite the steps they are taking to,

“manage the negative effects of no deal, there are a number of areas where the impact on trade, businesses and individuals would be particularly significant”.

So it is bad, but you ain’t seen nothing yet.

What we have seen is the stuffing of no-deal statutory instruments through the parliamentary system, day after day, like Greggs’s new vegan sausage rolls. As vice-president of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, I had a particular interest in the statutory instrument on product safety and metrology we dealt with last Monday. At over 600 pages long and several kilos in weight, I could hardly carry it into the Grand Committee. There had been no public consultation on this massive SI on vital consumer safety, as is the case with so many of them. Then there was the rather brave assertion that its impact on business would be de minimis. How can we be certain about that? What is certain is that fraudsters and rogue traders will find their way through any accidental loosening of these consumer safety regulations as a result of cramming them through in this way.

Noble Lords may ask why, if the Opposition feel so strongly about this, they do not simply back the PM’s deal. We will not. As we see it, this deal is anti-jobs and anti-prosperity, takes us out of the customs union and out of the single market, and, up until the past few days, would see no prospect of future progress in rights for people at work in line with EU minimum standards. If the PM would even now call for an extension of Article 50 and be willing to look again at her red lines, as the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, suggested, many in my party—although not I—would support her. My support would come if she put not only her deal in front of us but the prospect of remaining in the European Union on any ballot paper in a public vote. Noble Lords may say that I can live in hope, and I can.

In conclusion, 8 March was International Women’s Day, and during our debate last week I made a point which I repeat today. It may well be the last International Women’s Day when our country is part of the European Union. That is a dismaying thought for me as a former MEP, as the EU has been the bedrock of women’s and family rights legislation for four decades. While we quite rightly discuss the Irish backstop a great deal in this Chamber, the EU’s historic backstop in the protection of people’s rights at work is a story still to be told. Perhaps I should start writing that story in the uncertain days ahead—I think there are going to be many of them.