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Brexit: Appointment of Joint Committee - Motion to Agree

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:58 pm on 3rd July 2019.

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Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Labour 4:58 pm, 3rd July 2019

My Lords, as I am going to make some mention of NHS staffing issues I should remind the House of my membership of the GMC board.

The noble Lord, Lord Bridges, in a very powerful speech, disagreed with the Motion before us. I would say to him that he has raised very important matters, but the problem we have is that there is simply no sign of the Government responding to what he has asked for. We have a paralysed Government with two candidates for the leadership of our country going around making the most irresponsible statements and promises, and at the moment Parliament is left bereft of what to do. That is why this modest proposal to establish a Joint Select Committee is worthy of support. But, goodness me, if this were to be accepted by the other place, it would have to get on with it. I agree absolutely with the noble Lord; the issues he raised are so serious that the idea that we can wait another few weeks before we actually get down to it frightens me and many others.

This Select Committee could also examine the contention of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that it will in fact be impossible to leave in one step. All I can say is that I hope he is right. However, given that both Mr Johnson and Mr Hunt have painted themselves so tightly into a corner, the huge risk is surely where we will be if they reach that conclusion. We could reach a situation where government becomes almost impossible.

I have been listening to the two candidates; have noble Lords totted up the bill? There are tax cuts for the rich, slashing of corporation tax, stamp duty reductions, no-deal relief programmes for farmers and fisher fleets, pay rises for public sector workers, more for police, education and defence, and major infrastructure spending. We are told that this is all to come from the £26 billion of fiscal firepower that the Chancellor has reserved in case of a no-deal Brexit. As the Chancellor—and he still is the Chancellor and carries some authority with many of us, even if not with members of the Conservative Party—said yesterday, in the event of a disruptive no-deal exit, there will be a hit to the Exchequer of about £90 billion, which would have to be factored into future spending and tax positions.

As Paul Johnson of the IFS has said, these “extraordinary pledges”, adding up to tens of billions of pounds, mean that they are willing to borrow more and longer. If we do not get a deal, the economy will grow less quickly; we will lose that fiscal headroom that the Chancellor has made available and there will certainly be no scope for spending increases or tax cuts.

While we contemplate the folly of leaving the EU, the EU itself, after years of negotiation, has sealed a trade deal with Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, following the deals it has already sealed with Japan, South Korea and Canada. Where will the UK be? Isolated and picking up the scraps, a minnow up against powerful trading blocs—reduced, as we have seen from what Johnson and Hunt have been saying, to slashing regulation and business tax in a desperate attempt to keep the economy going.

I want to echo two things said by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack: first, the shame of yesterday in the European Parliament—that British MEPs could do what they did; secondly, to go back to what he said three years ago, because this seems to be at the heart of the problems we face. It was a narrow referendum result, but Mrs May’s Government made no attempt at that time to pull the country together. Through the arbitrary declaration of Article 50 and the red lines which were discussed with no one outside her narrow inner circle, we have reached this position of desperate straits for our country.

I realise that Mr Johnson and Mr Hunt seem to have a very light connection to economic facts, but when it comes to just two sectors that I am most concerned about—the automotive industry and the health service—the consequences of no deal are devastating. I know that the Government, or sections of it, are suspicious of the Bank of England and the CBI, and I know that they think they know better than the people running companies who actually have to deal and trade globally. However, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders spelled out the potential of a £50,000 per minute cost of hard Brexit border delays to UK automotive manufacturers, the consequence of which is that we will be forced out of being one of the top 10 global exporters, with a devastating impact on our economy.

When we look at the health service, it is the same story. Apart from issues to do with safety, dealing with pandemics, our exclusion from a whole host of European organisations, the risk of NHS staff not being recruited from the EU and our inability to replace them from elsewhere, what we also put at risk is our whole life sciences sector. Talking to academics or the pharmaceutical industry, we hear that there has already been a squeeze on the number of people coming to work in our country, partly because of Brexit and partly because of the associated actions of the Home Office and its very restrictive immigration policies.

Putting this all together, we see two vital sectors of the economy—the motor car industry and the health service—facing dire consequences, and somehow we are meant to say that it does not really matter because it is in the greater interest of achieving Brexit. This is sheer and utter madness. I believe that we in Parliament still have an opportunity to stop this and we have to do what it takes. A Joint Select Committee is not a momentous step towards that, but it is an important step none the less and I very much support it.