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Brexit: Appointment of Joint Committee - Motion to Agree

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:12 pm on 3rd July 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport) 5:12 pm, 3rd July 2019

My Lords, I shall try to concentrate on some factual points rather than opinions. In preparation for this debate, I looked back at previous Brexit debates. What struck me was how the situation and our expectations have deteriorated in the past year or so. I was also struck by the airy promises and assurances I received from a succession of Ministers which are now manifestly unachievable. We have been through the phase where no deal was unthinkable, through that of accepting that it was a possibility for which preparation was important, and are now in the phase where it is the preferred choice of the majority of Conservative Party members and is therefore being positively promoted by leadership candidates.

I start by talking about transport. Our whole economy rests on the shoulders of our transport industry. Looking at the industry, it is obvious how complex the process of addressing the costs of no deal would be. Let us start with the cost to government in preparation. There have been more than 60 transport-related SIs, which will have involved thousands of hours of preparation. There will be a whole new wave of them, because quite a few refer to the original 29 March date and will therefore now have to be revised. Many of our agreements with the EU on transport are limited to extending the current system for a small number of months. Those months were specified—sometimes it was September; occasionally the end of the year—so all that will have to be looked at again.

Then there is the money spent in preparation for no deal. The most commonly cited of those preparations, of course, are the ferry-less ferry services. Initially £100 million was allocated for assisting ferry companies—including the one with no ships—to provide additional ferry services. Because of fundamental errors in the way the contract was written, it has ended up with the Department for Transport having to pay many tens of millions of pounds of compensation to a fourth ferry company and to Eurotunnel. Because the other contracts specified 29 March, they too had to be scrapped and the ferry companies compensated for not getting the business, and it is now starting all over again.

There are ongoing preparations to avoid massive lorry queues into Dover. You can see the impact of Operation Brock on the M20. The initial costs were given as £7 million, but it must be a great deal more than that because it is a permanent separation of lanes to create a lorry park—with, of course, an impact on local businesses because of delays and accidents that have occurred there. In fact, the whole Kent economy is impacted by this. Think, too, about the cost to HMRC of 300 million additional customs declarations per year for our ports.

Then there are the costs to industry; many will admit that their preparations cost millions of pounds. The Government’s estimate is that there will be an 87% reduction in cross-channel trade for three to six months after a no-deal Brexit. Think about the impact of that on Eurotunnel and the freight and ferry operations. Some 16,000 lorries per day go through Dover to Calais. The impact of the queues for that number of lorries is considerable. At the moment you simply need an EU operator’s licence to transport goods to Europe. No deal could well lead to hauliers having to rely on a system of permits, of which our quota is 4,000. There are 38,000 freight operators and 4,000 permits; think about the impact on our industry. Clearly, many small operators will go out of business.

I turn briefly to aviation, which is worth £52 billion per year to our economy. Fifty-four per cent of scheduled flights go to the EU. Some operators are already moving a chunk of their business abroad, with costs to our economy, to qualify for cabotage rights in future. There have been agreements between the EU and the UK, but they are not written in a way that would prevent them being swept away in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Going through an airport at the moment, it takes 25 seconds for a British passport and 90 seconds for a third-country passport to be inspected by EU border forces. If you multiply that up, the impact of the queues on airports means vast costs to our economy.

The automotive industry is already suffering badly. The tide of Japanese investment is already flowing out; it came here only because we were in the EU. Job losses have been announced for Swindon, Sunderland and Bridgend, but remember that 160,000 people are employed in the supply chain as well—those are the hidden jobs. There are also costs to us as individuals. The noble Lord, Lord Robathan, once told me that he could not remember the international driving permit ever having existed, but people are buying those permits at the moment.