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Brexit: Appointment of Joint Committee - Motion to Agree

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:53 pm on 3rd July 2019.

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Photo of Lord Taverne Lord Taverne Liberal Democrat 5:53 pm, 3rd July 2019

My Lords, I hope that one of the costs that the committee will consider in its deliberations is the cost of uncertainty. Industry longs for certainty and there is a widespread, strange view among many industrialists that leaving on 31 October at least brings certainty. They could not be more wrong. As the Governor of the Bank of England told the Commons Treasury Committee, a no-deal Brexit is,

“the worst way to resolve … uncertainty”.

It is obvious why. By definition, a no-deal Brexit means that we will not have a trade deal when we leave, after which it will take long and difficult negotiations before we know what the most important part of our future relations with the EU will be. And let us please note: in such negotiations we will no longer be able to use what Brexiters always argue is a vital bargaining ploy—the threat of walking away—because we will be out, and in a very weak bargaining position.

We cannot always trust Boris Johnson’s words, as the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, has pointed out, but here is nevertheless a policy that would be very difficult to abandon. Boris Johnson says that he will not pay our divorce bill, for debts we legally owe, until we have a deal. Mr Hunt has made a rather curious suggestion that he may withhold part of the divorce payment. Leaving aside the devastating consequences of telling the world that Britain is now a country that does not pay its debts, the EU will almost certainly sue us and refuse to negotiate until we have paid. Legal proceedings, which we would almost certainly lose, will drag out for many months, probably years—so much for the early end of uncertainty.

It is time industry faced reality and recognised that there is no upside to a no-deal Brexit. As for most of the Conservative Party, they are now rushing like lemmings towards a no-deal Brexit, including many who have acknowledged that no deal would be a catastrophe. It brings to mind, as I wrote in a letter published in the Guardian last week, the old Greek saying:

“Whom the Gods would destroy they first make mad”.