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Brexit: Appointment of Joint Committee - Motion to Agree

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:21 pm on 3rd July 2019.

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Photo of The Duke of Wellington The Duke of Wellington Conservative 6:21 pm, 3rd July 2019

My Lords, as always I declare my European interests as detailed in the register.

We have had some very good speeches from this side of the House, but I am afraid that I have reached a different conclusion: I support the Motion in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon. In fact, it would have been desirable to have a Joint Committee earlier in this process. At this point it may be a bit late, and any report may no longer have much effect, but I completely agree that it is worth at least trying.

This Motion has support from many sides of this House—correctly so, because it is a matter not of party interest but of national interest. I am surprised every day that the ultras continue to deny the risks to this country and its economy of leaving the European Union without a withdrawal agreement. Indeed, the ultra ultras even suggest that they would prefer to leave without a deal. They propose that the UK and the EU should trade on a tariff-free basis under Article 24 of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. We have already heard from the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, about the difficulties of doing that, and those who propose it always forget to acknowledge that it requires the agreement of the EU.

Most thoughtful professionals and experts advise—I do not wish to use journalistic hyperbole but it is generally accepted—that leaving without a deal is at best very high risk and at worst would have dire consequences. Surely no responsible Minister of the Crown could knowingly endanger this nation’s well-being by contemplating a no-deal Brexit. The mood of both Houses of Parliament is to prohibit such an outcome. A Government who head in that direction are defying the will of Parliament. Nevertheless, both candidates standing for leader of the Conservative Party appear to be bidding against each other to win a no-deal Brexit. I cannot believe that any Prime Minister, particularly a Conservative one, would even consider proroguing Parliament until November to eliminate parliamentary opposition—yet at least one candidate has not ruled it out.

In any event, a serious risk remains that unless we seek a further extension, to beyond 31 October, there will simply not be enough time for any renegotiation and the consequential legislative procedures. Neither of the candidates to be Prime Minister has acknowledged this lack of time. We still need a transition period and for that we need a withdrawal agreement. Insisting on 31 October as the immovable departure date will almost certainly mean a no-deal departure.

In addition to the extreme economic consequences of a no-deal departure we must be aware of the very serious additional strain on the union of the United Kingdom. No unionist of any party should ignore this point. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Reid, is no longer in his place—his excellent speech should be required reading for both candidates for the leadership of the Conservative Party.

I will repeat something I have said before. With great sadness I accept that we are leaving. It must, however, be orderly and with a transition period. The Motion tabled by the noble Baroness represents, if the other place accepts it, a further attempt to demonstrate to the ultras in Parliament, and to the wider public, the impossibility of leaving without a deal. I very much hope that the Motion will be accepted—but, if formed, the Joint Committee will have to work over the summer to produce a report before it is too late.

The chances of a no-deal Brexit are increasing day by day during this leadership contest, to the detriment of the public interest. Let us as a House at least try to put the case again for an orderly exit in the national interest.