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No-deal Update - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:55 pm on 3rd September 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union), Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Labour) 6:55 pm, 3rd September 2019

My Lords, I commiserate with the Minister on having no holiday while the rest of us were away. I thank him for repeating the Statement, but it begs some serious questions. The whole Statement is predicated on the idea that we must leave by 31 October come what may, whatever the costs, whatever the damage to our security and economy and whether or not we have a deal. It seems that everyone bar the Government knows the costs of no deal, whether on UK citizens abroad, from investors already taking billions out of the UK, Toyota ceasing production on 1 November, food, medicines, arrest warrants, data flows or transport disruption, with chaos in Dover and Portsmouth. All of that is known. Alone among business, commentators and academics, only the Government downplay the risks.

Michael Gove told Andrew Marr that,

“everyone will have the food they need”,

with no shortages of fresh food, but the British Retail Consortium immediately retorted:

“It is categorically untrue that the supply of fresh food will be unaffected”.

The British Poultry Council warned that no deal would be catastrophic for consumers of poultry. Even the Government’s own Yellowhammer paper predicted that fresh food supply will decrease, with reduced availability and choice and increased prices, which will affect vulnerable groups.

What was the reason for Mr Gove’s statement to Andrew Marr? It cannot be that he was telling an untruth, because the Minister is an honourable man. It must be that he cannot understand, so let me spell it out. The fashion industry says that we would lose £900 million. The BMA predicts that leaving without a deal would dramatically worsen NHS winter pressures. The Government’s own assessment sees a possible 40% cut to medicines crossing the channel on 31 October, with significant disruption for up to 6 months, reducing our ability to prevent and control disease outbreaks.

There is more. The Yellowhammer report says that autumn and winter risks, such as flooding and flu, could be worsened by no deal. It says that on exit day, between a half and 85% of HGVs may not be ready for French customs and, with limited space in French ports, HGV flow could halve within one day, the worst disruptions lasting for up to three months. There would be queues in Kent, with HGVs possibly facing one and a half to two and a half days’ delay before being able to cross, as well as disruption to fuel distribution, and passenger delays at St Pancras, the channel tunnel and Dover. This is all from the Government: I am not inventing it.

Law enforcement data and information-sharing between us and the EU would be disrupted and, as there is no data agreement in place, the flow of personal data would be disrupted where an alternative legal basis is not in place.

In Northern Ireland, the Government’s “no new checks with limited exceptions” model from March to avoid an immediate return to a hard border is, say the Government, likely to prove unsustainable because of economic, legal and biosecurity risks, while disruption and job losses could result in protests and road blockages. As today’s Statement says, Ireland will have to impose checks on goods arriving from Northern Ireland, with enormous, irresponsible implications for the peace process.

Gibraltar will similarly see disruption to the supply of food and medicines, as well as delays of four-plus hours at the border for at least a few months for frontier workers, residents and tourists, with delays over the longer term likely to harm Gibraltar’s economy. Those are all quotes from the government paper, not from anyone else. Similarly, it says that Britons in Europe will lose their EU citizenship and can expect to lose associated rights and access to services.

The Government set out all those risks. Indeed, they had the honesty to admit that the poor,

“will be disproportionately affected by rises in the price of food and fuel”.

So why do the Government persist in pursuing a no-deal exit? Going back to Shakespeare, we know that the Ministers “are honourable men”, and “I will not do them wrong”, but they have some explaining to do. They state:

Her Majesty’s government will act in accordance with the rule of law”,

but they fail to promise to obey the law, and with no deal they fail in the first obligation of a Government—to safeguard the security and welfare of the people.

The Statement talks about “trust in our democracy”. What trust can there be in a Government who prorogue Parliament to avoid scrutiny, who play loose and free with people’s futures and who seek to engineer an election rather than allow Parliament to pass a law? The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, reminded us that it is the anniversary of the death of Cromwell, who too became a politician with rather dictatorial ideas beyond his station and was, I think, the last person to get rid of a Parliament that got in his way. I hope that we do not need to be reminded of that in the future.

Therefore, I am not very happy with the Statement but I have three specific questions for the Minister. First, what is the Government’s assessment of the impact of disruption to transport at Portsmouth on the flow of medicines? Secondly, what is their assumption of the risk of public disorder on exit day? Thirdly, what is the evidence that the Government’s “Get ready for Brexit” communications strategy will actually affect business preparedness, which they admit is currently very low? Frankly, the Government will have to do much better than they are currently doing if we are to be anywhere near being prepared to Brexit in an orderly manner.