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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 Ludford Baroness Ludford Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union) 6:55 pm, 3rd September 2019

My Lords, I too thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I start by noting the fact that, after the welcome move of Dr Phillip Lee MP from the Conservatives to the Liberal Democrats, the Government have no parliamentary majority, let alone any majority for no deal.

Historians of Brexit will examine as a major theme how a party supposedly characterised by conservatism and caution about change got hijacked by radical and revolutionary forces that would make Marx and Trotsky blush. The marketing by Brexiters has morphed from a promise of sunlit uplands to at least a “smooth, orderly exit”, to the gritted teeth of “no deal is better than a bad deal”, to the reckless and irresponsible promotion of destruction, damage and chaos as an actual goal of government. Phrases such as “Do or die” or “Come what may”, which we heard this afternoon, show the incredibly cavalier attitude of the Government and the Prime Minister, who have no mandate whatever for no deal.

The contortions of Brexiters in trying to claim that the narrow leave majority in 2016 knowingly voted for a crash-out Brexit would be laughable were they not so despicable. The real interests of the economy, businesses, workers, citizens, consumers and patients are mere grist to the mill of a dogmatic, ideological obsession. As the TUC’s general-secretary Frances O’Grady has said, a no-deal Brexit will be a disaster for working families. The OBR tells us that the public finances will take a £30 billion hit, and I was interested in all the examples given by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. I want to pick up one assertion in the Statement—that outside the EU,

“we can innovate more energetically in pharmaceuticals and life sciences”.

That is the total opposite of what the pharmaceutical industry and the research sector have constantly said for the last three years.

To achieve this disaster, the Government are wasting £6.3 billion. Just think what could be done to improve the lives of British people with that money and, for instance, to help the victims of the Bahamas hurricane. After the confusion and then U-turn on the end of free movement on 31 October, can the Minister specifically tell us how the absence of any transition and of a stable legal framework will help not only to ensure the rights of EU citizens in this country, where we already know that there are difficulties with the settlement scheme, but to improve the prospects for UK citizens in the EU 27? It is difficult to see.

The dishonesty of this whole process is shown by the fact that Mr Gove has refused to publish even what the FT called a “watered-down” version of the Government’s Operation Yellowhammer no-deal contingency plans,

“after ministers decreed that the findings would … alarm the public”.

Indeed, but it is a cover-up. It is rare that I applaud the Daily Mail but it has apparently obtained, I think, the whole document—at least an annexe—showing exactly how major disruption will be caused for months. How can a Government inflict that on the country?

The right honourable Jacob Rees-Mogg outrageously accused a senior doctor who helped to write the Yellowhammer plan of fearmongering—a typical disparagement of experts—but it is legitimate to ask how many extra deaths the Government expect as a result of a lack of drugs and isotopes. I speak as someone whose husband’s life depends on insulin. Can the Minister please tell us the answer?

The Statement claims that,

“this Government are determined to secure our departure with a good deal”.

The former Chancellor tells us that that is nonsense, and even a story in today’s Telegraph says that it is untrue. As for the assertion that the Prime Minister has received a response from European leaders that they are “ready to move”, that is completely unconfirmed by the new noises coming out of Brussels. President Juncker has told the Prime Minister that the EU will look at proposals,

“as long as they are compatible with the Withdrawal Agreement”.

He added that the EU’s support for Ireland—that is, for the backstop—“is steadfast” and that a no-deal scenario will only ever be the UK’s decision, not the EU’s. The blame game is not working.

Meanwhile—I am coming to an end—I have seen an official document from last week about the work on alternative arrangements. It says:

“DExEU has been considering whether a paper consolidating the findings from all of the advisory groups should be published in late September/early October. However, we and other departments have cautioned against this given the potential negative impacts on the renegotiation with the EU and we understand No. 10 are in agreement that we are not in a position yet to publish anything”.

It is later explained that the complexity of combining all the aspects of claimed facilitation,

“into something more systemic and as part of one package is a key missing factor at present”.

I repeat: that document was published last week.

Finally, on the day after crashing out with no transition, the UK would have to come back to the negotiating table and pick up the bits from an even worse position. How would that improve the prospects of the country in the longer term? I hope that the Government can reassure us that, if the anti-no-deal Bill passes, they will obey it and that they will pull the £100 million being spent on the propaganda—I mean “information”—exercise as it will be unnecessary.