European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:17 pm on 5th September 2019.

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Photo of Lord Mandelson Lord Mandelson Labour 1:17 pm, 5th September 2019

I do not remember any of those intricacies, highways and byways being set out by anyone at the time or since—but, of course, the House will be interested in what the noble Baroness has to say.

The fact that any possibility of maintaining frictionless trade has been explicitly excluded by the Government is extremely serious for the manufacturing sector in this country and the long-term health of our economy. I do not see and cannot understand how, given the nature of just-in-time, sophisticated manufacturing supply chains and the way in which they operate between the UK and the continent, it will be possible for Japanese car companies or Airbus or any significant manufacturing enterprise to sustain production in Britain in the medium term.

That does not mean to say that they are all going to pull stumps, shut the doors and pull the shutters down and leave the day after tomorrow. Of course they are not, and any sense that they might is an absurd piece of hyperbole. However, over time—by which I mean between five and 10 years and probably on the shorter end of that spectrum—these great manufacturing companies are going to have to make new arrangements. They are going to have to move production in a way that enables them to secure continuity of their supply chains and the frictionless trade that they will no longer have when sustaining production in this country.

Let us not go back over all the customs union and single market arguments. I do not know what has happened to the Kinnock amendment and his and his colleagues’ advocacy of Norway. All I would say is that it would appear that there is no political possibility of those options being reintroduced or attracting and sustaining a majority, certainly in the other House. Let us acknowledge that they would in any case raise issues of regulatory dependence by this country on the European Union, while having no say in the making of those regulations.

I do not dismiss that. Having been on both sides of this as a UK Business Secretary and a member of the European Commission, I take rather seriously the idea that we in this country would simply be on the receiving end of laws and regulations made in Brussels over which we would have been able to express no view. There are real issues involved here and I acknowledge them.

In conclusion, the central point—and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds made it earlier—is that the referendum in 2016 was an in/out one. It was an in-principle referendum. It was not about the how and the terms on which we would leave the European Union. No hint of those terms was spelled out between a soft and a hard Brexit, and of course there was absolutely no indication of leaving without n deal at all.

So now, as we find ourselves, at the behest of the new Prime Minister, hurtling towards a no-deal exit, I believe that the Government should accept that this really cannot and should not happen without the express approval either of Parliament or the public. I will wind up, if I may—it is nice to see the Government Front Bench intervening in a debate at long last. Here is my further point in conclusion. I do not believe that the express approval of the British public for how we leave the European Union can possibly be expressed by means of a general election.