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Brexit - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:03 pm on 2nd October 2019.

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Photo of Viscount Waverley Viscount Waverley Crossbench 5:03 pm, 2nd October 2019

My Lords, we cannot be dismissive of 45 years’ shared partnership. There is much to reflect on and respect. We need the EU 27 by our side. It has been a long haul and our country deserves a long bout of optimism. We are apparently in the Brexit home straight. It could all have been so different. I believe that the EU journey should have been managed differently by the UK from day one. The lack of appropriate messaging and misplaced actions from the start have created the situation in which we find ourselves.

The UK has devoted too much of its thinking to single-focused economic priorities, rather than balancing them with the plethora of the important, unrelated advantages of EU membership. There is an adage in life: “You get out what you put in”. We have not been an easy bedfellow, but I accept that respect, as well as genuine sadness, is felt in the high echelons of the Commission and around the Union regarding our departure.

Everything that could have been said has been said in one form or another since the triggering of Article 50, yet a mountain of issues remain and are being taken to the wire, both in negotiations with the Commission and internally in the UK. Only high politics will sort this out, and that is not my bag. However, I ask the Minister: how can his Government be sure of their numbers on large-scale investments announced at the current Conservative Party conference yet feel able to set out a legislative programme in the Queen’s Speech on 14 October when no one, including the Government, knows the lie of the land on 31 October, Brexit day?

Frankly, I never thought Brexit would happen as I felt that our systems were too entwined, so in that regard I have some sympathy with the no-nonsense approach. It will, however, be a huge relief when this tortuous period is brought to an appropriate non-cata- clysmic closure. I understand that proposals regarding the political declaration are also being put forward today.

Whereas we should now have been at the stage of crossing the “t”s and dotting the “i”s in the negotiations, we are now driven to populist rhetoric saying that we are fed up and should just get the job done with scant regard to the consequences or, on the other hand, pragmatists counselling delay to get this right. History will judge whether all this will have been a triumph for democracy, but “unedifying” encapsulates this endgame process.

Last week I participated in the Greater Eurasian parliamentary speakers conference, made up of speakers and parliamentarians from 41 countries, which took place in Kazakhstan with the theme of trust, partnership and dialogue. Reaction to the Brexit process was one of bemusement, bewilderment and incredulity. To top it off, possibly in the manner of things to come, when I re-entered the European Union at Frankfurt the German immigration officer asked what the purpose was of my entering the EU. I trust your Lordships will have found favour with my response.

It will take decades for the true long-term effects of departure from the EU to be felt. The saving grace is that it is the gift of the Government of the day, year on year, to tailor policy to suit the circumstances of the day. We can take solace that it is the catering to those circumstances that hopefully will come to the fore. I am therefore reconciled to “Que sera, sera” and resigned to reality. What we must all do now is rally around the flag, react to the consequences and work to create opportunities in the best interests of the kingdom. I will do my bit in any small way I am able.

However, I believe that we have an opportunity to move on from ways of old. We have a chance not only to modernise but to instil a rhythm of inclusiveness and moderation in a newly-branded UK. The winning ticket will be to bind our country together with ethnic, cultural and religious tolerance, and with this harmony will come all manner of success as we chart a future globally, humble but effective in our approach. To that end, I think Brexit could, perversely, be a catalyst to preserve the sanctity of the United Kingdom. I hope not to be proven wide of the mark when I suggest that our Scottish cousins will reflect on the political and economic complexities of separation. We are all in this together and we need each other.

The Minister commented on the question of citizens. I would feel uncomfortable if I did not conclude on a note close to home that could affect Portuguese living in the UK and British citizens in Portugal. Many EU countries, and in my case Portugal, have made provision for UK citizens properly registered to remain in the event of a no-deal circumstance. The existence of such legislation is certainly good news for Britons living in Portugal, and the Portuguese Government and parliament should be given credit and thanked for that law. However, a big “but” emerges. While Portuguese law 27-A/2019 is described in the official bulletin as approving contingency measures to be applied in the event of a no-deal exit, article 19 addresses the issue of reciprocity. The law refers to “equivalent treatment”. Is the Minister satisfied, and will he confirm today, that all the elements of the EU citizens’ rights package have been fully incorporated into a robust government policy with the necessary legislation in place, including the settlement scheme? Are all the immigration rules and other secondary instruments to this end legally in place? The Government of Portugal’s António Costa and Governments around the continent would welcome an unequivocal assurance from the United Kingdom Government given concern about the UK protecting the rights of EU citizens living here.

Will the Minister accept that anxiety prevails? To put this situation into context, extraordinary though it is, today there are 154 passenger flights leaving and departing between the UK and Portugal. There will be an almighty fuss if HMG do not grapple with this situation. Will the Minister state exactly what the situation is? What he has to say will be reflected on carefully by EU member states. If he feels unable to do that, will he confirm his intention to write in a timely manner, addressing the issues that I have raised in detail, and to place a copy of his response in the Library, ideally before the Queen’s Speech?