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Brexit - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:09 pm on 2nd October 2019.

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Photo of The Earl of Clancarty The Earl of Clancarty Crossbench 6:09 pm, 2nd October 2019

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, wishes to take note of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. However, as a country we have not done so yet and, according to the polls of the last 18 months, the majority view is that we should not do so. It is essential that those of us who want to remain in the EU continue to make that case, even as others wrongly believe that that debate ended in 2016. This is crucial, in part because a second referendum looks increasingly likely, in part because the public over the last three years have continued to learn what being in—and indeed outside—the EU means. Last, but by no means least, it is crucial because we are in a continuously changing environment which, as we approach this 31 October deadline, is already causing huge problems for business and for ordinary citizens.

Yesterday at the Conservative Party conference, the Home Secretary said that free movement will end “once and for all”. She added that instead we would have an Australian-style points system. It may be news to the Home Secretary that we have had such a system for the last 13 years. Introduced originally through secondary legislation, it has proved more than a headache since it was formulated—that is an understatement—creating increasing difficulties for, among others, academics working here or even visiting. The latest among many recent shocking cases is that of Amber Murrey, an associate professor of geography at Oxford University, who found out that, appallingly, her children are not allowed to join her in the UK from America. If this system is extended to Europe and the hostile environment deepened, it will prove disastrous for academia, research, science and the arts. They need this free movement link with Europe to work both ways.

We have never had a proper debate about free movement in this country, although I sense that beyond the confines of the Conservative Party conference one is now beginning. I applaud the passing of the motion at the Labour Party conference to support it. Ending free movement would end the hopes of many young people wanting to travel to, work in and study in Europe. One of the leavers’ maxims is “short-term pain for long-term gain” but what is important here is the permanent negative effect that ending free movement would have, not just on the present generation but on those to come, in curtailing opportunities and lowering horizons.

There would be an equally permanent effect on the service industries, so many of which depend on free movement. Service industries are hugely undervalued, yet they account for 80% of the UK economy. The possibility of us leaving the single market on 31 October is already proving a nightmare for those working in services, including many freelancers based here and in Europe. For them, Brexit is already happening. This is a large group, among whom are musicians and others in the creative industries, caterers, drivers, interpreters and IT workers. The great irony is how much of this work provided by British workers is in demand even as their livelihoods are on the line, since free movement, particularly onward and cross-border movement, is essential to this work.

The noble Lord, Lord Lilley—who is not in his place—is wrong about mobility. The CBI says that the UK would default to third-country status under EU immigration rules if no deal happens. Indeed, some workers are being turned away already and others are having their contracts rewritten at length. There is concern and confusion over work permits, tax and conditions of employment. People are urgently asking for guidance on Brexit, which they cannot access as the advice being given is too general. Will the Minister promise that the Government will address these concerns directly with those affected, and will he write to me confirming what they intend to do?

As the Minister will know, the EU is taking what precautions it can to protect its 1.2 million British citizens—as my noble friend Lord Waverley mentioned—with countries drawing up their own legislation, although ultimately the protection of British citizens should be our responsibility. The Minister will be aware that Spain has recently legislated but has included with that legislation the possibility of vetoing it within two months if its guarantees are not reciprocated for EU citizens here. The Government are providing no analogous legislation—at the very least, there should be a declaratory system—and it is clearly significantly more difficult for many to obtain settled status than the Government appear to make out. As the Minister will be aware, the media is reporting people having some awful experiences making those applications. In Spain, in particular—and in all the other countries—have there been meetings to ensure reciprocity and what has been the outcome so far?

I raise these specific issues in no way to excuse Brexit but simply because they are urgent. If we leave, we will become a smaller, greyer and meaner country. However, I believe that people are more and more seeing the benefits of EU membership and that the causes of their grievances lie elsewhere. Austerity, cuts to services and the proliferation of food banks are nothing to do with the EU, which has been cast as the scapegoat throughout, but everything to do with how our country is governed at home.