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Brexit - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 2nd October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Monks Lord Monks Labour 6:15 pm, 2nd October 2019

My Lords, the Prime Minister said this morning in his Manchester speech that no deal,

“is an outcome for which we are ready”.

The noble Lord, Lord Callanan, repeated that in his introduction to this debate, and the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, has been trying to give some substance to that optimistic remark. I will focus my remarks on whether we are ready and the areas in which a no-deal operation could result in major problems for this country, and maybe seek a ministerial update on some of the problems with no-deal planning and whether we can assess whether the UK really is ready in a number of key areas.

It is about a month since we learned via a leak about Operation Yellowhammer. Members of this House will remember that this was a gloomy assessment of the state of the UK’s preparedness for no deal. However, the Government, in the shape of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, explained that Yellowhammer was a worst-case scenario, that the issues flagged up in it were being addressed, that the assumptions were being regularly updated, that a review was under way and that substantial progress had been made. The Government continue to make reassuring and optimistic noises about there being no problems beyond, in the words of Mr Gove,

“some bumps in the road”.

So exactly what progress has been made? Can we learn whether Mr Gove’s cheerful assessment is still justified, or are the sobering, rather depressing messages of Yellowhammer still blindingly relevant? I will select a few issues out of many in the Yellowhammer leak. Perhaps the Minister will be able to bring us up to date on at least some of these in his reply. First, in the event of no deal, is it still the case that between 50% and 85% of trucks on the Dover-Calais route are not ready for French customs, despite the work that has been done on the Calais port facilities? That was what Yellowhammer said. Is it still the case that it could take three months to sort this out between Dover and Calais, meaning in the interim that a truck could expect to be delayed by between one and a half and two and a half days on that route?

I read in the paper this morning, rather contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, said, that the chief executive of Dover had said that a no-deal situation would cost Dover £1 billion a week. That did not seem to me to be too optimistic about what no deal would mean. These are key factors in our future trade relationship with the European Union. Yellowhammer said there was a need for an agricultural food supply chain. Is that yet in place? If so, what is it and how will it work? Perhaps we can be told about that.

Shifting away from trade for a moment, in the event of Brexit UK citizens will lose their EU citizenship and access to services such as free emergency healthcare in other countries. What arrangements are being made to protect and advise British citizens in those circumstances? Is anything being planned? Can anything be done? What steps are being taken to limit expected rises in food prices in the event of no deal—rises that will impact particularly on the poorer sections of our society? Finally—this is perhaps an issue that has not been addressed in recent debates in this House—how can we stop clashes at sea between UK and EU fishermen if existing arrangements on respective shares of the channel, the North Sea and the Irish Sea lapse with nothing to replace them? We know that some fishing fleets are staffed by pretty excitable people in some countries, probably including parts of the UK.

As others have said, we are hearing a lot this week about “Get Brexit Done”, but my brief list of questions—there are many others, not least on the Irish situation, which I could easily have quoted—shows just how difficult a no-deal Brexit would be. As others have said, 31 October will not be the end, or even the beginning of the end; it will be merely the start of a tortuous negotiation that will take years, given the accusations and bad faith that will cloud it from the start and the poison in relationships that will develop from any no-deal situation. Does the Minister accept that that could be the case, and can he provide us with any enlightenment on progress, or the lack of it, since Operation Yellowhammer and on what a no-deal Brexit would really mean?