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Brexit - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:23 pm on 2nd October 2019.

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Photo of Viscount Trenchard Viscount Trenchard Conservative 8:23 pm, 2nd October 2019

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, although I regret that what I have to say will not be to his liking.

I thank my noble friend Lord Callanan for introducing this debate. I am not a lawyer, but I am surprised that the learned justices of the Supreme Court ruled as they did last week. It seems to me that they have changed the constitution by their decision that the Prime Minister’s use of his prerogative powers in advising Her Majesty the Queen to prorogue Parliament was justiciable, contrary to the opinion of the Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls. Their justification seems to be based on their opinion that the effect of prorogation upon the fundamentals of our democracy was extreme. However, prorogation reduced the number of sitting days by only three days from what was anyway scheduled. Furthermore, both your Lordships’ House and another place had clearly passed the decision on Brexit to the people to decide by referendum, promising to carry out their decision. I believe that those responsible for the passage of the surrender Act, and indeed the Cooper-Boles Act, have had a much more extreme effect on our democracy.

I agree with the Government that it would be much better to leave the European Union with an agreed deal, providing a transition period to the end of next year. However, those who have tried and continue to try to take no deal off the table have done the country a gross disservice by seriously weakening our negotiating position. I wholly agree with the Prime Minister that it is time to get Brexit done and move on. We have already postponed our departure from the EU twice, at considerable cost to businesses and unnecessarily prolonging uncertainty. The surrender Act significantly reduces the incentive for the EU negotiators to show flexibility in revising the withdrawal agreement to one that might find support in another place. I commend the work of the Alternative Arrangements Commission, whose report published in July has, I believe, assisted the Government in putting forward the very reasonable proposals put to Mr Juncker today.

I was in Japan earlier this month and was able to discuss the current situation with several senior politicians, civil servants and businesspeople. They are, of course, concerned about the potential disruption to trade between the UK and Europe. However, the Japanese Government very much want the UK to use its regained freedom in trade policy to accede to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. They want us as a member not only because we are the one country most likely to spur the United States to reconsider its decision to withdraw; they want us there in our own right as a G7 economy committed to furthering a global trading system based on competition and free markets, where nation states are free to adopt regulatory regimes that suit their own needs and priorities based on mutual recognition and equivalence of outcomes, rather than state-led harmonised regulation, with excessive reliance on the precautionary principle, as increasingly adopted by the EU.

Six of the 11 members of the TPP are Commonwealth countries, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Singapore, and the Governments of those countries have all also shown support for UK accession. The negotiations with Japan on an FTA and on the TPP could be a single-pocket negotiation. While shackled to the EU’s customs union and single market, we would not be able to join the TPP or enter into any other FTAs. I welcome the new Government’s policy of seeking a trading relationship with the EU which is as frictionless as possible, given our absolute requirement to be free to develop our independent trade policy.

I give the example of a major Japanese pharmaceutical company whose CEO I have known well for nearly 40 years. When Brexit came along, he was initially upset and disappointed; it has cost his company some $8 million to strengthen his EU-based companies and obtain the necessary licences from the European Medicines Agency, requiring some duplication with the group’s UK companies. Now he is confident, deal or no deal, that he can research, develop, manufacture and distribute medicines in the UK and in the EU 27. Now he wants the upside of Brexit. His expectation is that the UK will move to a more innovation-friendly regulatory system, which means divergence from EMA rules. He is confident that if the UK will do this, it can remain the best place in the world for a life sciences company such as his to research and develop new therapies and medicines. However, noble Lords opposite and, indeed, some of my noble friends are determined to ensure that if Brexit takes place at all, it should be only a very soft one whereby we remain under the EU’s trade policy control and have no say in new laws that it brings in as it moves to further harmonise and expand its competences at the expense of its member states. Your Lordships’ House has even passed an amendment to the Trade Bill to require continued adherence to EMA rules and oversight after Brexit.

There is no point at all in being half in and half out of the EU. I strongly believe that the way to maximise prosperity for our country and all its people in future decades will be to get Brexit done on 31 October, as the Prime Minister promises to do.