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Brexit: Negotiations - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:28 pm on 3rd October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench 4:28 pm, 3rd October 2019

That is, with respect, no answer to the noble Baroness’s question. Her question was this: supposing, four years down the line in this endless cycle of economic and political uncertainty—very dangerous to the Northern Ireland situation—that Northern Ireland said that it did not want this, what would happen then? It is not clear. Is the EU to be told that it may not have the particular standard or regulation because a province of a country that is outside the EU does not like it? It seems an implausible proposition to put to the EU.

I think that we are at a rather solemn moment here. We are formally resiling from our 2017 commitment to full regulatory alignment now and in future on anything that might affect the peace process and the all-Ireland economy. We are formally resiling from our 2018 commitment to a future economic partnership based on a level playing field and common standards for environment, employment and social standards. We are deliberately tearing it up and highlighting that in the letter that we have sent to the President of the Commission.

On the first point, I have nothing more to add to what the noble Lord, Lord Hain, has said on Northern Ireland. It seems to me that he is absolutely correct. I would only say that I think that the corrosive effect on the Northern Ireland political situation of the continuing uncertainty of this four-year cycle is bound to be damaging. I note that all elements in Northern Ireland—business or political, apart from the DUP—appear to be of the same view.

My view is that, in Brussels, more attention will be given to the abolition of the level-playing-field commitment. I think they will conclude, rightly or wrongly, that we intend to challenge them by going for lower standards and deregulation, and I think that they will find that extremely alarming. I heard the Prime Minister’s Statement. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, is completely correct: the Prime Minister said that checks in the Irish Sea would be one way. In other words, he implied that standards in the UK would be below those in the European Union and applied in Northern Ireland.

I have four questions to ask the Minister. First, does she recognise how this would increase the difficulty of concluding, some years hence, even a bare-bones, Canada-style free trade agreement with the European Union? Does she recognise the likely effect on market access to our largest market for our services exports, which are our biggest exports? Secondly, how will trade deals with third countries work, given that the applicable standards for UK imports will differ depending on the final destination in the UK? Thirdly, does the Minister believe that the European Parliament and this Parliament could conceivably agree by 31 October to ratify a treaty based on these proposals? Fourthly, if not, what do the Government intend to do?