Brexit: Preparations - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:40 pm on 8th October 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 3:40 pm, 8th October 2019

I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement which, despite what we hear from sources at No. 10, claims,

“the strong desire of this Government to leave the EU with a deal”.

It is now 76 days since Mr Johnson became Prime Minister and 23 days until 31 October, but he has failed to get a deal: a failure that he said, and for which he would share responsibility, would represent “a failure of statecraft”. So, we have no deal, but is that the fault of the Prime Minister and his incompetence? Oh no, it is the fault of those pesky Europeans; it is the fault of the unbending Irish; it is the fault of Mrs Merkel; it is the fault of those pesky parliamentarians; and it is probably the fault of your Lordships’ House. But the truth, as we now know from the ever-helpful Spectator, is that there is no desire for a deal. It is all a ruse.

The Government are spending taxpayers’ money on advertisements to promote the 31 October date and the notion that we will leave on that day even though it would be unlawful without the consent of the House of Commons. The ads and the endless repetition of the date are all to absolve this incompetent Prime Minister of his failure, and it is all about preparing for an election where he can blame everyone but himself for our continued membership. But at what cost? What would be the cost of that much-trailed no deal? The IFS says £150 billion a year for business in administration alone, while the Government themselves are spending £8 billion to soften the blow. Then there are the tariffs to be paid by exporters, consumers and some importers—although not on Argentinian wine or New Zealand honey, which are not very high on the ordinary person’s shopping list. We will see higher food prices for consumers and the ending of pet passports. I am not making this up. It is all in the misnamed document I have in my hand. This is called “readiness”, despite what we hear from Ireland, from farmers, manufacturers, exporters, road hauliers, expats, medics and small businesses—that we are woefully unready. Indeed, it makes Ethelred the Unready seem extraordinarily well prepared.

Tariffs would hit us three weeks on Friday with an immediate impact on availability and prices. UK citizens abroad would lose some of their rights, while traffic congestion near Dover would make Parliament Square look like an open space. Moreover, with no adequacy agreement, any firm without an appropriate contract would lose data flow rights while the European arrest warrant would end. I say again: three weeks on Friday. Small businesses, hit by customs declarations for the first time, will be stymied in their work, and it is clear that the Government, despite this Statement, simply do not want a deal and are playing with people’s livelihoods. As Mr Tusk writes,

“what’s at stake is not winning some stupid … game. At stake is the future of Europe and the UK as well as the security and interests of our people”.

Speaking to the Prime Minister, he says:

“You don’t want a deal … you don’t want an extension”.

That says it all. The Deputy Prime Minister of Ireland agrees with the Tusk statement, which she says,

“reflects the frustration across EU and the enormity of what’s at stake … We remain open to finalize a fair #Brexit deal but need a UK Govt willing to work with EU to get it done”.

We are pleased that the Government have published this document. However, let us be clear: we on this side of the House—I probably speak for the whole House, not just this side—will do everything in our power to ensure that the no-deal nightmare does not come to pass.

I have only two questions for the Minister. First, does he really think that his Government will be thanked for taking the UK out of the European Union in this way? Secondly, does he think that the EU will help us to find a way forward when Leave.EU tweets over a picture of Mrs Merkel today the words:

“We didn’t win two world wars to be pushed around by a kraut”?

Is the Minister as embarrassed by that as I am?