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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 Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 3:40 pm, 8th October 2019

My Lords, it is very difficult to know how much of this Statement to believe. It says that the Government still think that there is a chance of no deal. The text from No. 10 from last night—which the Spectator has now published—suggests that people with influence inside No. 10 have clearly entirely given up on the idea of a deal and are moving towards an election, so we have to treat this as the beginning of a series of election statements.

The statement that we will leave with no deal if necessary is a statement that the Government will defy the law. That is also an interesting statement for the Government to make to Parliament at this point. I note that, among other things, last night’s text says:

“To marginalise the Brexit Party, we will have to fight the election on the basis of ‘no more delays, get Brexit done immediately’”.

If that is what the national interest has come down to, we are all in deep trouble. Dominic Cummings appears to text as madly and prolifically as Donald Trump tweets.

There are a number of other fantasies in the text. However, I would like to start by pressing the Minister a little more on the fantasy that he gave us yesterday in suggesting that one could have production with different standards for the domestic and export markets. I am not sure whether the Government have had any discussions with any industrial sectors about having separate production lines. Perhaps they could tell us. We know very well that cross-contamination makes that sort of thing very difficult indeed in the food industry. The pharmaceutical industry depends on global markets, global standards and global research efforts. It will cease production in Britain if we start doing things like that. Non-tariff barriers produced by the British at different standards might also get us into trouble with the World Trade Organization.

If and when we leave the European Union, we will become “an independent trading country” again—as the Statement says—but we will not become an entirely independent economy. We depend very heavily on multinational companies which produce and invest in this country. If they cease doing so, we will all be poorer.

The Statement congratulates the automotive industry on how well prepared it is. What preparations is it making? It is closing plants for periods and reducing plans to build new models in this country. I remember a representative of the automotive sector saying to me in a briefing some weeks ago that it is now impossible to justify new investment in this country. That is the sort of preparation that it is making. This will make us and our children poorer over a longer period.

Another fantasy is that the World Trade Organization will be a major gain for Britain because we will have our own seat; this does not accept the deep crisis within the WTO which the United States has itself created. There is a failure to recognise that between the referendum three years ago and now there has been a downturn in the world economy, a protectionist turn in US policy and a trade conflict between the US and China, which makes the international context in which we manage the British economy much more difficult.

No form of Brexit offers comparable benefits to staying in the EU. That is what, after three years of discussions, the Government have discovered. As a result, the Government are not saying, “Now that we have been through all this, we need to modify our position”. They are saying, “Now that we have been through all this, we need to mitigate the disaster we are committing the country to”. This is a betrayal of Margaret Thatcher’s legacy. She pushed through the European single market as a major exercise in globalisation and deregulation by having common standards in one of the biggest markets in the world. The Government are now retreating to the idea that we will have our own little standards in a much smaller and weaker economy.

There have been all these comments about “vast financial contributions” to the EU budget. As I recall—since we are one of the richer countries and a major contributor—these are said to be £9 billion per year. Well, so far, we have spent £8 billion on the additional costs of leaving, and we have not yet begun to calculate the costs that we will incur from having to replace the shared agencies and facilities to which we have contributed as part of the EU with separate, national facilities. I mentioned yesterday the Joint European Torus in Culham; this is to become a national facility for which, I assume, the British Government will in future pay all the costs rather than a contribution towards shared costs. That is the sort of new cost that we will be developing.

When it comes to Britain in the world, where is British foreign policy? There is no sense of where Britain goes. This is a Vote Leave Government, not a Conservative Government. So much in this Statement seems to be without any foundation whatever. Lastly, it says there will be “damage to democracy” from “dishonouring” the referendum result. After the referendum, our current Prime Minister published an article in the Telegraph saying that there was no question that we had to leave the single market. He has changed his mind. Is it not time the Government changed their mind?