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Queen’s Speech - Debate (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:09 pm on 16th October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench 4:09 pm, 16th October 2019

I do not want to continue the battle of figures for too long but, of course, a large part of our trade with countries outside the European Union benefits enormously from the relationships which we, as a member of the European Union, have with those countries.

I was tempted to devote the whole of my contribution to the all-consuming topic of Brexit but I resisted that temptation. What is going on in north-east Syria and with the US’s green light to the Turkish military action there? However often it denies that it gave the green light, I am afraid that President Trump’s conversation with President Erdoğan and his subsequent tweet about the withdrawal of US troops was as green as green lights go. It was taken as such and quite a lot of people have now died as a consequence. It is not only a tragedy and a moral outrage; it also has serious negative consequences for our security and that of our European neighbours and partners. To play fast and loose with the handling of IS detainees and to destroy the one force that stood up for and shed its blood for our shared policies is not only morally reprehensible; it is, in policy terms, unconscionable.

I welcome the Government’s initiative at the UN to bring the matter before the Security Council and to state clearly there that we oppose Turkey’s actions. To its shame, the Security Council was struck by its usual paralysis when dealing with Syria and was unable to take any action. Now that the international opposition to what Turkey is doing has grown, is there not some scope for reverting to the UN Security Council and seeking agreement on action to stop this conflict and to bring about a ceasefire? Now that the US has adopted some—admittedly pretty inadequate—sanctions measures against Turkey, I would like the Minister, in replying to the debate, to let us know whether we too will go down that road, as surely we should. What is the scope of the decision taken by the EU earlier this week that its members would cease arms sales? I had a rather unsatisfactory exchange with the Minister yesterday because the words he used in his Statement were, as I described them, a little on the weaselly side. I hope we will hear that we will stop the sale of arms to Turkey and that the Minister will deal with these urgent questions, which need clear policy statements.

Turning to Brexit, I support and strongly endorse what the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, said about our policy of not attending European meetings. If I remember rightly, it was introduced in September—one of the greatest acts of bureaucratic vandalism that I have seen for a long time. Would the Minister be so good as to tell us one benefit that has accrued to this country as a result of that decision, apart from giving a lot of civil servants some more free time? I imagine that he and his colleagues would not consider that a benefit on the whole. Perhaps he could address that point.

In the current state of the negotiations, it would be pretty unwise to probe too deeply into the detail. I will not do so but here are one or two simple questions that I hope the Minister will be able to deal with when he replies to the debate. Do the Government now accept that, even if some sort of deal is struck by Friday this week with the European Council, there will necessarily have to be an extension of the Article 50 period to enable the processes of parliamentary approval on both sides to be completed and for the legislative processes necessary to bring our domestic law into line with any provisions in the deal to take place before we can ratify? Does he seriously believe that that can all happen before 31 October? If he says yes, I shall see whether his fingers are crossed behind his back.

Secondly, do the Government now recognise that any deal will require substantial changes in the deeply flawed proposals that they put on the table a little over a week ago, in particular with respect to the issue of consent by Stormont and the customs arrangements for trade within Ireland and between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK? It would be nice to be told that the negotiations are no longer in that place.

Thirdly, do the Government also recognise that their wish to junk the commitments to a level playing field that were in the political declaration will have serious consequences for our subsequent relationship with the European Union? By saying that we no longer wish to stay in step with it on regulatory issues and to continue to accept the work of Europe-wide rules-setting bodies, such as those for aviation safety, the environment, labour and other issues, we are raising issues of deep concern that go far beyond the current obsession with issues relating to Northern Ireland. The Government’s suggestion that a move in this direction, away from a level playing field, is designed to enable us to have higher standards has zero credibility. It is quite clear that it is designed to enable us to have lower standards.

The likelihood of any deal or agreement at this week’s European Council and what it might contain are, necessarily, a mystery. I fear that they will have to remain so at least until this Saturday’s emergency Session, if indeed that takes place. But what is no longer in doubt is that, in every area of policy, post-Brexit arrangements are either highly problematic—that certainly goes for the content of a UK-US trade agreement—or clearly less advantageous to us than the terms of our EU membership. That is the basis of the case for calling and holding a confirmatory referendum on any deal that may be struck or on leaving without a deal. The result of such a referendum would have to be accepted by all as binding on this occasion as it was not on the last one. It is the one way of cutting through to a real end game, not just bringing up the curtain on years of further negotiation in which the UK will hold very few cards. To those who assert that such a course of action would thwart the will of the people, I say this: well, you let this genie out of the bottle to settle an internal dispute within one party, which it evidently did not do. Why not join us now in putting that genie back into the bottle?