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Brexit - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:04 am on 19th October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Reid of Cardowan Lord Reid of Cardowan Labour 11:04 am, 19th October 2019

My Lords, the House may not be surprised to know that I have not read every one of the almost 600 pages of this agreement this morning. I am not sure that it would have helped. I am reminded of Woody Allen saying: “I have been learning speed reading. I have just read War and Peace; it is about Russia”. However, I know enough to know that this is a bad deal. It is worse than remain and worse than Theresa May’s deal.

I will make three simple points. First, it will leave this country much weaker economically. Even on the Government’s own projections, made last year, a deal such as this will mean that, in 15 years’ time, we will be £130 billion worse off in GDP than we would have been had we remained. It is also worse than Theresa May’s deal, resulting in three times the reduction in national income than the deal she provided. This is not just a matter of graphs on an economist’s wall. This affects the prosperity of every citizen of this country, each of whom will be £2,250 worse off. That is a bad move, but it is a disaster because it will affect the poorest families most.

Secondly, it adds a threat to the stability of this United Kingdom. Speaking in this House on 3 July, I said that I was already worried that, for the first time in my lifetime, we were marching towards the prospect of the break-up of Britain. I see nothing in this deal that assuages my concerns. Indeed, the special provisions for Northern Ireland are likely to enhance those concerns in Scotland. I am sorry that the DUP Members are not in their seats today, because they have played such a role over the last year or two. Despite the assurances that I hear on Northern Ireland, I accept the judgment of two Prime Ministers—Blair and Major, who did more than anyone else to end an 800-year conflict on the island of Ireland—who have warned about instability. I accept their judgment far more than that of the present Prime Minister, who famously said that the consequences of the border in Ireland were no greater than moving from Camden to Islington. What ignorance that is of the history, culture and sentiment of the people of that Province to come from a British Prime Minister.

On those two aspects, I think that we are much worse off with this deal. I suggest that those who say we could rely on being bailed out economically and in Northern Ireland by our allies—particularly by the President of the United States, because he is a reliable man when he pledges his word—should have a word with the Kurds and perhaps decide to reflect on that.

My third point is one which is rarely mentioned: the strategic challenges which will face this country over the coming years. The world has changed dramatically, despite the post-imperial delusions of the Little Englanders who think we can do what we did 300 years ago. We now live in a world where multinational companies cross borders; where migration knows no borders; where cyber, by definition, is worldwide—it is the world wide web; where all global finance and commerce crosses borders; and where the environment does not recognise territorial distinctions. If we isolate ourselves from a large power bloc such as the European Union, we will be much less influential in the world.

In short, this deal will leave this country more impoverished, its citizens less well off; as a United Kingdom, we will be less united, and as a nation state, we will be less influential. That does not seem to me a great new deal. I do not know what will happen in the House of Commons today. I have difficulty understanding today’s politics: when my friend Jeremy is a potential Prime Minister and Boris is the actual Prime Minister, anything is possible. However, I know one thing: it will not be done today, as the right reverend Prelate said. There is a rocky road ahead of us for years, with sacrifices, negotiations, implementations, compromises and so on. We do not know the final destination, but at least the route is now clear. Because the route is now clear, in a way that it was not three years ago, we should put whatever solution we pass in this Parliament to the people. They have that right and we should do it.