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Brexit - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:10 am on 19th October 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Ludford Baroness Ludford Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union) 11:10 am, 19th October 2019

My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Reid; I agreed with every word. I found the opening remarks of the noble Baroness, the Leader of the House, somewhat perplexing. She reproached those of us arguing against Brexit for not arguing for a federal Europe. The clue is in the name: “remain”. We just want the status quo, not to expand or change our existing terms of membership.

I agree with Tony Blair—not something I used to say. He rightly says that the Government are using the,

“sentiment of ‘let’s get it done, let’s get it over with, end the agony’, to sweep away proper scrutiny of what is a profoundly bad deal for our country”.

Tony Blair is right that:

“You don’t take a decision of destiny through a spasm of impatience”.

Boris Johnson had previously damned the division of Northern Ireland and Great Britain through regulatory checks and customs controls down the Irish Sea, declaring that:

“No British Conservative government could or should sign up to any such arrangement”.

Now, he says that this is a fantastic arrangement. It is a looking-glass world. Can the Minister, in winding up, clarify how these arrangements comply with Section 55 of the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018, which makes it unlawful for the Government to enter into arrangements whereby Northern Ireland forms part of a separate customs territory from Great Britain?

It is astonishing that the Chancellor refuses to give us a new economic analysis, but both government and independent figures suggest that every household will be around £2,000 worse off than even under Theresa May’s version—a drop of 6% or 7% in GDP. The weaker Canada -minus trade relationship that this Government envisages, compared with Mrs May’s association agreement, will worsen that prospect. The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, told Radio 4 yesterday that access to the customs union and single market would be good for Northern Ireland’s economic stability and security. Excellent. So why is such access being torn away from England, Scotland and Wales? It would be good for us too. Instead, the Government want to cut the rest of the UK adrift from the continental internal market. This does not honour the heritage of Mrs Thatcher.

Hard Brexiters are being encouraged to vote for the Johnson deal with a nod and a wink that it will still allow a no-deal crash-out next year, leading former Chancellor Philip Hammond to write that he would not be,

“duped into voting for a heavily camouflaged no-deal at the end of 2020”.

Quite right. The Government’s plan for a much looser trading relationship gives far greater scope for divergence, with no reference to dynamic alignment with EU rules or a level playing field arrangement. This means no guarantees for employment rights or environmental and food standards. I am really not sure how any progressive politician could vote for this deal.

As for the promise of slashing red tape, being outside the customs union and the single market will bring a cost, time burden and job losses for British businesses. My noble friend Lord Newby talked about rules of origin and the devastation for the car industry. In Northern Ireland, the need to juggle two customs, regulatory and VAT regimes for trade will be onerous. For consumers, there is the loss of pet passports, recognition of driving licences, free roaming or free emergency healthcare under the EHIC card—they are all being torn away. It is more bureaucracy, more administration and no slashing of red tape.

The noble Baroness, the Leader of the House, spoke of the wonderful prospect of international trade deals. President Trump has just imposed a 25% tariff on imports of single malt whisky. Smaller independent whisky producers risk having their “feet taken out from under them”, as one said. Compare this with how the EU has used its clout to lever open markets for Scotch whisky in Asia that were previously heavily protected by tariff walls. We cannot trust President Trump.

From the loss of free movement rights to the impact of weaker cross-border law enforcement arrangements with loss of access to key EU security tools, this is a bad deal. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds said, we need humility, not hubris. The people must have the final say.