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Brexit - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:52 pm on 19th October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Birt Lord Birt Crossbench 12:52 pm, 19th October 2019

My Lords, I am as nervous as I ever have been about the consequences of Brexit for our economy and our union. If there is a pathway to a further referendum, I will take it. But, if there is to be a choice between this deal and no deal—and I am fearful that that now is the choice—I will choose this deal, for it satisfies the key demands of those who, unlike me, voted to leave: ending freedom of movement, reclaiming the right to forge bespoke trade deals around the world, and eliminating the jurisdiction of the ECJ.

More positively, the political declaration offers, in notably generous language, the prospect of a speedily negotiated deal with our closest neighbours and the world’s most powerful economic bloc, with the prospect of an agreement in place in a little over 12 months’ time. The scope of that potential deal set out in the political declaration is wide. It offers the prospect of free trade, with no tariffs or quotas; regulatory equivalence for the City; free movement of capital; data transfer; air connectivity; a continuing interconnection of power supply; mutuality in public procurement; co-operation on nuclear; a partnership on security and cybersecurity, and on crime, defence and intelligence. Someone once quipped that the British were only ever half in Europe. In future, we may in practice be only half out. That is my hope.

The backstop in the previous deal raised justifiable constitutional concerns. This deal delivers no hard border in Ireland and allows Northern Ireland to participate in both the UK and the EU customs unions—welcome news indeed for Northern Ireland’s unsettled business community. Checking goods in transit from the UK mainland to the Republic via Northern Ireland seems an insignificant price to pay for such an arrangement. If Northern Ireland does not want to pay that price, it can, by a majority unavoidably now involving both communities, withdraw its consent—although I cannot conceive why it ever should.

The objection that this deal will reduce labour and other standards appears to me to be weak. The political declaration is emphatic about the UK signing up to a level playing field of standards, and of not seeking unfair trading advantage. Moreover, future Governments of whatever party will be free to legislate on these matters, if and when they choose.

I would far rather remain in the European Union; that is the best deal of all. However, if we are to leave, embracing this deal offers at least the prospect of a fruitful and healthy future relationship with our closest neighbours. Rejecting the deal risks damaging that relationship even further, and risks a further descent into ever more torrid political chaos, with incalculable consequences.

I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. It is now time to decide. It is now time to jump.