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My Lords, I draw attention to my interests as recorded in the register. Later today, when we have finished here, some noble Lords may go home and watch “Strictly Come Dancing”. Those who are familiar with ballroom dancing will know what step it is when you take one step forward, two steps sideways and two steps back. That is what we are presented with. The step forward is that under the new backstop arrangement relating to Northern Ireland, there is an exit clause. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, asked, “What is the difference and why are some of my Conservative colleagues voting for this deal when previously they opposed Theresa May’s deal?” At the heart of that is that the backstop, as previously proposed, had no way out, once one was in it, without EU consent. So that is a step forward. The step sideways is that this backstop relates only to Northern Ireland, not to the United Kingdom. I shall come back to the consequences of that.
Of the two steps back, the first seems to be the distance that will be created between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the potential for regulatory divergence. The second is the extent to which we will potentially leave without continuing institutional relationships such as a customs union or the single market. We are moving further away from what many voters in Scotland thought they were voting for and the risks to the union have been exacerbated, as has been mentioned several times in the debate. So those are steps backwards.
Another step back is that, not least as a consequence of focusing only on Northern Ireland and the backstop, we have removed what was previously, in effect, the benchmark for looking at the future relationship between ourselves and the European Union. I am staggered that, three years down the line, we know less about what that future relationship will look like than we did two years ago. How have we arrived at that point? Article 50 itself says that the withdrawal agreement should be negotiated in combination with the future relationship. It was a central failure of the Article 50 process that the European Union institutions were allowed to separate the withdrawal agreement from the future relationship.
My main point today is that we have an opportunity, in the days ahead—or, if not in the days ahead, in the weeks ahead—quite literally to put clearly on the statute book Parliament’s view about what the future relationship should look like. Indeed, in an hour or so, those at the other end of the building may determine that the withdrawal Act should specify more of that and enable the decision on the withdrawal agreement to be made in the light of what the future relationship should look like. I do not need to go through the whole list of the aspects of that that are important, but, for example, when the noble Lord, Lord Newby, talked about the risks to the automotive industry, I sat there thinking, “There won’t be tariffs. We can be pretty sure that we could arrive at a free trade agreement with zero tariffs or quotas on cars between ourselves and the European Union”.
However, what really matters are rules of origin. What really matters is that we get a free trade agreement that allows a cumulation of rules of origin such that there is a supply chain for Nissan in the United Kingdom in which UK content can be treated as EU content, and vice versa. That was part of Theresa May’s deal, but it has disappeared. Because the backstop will no longer apply under any circumstances in Great Britain, we will no longer have that benchmark and the political declaration no longer says that we should build on it for the future. So there is a risk that there would be no obstacle to leaving other than on WTO terms. In the days ahead, we must ensure that, under the withdrawal Act, we are very clear about the many objectives that should form part of the mandate for those future negotiations.