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Brexit - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:02 pm on 19th October 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Falkner of Margravine Baroness Falkner of Margravine Liberal Democrat 2:02 pm, 19th October 2019

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the speeches of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson of Winterbourne. They both bring first-hand experience of the European institutions; I only wish more people who had served in Europe could make those points.

My points are very simple; I will make just three. I would like to rebut the arguments that some noble Lords have put forward regarding the economic impact of this agreement. What should alarm the House, and will cause alarm around the country, is the certainty with which noble Lords assert that in X years’ time— perhaps five, perhaps 10—the damage to households will be exactly £2,000, £3,000 or whatever. When they say that, they must know that it is impossible to economically model at that level of certainty and detail events that are, first, yet to happen and, secondly, unpredictable. There are too many variables in open, capitalist, global economies to be able to model with that level of accuracy.

I will give noble Lords an example. Two years ago, no German car maker could have imagined that Germany, the country with the biggest current account and trading surplus in the EU, would be tipping into a recession this quarter, not because of anything that the German Government or the EU have done, but due to Mr Trump and Mr Xi Jinping’s trade war with each other. I beseech noble Lords to stick to what they can support with evidence, rather than speculating on things that simply cannot be based on verifiable or acceptable methodology.

My second point relates to the people’s choice argument. I urge this House to reflect on the implications of saying that people did not know what they were voting for. Cannot the SNP legitimately use that argument for yet another referendum on Scottish independence? It is borne out by credible surveys that people were clear on what they were voting for. Alas, they were voting to leave.

That argument also undermines a more subtle case for democracy. When people go to the ballot box in an election, they do not know how a Government will come about. They do not know how the Government will implement a pledge. In fact, as 2010 showed, they do not even know which Government they will get. Every election is uncertain until 10 pm on the night. People did not know in 2010 that voting Liberal Democrat would result in high tuition fees, but that happened. They did not know that it would result in a fixed-term Parliament and that their constitutional arrangements would be significantly changed, but that happened.

To look to a third referendum to resolve this crisis is to look in the wrong place. If we must test public opinion, then test it through a general election. Labour should be grabbing that opportunity with both hands, if they truly believe that they are the party that will be able to retain labour and environmental standards. But such is their fear of the ballot box that they will not go there.

My final point is to do with what comes if and after this deal is passed. Noble Lords have thrown all manner of things into the debate that have nothing to do with it, such as chlorinated chicken. It is also asserted that we will take years to resolve a new relationship with the EU. On both points, the withdrawal agreement makes provision for the extension of the transition period. That transition period is a standstill period and nothing will change other than that the EU and the UK will negotiate for the future free trade agreement. Should sufficient progress not be made by June 2020, an extension can be agreed for a further two years—effectively until December 2022. That surely would give sufficient time to complete an FTA when we are starting from a completely equivalent state of regulatory alignment.

Those who want greater time for scrutiny are right. We should examine every line of every measure that comes before us as we go forward, but go forward we must.