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Brexit - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:07 pm on 19th October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Blackwell Lord Blackwell Conservative 2:07 pm, 19th October 2019

My Lords, I draw attention to my business interests in the register, but of course, as always, I speak in a personal capacity. I will not revisit arguments that many have rehearsed about whether Brexit was the right decision. That decision has been taken. The issue now is how we move forward. I simply remind noble Peers that, for many, that decision was not simply a crude calculation of short-term economic interests. It was about the wider question of whether the UK was comfortable within the institutional and legal framework of an increasingly integrated and eurozone-dominated European Union as defined by the Lisbon treaty.

Having reached this stage, I believe the most important thing now for both the business community and the country at large is to end as quickly as possible the uncertainty which, as my noble friend Lady Harding said, is doing so much damage to the economy and the business community. Instead, we need to restore confidence in our potential as a country to build a prosperous future as an outward-looking, global trading nation.

Some have argued that, from one perspective or another, this is not the perfect deal. But, with differing objectives, it is inevitable that any agreement has to involve compromise by all sides. I remind the House that this is simply the withdrawal agreement, creating the temporary arrangements under which the much more important terms of our long-term relationship can be agreed. It is time for Parliament and the country to move on to focusing on building that future. I believe we should do so with confidence and optimism about the long-term prospects for the United Kingdom.

The fact is, as my noble friend Lady Nicholson set out, we have tremendous advantages as a nation in taking advantage of the emerging economic and technological forces shaping the world. These are not only the long-standing advantages we have as a global centre from our language, culture, legal system and, yes, political stability. These remain potent attractions for global business and global investment, but we also benefit from the skills and innovation that we have built in the growing high technology sectors—software, fintech, biotech—supported by world-leading universities and a flexible, resilient workforce that has proven its ability to adapt to change. The same is true of many of the other high-value service sectors, which are increasingly the dominant driver of the economy. This creativity and global reach is evident in the success of our arts and media, in the professional services, and in the financial services and the City of London.

Without diminishing the importance of manufacturing and trade in goods to any economy, it is our competitive advantage in these growing high-value service sectors which should give us grounds to be optimistic about our future. However, to allow all parts of the economy to move forward, invest and flourish, we need to end the debilitating impact of uncertainty as quickly as possible, and foster that spirit of confidence and optimism. Therefore, we should now be turning our attention beyond the withdrawal agreement to the more important arrangements for our future relationship with Europe, which will be negotiated over the coming year. I am encouraged that the political declaration sets out the objective of achieving a relationship for an independent UK which fosters continuing trade and co-operation with the European Union. For manufacturers, it sets the objective of a free trade agreement with no tariffs or quantitative restrictions. However, for the reasons that I stated earlier, it is important that we now also pay attention to the arrangements for continued trade and access in services. One critical aspect of that in the political declaration is co-operation on data protection to allow the free flow of data between UK and EU entities, and, for the important financial services sector, the commitment to continue open access through an equivalence framework that nevertheless respects the autonomy of the UK and EU regulators.

It is time we moved forward. I look forward to a prosperous United Kingdom that continues to be a beacon of values in the world as an outward-looking global nation, a nation that we, our children and our grandchildren can be proud of. Let us put our divisions behind us and move on, to create that future together.