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Brexit - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:15 pm on 19th October 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 3:15 pm, 19th October 2019

My Lords, we may not have had the excitement of the vote at the other end, but this debate has showcased this House at its very best in the quality of the speeches and the sheer scope and depth of experience. We heard from a trade union leader; a filmmaker; a former Lord Chancellor; a former Lord Chief Justice; permanent secretaries; journalists; three Earls, two Viscounts and a Duke; a plethora of senior politicians, including half a dozen former Conservative Cabinet Ministers; notable leaders from entertainment, charities and business; and a Bishop, academics and lawyers. They know of what they speak. They have tentacles into these worlds and a real grasp of the demands and working of the myriad services, industries and enterprises that create the wealth and well-being of this country.

What your Lordships have overwhelmingly said is that this deal is bad for the economy, bad for living standard, bad for citizens, consumers, and workers, bad for the environment, peace and security—and, crucially, bad for our union, the United Kingdom. It is notable that many of those arguing the contrary gave reasons such as, “It’s time”, “We need to get on with it” or “This has taken long enough”, or they spoke of “ending uncertainty” and “fatigue”. Hardly any said that it is a good deal.

The Government’s aim for our future is to end the level playing field and our close relationship with the EU. As my noble friend Lady Smith indicated, paragraph 25 of the original political declaration, which committed the UK to considering regulatory alignment with the EU, has simply disappeared. Similarly, legally binding commitments, including the non-regression clauses, have been erased from the withdrawal agreement, along with the other items outlined by my noble friend Lord Liddle.

It is clear that this new, “true blue” deal is all about deregulation. That is presumably why the ERG is now supportive, as my noble friend Lord Whitty suggested. Business has never called for deregulation; most industries want a level playing field, otherwise they themselves can be undercut by cheap competitors either here or elsewhere in the world. The undercutting is always about standards and quality, paid for by consumers, employees or the environment that we leave for our children.

We should heed the warning from the Food and Drink Federation that this deal is,

“a backward step in terms of … frictionless trade with the EU. It also sets us on course for regulatory divergence from our largest overseas market on … food safety … and quality”,

which will,

“increase costs for businesses and consumers”.

No business wants more red tape, which rules of origin mandate. Indeed, I am afraid it is more like purple tape, with the blood and sweat that tend to go into complying with those requirements, even assuming their particular components meet the 51% rule.

We also do not want deals that not only sell our workers or consumers short but fail to promote human rights in other countries. The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, spoke of this a few days ago, and warned us not to forget it,

“in the rush to make new trade agreements”.—[Official Report, 3/10/19; col. 1869.]

This is not a people’s deal. With the end of free movement, we lose some long-established rights. The unenforceable political declaration talks about,

“visa-free travel for short-term visits”,

but obviously not to work or to stay. It says only that it will “explore the possibility” of facilitating cross-border travel, while consideration will be given to addressing car travel across borders—presumably a reference to whether our driving licences will be valid. Meanwhile, for separated families there is only the promise to “explore” possible judicial co-operation over matrimonial and parental responsibility matters.

Crucially, even the positive aspirations in the political declaration are non-enforceable. Indeed, perhaps they are not meant to be enforced, with John Baron MP, having been reassured that if the trade deals are not successful by December 2020 we could leave on no-deal terms. Those extreme Brexiteers might still get their way, unless we include our aspirations for the future relationship as binding commitments in the withdrawal agreement Bill—effectively, the negotiating mandate or the objectives for the talks along the lines suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley.

We cannot support this deal, with its lack of guarantees, absence of an economic impact assessment, inadequate time to scrutinise, undermining of the UK’s single market by having differential VAT and tariffs between Northern Ireland and the rest of our single market, and its agenda for deregulation and the loss of rights and protections. But there are other questions that must be answered about its ratification under the CRaG Act by 31 October. Indeed, that itself is a manufactured date linked to the Prime Minister’s political credibility and his election plans, rather than for the good of the country. But perhaps now that the Letwin amendment has been passed, it might give us a breathing space to at least do some of the due diligence for which your Lordships’ House is so renowned.

Even if agreed, the deal would have only a really short transition period—14 rather than 24 months in which to negotiate the future relationship, which, I am told, takes years not months, and then to give ports, businesses, retailers, suppliers, HMRC, citizens, farmers and everyone else time to implement whatever new agreement is made. Although I have to say, given the Government’s disastrous record in reaching agreements, they will probably forget that others need time to then make the necessary adjustments.

Who knows how the withdrawal deal will be overseen via the Joint Committee, or how its appeal system will work? These questions have been posed by my noble and learned friend Lord Goldsmith and by the EU Committee, as raised by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, today—unanswered at the time and since, yet vital for the role of Parliament on this and on any trade deal.

The costs of withdrawal are high and serious, making,

“the country substantially poorer than it would otherwise be”,

and, as yesterday’s FT said, with, “immense … constitutional implications”, which:

“In any normally functioning democracy ... would be subject to extensive parliamentary scrutiny—if not a confirmatory vote by the ... public”.

There are at this moment tens of thousands of people outside here demanding such a confirmatory vote.

Jacob Rees-Mogg described the referendum as a “joyful decision”. Perhaps it was, for those with money, savings, an expensive education and the financial resilience to weather short-term storms. But for those whose jobs are on the line, those in Northern Ireland who will see a dotted line between them and Great Britain, consumers offered lower-quality goods with reduced redress when things go wrong or dearer food for their growing families, and manufacturers coping with expensive component imports, tariffs on their exported goods and complicated rules of origin procedures, this might not feel like a joyful decision.

The huge decision today is not ours to take. It is, rightly, for the Commons, rather than the Government, and for MPs who represent their constituents and who are answerable through the ballot box. However, the real decision—should the Commons vote yes—should be for every elector, for it is not MPs but they who must live with that final decision, and so they should take responsibility for it. Nothing will quickly heal the division that Brexit has brought to our nation, but a parliamentary decision to sear our relations with the EU in such a way as that proposed in this deal would certainly not heal the division.

We believe that this proposal has fatal flaws, and that we should have the opportunity to take that view to the people, for them to decide whether it is worth the risk to all of our futures, especially for those generations still too young to vote.