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Brexit: Preparations - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:55 pm on 21st 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 6:55 pm, 21st October 2019

I thank the Minister, back again after his long stint on Saturday—and no doubt looking forward to the XO committee, which I believe he serves on, meeting seven days a week—for repeating the Statement.

However, I have to question the underlying assumption, and indeed perhaps even the legality, of these preparations. If Mr Gove is so confident that we will leave on 31 October with a deal, how come he lacks the confidence to put Yellowhammer aside? More importantly, why are the Government continuing to work against the decision of the Commons? He surely does not actually think we will not get an extension from the EU.

On Saturday, the Minister attempted to throw back at me the claim I had made that,

“there is no desire for a deal. It is all a ruse”,—[Official Report, 19/10/19; col. 360.] by saying—and I paraphrase—“Aha! Here we are: we’ve got a deal”. The truth is that, for all the claims that the withdrawal deal was miraculously reopened by the brilliance of the Prime Minister’s negotiating skills, not only was it reopened only to make it worse and to add a new tariff, VAT and standards border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain—as the Statement says, posing “unique challenges” to Northern Ireland, as well as the possibility of direct rule—but it actually is a ruse. The Government are continuing to plan for a no-deal outcome; if not next Thursday, I think that is what the Government contemplate for the end of 2020. No wonder the Government are still determined to be ready for no deal. It is not simply the legal default; it is becoming clear that it is the desired outcome.

For all the talk of providing certainty, especially for business, this continued no-deal work is unsettling the financial, manufacturing, agricultural and service sectors. As Ian Wright of the Food and Drink Federation said, while we might all be “exhausted” by Brexit, this does not,

“mean we sleepwalk into mistakes that will haunt the UK economy for a generation … The most urgent priority for the … industry has been to prevent a no-deal exit”.

He also pleads for sufficient time in the implementation period after the legislation,

“for businesses to fully adapt”,

warning of,

“the damaging loss of frictionless trade and regulatory divergence with the EU that the new deal heralds”.

Similarly, on Saturday my honourable friend Madeleine Moon MP reported:

“Ford is leaving Bridgend, where it has 1,700 jobs—with 12,000 jobs across the south Wales economy—because it was worried about a no-deal Brexit”.—[Official Report, Commons, 19/10/19; col. 615.]

She also fears that even the new deal risks the end of just-in-time manufacturing. What are we doing preparing for an outcome that could devastate our valleys, our industrial heartlands, jobs and the economy?

The pretence that we need to make urgent preparations for a no-deal exit, which the Commons has voted against, is all for show. I do not know whether other noble Lords were as angry as I was when, late on Saturday night, I read in the PM’s billet-doux to Donald Tusk of the,

“corrosive impact of the long delay in delivering”,

Brexit—as if it had nothing to do with him. Who was in Government and then resigned in July last year at the time of the Chequers deal? Who refused to support the original deal in November, causing further delay? Who has now manufactured the totem of 31 October as his own virility test, at enormous expense to Parliament’s ability to scrutinise legislation, business’s ability to prepare and increased uncertainty? It was of course Boris Johnson, who has got what he wanted out of it: he is now Prime Minister. It is now time that, as Prime Minister, he put the national interest first. He should put aside this shroud-waving of 31 October and Yellowhammer and turn his attention to ensuring that the UK’s trading links with the EU are strengthened, that such trade is frictionless as well as growing, and that UK citizens across the EU can have some certainty about their future.

Before I finish, I want to say two positive things. There is one really welcome statement in what we have just heard: that the Commons will be involved in agreeing the mandate for negotiations on our future partnership arrangements with the EU—effectively, I think, the Monks-Lea amendment that we put to the 2018 Bill, and which sadly did not survive in the Commons, and the Trade Bill amendment passed in your Lordships’ House. We have yet to see the withdrawal agreement Bill; we will see it later this evening. If, once we have seen it, that commitment to the prior approval of the negotiating mandate is included in the Bill, we on this side will at least cheer that.

I absolutely concur with what the Minister said on behalf of the other House, and what we should also say here, about the incredible work across the House to enable us to meet on Saturday. If I heard my noble friend right earlier, I fear that they may be requested to do it again, in which case it may have to be a “please” as well as a “thank you”.