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European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:56 pm on 13th January 2020.

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Photo of Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate Conservative 7:56 pm, 13th January 2020

My Lords, my contribution this evening will be more about what is not in the Bill than what is in it. With so many speeches, I am bound to repeat what someone has said or will say. I also make it clear that I will be supporting the Second Reading of this Bill, respecting as I and many others do the Salisbury convention and the large majority in the elected Chamber. However, I have a track record as one of those involved in the preparation of what became Article 50 of the treaty of Lisbon. I remember moving an amendment in 2002 to oblige the EU to enter into a contemporaneous future trade agreement with a departing state. Had it passed, some of our present uncertainty regarding relations with our EU neighbours might be alleviated, but that is history. Although trade is important, what now concerns me most is the field of security and law enforcement; it is on this that I have the greatest fears.

I spent much of my 17 years in the European Parliament as spokesman for the Conservatives on this subject and was involved directly or indirectly in all the agreements resulting in the European arrest warrant, the Schengen Information System, the European criminal records agency, anti-money laundering measures, joint investigation teams and passenger name records, as well as the data protection regulation and Europol. I was the rapporteur for the PNR measure, which took no less than eight years to agree. All these areas of EU agreements and involvement are vital to our ongoing security and some of the most important are workable for us only if data can be exchanged in real time. They are all currently subject to the ultimate involvement of the ECJ, the European data protection supervisor and the Charter of Fundamental Rights which, as I understand it, we are declared to be leaving.

Our Ministers say they are looking to negotiate a comprehensive new security agreement with the EU in the transition period, but we and they cannot escape the simple fact that we will be a third country and of a status that will not permit us to benefit as of now, especially in the real-time exchange of data, even if there is a co-operative approach. We have evidence that the position enjoyed now with PNR for example has prevented a large number of terrorist and criminal attacks on this country already. Negotiating a continuation will be virtually impossible. Other countries have tried this. Switzerland and Norway have to make individual applications for database access; it certainly does not happen automatically or in real time. The United States of America does not have access to EU databases and each association agreement to be part of crime detection takes years to secure. Also, Switzerland, Norway and Liechtenstein get only a certain amount of co-operation but are of course members of either Schengen or the single market, or are prepared to accept the provisions and regulations of the EU’s data protection regulation.

I do hope that our Ministers and those appointed as negotiators with the EU also adopt a pragmatic, friendly, understanding and positive approach. I fear that that has perhaps still to be demonstrated following the recent altercations and polarisation of politics in this country. Bullying neighbours would of course be a disastrous approach and deny us the chance to maintain those arrangements without any gaps or diminution of security, which is so vital to our interests.

As I consider our present situation I have to add that perhaps our greatest failure, especially by those of us who have believed in Europe and our membership of the EU, is that we have failed over a long period to underline and pronounce what has been the ever-increasing and leading role of our country in EU institutions. This was especially true after the velvet revolutions and the arrival in the EU of the former Soviet satellite states, which prized their newly restored independence as much as we have always done, and looked to Britain as it enhanced its reputation by supporting them and their new democracies. Now that we are withdrawing from the EU, let us at least ensure that we retain as many benefits of our historic membership and relationships as we can, while appreciating that things can never be the same again.