Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:33 pm on 13th January 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Viscount Waverley Viscount Waverley Crossbench 9:33 pm, 13th January 2020

My Lords, this debate has been conducted predictably, with political and ideological arguments articulated by each political faction. The people have spoken twice. The UK will not be moving on from Brexit but will move forward. Many of the existential issues that have driven this period of prolonged introversion that has hampered the UK’s international reputation have now been laid to rest. Translating a simple leave/remain referendum into a concrete plan to extricate one of the world’s largest economies from the world’s largest economic bloc was always going to be a tortuous affair. However, we cannot be dismissive of 45 years’ shared partnership. We need the EU 27 by our side, particularly as and when they improve their lot, which may come more quickly as a result of the Brexit process.

The time is shortly upon us to weigh anchor. What, however, will this new era mean for Britain’s place in the world and British politics? Will this moment prove to be the cathartic release that voters hoped for, with Britain finally able to move forward? Talk about the need for mid-year transition extension talks concerns me, as they could become a red line. Any speculation about having no deal back on the table would not be helpful. Moving on, has the Irish border issue been fully managed? Will the City of London potentially find its access to EU markets undermined? There are also questions relating to our courts, together with matters of social consequences.

Our bête noire of interference over democratic scrutiny, with the threats that any form of amending becomes a constitutional crisis, is in itself unconstitutional, notwithstanding the powerful argument to get the job done. I fear that there will be need for flexibility when this Bill passes, with elements of repenting at leisure needing to be carefully managed. Nevertheless, government strategists have done well to have gotten this agreement to the line. However, the Government should recognise that the United Kingdom’s future for generations to come is at stake.

Leaving under this agreement is the best of the various scenarios, offering the strongest guarantees, for example, of future rights for UK and EU citizens. The opening of the toll bridge will be being readied, with a symbolic tolling of 16 bells to ring out on 31 January—eight for the old and eight for the passing to the new era, albeit into a precarious world of untested relationships. Trade agreements, around which much of Brexit is centred, will need to be translated amid politics and policy on trade. These are likely to collide in the years to come. These are the most consequential stages for business and the UK’s global trade relations. Enough uncertainty remains that it could still hamper business and investment decisions.

But innovation can come to the fore. I will take two examples; one is preferential access via the mechanism of GSP+. Government might wish to consider a UK system as we, as an independent country, would be enabled to widen this scheme to developing countries in the Commonwealth which might currently not be covered. Additionally, businesses should be encouraged to ride tandem with aid programmes, which would bring four-fold benefits—increased trade; a decrease in aid budgets; compliance with delivering on corporate social responsibility; and sending a message to Commonwealth countries that we are back—in a package of real consequence.

Conducive policies, initiatives and incentives will prevail; indeed they must. Change and innovation presents opportunity and will allow us to stand tall. The United Kingdom’s strength is its diversity; this alone will enable us to advance on the world stage with confidence. It should not detract, however, from the need for government to address the many fundamental challenges of uniting the country after this divisive experience and to tackle the many internal divisions and social discords that have been allowed to accumulate. Looking externally will help to heal those ails. The challenge is to square this circle of balancing those with an insular outlook on one hand and, while firmly upholding our standards, being truly internationalist in temperament on the other.