Amendment 41

European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill - Committee (3rd Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 3:15 pm on 16th January 2020.

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Lord Wigley:

Moved by Lord Wigley

41: After Clause 37, insert the following new Clause—“Economic impact assessment(1) A Minister of the Crown must—(a) lay before each House of Parliament, and(b) submit to the Presiding Officer of each devolved legislature,a comprehensive economic impact assessment of potential outcomes arising from the conclusion of negotiations on the future relationship with the EU.(2) An assessment under subsection (1) must include—(a) an analysis by NUTS1 and NUTS2 regions of the United Kingdom including (but not limited to)—(i) impact on employment as both an actual figure and a percentage, and(ii) impact on Gross Value Added; (b) a sectoral analysis including but not limited to agriculture, health and social care, manufacturing, the aerospace industry and financial services.”Member’s explanatory statementThis new Clause would require the Government to produce an economic impact assessment on the future relationship with the European Union.

Photo of Lord Wigley Lord Wigley Plaid Cymru

My Lords, the objective of Amendment 41 is to require the Minister to present, both to Parliament and to the devolved legislatures, an economic impact assessment of the potential outcomes of negotiations so that we may know where we are heading.

First, over the past three years, numerous prophecies have been made as to the economic implications of Brexit, most of which were based on guess-work at the time as to what would be the outcome. All those guesstimates are now largely irrelevant. We now know three basic dimensions of our way forward. We know that we shall be leaving at the end of this month and that the implementation period will last until next December.

Secondly, the Government, presumably, know exactly what they want in any agreement reached with the European Union. They therefore will have made their own assessment of the economic impact if they get their way. The House and the devolved Governments have a right to know the detail of any such assessment, as well as a right to know the implications for each of our four nations and for the standard regions—in the amendment this is covered by virtue of a reference to the NUTS areas.

Thirdly, the Government have made it clear that, if they fail to reach and to achieve their negotiating objectives, they will choose to leave without a deal. Again, they have presumably estimated the effect of any such course of action. The implication could be disastrous for manufacturing, exporters, hill farmers and many others. However, surely the Government have, at the very least, a duty to make known the detail of any such estimates. Anyone in the world of trade, agriculture, manufacturing, industry or finance will clearly want to know, at the earliest time possible, what are the official forecasts for these implications, for the basic reason that they are quite fundamental to making any future investment decisions.

If the Government have their own estimates, they are surely duty-bound to share them, and if they do not, they should step back from negotiating a trade deal until they have the basic tools needed to make such a major and far-reaching decision, and to have those tools and the information on a logical and quantified basis. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union), Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Labour)

My Lords, perhaps it is a symptom of the way that Brexit has been handled that the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, even needs to table this amendment; we would have hoped that all this work had been done, published and debated well before any decisions were made. Indeed, I think reference was made yesterday to the Room 101 experience we had when we were called to be shown in secret the so-called sector-by-sector analyses of the impact of the withdrawal. They were of course no such thing—they were A-level descriptions which could have been got from published documents. Now we find that the Government want to head into negotiations on the future of the UK and its constituent parts with no prior appraisal of the impact of a range of outcomes, either on sectors or on geographical areas, and importantly, with no debate with either the industries concerned or with elected representatives of the geographical areas. Yet as we heard in the debate yesterday, important trade-offs and difficult judgments are going to have to be made as we struggle to find a workable trade relationship with the EU.

This should not be done in the dark. We should have full knowledge of the likely impact of each possible approach. The Government should have done this work, but I have little confidence that they have, which is why the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, is so relevant.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 3:30 pm, 16th January 2020

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, for introducing his amendment which, as he made clear, relates to the future economic relationship between the UK and the EU. Our agreement with the EU in the political declaration was expressed in the following words:

“to develop an ambitious, wide-ranging and balanced economic partnership. This partnership will be comprehensive, encompassing a Free Trade Agreement, as well as wider sectoral cooperation where it is in the mutual interest of both Parties.”

We look forward to working with our partners in the EU to negotiate this free trade agreement in the year to come. But on that, there is a basic point to be made. It would be neither possible nor appropriate to publish a detailed analysis of the specifics of an agreement that is yet to be negotiated. Indeed, publishing such a detailed report, as the noble Lord’s amendment would require, would completely undermine the UK’s negotiating position heading into the next stage.

There is a way to address the noble Lord’s concern that does not land us in that kind of trap. In November 2018, the Government published a detailed analysis that covered a broad range of possible EU exit scenarios. This report ran to over 80 pages and was designed to provide an understanding of how changes to our relationship with the EU might affect the United Kingdom’s economy in the long run. This is available for all to see.

In exactly the same vein, let me reassure the noble Lord that the Government remain committed to informing Parliament with the best analysis to support parliamentary scrutiny. We will do so at an appropriate time that does not impede our ability to strike the best deal for the UK. As I emphasised in our debates yesterday, we have also been clear that we will engage with the devolved Administrations and draw on their knowledge and expertise to secure an agreement that works for the whole of the UK.

I hope therefore that the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, will feel able to withdraw his amendment. I can assure him that the Government will continue to update the House with analysis at appropriate points.

Photo of Lord Wigley Lord Wigley Plaid Cymru

Could the noble Earl clarify why, if it was possible to publish in 2018 the figures to which he has referred, it is not possible to do so now?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, the intention behind those scenarios was to cover a broad spectrum of circumstances which we could find ourselves in. They were not designed to posit our desired end-point; they were designed as a guide to the citizen to illustrate what could happen, given certain variables. I do not think that it is possible or advisable for us to go beyond that at this stage.

Photo of Lord Wigley Lord Wigley Plaid Cymru

I am sorry to labour the point, but could he therefore say whether the figures of 2018 are still valid?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

They are still valid as hypothetical figures and as illustrative of certain scenarios if certain arrangements were agreed. I think that Ministers would stand by the figures in so far as they are designed to illustrate those scenarios.

Photo of Lord Wigley Lord Wigley Plaid Cymru

My Lords, I do not think I will succeed in taking this matter very much further this afternoon, but the House will have seen the position that we are in: some figures were available in 2018 that may or may not be relevant now, and we do not know the direction we are going in to know whether they are relevant. It seems a very strange way of entering negotiations—I only hope that the outcome will be better than the prophecy on that basis. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 41 withdrawn.