Amendment 42

Part of European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill - Committee (3rd Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 3:30 pm on 16th January 2020.

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Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Labour 3:30 pm, 16th January 2020

My Lords, I said earlier this afternoon that my amendments were somewhat technocratic today, but this one actually, in a sense, deals with the most fundamental issue of all. As we split from the European Union, what actually happens when we move from one economic and political entity to another and how does it differ from the free movement we have had over the past few years? In other words, what will be different for the citizen or the trader once Brexit is “done”? Of course, as we said earlier, it is being done in stages: some things will happen from 1 February, some presumably from 1 January, and there might well be further stages in any ultimate agreement.

What matters to citizens and business is: if you drive your lorry off the ferry at Ostend, what has changed? If you land at Schiphol Airport, now in a different economic area, as a British citizen what has changed? Despite the fact that we have had major debates on Northern Ireland, it is not at all clear what will happen in relation to Northern Ireland, even internally within the United Kingdom. What actually happens if you are a trader moving produce from Stranraer to Larne or vice versa? I am not clear and nor are many businesses in Northern Ireland. Indeed, what changes if you just drive produce down the road from Strabane to Letterkenny? We need to know that; businesses, citizens and communities need to make arrangements that anticipate the new relationship with our European colleagues.

In May last year, the sub-committee of the EU Select Committee that I then chaired produced a major report on transport. That report is yet to be debated in the House. I was told that we would be debating it next week, in which case I probably would not have moved this amendment, but that seems to have disappeared, in which case we are not likely to debate transport in any other context before Brexit on 31 January.

We are told that things will not change during the implementation period, but some things will change. We will no longer be party to any decisions on transport or any other area during that period. I have therefore tabled an amendment that tries to deal with these stage changes to enable Ministers to make regulations to deal with those changes even during the implementation/transition period, because some will be needed. More importantly, after the end of that period, we will have a whole new relationship for every mode of transport—air, sea, road and rail. The implications will be different for passengers and for freight.

Take the road haulage industry: we have already had two different attempts to get it to prepare by developing its certificates and its ability to trade post Brexit, originally in preparation for 29 March. Those arrangements have, of course, now fallen. Even now, the road haulage industry is not yet clear whether we will be dealing with ECMT permits, which are limited in number, whether the whole range of road haulage will be required to have a new certification process, or whether drivers’ qualifications will remain recognised by the European Union, and therefore whether we can continue to trade in anything like the way we currently do without going through a whole new process.

When 29 March was in prospect, the European Union unilaterally, but subject obviously to reciprocal action, proposed that there would be a period of between nine and 12 months when the current arrangements for aviation and road transport would remain, so there was to be a buffer contingency provision. Those have sort of been rolled forward, but it is still not yet clear how long they will last and whether they will actually maintain continuity, or whether they will require new bureaucratic limitations on the ability to maintain the current level of aviation service, the current number of slots available to British-based companies, or, in the road haulage industry, the current level of permits.

The EU Select Committee has reviewed the withdrawal treaty and the political declaration. There are, of course, very high-level commitments in the political declaration to try to maintain some degree of movement. The committee concludes—as, more or less, does my committee—that it is not yet clear, and is unlikely to be clear until we get a free trade agreement of some sort, what the arrangements will be post-December this year. The committee concludes that we need much firmer commitments from the Government on their objectives in these areas, and much clearer commitment from the EU during the coming months.

The second part of my amendment therefore requires that, halfway through the year—by the end of July; let us give them a few months to get it sorted—the Government offer some clarity to industry and citizens. This involves us even as individual motorists. Will we need an international driving certificate by the end of this year to get off the ferry at Calais or Boulogne? It matters that we know the Government’s intention in these areas. As yet, we do not know the intention or—if it is to maintain free movement of goods and passengers on the present basis as far as possible—the credibility of that intention.

Of course, we then run up against a basic objection: free movement is dependent on alignment and common regulations, or what one of Mrs May’s propositions referred to as a common rule book. Without that, even if we have no tariffs, there are administrative problems, including costs and potential delays. That could snarl up Dover and make traffic at Holyhead almost impossible to check. It could mean snarling up trade with Ireland, as well as our relationship with the Irish Republic, which uses the UK as a transit area to get into the rest of the EU.

If the Government genuinely want what the Prime Minister on occasion says they want—the maximum freedom to diverge from European Union regulations—and they apply this to transport, the system will snarl up. There will not be frictionless trade, which has been said by successive Prime Ministers to be the objective. Frictionless trade does not exist without pretty close alignment of regulations, which the European Union has. As my noble friend Lord Lea said earlier, even between the EU and EEA/EFTA countries, there are some administrative problems at the borders, despite the agreement between the EU and those countries.

In every transport sector, whether you are a big road haulage company, a major world airline, a small trader with a van or an individual motorist, you do not yet know how the world is going to change and we have had no real indication from the Government of how they will deal with this. Can they give us some indication? As I have said, I would have preferred a report on transport in a different context—and I hope we will still have that even if it has to be after Brexit day—but this is a major subject which affects almost every sector of our country. I will come on to another amendment that deals with the agencies. The European agencies are very important to effective transport safety, be it road haulage, the railways or, more importantly, aviation and maritime activities.

I hope that we can get a coherent response—a report—from the Government on this issue. I have given them time before we exit. Between now and July, they should tell us where they are going and how we are to travel and trade beyond next year. I beg to move.