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

Amendment to the Motion

Part of European Union: Negotiations (European Union Committee Report) - Motion to Agree – in the House of Lords at 6:48 pm on 16th March 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Liddle Lord Liddle Labour 6:48 pm, 16th March 2020

I take the point—but at least the committee has drawn this crucial point to our attention. If we had not had this Select Committee report, what kind of debates would we have had, either here or in the other place, on the Government’s new policy? The fact is that we had nothing. There was no explanation of how what the Government were proposing was different from what they had previously proposed. Mr Johnson was going for a sleight of hand in going for this hard Brexit, and it was right that our committee should have exposed it.

The shift in our position on this particular point about the level playing field for open and fair competition will undermine confidence in our good faith. That will have very practical and real consequences for jobs and livelihoods in Britain. Even if we reach a trade agreement, I think that it is now likely that the EU will say that, if we make any move that it interprets as a move away from a level playing field, it will have a legal right to impose trade defence instruments in short order and we will not be able to stop them. These could be very damaging to sectors of our economy such as the car industry, where the non-existence of tariffs is of crucial importance.

We have already damaged ourselves very considerably. We will end up with a treaty that will not provide a stable investment climate for companies in Britain because they will always be under the threat of EU sanctions being imposed because of our attempts to break the rules.

However, that is not the only issue on which the position has changed. It is scandalous that we have thrown away just like that our participation in the European arrest warrant. Where has the big debate about that and what it means for our security been? Where has the Home Office statement been—the explanation by the Minister of what alternatives will be put in place that will be as effective in defending our interests? I feel that something fundamental such as this should not have been done in the way that it has.

As for the rest of the security agenda, the Government say that they are aiming for what they call “pragmatic co-operation”, but then go on to say:

“The agreement must not constrain the autonomy of the UK’s legal system in any way.”

So they will not sign up for our continued participation in not just the European Court of Justice but the European Convention on Human Rights. It is incredible that a Government believe that our European friends will agree to some system of administrative co-operation between the police and intelligence agencies without there being in place a binding framework of legal oversight that both parties judge to be acceptable. That has to be that, or co-operation will not work.

My third point relates to co-operation on foreign policy. The Government dismiss the prospect of a joint institutional framework; all they promise is friendly dialogue and co-operation and they do not want an agreement about this. Yet anyone who knows anything about how relations between countries work knows that institutions are incredibly important. One of the lessons I took away from my time in Brussels was that the framework it provided for regular meetings and policy discussions between senior officials, day by day and week by week, is absolutely fundamental to trying to create a convergence of approach between countries. If we say we do not want any of that kind of institutional co-operation on foreign affairs and defence, it will put us in a much weaker position.

I also think it is wrong for the Government’s new policy to reject the possibility of an overarching framework for the EU-UK relationship that was held open in the political declaration. What has happened to the deep and special partnership that Mrs May used to talk about? Do we no longer believe in that? Without such an overarching partnership, our relationship with Europe runs the risk of being characterised, and indeed poisoned, by interminable trade disputes when these are in fact of secondary importance. What matters is that we should work with our European friends to promote our shared values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Without that overarching partnership, I think we will lose that.

I have come to the regrettable conclusion—and I do regret it—that this Government do not really want a close relationship with our European friends. The thing that convinces me of that is the attempt that I think is being planned to rewrite the Northern Ireland protocol, which the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, explained to us in great detail. If that is what happens, the relationship is going to be one of betrayal and resentment, and I think it is an absolute tragedy that that is the route down which we are going.

Somebody referred to Philip Stephens’ article in the Financial Times last week. Many of us, probably including myself, in the next few days are going to go into self-isolation because we want to survive. Well, a lot of us will survive but I do not think that the policy of the country should be one of self-isolation—but that is what we are getting with this Government.