Beyond Brexit (European Union Committee Report) - Motion to Consider

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:09 pm on 12th May 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Wheatcroft Baroness Wheatcroft Non-affiliated 5:09 pm, 12th May 2020

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, for this excellent report. Reading it provides a clear reminder of how intertwined the UK is with the EU. After more than 40 years of membership, that is not surprising, but the report is also a reminder of how many issues have to be settled if our final split from the 27 is to be relatively smooth.

The political declaration refers to three overarching areas where agreement is necessary: the economic partnership, the security partnership and the institutional arrangements. Achieving agreement on all that by the end of this year was never going to be easy but Covid-19 has rendered it virtually impossible. Governments have had to give their full attention to a single priority—tackling the virus—but even if the current fragmentary negotiations could produce a consensus, business simply will not be able to cope with the radical changes that final departure must bring.

The UK is no longer a member of the EU—that is not up for debate—but we need to remain in lockstep for a little while longer. Business cannot cope with sorting out the effects of the virus while simultaneously preparing for a new, but as yet unknown, relationship with the EU. The transition period must be extended, as many noble Lords have said; the sooner that happens, the better for business. The Government have said that they will not ask for an extension, in part because business needs the certainty of the December deadline. That is simply nonsense. There is no certainty in a departure into the unknown. The EU 27 share the pressures that a December rupture would create. An extension is in their interests too. If we wish to remain friends with the EU, let alone retain influence in it, a request for an extension must happen immediately. In the light of the changes wrought by Covid, why do the Government refuse to contemplate an extension?