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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:40 pm on 12th May 2020.

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Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade) 5:40 pm, 12th May 2020

My Lords, in our recent debate on economic forecasts, led by the Minister, we had three minutes in which to speak. At the time, the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said from the Conservative Benches:

“This is not accountability. This is a sham. The sooner we return to normal proceedings, without the excessive time-limiting that has been introduced, the better.”—[Official Report, 5/5/20; col. 382.]

I agree with her, and in the limited time available, I want to address trade.

It does not protect our interests, or persuade others to align with them, to set aside pragmatic co-operation of the kind described by the former chairman in his speech. The Government have set this aside, and instead our future EU and global trading relationship are highlighted by glib self-deception. In January, at the UK-Africa Investment Summit, the Prime Minister told the bemused African delegates that after Brexit, chicken from Northern Ireland would be enjoyed in Angola and Ugandan beef would be on UK lunch tables. Portugal, Belgium, Italy and Spain all already export meat to Angola and Ugandan beef cannot be imported into the UK because of health standards.

For the US discussions in March, the Prime Minister said that we would be trading salmon for Stetsons while ignoring the recent restrictions on processed fish imports announced by the American Administration. These are the glib elements and no doubt have some comic effect, but they are illustrative and speak to a greater truth. Moreover, they are noticed by the EU and by the rest of the world. The self-deception is that such new trading outside the European Union, reflecting growth of less than 0.1% of UK GDP over a 15-year period, is believed to offset, according to the OBR, a 4.7% reduction in productivity because of disruption to our main trading bloc.

After the economic forecasting debate, the Minister did not answer or write to me about to my four simple questions, so I will try again. What is the Government’s core assumption about the impact on UK trade from January 2020 of their current EU policy, taking into context all new agreements made? Without honesty and openness, we will never protect our interests or align others to them—nor by replacing pragmatism with a politics in which one is influenced only by other acolytes. That is not a future that will benefit our country.