EU: Future Relationship Debate

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Department: Cabinet Office

EU: Future Relationship

Baroness Barker Excerpts
Wednesday 23rd September 2020

(3 years, 9 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Bilimoria Portrait Lord Bilimoria (CB) [V]
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My Lords, as far back as February 2020, the European Commission laid out its negotiating position, covering general arrangements, values, principles and governance, economic arrangements, trade, level playing field guarantees, fisheries, security arrangements, law enforcement, judicial co-operation in criminal matters, foreign policy, security and defence. Then, in May, the UK published a draft free trade agreement in a series of separate draft agreements covering fisheries, air transport, civil aviation safety, energy, social security co-ordination, civil nuclear, law enforcement and judicial co-operation in criminal matters, the transfer of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, and readmission of people residing without authorisation.

Between March and September, we have had eight rounds of negotiations. At the end of the eighth round, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, accused the UK of refusing to include indispensable guarantees of fair competition in our future agreement, while requesting access to our market and said that

“the UK has not engaged in a reciprocal way on fundamental EU principles and interests.”

The noble Lord, Lord Frost, the UK’s negotiator, said that the UK had

“consistently made proposals which provide for open and fair competition, on the basis of high standards, in a way which is appropriate to a modern free trade agreement between sovereign and autonomous equals.”

So what if there is no agreement? What if there is a so-called Australia-style agreement whereby we will trade with the EU on WTO terms? The Prime Minister said in early September that a trading agreement like Australia’s

“would be a good outcome for the UK.”

Can the Minister confirm that this is the case? We have of course also had the whole issue of the internal market. In his statement after round eight, Michel Barnier said that:

“The EU remains committed to an ambitious future partnership with the UK. This would clearly be to the benefit of both sides. Nobody should underestimate the practical, economic and social consequences of a ‘no deal’ scenario.”

I speak as president of the CBI, which has been urging both the UK and EU to renew efforts to get a deal. This is essential in order to protect people’s jobs and living standards amid one of the worst recessions in living memory. Time is running out. We have to avoid a cliff edge. This must be the utmost priority for both sides; the UK and the EU cannot afford a no-deal scenario, which would weaken the economies already impaired by the Covid-19 crisis. Business preparations on both sides have not only stalled but have gone backwards. Firms have had to use their stockpiles and reserves—previously built up in the run-up to the threat of no deal last year—to survive the pandemic. There is now next to no capacity to rebuild reserves while directing resources and attention to dealing with the impact of Covid-19 and now a potential second wave of the virus.

Over the last six months we have seen extraordinary levels of ambition, determination and collaboration between businesses and Governments across Europe. These efforts have helped weather the immediate impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and must be redoubled for the challenges that lie ahead. This same level of determination and creativity is now needed by both the EU and the UK to deliver a Brexit deal for growth.

A deal will have tangible, positive benefits for firms employing thousands of people across Europe in industries such as advanced engineering, manufacturing, green technology and digital and cyber technologies—I could go on. It will also underpin economic recovery on both sides, protecting our younger generation and the future of our public services. Does the Minister agree?

A deal will form a foundation for a strong, growing relationship between the UK and the EU in the future. It will create space for both sides to focus on shared challenges, such as creating jobs, rather than needlessly adding red tape, extra costs and paperwork.

A deal will also be a catalyst to address the global challenges of our time, from tackling climate change at next year’s COP26, which we are going to be privileged to host, to strengthening international institutions, including the WTO, and global co-operation during the UK’s presidency of the G7. It will be crucial for the UK and the EU to work hand in hand to be at the forefront of these issues.

The CBI is committed to working closely with BusinessEurope—which we will continue to be a member of although we have left the European Union—and its sister federations to champion a strong and open Europe on the global stage. In short, the size of the prize is real. Ending years of division and delay by securing an agreement between the EU and the UK will help our economies during the biggest challenge of our generation.

This has been such a turbulent period, not least because of Brexit, but talks are on and the efforts to get a good deal must continue. Business cannot afford anything else. Amid all the noise of the negotiation, businesses in the UK and the EU remain clear that a good deal is essential. Let us not forget that a negotiated outcome is the official position of the UK Government. Can the Minister reassure us about this once again?

An agreement will be the foundation for post-Covid recovery across the continent. It will protect jobs under pressure from the pandemic by duty and quota-free trade, closer customs co-operation and easing the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol. We must remember that the protocol was the compromise needed to avoid a hard border in Ireland. For Northern Ireland’s businesses and communities it must be implemented in an effective and sustainable way. For that, we need a deal.

A deal will provide a platform on which the UK’s world-beating services industry can continue to trade with its biggest market and stay competitive. It will also be a great fillip for UK exporters, allowing them to focus on R&D, not red tape. Getting a deal requires political leadership and compromise from both sides and is needed urgently in the coming weeks.

As I have said, the reality is that many businesses are still struggling to deal with the fallout from Covid. That is why getting the deal over the line is so important. It means a greater choice for consumers. It means prices of groceries do not rise during a recession. This is vital to help people who are struggling. It will allow businesses to concentrate on helping the Government’s levelling-up agenda. It means building more schools and hospitals, better-quality housing, and growing our economy through the creation of green jobs, and it will be a catalyst for the global challenges of our time. Ultimately, a deal with our biggest trading partner provides a platform on which future trade agreements can be built.

Businesses have shown extraordinary resilience over the previous four years—and over the past six months. We need this deal urgently in the interests of everyone, both in the UK and Europe.

Baroness Barker Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Barker) (LD)
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The noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, is not contributing, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley.

Lord Berkeley Portrait Lord Berkeley (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I address my remarks this afternoon to the frontier controls and customs arrangements because we have three months to the end of the transition. Many noble Lords have spoken about whether we are going to get a deal but many of the frontier issues will be similar, if not the same, whether we have a deal or not. Businesses should still be ready and still expect the Government in their dealings with them to be open, transparent and inclusive with information and with what has to be done.

As is so often the case in this sphere, we have heard lots of good words from the Government which are mostly, sadly, motherhood and apple pie. We seem to be getting into a big blame game, with the Government seeking to blame business, the EU and the electorate for their own failings. I know that the electorate voted in favour of Brexit, but I do not think they voted in favour of the chaos that we are seeing. As many noble Lords know, the devil is in the detail. It can have a massive adverse effect on business, as many noble Lords have already mentioned. We are not told the detail at the moment, nor even the options. In some of the discussions I have heard, I question whether Ministers themselves actually understand what is needed or listen to their officials who clearly do know.

In the Guardian today there is a report of a letter that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster wrote to the haulage industry and customers earlier this month —I have a copy of it—saying that we face some 7,000 trucks in a queue in Kent. Mr Gove claims that the cause of the delay is the traders not being ready. That is blaming the traders again. The Secretary of State for the Environment, George Eustice, similarly blamed other people for the delays. After Mr Gove wrote the letter, industry representatives had a meeting last week with him, the Secretary of State for Transport and the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, from the Treasury. They discussed three separate issues: the need for intermediaries, the readiness of systems, and the physical infrastructure. All these are needed, whatever the outcome of the negotiations. I think about 40 people were at the meeting. A report of the meeting said that there was

“frustration over the lack of clarity and too many unanswered questions.”

On intermediaries, questions were asked about

“how the cap on state aid could be lifted and potential use of government loans”.

It was questioned how systems

“could be made ready earlier to allow training and familiarisation to take place”.

Of course, this should have happened many months ago. The Government are blaming the industry for not having 50,000 intermediaries to do it for them. We do not know who is going to pay for it. It is a serious issue. At the port there are quite a few structures required and arrangements. Who is going to pay for them and when are they going to be in position?

Then at the meeting we heard more motherhood and apple pie when the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was quoted as saying that

“he hoped that the EU would not take a rigid interpretation on all legislation”.

Well, isn’t that lovely? Why should the EU give way on this when we are digging our heels in as hard as we possibly can?

In the end, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said, in summing up,

“if businesses haven’t prepared they will suffer against what is a known change”.

Does the Minister know what the “known change” is? Has he told anybody? Has the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster told anybody? It is clearly still a secret.

All the Government talk about now is in the export direction. We have heard very little about what might happen on the French or the continental side apart from the fact that the Government have decided that they will not require all the paperwork to be complete on the incoming direction for six months—but only for certain cargoes. We know that cargoes will not be allowed on to the ferries unless they have all the right paperwork.

It is really wrong that the Government are allowing this to carry on, with George Eustice saying that the queues are down to “slipshod” EU lack of planning. That is not a good way—indeed, it is a very bad way—to conduct negotiations. It is no way to undertake a trade negotiation with our major trading partner. As many noble Lords have said, something like 40% of our exports go to the EU.

I believe that Ministers should know most of the detailed changes that will be required, whatever the outcome, but the Government are failing miserably to share this with businesses so that their systems and their staff can be ready for the changes. Do they really know what has to be done? Should they not be proactive and positive in helping? I am afraid that, if they are not, many businesses will give up and, after a few weeks or months, settle fully on the continent. I hope I am wrong. But I wish the Minister would confirm that the Government will stop blaming businesses, the EU or the coronavirus crisis. It is down to the Government to sort this out.

Baroness Barker Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Barker) (LD)
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My Lords, I remind the Committee that the time limit for contributions is a maximum of seven minutes. I call the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D’Souza (CB) [V]
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My Lords, despite ministerial denials, we appear to be marching inexorably towards a no-deal Brexit and a consequent reliance on WTO trading rules. There are two issues I wish to put to the Minister. One concerns the potential impact of a reversion to WTO terms of trade, and the other is about reaching a decision on continued participation in the EU Erasmus+ programme.

From the start of the legal process at the end of last year, there was a disconnect between the EU’s mandate to uphold common high standards in areas of state aid, social and employment standards, environmental standards, climate change, relevant tax matters and other regulatory measures and practices, set against the UK’s statement that its

“primary objective … is to ensure we restore our economic and political independence”.

No wonder the negotiations have run into trouble. Apart from the major issues taken up by your Lordships so far—the Irish border, fisheries and state aid—I would like to revisit some of the other consequences of a no-deal departure, which would kick in on 1 January 2021.

The expressed hope that the UK might achieve a Canada-type relationship would not go even half way to resolving the current negotiation sticking points. For a start, the CETA is not, as yet, fully implemented, despite being agreed in 2014 and provisionally in force from 2017. Tariffs on certain food items would remain, requiring lengthy examinations at ports. Furthermore, 53% of all UK imports are from the EU, and 45% of all UK exports go to the EU. Those figures do not compare well with the equivalent Canadian figures of 10.5% and 7.9% respectively.

The Australia-style deal—another “solution” championed by the Government—is essentially a WTO agreement, and would allow the EU to impose punishing tariffs on some goods, such as dairy produce, which in turn would impact badly on British farmers. There is no FTA between the EU and Australia, so it is difficult to understand why the UK Government ever thought this might be a useful model.

The recent removal of some existing EU tariffs by about 20% was, and is, welcome, until it emerges that these concessions refer to items such as pistachios in shells, sewing thread and vacuum flasks—not necessarily key trade items. Nor will WTO rules allow most favoured nation status: any UK trade concessions would have to apply to the rest of the world as well. The 20 or so additional agreements via the EU with countries around the world have not yet been rolled over, further restricting UK trade transactions. Most importantly, in the absence of a trade deal the non-tariff barriers will require all produce standards and safety regulations to be checked at borders.

An exit based on WTO rules would present a huge challenge for the service industries, in that there would be a loss of guaranteed access for bankers, lawyers, musicians and chefs, among other trades. The financial services sector is a huge contributor to national income, estimated at approximately 10% of all tax receipts. Preserving the integrity and reputation of the sector should be an absolute priority, yet there is still no agreement on the legal status of contractual relationships, which in turn affects a whole tranche of SMEs and the job security of up to 2.3 million people who work in the financial services industry. The City of London Corporation has said that even a deal with limited coverage of financial and professional services would be preferable to no deal.

Above all, the current acrimonious nature of negotiations will do nothing to generate a positive future relationship with the EU, which is surely in the interests of each and every household and business in the UK. It is difficult to understand why the Government have remained tranquil about a possible no deal, and are apparently satisfied to engage on WTO terms. The cost of achieving, by 31 December, political and economic freedom from the EU could be very high.

In the political declaration of October 2019, both sides agreed to establish general principles, terms and conditions for the UK’s future participation in EU programmes, including youth, culture and education, and further agreed that this would be subject to the conditions set out in the EU’s own legal instruments establishing such programmes. In February, the UK set out its overall approach, saying it was ready to consider third-country participation in certain EU programmes, and on Erasmus+—the most successful EU exchange programme—that it would consider options on elements of the programme on a time-limited basis. None of the papers or draft legal texts published so far refers to UK participation in Erasmus. As we have heard, the EU published a draft new partnership agreement on Erasmus with the UK in March. However, no detailed information on negotiations is available.

The Government are now apparently considering the option for a domestic alternative to Erasmus. This is despite widespread praise, both within and without the Government, for the programme and its investment in forging international friendships and co-operation. Universities UK calculates that leaving Erasmus could cost the UK up to £243 million a year.

In an Oral Question in June, the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, questioned the Government’s plan for continued participation. The Minister repeated that while the matter was being discussed no further details would be given. Nor was any leeway allowed to the devolved nations to negotiate their own participation deals. In answer to the question about what possible advantage the UK would gain by leaving Erasmus, the Minister, rather lamely, stated that the Government wished to encourage mobility beyond the 27 EU member states. Continued participation in Erasmus would in no way impede this.

Overall, the lack of transparency and willingness to consult with the many sectors affected is a severe failure. The Government’s overriding priority of escaping any EU controls on any aspect of political, economic and cultural life is not based on sound economic impact assessment. Thus it does not serve the British public now, and it certainly will not serve them in future.

Baroness Barker Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Barker) (LD)
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Since the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey of Didcot, will not be contributing to our proceedings this afternoon, I now call the next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Judd.

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Lord Rooker Portrait Lord Rooker (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, on the basis that it is never too late to avoid making a bad decision, I want to set out what I think should be the Prime Minister’s guest speech to the European Council in mid-October:

“As leader of the UK, I have been having a think about the future. I have not so much changed my mind as reverted to my original views when I said:

‘We are, and we will remain, a paid-up, valued, participating member of the single market. Under no circumstances, in my view, will a British Government adjust that position.’

As I said before the referendum:

‘I would vote to stay in the single market. I’m in favour of the single market.’

It is not true that only in 2019 I understood the meaning of the single market. I now have the knowledge and experience that leads me to want to avoid damage to my country, its stability, economy and culture, by simply allowing the current negotiations to linger on into no deal. There are a host of issues that are very damaging, and I am going to refer to a few of them.

“Our energy security will be put at risk. I cannot possibly preside over power cuts to gas and electricity while leaving the EU’s internal energy market. If the UK were a member of EFTA or the EEA then we could have had a Norway-type energy arrangement, but my predecessor ruled out such membership.

“I have only recently been made aware of the importance of the chemical industry. I had no idea that the UK uses over 21,000 substances that are registered for safety under the EU-wide chemical regulation system. Only around 5,000 of those are registered in the UK; the others, the great majority, are under the control of the EU. The market is huge in terms of exports from the UK to the EU. I do not think we can take the risk of less safe chemicals being dumped on the UK.

“Furthermore, I had never heard of ADNS, RASFF, EASIN NOTSYS or EUROPHYT. I have asked my advisers why not, since these are so valuable to UK citizens and the economy. ADNS is the Animal Disease Notification System, which registers and documents the development of infectious animal diseases. RASFF is the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed, which enables swift and timely exchanges of information on health risks. Only EU members, along with EFTA and Switzerland, can be members. Approximately 10 alerts per day are issued. RASFF came into being only in our time as an EU member so there is no previous system for us to fall back on. The other two systems involve alien species and plant health notifications, which are both highly important. Witnesses to Select Committees in the UK Parliament such as vets and the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board said that they were in favour of the UK remaining a member of these systems, which give instant access to information. We cannot do that with no deal, thereby putting the UK at risk.

“I have woken up to the fact that no deal will lead to some real problems, such as a prolonged period of uncertainty, which we have had far too much of already. Half of UK export goods will face disruption, and there will be a reduction in the safety of UK citizens by leaving the EU arrest warrant system. No one explained to me that leaving with no deal means that future negotiations with the EU will be outside the Article 50 framework, meaning they will be much more difficult. If the disruption were prolonged, it is likely that in January and February next year there would be shortages of food in the UK. While residency rights are to be protected—and we have all agreed that—UK expats will lose their right to have bank accounts in the UK. This is a disaster.

“No deal will not bring Brexit to an end. It could go on for a decade, as warned in the UK Government Command Paper 9216 on the process of withdrawing from the EU, which I had not seen until now. The holy grail of the world trade terms would mean the UK economy growing more slowly. After Covid, I cannot possibly countenance this. Therefore, I say to my colleagues—still colleagues, EU Council members—that I will not put the unity of the UK union at risk or the safety of the population and the economy in a danger zone. Therefore, I request a further extension of the transition period of two years for the United Kingdom to enter into meaningful arrangements to continue membership of the single market and the customs union. If that requires rejoining EFTA, we will willingly come to a mutual agreement.”

That is the substance of the speech that the Prime Minister should make.

Baroness Barker Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Barker) (LD)
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The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, is not with us this afternoon. I therefore call the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley.

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Lord James of Blackheath Portrait Lord James of Blackheath (Con)
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My Lords, I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, refer to the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties because I believe it will have a profound effect on the final resolution of our recovery of sovereignty on a number of issues. I would like to read an extract from Article 53 of the convention. It states:

“A treaty is void if, at the time of its conclusion, it conflicts with a peremptory norm of general international law … from which no derogation is permitted and which can be modified only by a subsequent norm of general international law having the same character.”

I suggest that that is a convenient way out for us. It avoids the confrontation of having to argue to take back areas of our sovereignty which are not lawfully given by Europe. We can effectively just wait for the European partner to initiate its own action—under what it sees is available to it under that convention—to try to force it on us. In that case it will have to revert to a plea to the bar of world opinion by going to the United Nations. Good luck to it. I do not think it will succeed on much. I think we have a soft way out that we should not overlook.

Everything else I want to say is about sovereignty issues. The principal concern when the vote was taken was the recovery of sovereignty. Of course, the European Union’s acquis communautaire—or ratchet mechanism—is steered towards ever-closer union. It has directly encroached on our sovereignty on so many issues in a manner not necessarily understood and foreseen at the completion of the treaty of Lisbon.

I have 13 sovereignty concerns that I wish to see resolved. That is too many to cover this afternoon, but I will try to go through eight of the most important ones. On 28 January, I obtained an Answer to a Written Question which assured me that there was no intention whatever for Britain to enter into the European defence union nor to forsake any of our Five Eyes capability to Europe. I was very pleased to get the answer saying, “You are right. Nothing is intended.”

Since that time, an eight-minute film has been put out by the European Union. It is easily available on a video link. It shows what the EU considers to be the celebration in Bosnia-Herzegovina of the first meeting of the armed forces of the European defence union. It starts with the downloading of an RAF jet containing 200 members of the Parachute Regiment. The commentary says they are accompanied by 30 members of Special Forces, who I take to be the SAS. There is then a march past, behind the European flag, in front of a saluting base, and a Jeep is pulling a platform on which are the 27 flags of the European defence union, including the union jack. I want further reassurance that we are not part of the European defence union. That is hugely important.

That leads to my second point. All our defence forces have to be under direct oath of loyalty to our sovereign. The European defence union requires a direct line of commitment to Brussels. We cannot have that situation. It would get us straight into the issue of whether we are participating in a standing army, which has been strictly prohibited since the trial of Charles I. We cannot possibly encumber our sovereign with the burden and embarrassment of having to contend with that in the latter stages of her reign. This is a disgrace. Those issues are paramount and we must have a definitive statement on them.

Throughout the past three or four months, we have been frozen as to the defence contracts we can engage in as Europe is still insisting that, as part of the go-forward arrangements, we will use only the authorised European defence production capability, which includes its boatyards, its tank capacity and everything else. It has already allocated to Krups the order for the first 50 of the new key Type 51 frigates, which are very important to us for our own coastal defences, and we are therefore prohibited from placing the order for the remaining 30 or so which we need for ourselves.

Similarly, the most important vessel required for the British Navy at this time is the replacement for the fleet auxiliary. The original one has been sold off to the Far East to be turned into razor blades—I am sure it was a good price—and we now have a situation where we cannot put out an order for the new form of fleet auxiliary, without which our carriers are effectively port-bound. These issues really need to be resolved, and we need clear direction on them.

The fisheries have been talked of much, and they are a major issue, but I wonder if your Lordships know just how bad the situation is in certain places. I have a direct and particular interest in Bridport bay, and the situation there is rather like a war zone. The trawlers going in are of what is called the wedge variety, which means they are flat-bottomed, and they are used to scrape up the bottom of the sea. As a result, they have destroyed the entire spawning and breeding capability of the Bridport area for the future. They have encroached so far upon the beach that they have undermined the sands adjacent to the cliffs, so the cliffs are crumbling, and this is now the worst area of crumbling in the country. It is like a war zone, and it is quite unfair on the local community. This is not fishing rights; this is absolute aggressive intrusion.

If the exercise is correct, that we sent 200 paratroopers to participate in the jollification in Bosnia about the creation of the EDU, it was also significant that it was said in the commentary all to be under the direct command and control of the European development union, at the head office of the EU. I have been sent fortuitously, by an anonymous person, a complete set of the command and control procedures for the European defence union, and it is fascinating. If you are a corps of armed soldiers and you have occasion to take a defensive situation, or even fire a round, you are then not allowed to reload or fire another round until you have been through 16 levels of consent, up to Ms von der Leyen herself, for consent to reload and shoot—

Baroness Barker Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Barker) (LD)
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Could the noble Lord bring his remarks to a close, please.

Lord James of Blackheath Portrait Lord James of Blackheath (Con)
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Sorry. I have said my peace, and I hope you will understand it has come from the heart.

Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Portrait Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick (Non-Afl) [V]
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My Lords, I have to confess that when I first had sight of this Motion coming from the Government, I wondered why as it clearly focuses attention on an aspect of the Government’s performance that leaves so much to be desired. I thank the Minister for his explanation today, but I think lots of questions need to be put, and answers need to be given.

I regard Brexit as a social and economic disaster for the UK, and in particular for Northern Ireland, but I accept that the UK has left and that the exit, however shambolic, will be completed by the end of the year, so the remarks I make here are not rerunning the Brexit debate. They are about the Government’s approach to the negotiations, which has been dreadful from the very start.

We set out with former Prime Minister May’s assertion that “Brexit means Brexit”, without any further elucidation. Contrastingly, the EU made its three requirements clear and patiently asked the UK Government to outline the kind of Brexit they wanted to negotiate, but it got no clear answer. Instead we have had the chaos of hard Brexit or soft Brexit, in the customs union or not in the customs union, backstop or no backstop, ERG and even a general election. We had a Brexit Secretary who did not like going to meetings and a Foreign Secretary who likened our negotiating partners to the Soviet Union.

Then we had a year of farce in the other place while the EU waited patiently, allowing more time for the UK Government to get their act together. Eventually we reached a withdrawal agreement which, along with the Northern Ireland protocol, settled the most vexed matter of all: the future of the EU-UK customs border. Then only in February this year, as the pandemic was starting to break around Europe, the UK Government finally said that they wanted a Canada-type trade deal.

Since that time, the UK Government’s approach to negotiating the future relationship with the EU has been characterised by bluster, brinkmanship and, I am sad to say, bad faith. There is a refusal to accept that along with the obvious benefits of the free trade agreement, which the EU actually wants to give us, we have to accept some responsibilities. Instead the Government want all of the freedoms and none of the obligations.

The negotiating strategy is based on “They need us as much as we need them”—surely one of the greatest untruths ever peddled in this country. With the introduction of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill and some of the Prime Minister’s own recent utterances, the Government have taken that bluster, brinkmanship and bad-faith approach to a new level. Imagine legislating to disapply the withdrawal agreement while breaking international law in the process; ridiculously accusing the EU of bad faith when it is the other way around; ludicrously claiming that the purpose of the Bill is to defend the Good Friday agreement, when it threatens to do the exact opposite; and simultaneously grabbing power back from the devolved Administrations without their consent.

That is not all: while the Government’s approach has seriously damaged the prospects of a deal with the EU, we should remember that any deal with Mr Barnier has to get through an increasingly agitated European Parliament and EU 27, not to mention the warnings from Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi about a US trade deal and the unnecessary damage to the UK’s relationship with Dublin.

This is doing real damage. Businesses in Northern Ireland, including hauliers, while apprehensive about new customs impositions, were satisfied that with the Northern Ireland protocol they could at last plan ahead. That has now been thrown into doubt. Only yesterday the Northern Ireland Assembly backed a Motion brought by my colleagues that roundly condemned the Government’s approach to the EU negotiations. Maybe the Minister could indicate what progress has been made on the deal relating to hauliers and indeed to fisheries? I think of both the Irish Government and the UK Government having jurisdiction in the Irish Sea. Will they be concluded soon? How will the Government protect our economy and society if there is no deal? How will they protect our devolution settlements?

Perhaps most ridiculous of all was the scene of Boris Johnson in the other place conjuring up fantastical images of the completely fictional threat of an EU blockade of UK food supplies, a nonsense that was brilliantly exposed by the colleague of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, Ed Miliband. Unfortunately, the PM still has to clown around with jokey notions of exports of Devon clotted cream being blockaded by the EU.

I am afraid for me and for the people of Northern Ireland. This has gone too far. We want to see a deal. We want to see those intricate sets of relationships that we have on the island of Ireland between north and south, within the north and between Ireland and Britain, as captured in the Good Friday agreement, protected and enhanced. We want no further nonsense such as we have seen espoused by the British Government. I hope the Minister can provide some answers today to those vexing questions on that vexing issue, because there was no doubt that the protocol provided an answer to that most vexed question of the border.

Baroness Barker Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Barker) (LD)
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Since the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, is not contributing this afternoon, I call the next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Wei.