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Brexit: Single Market

Volume 774: debated on Wednesday 14 September 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, in their negotiations to leave the European Union, they will seek to preserve the United Kingdom’s membership of the single market.

My Lords, we are determined to protect and build on our economic strengths while implementing the decision of the British people to leave the EU. We want the right deal for trade in goods and services for the United Kingdom.

My Lords, has the Minister had a chance to consider the recent paper by the Centre for European Reform with its detailed analysis of the very complex problem that Brexit raises for our trade relations with the European Union and non-EU members of the World Trade Organization? If so, does he not agree that it demonstrates pretty convincingly that, when it comes to the impact on our future prosperity and trade, the least bad solution is to preserve our membership of the single market at all costs?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for drawing that paper to my attention. I have actually seen it and it is extremely interesting. It sets out a number of questions and outlines some—just some—of the complexity that we face. I will not be drawn on his point, I am sorry to say. I know how frustrating it is for all noble Lords with regard to the position that we are in, but, as I said in the Statement last week, we are analysing the position, analysing the options open and determined to come up with the best deal and the best outcome for our country.

Will my noble friend acknowledge that there is a difference between access to the single market and membership of the single market? Will he recognise the fact that many countries have increased their exports to the single market more than we have and are not members of the single market? If EU law continues to be applied to companies in this country that are not even exporting to the EU, Brexit will not mean Brexit.

My noble friend makes a number of very good points. He is right to draw a distinction between access and membership. I would add that we are—and we must never forget this—negotiating from a position of considerable economic strength in this country, endorsed once again by the employment statistics that came out today. Therefore, as we enter these negotiations, that should buoy us.

At 10 am yesterday, our Constitution Committee introduced its report stating that a parliamentary vote was needed before Article 50 could be triggered. It took David Davis just five hours to reject it. Does the Minister think that that bodes well for the advice he will take from your Lordships’ House? Would it not be a good idea if some of the advice was read before it was rejected?

I am sorry that the noble Baroness feels that way. I have read the report with regard to Article 50, but the Government’s position on Article 50 has been clear for some time. I have nothing further to add other than that we are intent on delivering the verdict of the British people.

My Lords, will the Minister be prepared to say when the Government will produce an objective, factual assessment pointing out the substantial differences between being in the single market, being outside the single market in free trade but not free trade in services and not having access free of customs controls and regulatory burdens, or the third option—the WTO option—and paying the common external tariff on our exports? Will we get the facts on that some time soon?

My Lords, all I have to add to the Statement that the Government set out in this House last week is that the next milestone in this process will be the triggering of Article 50, which will make our position clear. Clearly, we are looking at all the options open, which the noble Lord so eloquently outlined.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that, essential as it is, membership of the single market short of EU membership, let alone mere access to it, entails a severe loss of sovereignty, especially if we leave the customs union—what my right honourable friend Nick Clegg called a potential tsunami of red tape? So were not the promises of taking back control and slashing bureaucracy if we left the EU a complete work of fiction?

The noble Baroness makes a number of points. We are assessing all these options. I am not in a position to comment further right now.

My Lords, this really is not helpful. We have time to get a number of questions in. It is the turn of the Conservative Benches, then we will come to the Labour Benches. This really is not helping us make sure we can get our points across, and frankly it is not helping how the House looks to the public.

Would my noble friend explain to some noble Lords opposite a point they do not seem to have quite twigged? The single market in services is very weak in Europe—indeed, it hardly exists. This country’s GDP is 81% in services. We shall need to look for markets outside the single market if we are to expand our prosperity and future export earnings.

My noble friend makes an extremely good point about services and all these things. I confirm that we are looking at these issues through the prism of the United Kingdom economy as it currently is and the strengths I have already outlined.

My Lords, the noble Lord in his earlier reply said that the Government were busy analysing the advantages and disadvantages relating to the single market. Does he not think that a sensible way to deal with something quite so significant and important to the British economy is to analyse the problem first before coming to a conclusion?

My Lords, we are looking at the British economy, sector by sector, to see the impact that Brexit might have on it and taking a sounding of views right across the economy. That seems to me to be the perfectly logical way to approach this, acting purely in the national interest.

My Lords, many parts of our country are deeply concerned about the negotiations, not least the farming community, as evidenced by the Back British Farming demonstration going on outside. We produce food of the highest quality, by environmental and welfare concerns, of almost anywhere in the world. For the sake of our health, our livestock and the environment, can the noble Lord assure the House that Her Majesty’s Government will be very careful to ensure we will not be flooded with cheap imports of food produced to much lower standards than that which our excellent farming industry produces?

The right reverend Prelate makes a very good point about the various options open to us and their consequences. I assure him we have already started to have extensive negotiations with the farming community and others about the impact Brexit has on their sectors.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the issue of whether Article 50 can be triggered by royal prerogative or by a vote in Parliament is wholly arid? Indeed, for Brexit to be brought into execution it will be necessary for us to cancel and undo completely the European Communities Act 1972. That, of course, will involve legislation.

Indeed. The noble Lord makes a point about the role of the ECA. We are currently reviewing what action will be required regarding the review, amendment or otherwise of that Act.