House of Lords
Wednesday 30 December 2020
The House met in a hybrid proceeding.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Southwark.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now begin. Some Members are here in the Chamber, others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. I ask all Members to respect social distancing. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House.
Business of the House
Motion on Standing Orders
That, in the event of the European Union (Future Relationship) Bill being brought from the House of Commons, Standing Orders 46 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) and 47 (Commitment of Bills) be dispensed with to allow the Bill to be taken through all its stages today and the Committee to be negatived.
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend the Leader of the House, I beg to move this first Motion standing in her name on the Order Paper. This Motion will allow us to take all stages of the European Union (Future Relationship) Bill later today. If the provisions in the Bill are to come into force before the end of the transition period, Royal Assent must be notified during today’s Sittings of both Houses. I am grateful to Members in the usual channels for the constructive discussions that we have had about how best to use the short amount of time available to us today. It was agreed that the priority should be to enable as many Back-Benchers as possible to take part in the Second Reading debate, which is what we have done.
The arrangements for consideration of this Bill are clearly not in keeping with our usual practices and I want to be clear that I do not want our proceedings today to be taken as any sort of precedent as to how legislation should be considered in future. We have jointly taken a pragmatic decision, across the main opposition parties and keeping the Convener informed, about how best to use the limited time available.
I inform the House that, in order that our main debate on the Bill can start as planned, if this debate, including any votes on the Motion or any amendments to it, extends significantly beyond 1 pm, the second Business of the House Motion will not be moved and the debate on the coronavirus regulations will not take place today.
Amendment to the Motion
Amendment to the Motion not moved.
Amendment to the Motion
At end insert “but that this House regrets the gross abuse of the Parliamentary process and lack of any opportunity for effective scrutiny that has been necessitated by the failure of Her Majesty’s Government (1) to enable Parliament to meet in a more timely manner, and (2) to make other provisions for the rights of Parliament to be upheld.”
My Lords, I say first, I think on behalf of the whole House, how grateful we are to the staff of the House for the exemplary arrangements that they have made for our meeting today in the most exceptional circumstances. I also thank the Chief Whip for the courtesy that he has shown to me and to the House, as always. I pay tribute to those in the usual channels who have done the best that they can to make—let us be frank about it—the best of a bad job today. However, we should be aware of the enormity of the step that we are taking today, which is why I make no apology for moving this amendment.
What we are essentially doing is giving the Government power, in one of the most important matters that will face us in this generation, to legislate by decree. There will be no Committee on this Bill, no Report and no ability to move amendments on Third Reading. We will have just one debate, then a guillotine, then a vote, and then all 80 pages, 40 clauses and five schedules of this Bill, which is of enormous importance to the whole future of the United Kingdom, will become law immediately, with Royal Assent signified before the end of the Sitting. If this were an act of God, or some emergency for which we had to provide immediately—such as, for example, the pandemic—one might understand the need for legislative arrangements of this kind, although I note that when we passed the Coronavirus Act, which gave huge sweeping powers to Her Majesty’s Government, we gave it significantly more scrutiny in the most difficult of circumstances, including the need for Members to participate in unusual ways, than we are giving this Bill today.
It is not only that this is an act of the Government, not an act of God. Even given the fact that they reached an agreement only on Christmas Eve, it was still possible for there to be significantly more scrutiny of this Bill than we are giving it today. The Government could have called Parliament back on Monday. We could have had three days of debate on the Bill, which would have enabled normal Committee and Report stages to take place. Recognising, after discussions with noble Lords, that, given the constraints we are under—as I say, they are imposed on us by the Government, but we are under them none the less—we cannot have a normal Committee, I am not moving my first amendment, but I think that it is important for your Lordships to put on record that we deplore these arrangements and we do not regard them as in any way acceptable.
I note that the noble Lord, Lord Ashton, said that this Motion and our arrangements today should not be regarded as a precedent, but they will be regarded as a precedent. Let us be clear: precedents are things that have happened before—that is the meaning of the word “precedent”. We cannot do something and then argue that it is not a precedent for the future; it is a precedent. I can tell the noble Lord, because I have sat on that Bench too, that Ministers in future will be salivating at the powers that your Lordships will give the Government today over the most important piece of legislation that this Parliament will enact. They will cite it as a precedent for similar arrangements, which are without precedent before today.
There is no precedent at all—I have consulted the clerks, who are learned in these matters—in, so far as we can tell, the 800-year history of the House of Lords, and certainly not its modern history, for both suspending the need to have gaps between consideration of Bills in Committee and on Report and suspending Committee and Report entirely, which removes the power to move amendments. There is no precedent for this on a piece of major contested legislation. Your Lordships have done that historically only ever for emergency legislation that has the agreement of the opposition parties—notably terrorism legislation, where there is an obvious and sometimes compellingly urgent need to do so. In the history of this House, a piece of legislation like this has never been considered in the way that we are considering it today.
The issues that we are talking about are not small. Those of your Lordships who listened to the opening speeches in the House of Commons today will have seen the gravity of the issues that are being considered. If I may put in a plug for my leader, my right honourable friend the leader of the Opposition made a forensic speech, which went through in detail all the big issues in this agreement which must be debated and tested and which are at the moment unclear—the Erasmus programme, workers’ rights, the ability of artists and professionals to travel across the continent, what will happen to financial services, which are outside this treaty, business services and the nature of the security partnership. Noble Lords need only read the headings of each of the 40 clauses in the Bill, which relate to matters as big as any that your Lordships have ever debated and legislated for, to see the importance of the issues at stake. What is happening today is not just, as the noble Lord, Lord Ashton, said, not in keeping with our usual practices—I must say that that is the understatement of the parliamentary year; it is the noble Lord’s job to try to keep our proceedings as low key as possible—but something that the House should regard as totally unacceptable.
We are where we are. Today is the 30th and the Bill must become law, so I do not propose that we reimpose Committee stage, but it is important that we put on record that these arrangements are unacceptable. They will be regarded as a precedent in future. They treat the general public, who are looking at our proceedings and expecting us to legislate with scrutiny, with contempt. That is why it is right that we put on record that we deplore these arrangements. With that in mind, I beg to move as an addition to the Chief Whip’s Motion that
“this House regrets the gross abuse of the Parliamentary process and lack of any opportunity for effective scrutiny that has been necessitated by the failure of Her Majesty’s Government … to enable Parliament to meet in a more timely manner, and … to make other provisions for the rights of Parliament to be upheld.”
My Lords, the original Question was that the first Motion in the name of the Lord Privy Seal be agreed to, since when a second amendment has been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, as set out on the Order Paper. The Question before the House is that the second amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, be agreed to. I have received no notification, but I suspect the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, would like to speak.
My Lords, as a member of the usual channels I have to accept my collective responsibilities in that mechanism, but I must say that I am unhappy with the cavalier way in which Parliament is being treated over such an important piece of legislation. We should never have been put in this situation. There were remedies to avoid it if the Government had wanted to use them, but they decided not to.
However, we must accept that we are where we are, as the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, has said. When we discuss the legislation, we will face the situation that the Commons, after four and a half hours’ debate, will probably have passed it by a huge majority, and we will be left with six hours to discuss it. We thought it important that those in the House who wanted to discuss it should at least have that opportunity today. That is why the longest session should be available for Second Reading.
Frankly, if the whole issue around Europe and the deal is about getting back control, this is about getting back control for the Government, not Parliament, and we should all be very concerned. We would have liked at least two days for the debate. We also asked for a full day’s debate to follow once we have had time to discuss and analyse the details. I am grateful to the Chief Whip for conceding a day, but one day next Friday is too soon and inadequate.
We must accept that this is a special situation, as the Chief Whip has said. He has told us that it will not be a precedent and assured us of that in the usual channels. I accept that with good grace. However, this leaves us with a situation where our Select Committees will have to do a great deal of heavy lifting. Our European Union Committee and our trade agreement committee will now have to look at the legislation clause by clause. We should have regular reports from them on their progress so that we can, subsequently, do our due diligence on this legislation and on the deal.
Having said that, doing this in one day will sadly require a lot of people in this Chamber. One thing that we will have to look into again in the new year, given what is going on outside with the Covid pandemic, is whether we should be encouraging people to be in this Chamber, certainly in these numbers, in future.
For today, we in the usual channels accept that the deed is done. There will be a big vote in the Commons. We regret the lack of scrutiny that we will have, but I very much hope that, as the Chief Whip has accepted that this will not be a precedent, we will get the opportunity to scrutinise this Bill and the deal through the work of our Select Committees in the coming months.
I call the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter—oh, I call the noble Lord, Lord Purvis.
I thank the noble Baroness for allowing me to raise a question, if I may, of the Chief Whip. I have sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and his comments about precedent. This is the second Bill in a row which this House has considered under the fast-track procedure. There was the Bill immediately before the Christmas break—a trade Bill, which I covered—which had all its stages taken in one day because the Government knew they did not have the correct procedures in place for tomorrow. Therefore, I think there is a degree of sympathy.
The question I wish to ask is linked with the necessity now for detailed scrutiny after we come back in January, as my noble friend Lord Stoneham indicated. In the drop-in call yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord True, contradicted the Explanatory Notes of the Bill today. The Explanatory Notes state, in paragraph 99, that the Government believe:
“The Bill is not suitable for post legislative scrutiny as it implements an international treaty.”
The noble Lord, Lord True, reassured my noble friend Lord Fox, who asked the question, that there will be opportunities for scrutiny. So can the Chief Whip outline that there will be sufficient debating time and government time in January for us to debate the component parts of the Bill? Will the Government facilitate committees of this House to scrutinise the various components?
Linked with that, Liz Truss and the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, have said repeatedly that every trade treaty will come with an independently verified economic impact assessment. The noble Lord, Lord True, told me in letter on 19 May that the Government would capture the widest possible range of analysis, from economists and academics to businesses and civil society groups, to, as he put it, represent all parts of the United Kingdom. He said: “We will continue to keep Parliament informed with appropriate analysis”. Will the Chief Whip outline when we can expect to see the impact assessment that will be so vital to understand—as the noble Lord, Lord True, said—the various impacts that will be felt across the different parts of the economy?
My Lords, there is something in what my noble friend Lord Adonis said about the inadequacies, thanks to—I think— the drawn-out negotiating technique chosen by our Government, which has ended up with an agreement which probably could have been reached many weeks ago and left us this very inadequate way of dealing with an important Bill. In normal times, the Commons having sent us a Bill, we would scrutinise it, test whether it fulfils the roles set for it, and ensure that it is workable and that there is transparency and accountability. But, sadly, that is not what we have the chance to do, partly, as I say, because of the Government’s own delaying in negotiations—whether because they were afraid of the ERG or your Lordships’ House, I leave to others to conclude.
But what it does mean is that the House today does have to take exceptional and extraordinary action. I thank particularly the amazing work of our Constitution Committee, which kindly looked at this and, in particular, at the fast-tracking of it. It agreed and accepted absolutely the case for taking exceptional, extraordinary action, which is necessary in this case basically to make sure that we do not crash out without a deal—nor, indeed, find ourselves with legal uncertainty when there is a gap in law between the end of 31 December and the beginning of 1 January. We do need a statute book that works on Friday morning.
Of course, I particularly regret not being able to get into this Bill. I love all that: negotiations, amendments and groupings. No? Okay, well, I quite enjoy them anyway. What was important, particularly over the internal market Bill, was how much change this House made. We sent back a much-improved Bill, partly because of the hard work, commitment and knowledge of Members of your Lordships’ House. Having looked at the Bill, which I saw only at 12 o’clock yesterday, there really is a lot there that we would be able to get stuck into, with the sort of scrutiny we normally do, if we had the time.
But that is not where we are. We cannot alter the treaty anyway—not a jot or comma of it—because that is agreed by 27 Governments. We should not pretend, therefore, that there is anything we can do, other than stop it in its tracks and have no deal, which I know none of us would want. In fact, for those of us who have looked at it, the Bill takes the deal and drops it into legislation. Given that we cannot alter that deal and have to drop it into legislation, the truth is that even with a Committee stage, a Report stage and a Third Reading, there would be nothing we could do that would alter the treaty. So I think that a degree of realism is perhaps worth bearing in mind.
Of course we are not going to be able to do what we should do, but, as everyone has accepted, the Bill has to get Royal Assent tomorrow. It seems to me that the important thing is that we can carry out the other function that this House is so renowned for—not just detailed legislation but the influencing of public opinion, the Government and the Commons. The most important thing is that we can do that today via the debate, and I therefore hope that we can get on and hear as many of your Lordships, with their views on the treaty, as possible. I think that that is something we can do.
So I think we have to let this business get on. I would like to thank not only the usual channels but all the staff who have enabled us to do this and be here today. Your Lordships do not get holidays, so you are not giving one up, but they are giving up their Christmas holiday to be here and do all the work, and we owe them a great debt of gratitude.
I believe that we have to leave with a deal, and therefore we have to do this Bill today. We therefore will support the government Motion but will not support the amendment to it.
My Lords, before I call the Chief Whip to reply, is there any other Member in the Chamber who wishes to contribute to this debate? As there is not, I will call the Chief Whip to reply.
My Lords, I echo the previous speaker’s remarks on the staff who have helped us be here today. They have to do it; we do it for fun, and because, actually, we have a serious job in front of us. As I made clear in my opening remarks, we had to make a difficult decision about how best to use the time available to us.
I turn specifically to the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. You can tell he was the Secretary of State for Transport: you wait for weeks for an Adonis amendment and then two come along at once. But that is why I am particularly grateful that he has not moved the first—and ruined my joke, really.
But, seriously, he and a lot of other noble Lords have asked why the House was not recalled earlier than today. The deal was agreed late on Christmas Eve, and the Bill and its associated documents then had to be finalised, so today is the soonest the legislation could be considered. Also, bearing in mind that we are in the middle of a pandemic, we had to use hybrid proceedings—which involve speakers’ lists beforehand—otherwise we would have excluded many Peers who wanted to speak.
Perhaps I might say a quick word about the timing—about before and after. The reason that we have to finish today, in this sitting, is that the UK and the EU need to exchange notification of completion of procedures for provisional application early on Thursday 31 December. This exchange cannot be done until the Bill has received Royal Assent, as the passing of the legislation is a necessary procedure for provisional application. So we were very much stuck in a gap between being able to do it when the Bill and its associated documents were ready and having to do it at a very quick pace.
If we did as the noble Lord would like and had a provision for a substantive Committee stage, the time available for Second Reading would necessarily be reduced, and far fewer Back-Benchers would be able to take part. As I said, our proceedings today cannot be open-ended—Royal Assent must be notified to both Houses today.
We have heard that many noble Lords do not like the deal, and there have been criticisms of the negotiating process; I expect that we will hear more of that later on today. But I ask the House to consider what the alternative will be if the Bill does not complete its passage through the House today, which the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, referred to.
If I might say a word about precedent, I repeat what I said in my opening remarks that the way we have to consider the Bill today is not in keeping with our usual practices. The House rightly takes pride in its role as a revising Chamber, but today, time really is of the essence, and I consider these circumstances to be exceptional.
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, is quite right: a Bill was fast-tracked in exactly the same way the day we rose for the Christmas Recess. I do not know where that leaves us; either he is right that there is a precedent or the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, is right that there is not and that it has not been done before. It has been done before but the more important point is that I have stated on behalf of the Government that we do not consider today to be a precedent, so that can be referred to. Of course, this self-governing House is able to reform its procedures, but I say again that we do not consider that in the normal course of events other Bills should be done like this. Many Bills have been fast-tracked and each time it is up to the House to do that. However, it is important that—this is what was discussed in the usual channels—I make it quite clear that this today is not regarded as a precedent.
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, asked me some detailed questions about post-legislative scrutiny and economic impact assessments. If it is okay with him, I will get a proper answer to that. I do not have the details with me now but obviously, I will write to him and tell him where we are on that.
I understand the views of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, on the usual procedures of the House but, in these exceptional circumstances, I respectfully ask him to withdraw his amendment, bearing in mind, as he says, that we are where we are.
I congratulate the noble Lord on his sense of humour. However, I add that if his idea of fun is meeting here on 30 December, I am the Fat Controller.
I thank the noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Stoneham, and my noble friend Lady Hayter for their contributions. I defer to no one more than my noble friend Lady Hayter on the importance of scrutiny. She has probably contributed more hours to the scrutiny of European legislation than almost all other parliamentarians put together, except for one or two Ministers. However, it is right to observe and it is important for people to understand that what is at stake in the Bill is not simply the taking of a treaty and the putting of it into law, as she said, but all the follow-on requirements, including the requirements for parliamentary scrutiny.
The Bill was published only yesterday afternoon so I have had only one opportunity to read it, but I have counted eight separate Henry VIII provisions in it which give the Government sweeping powers to legislate by decree over and above the Bill itself. For example, Clause 29 says:
“Existing domestic law has effect on and after the relevant day with such modifications as are required for the purposes of implementing in that law the Trade and Cooperation Agreement or the Security of Classified Information Agreement”.
When you read the schedules, it is clear that the Government have a hugely exceptional power to modify legislation in order to bring it—in their own judgment, with no parliamentary procedure at all—into conformity with their own view of the treaty. I am absolutely sure that if we had had a Committee stage we would have been after those provisions with a vengeance, and my noble friend Lady Hayter would have led the charge.
I am not moving the first amendment so a large number of the remarks that were made do not apply. We will not have Committee and I am not proposing that. On the precedent, it is true that other Bills have been enacted in one day. I was careful to say “a Bill of this contested magnitude”, and no Bill has conferred on Her Majesty’s Government and on the state powers and changes of policy of this magnitude which we have agreed in this accelerated way. Therefore, I wish to turn the Chief Whip’s argument on him. He said to us that this is not a precedent. It is literally a precedent, because it will precede anything that comes hereafter. But if it is not a precedent, I can see no reason why my second amendment, which deplores the process but allows it to continue, should not be agreed to. On the contrary, I suggest to your Lordships that it is all the more important that we enact this amendment, which deplores the absence of parliamentary scrutiny and our usual practices in considering the Bill, for the very reason that if we are on the record deploring it, it is all the less likely thereafter that it will be regarded as a precedent.
These issues are hugely important for the whole way in which we conduct our parliamentary affairs and it is right that noble Lords should be on the record as to whether or not they think these arrangements are satisfactory. I therefore wish to test the opinion of the House.
Business of the House
Motion on Standing Orders
That Standing Order 72 (Affirmative Instruments) be dispensed with to allow Motions to approve the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2020, laid before the House on 17 December, the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers and Obligations of Undertakings) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020, laid before the House on 21 December, and the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2020, laid before the House on 29 December, to be moved today, notwithstanding that no report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments on the instruments will have been laid before the House.
Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2020
Motion to Approve
My Lords, despite all the pressure we are under, I would like to take a moment to celebrate some good news. The Government have today accepted the recommendation from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency to authorise Oxford University/AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine for use. This follows rigorous clinical trials and a thorough analysis of the data by experts at the MHRA, which has concluded that the vaccine has met its strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness. We have hundreds of thousands of doses ready to go and 100 million on order—enough for everyone.
On 4 January, the NHS will start administering doses to a revised list that reflects many of the interventions by noble Lords in this Chamber in recent debates. While the vaccine project is an international collaboration, we should take a moment to recognise the contribution of the British life sciences sector and reflect that this easy-to-administer, affordable and mass-produced vaccine offers Britain a way out of this disease, and will make a huge impact on the global response.
But, in the meantime, news from the front line remains grim. While the November national restrictions drove cases down in most areas, it is now clear that cases are rising again at a worrying rate. Across the whole country, cases have risen 57% in the last week, driven by the highly transmissible new variant. The number of people testing positive for Covid-19 has increased rapidly and a growing proportion have the new variant. Data from 29 December showed that there were an enormous 53,135 new Covid cases across the UK—half with the new variant—an increase of 272,551 over seven days. NERVTAG has concluded that the new variant demonstrates a substantial increase in transmissibility, of around 70%, and the R value appears significantly higher, with initial estimates at 0.39 and 0.93 higher—a massive margin in epidemiological terms.
In September, we introduced the tiering framework, which we built upon and refined in December. This is designed to provide a flexible and responsive system, which allows areas to move up and down the tiers as case rates change. It proved effective, with many areas containing transmission. Despite our efforts, the new variant has changed things. It forced us to establish the new tier 4 and to move regions, such as London and the majority of the south-east, into this higher tier.
The good news is that there is no evidence, at this stage, to suggest that the new variant of the virus is likely to cause more serious disease, that our current testing regimes will not detect it or that a vaccine will not respond effectively to it. For this, we give thanks. But the bad news is that there is no data showing that it causes less disease. The new variant accounts for 60% of cases in London and is growing around the country. As always, we see that increased infections lead to increased hospital admissions and loss of life. I need hardly remind noble Lords that this is a time when the NHS faces enormous challenges from winter pressures, its commitment to elective procedures and now the new variant. That is why we introduced the tier 4 stay-at-home measures we are debating today.
As in the November lockdown, people in tier 4 areas must stay at home and not travel out of tier 4. They may leave only for a limited number of reasons, such as work, education or caring purposes. People elsewhere are advised to avoid travelling into tier 4 areas. In tier 4, support and childcare bubbles are the same as in all other tiers. However, all non-essential retail and indoor entertainment will close. International travel is restricted to business trips. The clinically extremely vulnerable in tier 4 areas should do as they did in November and stay at home as much as possible, except to go outdoors for exercise or to attend health appointments.
However, we have listened to noble Lords in this Chamber and the public about what is important for the way people go about their daily lives. Unlike under the November restrictions, communal worship and a wide range of outdoor recreation are permitted. The restrictions imposed in tier 4 areas are hard, but necessarily so. They are designed to reduce transmission of this new variant, so that the NHS is not overwhelmed and we can return to normal as quickly as possible. These stricter rules are in line with other major European countries.
In addition to Greater London, other areas have now moved into tier 4, including Cambridgeshire, the rest of Essex, Norfolk, Suffolk, West Sussex, Hampshire, Southampton, Oxfordshire and Waverley. These changes took place on Boxing Day. We have balanced the economic impact of greater restrictions on business with measures to protect public health. These restrictions impact business in the short term, which is hugely regretful, but we should be clear that they will be economically beneficial in the long term, because we will get back to normal quicker. We are also mitigating the short-term impact through financial support schemes.
On 19 December, we had to take the horribly difficult decision to reduce the Christmas bubble exemption. I know that this meant that the majority of us could not celebrate in the way we would choose. However, given the increase in transmission rates, it would have been irresponsible and reckless to provide too great a window for increased social mixing and the inevitable increase in transmission that that brings.
Therefore, the Government had to ask people across the country to make further restrictions to their Christmas plans. Although this period has been difficult, we now have clear hope. With the rollout of the vaccine under way, we can start to plot our path out of the pandemic with greater certainty, but it is precisely because of this hope that we cannot give up now. That is why my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care will make a Statement in the House of Commons later this afternoon, addressing future tiering arrangements in response to the new variant. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education will make a Statement in the other place on the return of schools and universities. The sacrifices we make now are crucial to getting back to normal and ensuring that, next year, Christmas will be much more normal for every family in the country.
I commend the hard work of the NHS teams on the front line, including our Chief Medical Officer, scientists developing vaccines and other therapeutics, and those in the life sciences industry seeking to mitigate the impact of this epidemic. I also express the sympathy of us all to those feeling under pressure of any kind—financial hardship, domestic strife, health concerns, educational worries, mental health pressure or just the worry for loved ones and an uncertain future. To all those, I say that there is light at the end of the tunnel. With new scientific advances being made every day, we are taking concrete steps but, in the meantime, we must dig deep. The end is in sight and, until science can make us safe, it is our duty to put in place these new rules, which will help us to keep this virus under control. I commend these regulations to the House.
My Lords, we are at the point of a national emergency. If things continue as now, the NHS will fall over in the next few weeks. The virus is moving at frightening speed, yet the Government have not kept up. The time for the Government to follow public health and not public opinion is now. Hope is on the horizon with the vaccines, but short-term action is more important to keep people alive than extenuating future positives.
These regulations were too little, too late. Today the Government have to go further. The balance between the economy and saving lives is difficult, but you cannot contribute to the economy if you are dead. Government policy based on balancing the splits in the Tory party over lockdowns has to stop. The number of new cases, people dying and the stress on the NHS show that further action is required now, to slow the spread of the virus, keep people alive and protect the NHS. The Government have to follow the SAGE advice and implement a lockdown until R is well below one.
Evidence shows that secondary school pupils do spread the new variant, and therefore action is required on secondary school openings. Not to do so will endanger public health. To mitigate the educational issues facing young people, a Covid-19 premium must be implemented and given to schools so that young people get the support they need to catch up. This should be in place for the whole of this Parliament and not just a payment to schools for the next few months.
The NHS is getting to the point of not being able to cope. When will the promised insurance policy Nightingale hospitals be open to take, in London, say, 100 Covid-19 patients, rather than transferring people over 300 or 400 miles? People seek decisive and evidence-based leadership from government—not to do so is the biggest gift for the virus. These regulations have not stopped the speedy spread of the virus and deaths. Further action is required now.
Dame Deirdre Hine’s report on the 2009 influenza pandemic recommended raising public awareness and understanding about the key characteristics of a pandemic and core response measures. Yet we learned little. A failure of public communication through excessively optimistic mixed messages has led to deepening distrust. Some reporters, such as Fergus Walsh, have explained the scientific and clinical reality well, but we need clear, consistent messaging across the UK, sharing uncertainty and true risk. For example, the B.1.1.7 variant infectivity in effect adds more than 0.4 to the R number. The current reality is proving even worse than the modelling predictions for the coming months for bed shortages, overloaded services, staff infections and exhaustion. Second-time infections are now presenting, as antibodies seem to be short-lived.
Yes, the vaccine is brilliant news; it should prevent fatal infection. But infection control measures will remain essential in the long term. We do not know how long the immunity will last, whether those immunised will still get infected and be viral carriers and spreaders, nor how rapidly further mutations will develop, leading to the need for new modifications and new vaccines. Will the Government collate immunisation data from the NHS number with diagnostic data in the long term to understand the epidemiology as it evolves? Mixed messages and false hope fuel mistrust. Control will only be achieved by collaboration with the public when they understand that vaccination is not a quick fix.
My Lords, it is ironic, is it not, that on the very day that we are considering the European Union (Future Relationship) Bill, which should, in theory, make government far more accountable to Parliament, we are also considering yet more restrictions, retrospectively, which suggest that, in practice, we are moving in the opposite direction. If I were speaking in the Bill debate later today, I would applaud the achievement of the Prime Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Frost. It is immense, not least because it was secured in the face of sustained “scrutiny” by your Lordships’ House and the other place at every single step of the way.
I do not mean to detract at all from the fantastic progress made in finding a vaccine. I welcome today’s announcement that the AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved. It is, of course, wonderful news, but equally welcome would be a new approach by the Government of engaging with parliamentarians, such as Mark Harper in the other place, on cost impact assessments, for example —an issue so ably addressed by my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe in the debate on her regret Motion earlier this month.
Difficult decisions have had to be made; doubtless, more lie ahead of us. That is why I would urge the Government to make this new year’s resolution: to trust Parliament more and to treat it with the respect it deserves. That is the best way, indeed the only way, we are going to emerge from such a testing time as a renewed and reinvigorated parliamentary democracy, able to embrace the exciting opportunities afforded to us by our future relationship with the EU.
My Lords, I remind the House of my membership of the GMC board. We meet while the NHS is under huge pressure, with a record 53,000 Covid cases reported yesterday. Yet the Government’s record has been one of delay, indecision and vacillation.
The errors in the spring were compounded by the Government’s decision to ignore the advice of SAGE given in September for a two-week circuit breaker. Then on 2 December, a consensus statement signed off by SAGE warned that additional mixing to be allowed at Christmas could have a large impact on prevalence. Again, this was ignored by the Government. On 9 December, the Health Service Journal was reporting a rise in admissions. Yet still Christmas plans remained unchanged. On 14 December, the Secretary of State updated the Commons on the new variant associated with the faster spread in the south-east of England. The next day, the Health Service Journal and the British Medical Journal called for the Government to respond to this worsening situation by cancelling their plans to allow household mixing over Christmas and tightening the tiered restrictions immediately. This was ignored. On 16 December, Boris Johnson dismissed concerns raised by Sir Keir Starmer. Three days later, we saw the U-turn which sent thousands of people on to overcrowded trains, exporting the new variant far and wide.
Have the Government finally learned their lesson? I hope that this afternoon they will show they are prepared to act decisively. I also hope that, with the fantastic news today of the approval of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, the Government are able to raise the weekly vaccination rate up to 2 million a week, as Professor Neil Ferguson has recommended. I also hope to hear from the Minister what plans they have to reduce the immediate pressures on the NHS. Are the additional nearly 30,000 doctors who were brought on to the GMC’s supplementary list really being used sufficiently to help the NHS?
My Lords, the last time that we discussed restrictions, I asked the Minister whether volunteers would be used for non-medical tasks to improve the speed of testing and tracing. The Minister dismissed the idea. Now they are asking for volunteers to marshal patients in vaccination centres. Will he now recognise the important role of these public- spirited people and tell us what resources will be given to St John Ambulance to organise them?
The Government spoiled Christmas for head teachers by insisting, on the last day of term, that schools should open on time next week and that all children and staff should be given the rapid test. Yet virtually no time, money or person power has been provided to enable them to do this. While I believe that keeping schools open safely should be a priority, what are the Government doing to support heads and teachers? Will there be enough testing kits provided for schools to use? Will staff be given priority for vaccination to give them the confidence to return to work? Will volunteers be recruited to help with the testing to allow teachers to teach?
Children’s education is vitally important, but many of them have lost weeks of classroom time intermittently, not because of lockdowns but because of serial Covid outbreaks in the school and the need to go home for two weeks—over and over again. If the imminent announcement by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care does not introduce strict measures to stop the virus in its tracks and if the Government do not implement an efficient vaccination rollout, this stop-start education will continue. The effect on our children’s education is not just whether or not we open schools but whether or not we win the battle against the virus. Does he agree?
My Lords, we keep on hearing about the end of this tunnel, at which there is some light. It is an extraordinary long tunnel, and the pinprick of light seems to be very small. In the past I have asked the Minister whether he still stands by Professor Ferguson’s prediction of 4,000 deaths a day, which has never been withdrawn and never got near, and whether he is willing to widen the pool of experts that the Government rely on. Many experts are casting doubt on the figures and their interpretation, not on a one-off basis, but very regularly. I would like to see those people inside the government tent that is producing the projections we are asked to live with.
In particular, will the department publish an updated table showing deaths by age and previous condition? Are we still dealing with people aged on average 84.4 years-old with underlying conditions, or is the disease spreading to a lower cohort? We need to know more what its impact is and a bit less about the numbers, as has been agreed. The numbers have gone up because the number of tests has gone up, among other things.
The second thing is: can we have some idea of hard plans for vaccinations, not just that they are there or that they will be used? What are the plans, and when is it expected that all the over-80s, the health staff, and the over-75s will be vaccinated? Can we have a plan for each area and something that we can hold the Government to account against?
My Lords, I congratulate the Government. The Minister just announced the MHRA’s clearance of the Oxford University AstraZeneca vaccine. I congratulate Kate Bingham and the Vaccine Taskforce on this phenomenal example of collaboration between business, universities and the Government, and of international collaboration between Sweden and Britain. India has a contract for 1 billion doses to the Serum Institute of India—the largest vaccine manufacturer in the world. Could the Minister assure us that there will be all hands on deck for vaccinators, including retired doctors and nurses, wherever we can get volunteers, and that we will use all possible premises, including workplaces, as long as they are in a safe supervisory environment?
There was an excellent article in the FT the day before yesterday on rapid Covid tests, titled:
“Rapid Covid tests are being used more widely: can they be trusted?”
Yet here we have the example of Britain and France using rapid Covid tests to unblock the 48-hour blockage of movement. Enabling the use of these tests has saved so much. Can the Minister confirm that permission was granted on Tuesday for the public to use these tests on their own? Will the lateral flow tests now be available to the public? Professor Sir John Bell, Regius Professor at Oxford University, said:
“Testing asymptomatic people is an enormous priority … If there’s no testing, they don’t get caught. Every successful positive you get is a win.”
Surely that gives validation to this, yet we have others who say that we will miss half the cases. Professor Tim Peto of the University of Oxford said:
“They’re not perfect, but that doesn’t stop them being a game changer for helping detect cases of infectious disease”.
Would the Minister agree? There is also the very clear example of Slovakia. That test was employed throughout the country and lead to a 60% to 70% reduction in the rate of infection across Slovakia.
There is no perfect test. “Everything is a compromise”, according to Jo Martin at Queen Mary University. The best will otherwise be the enemy of the good.
My Lords, I speak from the sunny snow-covered east Lancashire uplands, where I am a councillor. The general feeling among people as a whole here is one of dismay and gloom. Since last March we have been in a continuous period of lockdowns, the northern intervention area, more lockdowns and tier 3. We are now threatened with tier 4. Apart from a few weeks in the summer it has been a year of total gloom and, frankly, it has not been working. Despite heroic local efforts it has not worked since August. We need proper tracing, the community testing on a large scale that was promised and proper support for people in isolation. Even when we get the vaccine, we will need alternative approaches, based on putting it in the hands of local people, giving them faith and confidence, and working for hearts and minds, not just telling them what they have to do.
It is quite clear, from looking at detailed statistics for the whole of Lancashire and all the councils every day since March, that the real stimulus and catalyst for the big increase since the middle of September has been the return of schools. Unless we tackle the problems in schools we will not tackle this virus, however much vaccination there may be. I suggest that all staff in schools should be the top priority for the vaccine, that schools should not return until the end of January, that we should scrap the examinations this summer already, that kids who need laptops at home should actually get them, and, more controversially, that we should scrap the present school year, reset it and start it again next September.
My Lords, I am delighted, as are others I am sure, by the news of the Oxford vaccine. I hope that it will lead to a return to normality.
In my two minutes, I will focus on one issue alone: do these restrictions and lockdowns work? As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, referred to, SAGE—which is apparently running the country now, too—said back in September that it was certain that two-week or three-week circuit breakers would crack the growth in cases. Wales did this and cases rose rapidly shortly afterwards. We had a month’s lockdown in November that ended not a month ago. Cases went up, or are now going up anyway. Huge damage is being done to the country, livelihoods, the economy, suicide rates, and to young people and their future.
So do these restrictions work? I am very grateful to my noble friend the Minister, as I got a response from him yesterday. I asked whether they worked, and he said:
“Evidence suggests that more stringent interventions tend to reduce the reproduction number … The lockdown imposed in late March and the changes in behaviour … resulted in a rapid reduction in the reproduction number … We continue to review the efficacy of measures.”
In other words, we do not actually know whether they work. Leicester has essentially been under lockdown since July. It will now almost certainly be properly locked down into tier 4 later today. Lockdowns just do not appear to work. We do not know about this new variant; my noble friend the Minister said that just a short while ago. We do not know whether these restrictions work. We are trashing our future based on risk-averse scientific advice, based on failed modelling, from scientists who do not know either.
I regret to say that the Government are losing the confidence of the public because they keep changing their mind. I also regret to say that people are now ignoring government advice and diktats because they no longer believe what they are being told by the Government.
My Lords, nobody could disagree that it has been a hard year for anyone governing a country, with the pandemic and the heavy load of Brexit, but the Government handled things badly from the very start. They were prone to dither, to delay and not to make up their mind when they were advised to, but later when it was too late. Part of the problem has been that they treated this not as a public health crisis, but as an economic crisis. Clearly, there is an impact on the economy, but that is not the primary reason to try to push back on the pandemic. Time and again, instead of locking our borders and advising people to stay at home, the Government did the opposite: they have advised us to go to work, and to eat out to help out. Of course, with their support of Dominic Cummings, they reduced public confidence in the Government as a whole. They really have themselves to blame.
We have heard from other noble Lords that there were 53,000 new cases yesterday. This is more than France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Portugal combined—all those countries together have fewer cases than we have.
Covid has done some good: it has reminded us of the value of community, collaboration and working together to find solutions. Quite honestly, the Government really ought to be doing this as well, but dithering and delaying means that they have not, so I will give them an idea. They must start helping the most vulnerable people—those who are clinically vulnerable but who are told by their bosses that they have to go to work. The hostile environment against migrants must be ended; it is now a threat to public health. We should end NHS charges for migrants, close detention centres and abolish “no recourse to public funds”. Finally, the Government really have to get a grip on schools. It is obvious that closing them will be the short-term option. I very much hope that the Government start to listen to the experts and do things in time.
My Lords, I am by nature a libertarian, believing that individuals should, by and large, be responsible for their own behaviour. However, I fully support these regulations, and think that they do not go far enough given the current R rate and the Covid-19 challenges.
Nursing staff, of whom I am one, as your Lordships know, play an indispensable role in delivering health and social care services, and have gone far and beyond during this crisis. The challenges presented by Covid-19 have been exacerbated by existing and severe staffing shortages in our healthcare sector. We are now seeing the highest numbers of recorded cases of Covid-19 in the UK, with some trusts and areas reporting that they are at breaking point. With the added pressure of winter and unprecedented demand on the service, there are not enough healthcare staff to care for people across the system. These pressures not only exacerbate workforce issues but put patient safety at risk.
Having spoken to Dame Donna Kinnair, the chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, and having considered other briefings, including from the NHS Confederation, I believe that we need to introduce tomorrow night, as an emergency, some kind of curfew, so that people do not go out in pairs, meet others in pairs, or get alcohol from those off-licences that can open, in order to protect the few beds that we have available in the health service at the moment and ensure that we do not make things worse in the next 24 hours.
My Lords, on Christmas Day, there were 578 Covid-related hospital admissions in London; 16 weeks earlier there had been just two. That number became 38, four weeks later, and, after another eight weeks, 124. It is now 578. That is an exponential growth, with the total number of in-patients in London now at just above the previous peak on 8 April. If anything, these figures understate things. The threshold of illness to be admitted to hospital is now higher, and more people are dying in the community without ever entering hospital. And the virus is now more transmittable than it was. So of course these measures are needed. The question is whether they are—or rather, were—sufficient.
Throughout the whole of this year, the Government have dithered, responded too late and then acted inadequately. There were five wasted weeks at the beginning, no monitoring of those entering the country and the chaos of test and trace, and dither and confusion continue. Will the schools reopen next week, the week after or later still? This is overpromising and under- delivering, yet again. Some 1,500 soldiers to help test the nation’s schoolchildren means one soldier to every 20 schools—it is a joke.
Ministers are chasing headlines and not listening to those who have to deliver on the ground. Contracts are given to cronies who fail to deliver but still walk off with eyewatering profits; contrast that VIP channel to riches with the businesses going under for ever because of the chaotic cycle of lockdowns and them never being provided with adequate bridging funds to survive.
With the failure to compensate properly those who are expected to quarantine or self-isolate, it is no surprise that some do not follow the rules. This is a litany of failure, with the worst death rates in Europe and probably the most damaged economy. My question is simple: how can the noble Lord defend it?
My Lords, I join my noble friend in thanking all the NHS staff who worked over Christmas and who will work over the new year. I applaud the approval of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine.
Will my noble friend ensure that the double dose of whichever vaccine is used is rolled out as it was originally believed that it should be, so that both doses will be given to the most vulnerable as a priority, and to NHS staff, many of whom have not yet been vaccinated, to protect NHS beds and staff as best we can? Will he tackle, as a matter of urgency, the apparent hurdle to enabling GPs and other recently retired staff—here I declare an interest, as my brother falls into this category—who are willing to serve but appear to have a problem with indemnity and face other barriers? That seems inconceivable, given that they are prepared to swing into action to roll out vaccinations and presumably help with triage at hospital admissions.
As the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, mentioned, will my noble friend look carefully at the role that secondary schools in England appear to be playing in the recent rampant spread of this latest mutant infection? Will he consider taking actions such as Wales and Scotland have to delay the return of schools by more than the two weeks envisaged?
Finally, my noble friend said—I think I am quoting him correctly—that, economically, the restrictions set out today will be beneficial in the longer term as they will enable us to get back to normal sooner, yet there is very real concern in the hospitality industry that many establishments will simply not be in a position to reopen. Will additional support be considered at this time, as a matter of urgency?
My Lords, I too welcome the approval of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, and commend the work of scientists and those on the social care and NHS front lines.
I ask my noble friend the Minister—whose dedication and courtesy I always appreciate—whether he can confirm, as was suggested by my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, the stories of medical and nursing staff who have volunteered to return from retirement but who are unable to get to work due to various bureaucratic delays. Without extra staff, clearly the automatic response of calling for ever-tighter restrictions will not cease. We have Nightingale hospitals that cannot be used and we need vaccines to be administered.
Yet again, we are debating retrospective legislation which has imposed further draconian restrictions on people’s lives without trusting them to be responsible. Yes, some are being irresponsible, but that is a small minority. Yet against the backdrop of Covid cases rising and winter pressures on the NHS, plus our ageing population, clearly there are reasons for concern. But as many noble Lords have stressed, recent history and examples from around the western world suggest that lockdowns and tiered restrictions have not defeated this virus. In Wales, the two-week circuit breaker has not defeated the virus, as my noble friend Lord Robathan said.
I echo the calls of my noble friend Lord Shinkwin for the Government to ensure more engagement with Parliament, and those of my noble friend Lord Balfe for better data, and context for that data, to allow relevant comparisons, and for a proper cost-benefit analysis, including impacts on other forecast deaths resulting directly from the tier restrictions, such as from cancers left undetected or inadequately treated, strokes, heart problems or suicide.
I am delighted that places of worship have remained open, and I have tremendous fears about the impact of school closures on younger people if that is decided again.
My Lords, I shall speak about the wearing of face coverings on public transport. What do the Government intend to do about the attacks on public-spirited individuals who attempt to encourage non-wearers of masks to comply with the law? What advice can they offer to members of the public who believe that the law should be obeyed but are deterred by the threat of physical violence on confronting the lawbreakers?
Yesterday the Evening Standard reported the case of a train passenger who was attacked with a knuckleduster and put in hospital after he asked two men to wear face masks. He was kicked as he got off the train at Barnes station and then beaten up on the platform. He suffered a punctured lung and multiple broken ribs. In an earlier incident in October, an NHS worker confronted a group of two men and a woman on a District line train and asked them why they were not wearing masks. He too was attacked, punched several times on the side of the head and then thrown off the train on to the platform at High Street Kensington. I suspect that a number of your Lordships may have remonstrated with non-wearers of masks on trains, tubes or buses and been rewarded with mouthfuls of vile abuse for doing so; I recall my noble friend Lady Thornton recounting such an incident in your Lordships’ House, and I certainly have.
If we ask public transport workers to support us, they tell us they have no powers to enforce mask wearing. That even goes for Transport for London bus drivers, who will not refuse boarding to non-mask- wearing passengers. My appeal to the Minister is to take whatever powers are needed to get the law enforced, issue new instructions to public transport operators and help all of us who support the policy to stay safe —both from the threat of the virus and from the threat of the thugs.
My Lords, I offer my unreserved congratulations to the Government, their scientists and the National Health Service on the signal success of getting to the point where the Oxford vaccine is available to us. We are entering the last phase of this struggle. I in no way share the gripes of those of my colleagues who have expressed them. The best that can be said for them is that if they had been in charge, they might possibly have made different mistakes. I think the Government’s record has been one that we will look back on, if not with pleasure then at least with confidence that they have done as well as anyone might expect under the circumstances.
When it comes to the vaccine rollout, I join the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, and my noble friends Lady McIntosh of Pickering and Lady Altmann in being concerned that there are some signs that the rollout is being held up by an insistence on good practice, which is appropriate in normal times but not now. We really must not let the best be the enemy of the good. Every day’s delay is another day’s deaths.
I cannot see what the difficulties are in, say, chucking the vaccine out to pharmacies. There are 65,000 pharmacies in this country and they are all used to administering flu vaccines; if they were administering 15 Covid vaccines a day, we would be doing 1 million a day in total. It is well within our capacity to get this out while accepting a few imperfections in the cause of a much-reduced tally of deaths.
My Lords, we have exponential infections and the highest number of deaths in Europe. Are the Government seriously not questioning where they have gone wrong? What must now be done to further mitigate this country’s distress? I share the many concerns raised by other noble Lords; my local hospital, the Royal London, has ambulances lined up like the lorries at Dover with patients waiting, often for urgent and emergency care.
Can the Minister say why the Excel Nightingale remains closed to patient care? If it is due to the shortage of 84,000 clinical staff, what consideration is being given to recalling early retirees and utilising the military medical corps for the Nightingales to relieve some of these extraordinary pressures?
We know that tiers are not impactful in controlling deaths and infections. Surely, given the national emergency, we must consider an immediate national lockdown. I agree wholeheartedly with the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Watkins of Tavistock, the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, and many others. That must include schools. Our schools must also be shut down and all the necessary support put in place for schools, families and businesses. Schools have rapidly spread the infection, particularly in areas such as Tower Hamlets, Newham and Hackney.
The prevention strategy must continue, as others have argued. Face coverings must be made available free of charge in many institutions, including in shops and even on public transport. Maybe people would then begin to take their use seriously.
Testing and tracking alongside effective communication with all communities must go hand in hand with the vaccine becoming widely available for those who can and wish to take it up. I congratulate the Oxford team on this wonderful news, and long may it continue.
My Lords, there is a pressing need for credible testing and data if the tiers being proposed today are going to work. As long ago as March, the director-general of the World Health Organization said:
“We must test every suspected case … Test, test, test”
and paragraph 7.3 of the Explanatory Memorandum includes case detection rates as part of the criteria on which the tiers are allocated.
The Government have a long history of failure on this. The system collapsed in September, there was a huge IT failure in October and, as my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey said, the last nine months have been a long history of chaos, despite costing £22 billion. Meanwhile it seems that most of the contracts that were awarded went to friends and relations of MPs rather than to local delivery, which was the obvious answer.
There was a bad but wonderful example of a massive failure of testing that we saw a week or two ago in Kent. It was quite reasonable for the French Government to require the testing of incoming drivers, and about 5,000 drivers needed urgent testing. As well as the lack of toilets on the M20, there was chaos with that testing. In the end, the French fire brigade sent across 20 firemen with testing kits to help to clear the backlog, as did the Polish army. It took nine days over Christmas to clear a backlog of just 5,000 testing needs. I am afraid that demonstrates the total incompetence of the Government on testing. No amount of lockdown will work without a credible and efficient testing programme.
My Lords, I support the regulations. I have been a strong proponent and defender of the principle of tiers in defending us from Covid; in my view, it is the correct strategic approach. I thank my noble friend Lord Shinkwin for his kind words about my work on cost-benefit in this very interesting debate.
I congratulate the Government and my noble friend the Minister on the vaccine programme, and I thank Kate Bingham for her entrepreneurial flair in buying into several vaccine options. A key principle of investment, which she obviously understands, is to spread the risk. That has enabled us on this occasion to be genuinely world-leading. However, with the economy reeling, we must have a rapid rollout of approved vaccines. To judge by what has happened so far, that will prove challenging, and I welcome suggestions that the military will be involved at an early stage.
Like everyone, I am concerned about the situation in our hospitals—from Salisbury, my hometown, where cases are up sharply, to the outer reaches of the UK. I have been reflecting on what we can do to improve things and look forward to the Minister’s comments. I have four thoughts and questions.
First, on information, we have been plagued throughout this epidemic by a lack of timely information and transparency. The latest example is not knowing hospital by hospital how many admissions there have been by type, age, medical condition, postcode, Covid variant, and so on. Please can this deficiency be removed? Secondly, on local incentivisation, if any of us are informed that we are at risk or live in an area where our local hospital is in danger of being overwhelmed, we will change our behaviour. Thirdly, on oxygen, I know from my son’s experience in LA, from Boris Johnson’s in St Thomas’s and from the sad news this week from Woolwich that reliable supplies of oxygen and staff to administer it are literally the difference between life and death. Why have we not made better preparation for oxygen supply? Fourthly and finally, on staff, I was told by a friend at the WHO that the biggest problem in fighting this epidemic in the UK is the availability of trained staff to help with Covid. What have we been doing to tackle this, if necessary by bringing in retired staff?
My Lords, much of the criticism expressed by your Lordships today has of course been cogent, but I do not share the sense of certainty over the desirability of alternative options, nor the sense of recrimination, in most instances, in relation to the Government’s actions so far. Government Ministers and, looking outwards, all of us carry an extraordinary weight in imposing such levels of restrictions, which I have supported and will support in future. But they are creating huge pressures on communities, families and individuals, which will in many cases be felt for the entire lifetimes to come of those who endure them.
I want to use the little time I have to ask the Minister about people attempting to beat the deadline. We saw that happening in the week before Christmas, with that distressing sight of huge queues and overcrowded trains as people left the capital. Have the Government made any assessment of the level of increased spreading of the virus which such behaviour created, in that instance and others, and of what they can do to prevent the problem that people will act to beat these deadlines with a greater degree of harmful behaviour, ahead of any deadline imposed in future?
My Lords, in the two minutes available I want to make three quick points but also to say how much I appreciated the balanced intervention there from the noble Lord, Lord Walney. I hope that we will have a chance early in the new year to debate the overall strategy, with more time for contributions.
First, I am totally opposed to the further mass closure of schools in any part of the United Kingdom. I do not think that the younger generation should be made to pay for the challenges which there clearly are in public health for the rest of the population. It is not beyond our wit and imagination to provide appropriate ways in which schools can stay open and children be taught using additional staff, volunteers and IT equipment, and additional space. That should remain a top priority for the Government. I would like the Minister to confirm that the Government still consider schools and other educational establishments critical infrastructure.
Secondly, while vaccinating health service staff and vulnerable, elderly people is very important—it is, no doubt, popular and in many ways correct—it is vital that we vaccinate other sections of the population. There are those who have to work, for example, such as bus drivers and those collecting our domestic waste, or those in our schools and educational establishments. There are also those working in factories and other manufacturing establishments where they cannot work from home; they may be working closely together. The vaccination programme needs to be more diverse and the strategy needs to take additional factors into account.
Thirdly and finally, it is absolutely vital that at the start of the new year, at the end of this week, we take a wholly new approach to co-ordination between the four nations of the United Kingdom. It has been a shambles. It has almost certainly cost lives because the public messaging, collation of evidence, reviewing of rules and the rules available for international travel have been so diverse and shambolic across the four nations of the UK. There is a need for leadership on this and for a new energy, so as to have a more concerted approach. I hope we will see that from all four Governments at the start of the new year.
My Lords, this pandemic is still, unfortunately, incredibly potent. It requires us all to do our bit and continue to make those sacrifices. There are incredibly difficult decisions to be made and although today’s news of the approval of the AstraZeneca Oxford vaccine is incredibly good, none of us can afford to drop our guard against this wretched and dangerous virus, so I fully support the measures we are discussing.
I know that there will be a Statement later in the other place, announcing more measures. No Government would be introducing such measures without serious consideration. I hope my noble friend the Minister will be able to reconfirm that expectant mothers can still have a birth partner present for the birth of their babies, whatever tier they happen to be in. I also hope that the Statement to be made on the restarting of schools will give much-needed clarity, as there is so much anxiety for teachers, parents and pupils alike presently.
There are plenty of people claiming that we should have done this or not done that but it seems that no single approach has been successful: you only have to look at other European countries. Circuit breakers are advocated in some parts of this Chamber but do not seem to have worked in Wales, for example. Some noble Lords have correctly observed that not everyone believes in these measures. I simply observe that well over 40 noble Lords have signed up to speak in person in the Chamber today, despite polite exhortations to participate remotely. I make no further comment, but we must not snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, about the need for unity across the four nations of the United Kingdom but we need to exercise more patience and forbearance if the sacrifice of so many is not to be wasted.
I am hearing July for the time by which everyone will have had the chance to be vaccinated. If you take a district such as Bassetlaw, with 120,000 adults, why can it not be done within a four-week period? Logistically, it is possible but the barriers are those I saw previously when working closely on public health with the primary care trusts and the GPs. The financial model for GPs does not lend itself to volunteers; neither does the primary care model. They would see 50 volunteers as incredible. I could get 500 volunteers within a week—competent volunteers, trained up with ease. They will be thinking of the venues that they use, rather than venues that are difficult to get hold of because that is not what they do. Most critically, employing new people on short-term contracts has been, and is, a big barrier to scaling up.
Indemnity has been raised before. The Government need to get in and facilitate that. It is precisely what we did in Bassetlaw when we managed, within four weeks, to get the vast majority of heroin addicts into medical treatment. Within four weeks, we had that majority. Why? Because we thought outside the normal bounds and got that financial indemnity, using money to ensure that there was no risk to those doing the treatment. I know of nurses, ex-nurses and other health professionals who would love to be involved now but are not getting the opportunity. That must happen.
Finally, on the anti-vaxxers, this place and the Commons should be vaccinated. The anti-vaxxers are far stronger than we imagine, beneath the surface and online. It is crucial that religious leaders should be vaccinated—and seen to be vaccinated—in the next few weeks.
My Lords, I would like to start from these Benches by thanking all those working in health and social care over the last few weeks, and especially those who have had no break over the Christmas holiday. Everyone has talked about Christmas being different this year, but for those staff on Covid wards, those on equally pressurised non-Covid wards, staff in primary care, in laboratories processing tests, those tracing contacts of patients, those working on 111 or running our paramedic services, this has been a really tough end to an already tough year. In tier 4 areas, where cases continue to rise alarmingly, everyone in the extended health system has risen again to do everything they can to keep people safe despite being exhausted. We salute you and we thank you.
These three statutory instruments are, as has become common, already out of date before Parliament has a chance to debate them. Some of that is understandable: this pandemic continues do its best to battle us at every turn and, make no bones about it, we are at war with Covid-19. The role of the scientists and medics is to warn us of the next skirmishes and battles, and the role of government is to provide the resources to defeat the next attempted incursions. Over the last few weeks members of SAGE, Independent SAGE and many front-line doctors and nurses have told us repeatedly that we must act now to prevent further surges.
From these Benches we have been critical of the patchy nature of the tier system, and specifically of the fact that this Government have repeatedly introduced new arrangements, whether local or national, much later than scientists and medical experts have recommended. Over the last three weeks they have said that the Government should take strong action now across England.
However, on Radio 4 this morning the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care once again said that he will go against this, refusing to take that strong action to get on top of the virus, despite many reports across the country that health services are already under extreme pressure, with patients being treated in ambulances and corridors, and some hospitals again facing low oxygen pressure, others with high levels of staff sickness or staff in isolation, and others converting more and more wards for Covid patients. This all seems horribly familiar.
To those who have been saying either that we should not have restrictions or that they are not convinced by them, and that the needs of the economy should take precedence, just before Christmas Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus from the World Health Organization reminded nation states that
“there is no excuse for inaction. My message is very clear; act fast, act now, act decisively. A laissez-faire attitude to the virus, not using the full range of tools available, leads to death, suffering and hurts livelihoods and economies. It’s not a choice between lives or livelihoods. The quickest way to open up economies is to defeat the virus.”
Worrying news was reported overnight in the Health Service Journal that patients with the new high-transmission Covid variant from London and Kent are likely to be moved into hospitals in regions with much lower levels of the Covid variant. What happens when the receiving hospitals in Devon, Newcastle, Sheffield and elsewhere are filling up with patients from the greater south-east, but their own local cases increase and there are no beds for them? Is there enough PPE available for hospitals for a winter wave larger than the spring wave we have already seen?
Before Christmas it was reported that NHS England had not yet signed any new deals with private hospitals because of arguments over costs. Now that some non- Covid services—including elective and cancer services —are beginning to be paused in these overburdened hospitals, are we using private hospitals to full capacity to ensure that those patients are not left behind?
We are hearing that pressure is now being put on care homes in tier 4 areas to take both Covid and non-Covid patients from hospitals. Can the Minister assure those who live or work in care homes that there will not be a repeat of untested patients being moved into care homes, and that care homes will have access to full testing, early vaccines and appropriate levels of PPE?
I would like to build on the question asked by my noble friend Lord Scriven. In the spring Ministers said that the Nightingale hospitals were the NHS safety net. The military delivered them in record time ready for use—for which both it and Ministers deserve credit. Yet, with the exception of the Exeter Nightingale, they lie unused. Can the Minister say when and how will they operate? We keep being told that staffing is the problem, but surely when they were planned there was also an emergency plan to staff them? If there was not, what have Ministers been doing over the last nine months since they were built? As Andy Cowper of the Health Service Journal has asked, were they just theatre?
Finally, the Minister began with news about the MHRA approval of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine—which is indeed great news, and they are to be congratulated on their joint work which started in January. The logistics for delivering 2 million doses a week if 50 million people are to be vaccinated by the summer are extraordinary. I hope that this House will have a chance to debate the detail of that, with a repeat of the Statement Matt Hancock is making this afternoon in the Commons. Can we debate it preferably next Tuesday?
My Lords, I join with other Noble Lords in giving wholehearted welcome to the approval of the AstraZeneca vaccine which, for once, will be a game-changer in defeating this horrible virus. I thank and pay tribute to our scientists and the volunteers who came forward to be tested. It means, crucially, speeding up on vaccination. This is now a race against time. I ask the Minister how many of those over 80, and how many care home residents, have been vaccinated? As for the substantive issue before us today, as ever the Government are behind the curve in their control of the virus and our debates on them, as we will see later when the Statement that is likely to extend tier 4 is made in the Commons.
The major changes to Christmas provision were late but welcome. But they were devastating for many. The Prime Minister announced the changes on Saturday 19 December at 5 pm. Why was guidance not published at the same time to give people much-needed clarity? People who were due to attend funerals or get married the next day were unsurprisingly desperate to know and very anxious. Why were the Government not better prepared, given the rapidly rising infection rates and the identification of the new strain? It was known in September that we had a new strain; this was not news. The Government knew that the three-tier system was not enough and should have had contingency arrangements and communications ready to go.
We all saw the scenes of chaos following the announcement, with packed trains leaving London. Does the Minister accept that the appalling communication strategy contributed to this, and will have contributed to the spread of the virus? That is to say nothing of the issue of face masks raised by my noble friend Lord Faulkner. What assessment has the Government made of compliance over the Christmas period? What additional support is available in tier 4 areas? Is there access to testing and income support? There is a need to incentivise people on low incomes whose jobs are in jeopardy to stay at home. The events of 19 December were totally typical of the procrastination, the constant overpromising and underdelivering, the opaqueness of information, the refusal to release SAGE advice in a timely fashion, a Prime Minister who seems incapable of taking timely decisions and a pandemic out of control.
Yesterday, we learned that all the hospitals in Essex were 48 hours away from having to refuse any more patients, Covid or otherwise—so, if you broke your leg, you would be refused entry. This is because over 700 staff in south-west Essex alone were off isolating with symptoms, with no strategy to get temps in from tier 2 areas, no vaccines for the staff and no lateral flow tests, as promised in October. Today, the leaders of the councils in Essex have declared a major incident—so how quickly, and how, will the Government give Essex hospitals the urgent support they need?
We on these Benches support the regulations, but we must ask ourselves, as we have so many times before: can the Minister tell us if this is enough action necessary to contain this virus? As the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins, and others asked, what is going to happen in the next 24 hours? How will the Government seek to control people going out to celebrate the new year?
This virus is out of control. Yesterday, over 50,000 cases were reported, and there are now more patients in hospital in London than at any other time in the pandemic—and, last week, 3,000 people died. So far, tier 4 areas show no sign of slowing down, and the NERVTAG minutes of 18 December suggest that this strain could add 0.4% to the R number. This new variant means that it will be harder to bring infections under control, so harder measures are needed. Will the Government publish, in real time, the advice they are now receiving from SAGE? As other noble Lords have asked, do they really intend to move people from London hospitals, with the new variant virus, to other parts of the country? I would like a yes-or-no answer to that question.
This takes us to the Nightingales. Is it true that the ExCeL Nightingale in London has been mothballed and its equipment removed? Again, a yes-or-no answer would be appreciated. There have been white elephants, stunts and overpromising, and getting the army and others to work their socks off, thinking they were helping their country—absolutely typical of the handling of this pandemic, where national interests and people’s lives seem to have been secondary to political expediency, the threat of Tory backwoodsmen and a photocall for the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State. This is very serious indeed; for the sake of our country, we need to get this under control.
I finish by talking about our children and young people. The way this Government have treated our teachers and headteachers with such contempt is shocking. There are five questions that the Minister needs to answer. What does the science tell us about Covid in schools? What is the plan for next week that we do not know? Will all students have IT for home learning? What is the plan on support for mass testing? When will school staff be vaccinated? How much worse does this have to get before further action is taken?
My Lords, I am enormously grateful to noble Lords for an informed, thoughtful and passionate debate. These regulations are incredibly important, but they are clearly not enough to battle the growth of Covid in recent weeks, and the noble Lord, Lord Harris, was entirely right to spotlight the situation in London, which is particularly acute. In Havering, there is a prevalence of 1,500 per 100,000. I remember being surprised when somewhere hit 200, and we used to be happy with 400—1,500 is an astonishing number. I fear that that is what we are looking at, at the moment, and that is the seriousness of the situation we have to face up to.
Some noble Lords have suggested that we are not doing enough, and I will answer a few questions in that area. As noble Lords who have frequently attended these debates will know, we could not have been more committed to our testing regime. In the last reported week, from 10 to 16 December, 92.6% of contacts were reached, 93.9% of pillar 1 tests were within 24 hours and 91.1% of care home tests were within three days. Some 2,293,012 tests were done in that week. That is a colossal number, which reflects an enormous commitment.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is quite wrong when he describes the project in the Channel Tunnel as chaotic. It was a remarkable achievement, and I do not think that any other country could have pulled it off: 30,000 tests were brought together incredibly quickly on the roadside, with a multinational team of hauliers, under the most difficult circumstances. This helped to get trade moving, and I personally pay tribute to colleagues from the DfT, the military, local police, the test and trace programme and all those who made that possible. I also pay tribute to those who are pulling together tracing partnerships and the community testing regimes over the Christmas period; they have made enormous progress.
A number of noble Lords have quite rightly asked about volunteers and whether we could or should be using them more. I reassure noble Lords in the Chamber that we are absolutely working our hardest to make use of volunteers where we can. A number of noble Lords have asked about administrative problems, and I reassure noble Lords that NHS Resolution has put in place clinical negligence schemes for coronavirus under the terms of the Coronavirus Act, which we debated here at the beginning of the year, and Covid-19 has been added to the Vaccine Damage Payments Act.
NHS volunteer responders have delivered 1 million tasks to 123,455 unique clients; that is the work of 360,000 NHS responders. The St John Ambulance, which has had an absolutely massive impact, has delivered 200,000 hours of support and has very helpfully been involved in training 30,000 people for the administration of the vaccine. It is very much our intention to make use of that valuable resource. Of the 45,000 on the Bringing Back Staff team at the NHS, 2,700 have already been used, and many more will be deployed right now.
In relation to the vaccination, I reassure noble Lords that the authorisation today is a complete game-changer in relation to the scale and speed of the deployment. Not only is the vaccine massively easier to take to care homes, in particular, and GP surgeries, but the change in the dosage pattern means that we can not only deliver every single dose as it arrives in the warehouse but we do not necessarily have to book someone in for an immediate second dose. That gives our deployment programme an enormous amount of flexibility, and will lead to a great increase in our turnover: we will literally be delivering them as quickly as they can be manufactured.
Others are concerned that we are doing too much, and I will address that very quickly. In relation to projections, I have stood at this Dispatch Box and had the projections of the Government, SAGE and PHE derided by noble Lords as fearmongering. Who could possibly have believed that we would have 53,000 new infections? It is a little bit rich of noble Lords to question the work of scientists and our modelling teams in relation to their projections on today of all days. We accept advice from a very wide range of scientists; no voice is excluded. It is the role of government to synthesise advice into policy, and we do not need to smear or deride the scientists who supply that advice.
I have been through the statistics on public support on numerous occasions; I do not think I need to go through that again. There is massive public support for the measures that we have implemented. As for ignoring the Government, adherence rates are remarkably high, and I pay tribute to the public, which, although there are exceptions, by and large are incredibly committed to the regulations that are in place.
Lastly, as I have said before, it is not the Government’s policy to use two-week lockdowns as an emergency brake. These were used in Wales but not nationally, and that will not be our policy.
I agree with the sentiments of the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins—at heart, I also celebrate British liberties, but it is the virus that is not respecting liberty, not government, and we have no option but to bring in these kinds of measures to battle the virus, save lives and protect future generations.
A number of noble Lords mentioned schools, which are, without doubt, the most difficult subject at the moment. Of course it is right that we should do absolutely everything we can to keep schools open. Noble Lords who made that point enjoy my complete and utter support, but the epidemiology is very challenging. Schools have undoubtedly been the source of an enormous amount of transmission. Some of that is asymptomatic, but it is deadly nevertheless. The opening of schools has contributed to the high rate of transmission, particularly in London. It will be up to the Secretary of State for Education in the other place to make the announcement on schools, but the Government are entirely committed to trying to keep schools open for exactly the reasons cited in this Chamber, not least because it is those who come from the poorest backgrounds who undoubtedly suffer most from their closure. However, in order to make an effective regime to battle this virus we may need to make some tough decisions.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, asked whether this is going to be enough. That is not for me to answer; my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health will be making a Statement in the other place shortly and he will address the question of any future restrictions or regulations. However, the noble Baroness is entirely right; the challenge we face this week is completely different to the one we had when we went into recess before Christmas. This new variant is of a different order; we may as well be battling a different disease. We will have to step up to that challenge in order to see ourselves through to the spring, when the vaccine will have been delivered to sufficient numbers to make a real difference. I regret that that may strike a chilling note at the end of this debate, but we have to face up to it.
Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers and Obligations of Undertakings) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020
Motion to Approve
Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2020
Motion to Approve
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now resume. I ask Members to respect social distancing.
European Union (Future Relationship) Bill
The Bill was brought from the Commons and read a first time.
European Union (Future Relationship) Bill
Second Reading (and remaining stages)
My Lords, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, I want to thank in advance all noble Lords who will speak in today’s debate.
This Bill, which passed its stages in the other place with a substantial majority, will implement the historic trade and co-operation agreement negotiated with the European Union and marks the beginning of a new chapter for our country. This comprehensive Canada-style agreement, worth more than £660 billion, delivers on the commitments made to the British people in the referendum and in last year’s general election. It takes back control of our money, borders, laws and waters, ends any role for the European Court, and protects the Good Friday agreement. It provides certainty for business —from financial services to the life sciences industry, food producers and our world-leading manufacturers, including the car industry—safeguarding highly-skilled jobs and investment across our country.
I am sure that the whole House will join me in thanking our negotiating team, led by my noble friend Lord Frost, for their professionalism, skill and perseverance. Of course, we also pay tribute to President von der Leyen, Michel Barnier and our European friends for the part they have played in ensuring we reached the deal we have today.
This agreement is the beginning of our new relationship with our European neighbours. It is a deal based on friendly co-operation between sovereign equals, centred on free trade and inspired by our shared history, interests and values, while respecting one another’s freedom of action. Crucially, it fully upholds our rights as a sovereign country, meaning we will have political and economic independence to assert global Britain as a liberal, outward-looking force for good.
However, this is not just a free trade agreement; it is much more. This broad and unprecedented settlement reflects our historic, close relationship with our European neighbours. It is a relationship and partnership which will continue, albeit in a new form, once the transition period ends tomorrow.
I know the strength of feeling across this House when it comes to this subject. For decades, this House and its work have played a pivotal role in forging our relationship with our European neighbours and allies. While this workload may have increased since 2016, the quality has never been diluted, and your Lordships’ commitment and focus in scrutinising the 17 Brexit Bills we have enacted over the past four and a half years have been unwavering. In particular, I pay tribute to the EU Select Committee and its sub-committees for the work they have carried out on behalf of the whole House since the referendum. The committees have published in excess of 70 reports, thanks to the efforts of their members, staff, clerks and legal advisers. The scrutiny of this House has been better for their work and dedication.
As Leader of this House throughout this often difficult and turbulent time, I want to thank noble Lords from across the House for their commitment and dedication to our important role during this long and, at times, frustrating process. I hope that, with consideration of this Bill, the House can close this particular chapter and look forward to opening a new one which focuses on our new domestic and international agendas as we move on to build a great future for our four nations.
The transition period will end at 11 pm tomorrow. I know that Members across the House will want to ensure that the legislation that gives effect to the treaty is in place so that people and businesses can rely on it. We will provisionally apply the agreement from 1 January, but we still need to have legislation in place for provisional application and implementation to happen, and to ensure that we can ratify the agreements.
I now turn to the contents of the Bill. Part 1 implements the relevant provisions of the agreement that will protect our citizens and continues our long-standing commitment to joint co-operation on security matters. The Government have negotiated a comprehensive package of operational capabilities that ensure that we can work with counterparts across Europe to tackle serious crime and terrorism. Among a series of security measures, the agreement facilitates the continued transfer of passenger name record data from the EU, exchange of data via the Prüm system and streamlined extradition arrangements based on the EU’s surrender agreement with Norway and Iceland. This is the first agreement of its kind that the EU has negotiated with a non-Schengen third country, and it means that our security and border agencies will be able to continue working with our EU neighbours to protect the British public.
Part 2 of the Bill addresses trade and other matters, implementing arrangements to keep goods flowing in and out of our country. This deal maintains zero tariffs and zero quotas on trade in goods between the UK and the EU—the first time the EU has ever agreed to complete tariff-free and quota-free access in an FTA. The Bill provides for streamlined customs arrangements, including recognising our respective trusted trader schemes. The schedule on technical barriers to trade means that our exporters will not face unnecessary obstacles or discriminatory regulatory regimes.
The Bill implements our deal for UK hauliers as well as bus and coach companies that can continue to operate to, through and within the EU, making sure that critical cross-border services can continue to operate on the island of Ireland. These passenger transport provisions give people the freedom to travel to and from the EU easily for work, holidays and to visit loved ones.
We have also agreed a comprehensive protocol on social security co-ordination that is unmatched by any other between the EU and a third country. This agreement will ensure that UK nationals have a range of social security cover when working and living in the EU, including access to an uprated pension and extensive healthcare arrangements. The Bill gives effect to these provisions.
The Bill also gives effect to an unprecedented agreement reached on energy trading and Euratom, and reasserts our shared priority of tackling climate change through sources such as solar and wind. The measures that I have outlined demonstrate that this historic agreement is wide ranging and designed to provide certainty to our citizens, businesses and hauliers through trade, tax and transport measures.
The Bill also makes other arrangements that are related to our agreement with the EU but not directly related to its implementation.
The United Kingdom’s commitment to protecting the Belfast/Good Friday agreement in all respects is unwavering. That is why this Bill will enshrine funding to the Peace Plus programme to promote peace, reconciliation and economic development in Northern Ireland and the border region of Ireland.
Part 3 of the Bill ensures that we can meet our legal obligations under the agreements, including those emanating from the governance architecture they contain. The House will understand the significance of the fact that the basis of this agreement is not EU law but international law. EU law will no longer have any special status in the UK, nor is there any direct effect of this agreement in UK domestic law. Crucially, the Court of Justice of the European Union will have no jurisdiction, delivering on one of our core objectives in the negotiations.
In the agreement, we have made reciprocal commitments to high-level principles but not to common laws, and we will retain flexibility to tailor our approach for the United Kingdom. These are fair and balanced measures, which ensure that there is no constraint on either side’s autonomy and sovereignty. Our Parliament will regain its freedom to make or unmake law as it sees fit. We shall begin by fulfilling our manifesto promise to maintain the highest standards of labour and environmental regulation.
A significant agreement has been achieved for our fisheries industry, although this is not included in the Bill. For the first time in nearly 50 years, our country will be free to decide who can access our waters and on what terms. There will be an adjustment period of five and a half years during which the UK’s share of fish in our waters will rise from over half today to around two-thirds. After this adjustment period, any access by non-UK vessels to fish in UK waters will be a matter for annual negotiations, with no automatic access granted to the UK exclusive economic zone.
The Government are committed to upholding the Sewel convention. We have sought legislative consent Motions from each of the devolved legislatures where necessary for the Bill. My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has sought consent from each of the Administrations, and we look forward to receiving their responses. My noble friend Lord True will update the House with any developments in his closing speech.
This Bill delivers what the British public voted for in last year’s general election and the referendum, and marks the start of a new chapter—one where we can take advantage of freedoms outside the EU to boost our efforts to level up opportunity; reform our approach to support farmers and improve the environment; encourage new, innovative sectors to develop; strike trade deals; and play a leading role on the world stage.
For these reasons and many more, I beg to move.
Amendment to the Motion
At end insert “and this House welcomes that the agreement with the European Union has avoided the United Kingdom leaving the transition period without a deal, but regrets the many shortcomings including the bureaucratic burdens, regulatory hurdles, relative neglect of the services sector, limited provision for mutual recognition of qualifications, uncertainty on regulation of data flows, and limited concessions on integrated supply chains outside the European Union, included in that agreement; further regrets the failure to secure all the vital shared tools on security and policing required to keep people safe; notes that there are considerable details yet to be negotiated; and calls on Her Majesty’s Government to work with Parliament and the devolved authorities (1) to establish robust oversight procedures over the remaining areas to be agreed and the implementation of those aspects already in the agreement, and (2) to move quickly to establish the Parliamentary Partnership Assembly jointly with the European Parliament.”
My Lords, we are sitting at an unusual time, are we not—although not on 25 December, which would have been a first since 1656, nor on Christmas Eve, which would have been a first since 1929 when, as Esther Webber assures me, the discussion included the quality of oysters in the Commons restaurant. Perhaps that was because they were not Morecambe Bay oysters—something about which the noble Lord, Lord Cavendish of Furness, might enlighten us in his valedictory speech. As he leaves, another Member arrives. I am particularly looking forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Austin of Dudley, whom I have had the pleasure of knowing and working alongside for many a year.
Today, we are asked to put into domestic law the Christmas Eve agreement. I hope that we will also agree the amendment to the Motion standing in my name. I am a child of the British Army on the Rhine, born in a war-ravaged Germany and schooled in a divided Germany. However, I am also a child of democracy, the rebuilding of which in Germany my father and his generation played a role. What I also saw was the gradual regrowth of friendship of nations, the dismantling of trade barriers, the increased movement of people and the development of security, personal and cultural links to ground the continent’s future in its people and economic well-being. How can I not feel European?
So today, because of all that has happened since 1945 and 1973—and because of what happened in 2016—as we start on a new journey, we owe it to the past as well as the future to ensure that we continue with the motivation and drive that built such a successful, peaceful and co-operating bloc. This will not be easy as we erect new trading barriers with our neighbours, reduce access to jobs and education across Europe and step outside the customs union and single market. That is the treaty that the Prime Minister, having led the Brexit campaign, has now signed. Today, we are asked to pass the Bill, agreed to overwhelmingly by the elected House of Commons, to put his deal into law.
In normal times, our role would be to scrutinise this Bill, to test whether it fulfils its role, and to ensure that it is workable and allows for transparency and accountability. Sadly, that is not what we can do today, thanks to the Government having delayed and delayed, perhaps even to avoid such scrutiny in your Lordships’ House. Nevertheless, this is the beginning, not the end, of our process of our scrutinising how we leave and how we build our future with the EU. There remain many areas yet to be negotiated and many decisions on the implementation of the deal, so we will have the chance to exercise proper scrutiny post-ratification, including thorough examination by our European and other committees, and full debates on whatever reports they produce.
The agreement allows for a review and I hope that either a special committee here or a parliamentary-appointed major independent study prepares for that review, looking at all aspects of the UK-EU relationship and how it might be improved and developed across economic, social, cultural, environmental and climate change areas. Never again should we stumble into a profound shift in our international, security and trading relationships without full debate of the options and the paths to be taken.
Turning to today, we should remember two things, both relating to the mode of our leaving and our future relationship with the EU. First, the treaty is supported by all our EU colleagues and partners. Their Governments, including the Irish, have unanimously endorsed this deal. And for us on the Labour Benches, our continental sister parties support it and look to us to help make it work. Business has similarly welcomed the fact that we have a deal, removing the horrendous possibility of trading on WTO terms next week and at least beginning to see a new certainty.
Secondly, we face a seismic change in our relationship with the EU, but we are not leaving the continent; we are not turning our back on these major trading, security and friendship partners. Looking to the future, Labour, as an internationalist party, will forge a close relationship with the EU in the national interest—from the personal, where we want Erasmus-type arrangements so that our young people can live, work and study together, to industrial and service provision, where Europe-wide businesses will flourish where trade is easy, and with our consumers not only being spared import tariffs but having the ability to travel, holiday and explore the lands around our islands.
The agreement is not a Labour one. It is tariff-free for UK-made goods, and quota-free, and that we welcome, but it is sadly lacking on those invisibles—the service sectors, financial, educational and cultural, which are such a vital part of our economy. There are gaps in security and data exchange. There are real weaknesses in the protection of workers’ rights—one of the great benefits of our EU membership, where we worked in step across the Union. There is added bureaucracy for business—rather more, I fear, than Mr Gove’s “bumpy moments” and hardly amounting to frictionless trade. There are new regulatory hurdles, especially in chemicals and pharmaceuticals; limited mutual recognition of qualifications; and the ending of current police and security co-operation, with uncertainty over the European arrest warrant replacement. There is a lost opportunity for a far-reaching and comprehensive approach to foreign policy, defence and security co-operation, and a lost opportunity to safeguard the future status and economic prosperity of Gibraltar. Despite the people of Gibraltar being assured that there would be no UK-EU deal without Gibraltar, in fact this deal excludes Gibraltar. Yesterday, the Spanish Foreign Minister warned that if there is no deal in the next 72 hours, the Rock will become
“the only place where there is a hard Brexit.”
With Gibraltar becoming the external border of the EU, there could be passport-stamping and many other checks, leading to lengthy queues.
So this Bill implements a deal that we would not have negotiated: a deal that is less than it should or could have been and one made in No. 10 with an eye, I think, on the ERG rather than the whole of the UK. But it is the deal that we have, and it is so much better than the no deal favoured by some on the government side. For that reason, we accept the Bill, but with sincere regret that it is so late that we cannot do our job properly and that it excludes some of the country’s most vital interests.
Because there remains so much still to be negotiated, we call on the Government to work with Parliament to ensure full transparency and oversight of the umpteen special committees and working groups that still have big decisions to take. We call on them also to work with Parliament and the devolved authorities urgently and quickly to establish the parliamentary partnership assembly, so that parliamentarians across the EU and the UK can play their part in the remaining stages. I beg to move.
My Lords, some four and a half years after the referendum result, we can now see in the treaty that we are discussing today the outline shape of the UK’s future relationship with the EU, yet we have had no real opportunity to read it and no chance to consider its implications. It is the single most important treaty that this Parliament has had to consider since we joined the European Community in 1973, yet today we are invited simply to rubber-stamp it in a matter of hours.
A treaty which the Prime Minister claims restores our sovereignty begins its life by mocking parliamentary sovereignty. The Prime Minister of course disdains the convention that we call a constitution. If he can break any of those conventions to make his own life easier, he will, as he tried to do with Prorogation last year and as he did with his list of Peers last week. He has done so again in this case.
Today’s debate is a case not of Parliament weighing the arguments and forming a view but of it waving through hundreds of pages of law unread, unanalysed and unquestioned. There is no scope today to discuss the details of the Bill or, because of tomorrow’s deadline, to contemplate amending it, despite the extraordinarily broad Henry VIII powers which it contains and on which your Lordships’ House may wish to express a view.
The country will have many months and years to find out what the treaty means in practice, but that does not mean that we cannot assess it against the key purposes of any Government in any country at any time. Does it make us more secure? Does it make us more prosperous? Does it help to unite the country? And does it strengthen our position in the world? In each case, the answer is no.
On security, the EU has, over many years, built up a series of measures which has made it easier to identify criminals and terrorists and bring them to justice. Its crown jewels are the European arrest warrant and the real-time European crime-fighting databases, such as Schengen II. We are now outside all of those. The warm words of the treaty on security co-operation seek to make the best of a bad job, but it is a major step backwards, leaving us with literally zero prospect of establishing as effective a system for fighting crime and terrorism as the one we are leaving.
On the economy, the treaty provides for tariff and quota-free trade in goods, but literally hundreds of new impediments on trade in services. The Canadian agreement, to which the Prime Minister refers glowingly, has, by the Government’s own admission, more than 400 restraints on free trade in services, and we see that reflected in this treaty—whether it is ending mutual recognition of most professional qualifications or the end of passporting for financial services. Yet the UK has a big balance of trade deficit in goods and a big balance of trade surplus in services, so we are penalising the sector where we are strongest and favouring the EU in the sector where we are weakest. This is a massive win for the EU at our expense.
Even in trade in goods, exporters are faced with a massive increase in bureaucracy and red tape: some 200 million new customs forms to be completed each year and an extra 50,000 customs officials required to process them. Those who favoured Brexit made much of Brussels bureaucracy—just wait until they see how many new layers of form-filling they have imposed on British businesses.
We are told that any trade losses with the EU will be more than matched by our new global trading partnerships, but who are these to be with? Not the US, unless we capitulate on food standards. Not China, where our exports are actually falling, unless we stop criticising its human rights record—ask the Australians. Not India, unless we allow many more Indian immigrants —ask Priti Patel of the likelihood of that. And ask any small business about the relative costs of exporting to the EU and to the Far East and you will find that there is only one answer—and it does not support the Government’s argument.
On maintaining the unity of the United Kingdom—the third test for any Government—it is to me almost incredible that the Conservative and Unionist Party has erected a border down the Irish Sea and allowed the EU to dictate what goods we can trade across it. Seed potatoes have become the only good which will not encounter friction in moving west across the Irish Sea, and this is because Brussels has banned internal UK trade in them entirely.
As it becomes increasingly apparent that the economy of Northern Ireland has closer links with that of the Irish Republic than that of Great Britain, it seems to me that people in the Province will, inevitably, increasingly prioritise their relationship with the south over that across the Irish Sea. The Irish Government’s decision to fund Erasmus students from Northern Ireland as our Government shamefully exit the scheme shows just how aware the Republic is of this new reality. No wonder some in the Province who so enthusiastically supported Brexit now realise just what a price they are having to pay.
On our global influence—the final test of government —the world has looked askance as the Brexit saga has played out. People have not been patting us on the back and congratulating us on our pluck and resolve; they have all asked, “Why on earth are you shooting yourselves in the foot?” Incoming President Biden has certainly made it clear where his priorities lie, and it is not with the UK. As of today, the UK has no foreign policy and no capacity to influence international events, or even standards-setting, as part of a single EU response. With a weakened economy, a decimated aid budget and a new reputation for untrustworthiness, our soft and hard power will be less than at any point since before the Napoleonic wars.
Your Lordships’ House is being asked today to vote for a treaty which makes us less secure, less prosperous, less united and less influential. It has passed the Commons with acclaim and will pass your Lordships’ House with ease. On these Benches, however, we simply cannot join in what is, in effect, for many people, a collective sigh of relief that we are at least not leaving with no deal at all. Clearly, no deal would have been completely disastrous, but by choosing a deal which prioritises a two-dimensional view of sovereignty over what is best for our prosperity, the Government have made a deliberate choice for which responsibility rests with them alone. This is a Conservative Party treaty, the culmination of a process which began when a Conservative Prime Minister decided to hold a referendum to manage splits in his own party. The Conservatives, with their majority in the Commons, would, even without Labour support, have secured a majority for the treaty and the Bill, and they will be judged on the consequences.
As people in your Lordships’ House know, we on these Benches have opposed Brexit, as we oppose this Bill, because we believe that, on all counts, it is bad for our country. We did not win the argument with the electorate in 2016, but in a democracy, you do not change your fundamental views because at a particular time more people hold different views. You continue to argue for them, in the hope that you might eventually prevail. We continue to believe that, in every respect, Britain is better off at the centre of Europe. This treaty removes us from that position. We will therefore be voting against the Motion that this Bill do now pass, and invite all those across the House who share our vision of Britain’s place at the centre of Europe to join us.
We can—indeed, as it is the only opportunity we shall have, we must—discuss whether the future relationship agreement represents what has been described as a hard or soft, or, nowadays, a thin, scrawny or perhaps plump, deal, but I fear the single question for decision by us today is whether, however we choose to describe it or to deride it, and with whatever level of reservation or hesitation, we accept this deal or not.
Personally, I breathed the sigh of relief described by the noble Lord, Lord Newby, when I heard the news that a deal had eventually been negotiated. I share the views already expressed that there are problems and disappointments with it, which will no doubt be ventilated this afternoon, as they were in the other place by the leader of the Opposition this morning. But I respectfully suggest that the discussions that we have today about how and when the agreement was eventually signed should not overlook that there were two parties to the negotiations. It was the duty of the EU negotiators to do their best to protect the interests of the EU from the consequences of the unwanted departure of one of its members, and to do so in a way which kept 27 sovereign countries content with what was to be agreed. It was not open to us to require a negotiated settlement in which we dictated the terms of our departure; the EU was never going to make easy concessions and our negotiating hand was not strong enough to obtain them. One has to be careful not to be unfair to those responsible for the negotiations.
As I indicated, I welcome with relief what I believe to be a workable deal, the most important feature of which is the restoration of parliamentary sovereignty. In years to come, we must make it clear that from now on—that is to say, from 1 January 2021—the Prime Minister has no sovereignty, the Executive have no sovereignty and there is no coronation after a successful election campaign culminating in a large majority for one party or the other. I am stating the obvious, but today’s legislation exemplifies the unwanted tendency—if I may adapt the words of John Dunning in 1780—of the Executive to command, and to expect to command, the legislative process, rather than to defer to it, which has increased, is increasing and should be diminished.
That is really all I have time to say—there is much more that I would like to say. However, there is one positive aspect of the Bill, which is that we parliamentarians in both Houses must wake up to the fact that there should now be proper, true parliamentary control of the legislative process. But that is up to us.
My Lords, it is a privilege to speak in this historic debate today. It is also a relief to be here after four and half years. I congratulate my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, my noble friend Lord Frost, the UK negotiating team and the EU negotiating team on reaching this deal in the teeth of a pandemic which made the negotiations so very challenging. But as the coronavirus has revealed inequalities both in this country and around the world, Brexit highlighted some inabilities in modern British politics—the inability to see that compromise is not always a bad thing; the inability to show that sometimes we can disagree well and respectfully with each other; and, most importantly, some people showed an inability to accept the results of a public vote that had been sanctioned by this very Parliament. At some point, both Houses of Parliament will have to demonstrate that we have learned from this period in our history.
There were some who asserted that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister did not want a deal. Actually, he demonstrated with both the withdrawal agreement last year and now this deal that he absolutely wanted a deal that set the terms for a continuing and new relationship with the European Union, but with Britain very much not as a member of that European Union. We will undoubtedly hear criticisms today of what is in that deal, including from those who still seek to say that, actually, we should not have taken this step as a sovereign country. However, I hope there are many others in this country, in this Parliament and beyond, who will see that the deal negotiated and agreed on Christmas Eve presents great opportunities for Britain. We should take the opportunity to seize what is before us and build a success for our country, in a new trading relationship but also in a new co-operation relationship with the European Union as our neighbour and partner.
There are many businesses that have in the past complained about red tape and been told that it is impossible to do anything about it because it comes from the EU. Now, that will not be an option. Equally, there will be times when we want to take the opportunity to do things very differently, whether in terms of building trading relationships with other countries around the world or making decisions that are right for our businesses in this country. So, we have this deal and while there are areas that remain to be worked out, such as financial services and data flows, this deal signals the start of a new relationship with the European Union. I am pleased to support the Bill and the overall deal, and I hope this House will reject the amendment before it.
The news today shows that 2021 can well be a brighter year for everyone, and this deal and this new relationship with the EU will be part of that.
My Lords, I speak as chair of the Constitution Committee and I say at the outset that this Bill elevates to a new level our concern about the way the Government present legislation to Parliament. The Bill fails all the tests for achieving good-quality legislation. It is long and complex and gives significant new powers to the Executive. We have not had anywhere near enough time to scrutinise the Bill as we would wish, and in any other circumstances the Constitution Committee would issue a detailed, thorough and critical appraisal of it. However, the committee did meet yesterday, and we published our immediate response. We acknowledged that the fast-tracking of the Bill is now necessary, but only because of the Government’s own actions ahead of the cliff edge of 31 December.
On the substance of the Bill, we noted that a prominent argument for the UK leaving the EU was to take back control of our laws—for laws to be determined by the UK Parliament, rather than the EU’s lawmaking bodies. Asserting the sovereignty of the UK Parliament was considered of such importance that it was included in the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020. It is regrettable that the Bill, which determines how the UK’s future relationship with the EU will be implemented into UK law, was published less than 24 hours before parliamentary scrutiny was due to begin. This does not allow Parliament much by way of control. This is the core of our concern. If, as the Government say, powers are coming back from the EU, where do those powers go? Are the Executive taking all these to themselves? What does this mean for the relationship between Parliament and the Government? Can this House fulfil its constitutional responsibilities?
In the Explanatory Notes, the Government say:
“The Bill is not suitable for post legislative scrutiny”.
We very much disagree, because the content of the trade and co-operation agreement cannot be amended by Parliament, but the mechanisms used by the Bill to rewrite UK domestic law to implement this have significant and potentially long-lasting implications, particularly for the role of Parliament and for the devolved arrangements. The Constitution Committee therefore recommends that the House consider how best to conduct post-legislative scrutiny as soon as possible. We believe that the quality of such scrutiny will be an early and substantial test of whether or not Parliament possesses a significant tranche of returned powers. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said, this is what increased parliamentary sovereignty requires.
My Lords, I was wondering last night what a cynical Government would do if they knew they could get only a poor deal because they had limited their own hand so much in negotiations. Leave it to the last minute? Issue inaccurate and misleading press statements when it was made? Allow only for minute scrutiny? Seek to prevent any post-legislative scrutiny and refuse to publish an impact assessment, perhaps? But, as others do, I love my country and it was a rather heartbreaking exercise, over the last few days, to read, side by side, the Conservative Government’s draft negotiating document for a free trade agreement, published on 19 May, and the final agreement. In almost every single area, from the betrayal of fishermen and Gibraltarians through to the vast new burdens on our businesses, the consistency and scale of the poor negotiating was laid bare in cold text.
The independent UK Trade Policy Observatory assessment stated:
“Even with the free trade agreement (FTA) announced on Christmas Eve, Brexit increases UK-EU trade costs, reduces trade between them, and requires resources for form-filling, queuing, etc. These in turn, lead to changes in consumption which reduce UK residents’ welfare.”
It goes on to a sobering conclusion:
“Exports of value added will fall by nearly 5.5% relative to a pre-Brexit scenario and GDP by 4.4%.”
My noble friends Lord Fox and Lady Kramer will outline this in more detail. The refusal yesterday of the noble Lord, Lord True, to commit to publishing an impact assessment, in direct contradiction to a letter he sent me in May, is likely to be seen more cynically by those communities and sectors that will be impacted most.
The punishing absence of services was expected, as the UK’s “red line” on securing services continuity turned to pink and then to a white flag ages ago. We knew some of the details of this already. The noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, was appointed Trade Minister from being chair of one of the UK’s biggest banks, and when he moved Barclays’ European headquarters and almost €200 billion in assets from London to Dublin last year, he said:
“We believe this will give us a competitive advantage”.
Those of us warning of the damage of this course were told, first, that we were scaremongering and then that we were sore losers, but I looked at the Leave.EU website archive and in the questions and answers it said this to the question of what impact leaving the EU would have on trade:
“The remaining EU member states will seek a trade agreement assuring the same level of free exchange of goods, services and capital as is the case today.”
They did not, and this promise was made in falsehood and fully realised in its egregious breach. However, the lies, tangled webs of deception and parliamentary obfuscations are nearly over, and we will have to deal with the consequences.
Liberal forebears joined together to ensure the widest benefit of free, fair and open trade well over a century ago. We fought relentlessly against Conservative protectionism at the turn of the last century. We split from the Conservative and National Government over their imposition of tariffs all round. Now, a century on, we need to try to militate against the worst elements of this poor agreement. We will have to be in the vanguard of supporting women entrepreneurs in the service sector to tackle the new barriers, helping our businesses export against the new burdens and supporting those wishing to seek advantage not by moving out of the UK but by staying in it and working with others to reconnect with Europe. I never thought we would need to rejoin this fight, but we do—we must, and we will with vigour.
My Lords, the agreement with the EU covers such a wide variety of matters, and the time for scrutinising this Bill is so very short, that one has to be selective. My choice has been to look at how this necessary Bill seeks to give effect in domestic law to the surrender provisions in Part 3.
The surrender provisions must be compared with the EU’s framework decision that governs the European arrest warrant to see what we have lost and what we have gained. We were always going to lose our right as an EU member state to require those countries whose fundamental principles prohibit the surrender of their nationals to third countries to surrender them to us— and so it has been. But we have made up for that by securing agreement to some new protections and to a more comprehensive scheme that, as the European Court of Justice now has no role, leaves as little room for mishaps and misunderstandings as possible. On balance, the scheme—though second best—seems to be as good as we could have hoped for.
How, then, does the Bill seek to give effect to these provisions in domestic law? Clause 11 tells us that member states are to remain category 1 territories. That means that the new scheme is to be dealt with under the accelerated procedure in Part 1 of the Extradition Act. That is as it should be, as the surrender scheme itself provides for an accelerated procedure for which Part 1 of that Act was designed. However, there are differences. Part 1 of the Extradition Act does not mention the principle of proportionality, for example, which lies at the heart of the new scheme, and the new scheme clarifies the circumstances in which a public prosecutor can be considered a judicial officer—something that always puzzled us—which that Act does not do.
It is plain for these and other reasons that Part 1 of the Extradition Act requires amendment if it is to meet the requirements of the new scheme. For the time being, we are left with the general implementation provisions in Clause 29, but that clause leaves too much to the judgment of the individual judges and others who will be required to operate this system. Uncertainty and inconsistent decisions will follow. It falls very far short of what is needed here. We can be sure that on its side, the EU will do what is necessary. These amendments are required and must be made as soon as possible.
My Lords, I will make four very brief points in this historic debate.
First, the Government and the Prime Minister are to be strongly congratulated on securing this landmark future relationship agreement. What has been achieved should not be underestimated, and this House should have no hesitation in supporting the agreement and the passage of this Bill.
Secondly, like so many others, I fervently hope that the agreement can finally resolve an issue that has poisoned our politics and divided our peoples like no other issue since the Irish home rule debates over a century ago. Although in many respects a Eurosceptic, like the majority of your Lordships I voted remain in 2016. However, from the moment the referendum result was announced, I believed strongly that it was the duty of the United Kingdom Government and Parliament to deliver the democratic verdict of the people of this country to leave the EU. With this agreement, surely the time has now come to put the “leave” and “remain” labels behind us and try as a political class to unite our country to make a success of our new relationships with both Europe and the wider world.
Thirdly, while I support the agreement and the Bill, there remain significant anxieties in Northern Ireland regarding the need for regulatory checks down the Irish Sea. While the free trade provisions of this agreement will go some way to mitigating a number of these, they will not entirely remove them. There are particular concerns in Northern Ireland that companies from Great Britain could be deterred from supplying Northern Ireland markets, thus leading to reduced consumer choice in some areas. Would my noble friend assure the House in winding up that the Government will continue to monitor this situation very closely and that, if there is any evidence that Northern Ireland is being disadvantaged, they will not hesitate to take the appropriate action in the joint committee established for such purposes?
Fourthly and finally, there is little doubt that events since June 2016, as we have sought to extricate ourselves from one Union, have placed enormous strains on our much older union here at home. For those of us who value the maintenance of the United Kingdom above all else in politics and sit here proudly as Conservatives and Unionists, these have been and remain very difficult times. Hopefully this agreement will steady some nerves and stabilise the situation, but with important elections approaching we cannot afford an ounce of complacency. In conclusion, therefore, I urge the Government to approach with renewed vigour and determination the need to develop, across party lines where appropriate, a modern and compelling case for our union that we can take to all four parts of our country to secure our future outside the EU as one nation and one United Kingdom.
My Lords, for half a century I have campaigned for a united Europe. Today’s Bill finalises Britain’s divorce from the most successful peace project in history, undermining our future economic potential, our national security and our influence as a force for good in the world. For a social democrat, it signals a retreat from a social market economy governed by rules, standards and rights of which there is no equal in the world. Today is a victory for a poisonous nationalistic populism over liberal, rules-based internationalism; it is a very bad and, for me, a very painful day.
The deal before us is thin in substance but heavy in governance structures. It is designed to accommodate a British Government of ideological leavers who prioritise reclaiming a theoretical sovereignty over the practical benefits of deep co-operation. Yet the Prime Minister this morning had no visible plan to demonstrate how this theoretical sovereignty will deliver the promised new opportunities for the British people. Once the concept of Brexit was to complete the Thatcher revolution. What is it now? The Government will find themselves trapped between the politics of the red wall on one flank and the treaty provisions on a level playing field and tariff retaliation on the other.
But bad as this deal is, the alternative is far worse: not just a chaotic no deal but a lasting rupture with the European Union with a rogue Britain on its doorstep. I am as emotional in my European commitment as anyone in this House, but in serious politics we must base decisions on objective realities. That is why I believe this Bill must pass. The big question for Labour now is: what next? The European question in British politics has not been settled today. Today simply marks the end of one historical phase. To think we can forget about Europe is to live in a world of illusion.
By all means, Labour should no longer parrot the referendum arguments for remain; we must accept that argument. This deal does not resolve the complexities of Britain’s economic security and political ties to the continent. However, it contains the institutional structures on which a new and closer relationship can and should over time be built. As for the Brexiteers, they should heed Walpole’s famous warning: they are ringing their bells now, but soon they will be wringing their hands.
My Lords, Martin Wolf writing in the FT last week accurately described the EU and the UK as “equally sovereign” but “not equally powerful”. This deal not only locks in that imbalance but leaves the UK in a position of dependency that I find quite shocking. As someone who opposed Brexit, I always regarded this deal as damage limitation, but I never expected any British Government to give up so much for so little.
Because of time, I will limit my remarks to financial services, a key pillar of the UK economy—perhaps its most important one—that provides nearly 2 million jobs and over £75 billion a year in tax revenue. With the signature on this deal, our negotiating leverage to protect key parts of this industry has disappeared. We have already seen more than £1.2 billion in assets shift to the EU. How could any responsible Government put the UK economy in this position?
Of course we keep domestic financial services, but our global role depends on our ability to be the overwhelmingly major player in the euro-denominated financial markets. The US has been repatriating dollar activity to New York; China has no intention of outsourcing any significant portion of its financial services; and India is equally committed to growing its own capacity. We are entering a period of regional blocs and rivalries. We are Europe’s hub or no one’s hub.
This is now entirely in the EU’s hands. It has the luxury of building capacity in the 27 at its own pace and then, like the python, gradually squeezing to require a shift out of the UK. In asset management, where, frankly, the Government always thought the sector would just “brass plate” in the EU, the industry has been adding jobs in the 27 at a pace unimaginable before Brexit. Now the EU is consulting on tightening its rules on outsourcing to push the trend further. In commercial insurance, the Herculean task of transferring contracts from the UK to the EU is close to complete, and Lloyds of London is now Lloyds of London and Brussels. Derivatives clearing, a global, trillion-dollar industry which underpins London’s global role and keeps a huge range of related activities in the UK, has been given temporary equivalence by the EU for 18 months with guidance to EU companies to use that time to shift their business to the 27. Even growth in fintech depends on an agreement on data exchange, which is not in this deal. An MoU by March will set a framework for regulatory co-operation—if we promise to be good.
We face a slow erosion, only because the EU is happy for it to be a slow erosion, but the pace and the proportion will be at the EU’s choice. That is the effect of this very botched deal.
My Lords, on the penultimate day of my membership of this House, my intervention this afternoon seeks to cover my considered views of this Bill and 30 years in Parliament, all in three minutes. I must disappoint the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter: there is no time, alas, for oysters.
I thank my noble friend the Leader of the House for her excellent opening speech. I look forward to supporting her this evening.
In campaigning to leave the European Union, I was guided by two overriding principles: first, to preserve and protect the very ancient settlement under which the people of these islands are governed by consent, and secondly, to defend this country from the horrors of unaccountable power. I believe the conduct of the EU’s institutions run counter to those principles and promise in future to diverge further still.
For most of my adult life, I have wondered how to arrest the erosion of our freedoms and the imposition of a form of government at odds with the character of the British people. Small wonder then that I feel a profound sense of gratitude to my noble friend Lord Frost and to our country’s brilliant team of negotiators, to my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and most of all to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, for bringing me this peace of mind as I enter old age.
But let me be clear: I have no quarrel with the people of Europe, only with the institutions that govern them. It even occurs to me that these events could become the wellspring of a new train of political thought. I can imagine Europe’s political leaders beginning to press urgently the question of whether and for how long the EU’s direction of travel commands the consent of the people who elected them. One might echo the words of William Pitt after Trafalgar when he said:
“England has saved herself by her exertions and will, I trust, save Europe by her example.”
I fervently hope that, as this chapter draws to a close, we will recognise how much our friends in Europe, as well as here, have been puzzled and bruised by the Brexit process. I believe it is the duty of every one of us, and certainly, it is the duty of the Government, to move with energy and imagination in the months and years ahead towards finding ways of healing these wounds and divisions. Government can do practical things and I believe it will. The more meaningful change in the mood music needs to come from all of us. Christians and non-Christians alike understand the teaching of “Love thy neighbour”; there has surely never been a better time to put that into practice.
I close by putting on record my profound appreciation for the unfailingly generous help and support I have received from the staff of this House and, likewise, from all the officials I have had the pleasure of encountering. I will long remember with gratitude numerous kindnesses.
I say with sadness that I do not think the health of your Lordships’ House is good; in fact, I think its condition is possibly life-threatening. I am consoled however by the thought that the collective genius of this House is more than equal to restore it to what it should be; I will watch with interest.
Membership of your Lordships’ House has been a unique privilege and a tremendous pleasure, at least for most of the time. Something that will endure in my memory is my most recent experience, which was to have participated modestly in two committees upstairs, brilliantly led respectively by the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, and the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull.
I thank my noble friend the Leader of the House for her friendship and support, my noble friend Lord True as a friend and outstanding Minister, the Government Whips’ office for its patience, and special thanks go to my noble friend Lord Borwick, who has sought to keep me in order, his whip barely visible.
I have gained something from every Peer I have encountered these last 30 years; I have made friendships that I value highly from all sides of the House; I have learned hugely, laughed extravagantly, and with that, all that is left is to bid your Lordships an affectionate and slightly emotional farewell.
My Lords, I start by complimenting my noble friend Lord Cavendish of Furness on his valedictory speech, which was typically eloquent and clear. I know the whole House will join me in thanking him for over 30 years of service to this House. His warm and friendly camaraderie will be missed by all of us. He has not sought to be safe through caution, but if anything he has been more than forthright in his illustrious time here, and he can retire safe in the knowledge that the Government have achieved in the Bill all and maybe more than he and I could have expected. He knows why I get a particular thrill every time I refer to him and that he will be greatly missed by all the House. I am also delighted to see that the noble Lord, Lord Austin of Dudley, is giving his maiden speech here. His proud stand against historic and current anti-Semitism makes him a particular hero of mine.
I have supported the Government at every step of their negotiations and it is true that I would have settled for a lesser deal, so I can only thank and praise our negotiating team, led by my noble friend Lord Frost, for its achievement. Mark my words: this will go down in history as a masterclass of negotiating success.
In this huge Bill I will pick out one area: namely, technical barriers to trade. Perhaps the Minister can answer this question in his summing up later. The Bill very helpfully allows for conformity of product legislation, codes, clarification and status. For example, the Soil Association needs to change and co-ordinate with the EU to enable trade to continue. The plea I hear from manufacturers now is to allow a grace period for the new systems to kick in and for guarantees that their customers in the EU will not remove the products from their shelves, as they are currently threatening to do, because after tomorrow, those products may not be EU compliant. Accordingly, there needs to be a grace period.
Finally, on financial services, as a practitioner in that field, I disagree strongly with the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer. Those threats and worries were raised at the time of the referendum and they proved not to be true. I am convinced that the EU will look carefully at our negotiation through this agreement and will see that there can be a win-win between us on financial services. I have spoken about equivalence a number of times in this House, and I look forward to the Government achieving a more than satisfactory solution in this vital area soon.
My Lords, I have never made a secret of my regret that the 2016 referendum went the way it did. I hoped for some time that, when the implications became known, the British people would be given a second chance to vote and the result would go the other way. But I accepted long ago that the train had left the station and that we had to turn our attention and energies to negotiating a new relationship with our former partners. We now have the results of that negotiation.
I cannot agree with those who say, as some have, that this is a bad deal, on the grounds of the increase in bureaucratic controls on trade in goods, extra checks on exports of food and farmed products, and loss of access to development funding. They are not the results of the agreement; they are the inevitable results of the original decision to leave the European Union.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Leigh, I take a more favourable view of these negotiations than some previous speakers. They seem to me to have been skilful, firmly based on principle and with a surprisingly satisfactory outcome. We approached them not as a mendicant, but as an independent country with a great deal to offer, as indeed is the case. The United Kingdom is the fifth largest economy in the world. We are one of the world’s two leading financial centres. We have pioneering universities and research centres, as our leading role on the coronavirus vaccine has shown. We have a structure of law that is admired and relied on by businesses around the world. We have the great asset of the English language. These things are not going away and are not affected by Brexit.
My view is that we can greet this agreement not just with profound relief that it is much better than no deal, but with positivity about the opportunities that it presents for continued trade and co-operation with Europe. We can be justifiably proud of the civil servant negotiators, who worked so hard and with evident skill to achieve this outcome. I believe that they have shown themselves to be at least equal in resolution and ability to their EU counterparts.
This is of course not the end of the story, as the President of the European Union said in her moving words when the agreement was announced. There are important areas where there is need for further agreements and co-operation in our mutual interest but, when we vote on the Bill, I will support it, and not just with relief but with optimism.
My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, and agree with much of what he said. I congratulate Her Majesty’s Government on achieving a negotiated outcome with the European Union. In doing so, I pay tribute not only to the Prime Minister but to the negotiating team, which bore a weighty burden, the Civil Service support that provided them with necessary expertise and, last but not least, the chief negotiator the noble Lord, Lord Frost.
The wider debate requires a candid and truthful recognition of what has been a complex process, including an explicit acknowledgement that a successful negotiation requires significant compromise. Such truthful recognition makes for good civil discourse. This will be further helped by more accurate language about the good and less good aspects of the package and appropriate scrutiny of detail—sadly not possible today. I hope that the public debate is less about the intangibles of rhetoric and more about the true and honest cost of the investment, outreach and spiritual renewal needed if we are to flourish as a nation state, going forward.
My final point begins with comments from the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Williams of Oystermouth, recently retired from this House, who, early in the pandemic, spoke of what has become a much wider perception that our lives are bound together with those of every human being on this planet. That, he said, poses “the biggest moral questions”. A more positive focus on our continuing interdependence, not least with other European nations but more widely—globally—would be welcome and herald the future partnerships that are so essential to our national well-being.
Therefore, I hope that, as we consider the Bill and continue the shared endeavour that is our proud national story, we recognise that people and institutions flourish best under relational frameworks and that individualism, freed of obligation or collective provision, will ultimately fail. We are still in the season of Christmas, and the birth of a saviour transcends all national boundaries with a message of peace and good will to all people.
My Lords, one could view the Bill as the final step in the long process, over four years, of retrieving our laws from the EU, through hundreds of statutory instruments, and realigning them with domestic law. The Bill delivers the final batch and will implement it. Like the noble Lord, Lord Butler, I congratulate the negotiators on their remarkable achievement.
As such, the treaty and Bill are welcome, but they are welcome for so much more, because the outcome brings certainty by concluding four fractious years, at last allowing business to plan and invest for the future. More importantly, they restore sovereignty. Edmund Burke said that the state is something
“to be looked on with … reverence”.
Indeed it is, but it is something more than that: sovereignty gives a nation a mainspring, an inner core, without which its sense of identity and, therefore, its drive and purpose are blurred. Our sovereignty, shared with the EU for many years until now, has a direct and practical relevance to how we go forward.
It has been said that the treaty sets a new standard in trade deals. It certainly enables us to conclude further deals with other nations, free from the handcuffs of EU control. We have just concluded a major deal with Japan. Turkey is said to be poised to conclude one with us. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, embodying many of the fastest-growing nations in the world, is beckoning. Australia, Canada, the United States and others are also on the list. I was encouraged to read that the Department for International Trade, part of the old department where I sought to champion free trade, is already reassessing its former methods of appraising economic benefit in trade deals and tipping towards our national strengths in the international market, where the business potential is huge.
One cannot help but notice the change of tone within the business and financial commentariat. Where there used to be endless gloom about leaving the EU, now, from the Bank of England downwards, the tone is much brighter. The pound is stronger and the stock market is rising, because we are free from control in the slowest-growing continent in the world.
I hope that our future relationship with the EU, still a major market for us, will be close and productive. We may be able to support it better from the outside and by example, but the EU’s share of world trade has crashed during the years of our membership. We can do better, following the outcome that this fine broad-based treaty represents. We should now come together as a nation, look to the future and seize the opportunities.
My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Lang, although not his line. Instead, I return to the 1960s and 1970s, when some of us were campaigning for the United Kingdom to join what was then called the Common Market, when it was supported by very few in the Labour Party. Those on the far left described it as a “capitalist conspiracy” and some of us were held back in politics because of our support for Europe.
Thankfully, by the time of the referendum in 1975, more had recognised that the EU was not just a force for peace, but a way of maintaining high environmental, safety and social standards, even when we had a right-wing Government in the United Kingdom. That referendum was won not by the slim majority of the 2016 referendum, but by a margin of two to one. I was pleased to play a part by helping to organise the campaign in Scotland.
But even that convincing majority never silenced the critics—the little Englanders who kept on and on with their anti-EU campaign and many false stories about Europe, which are too numerous to elaborate. Indeed, the current Prime Minister promulgated some of them. All of this resulted in David Cameron, like a rabbit caught in the headlights, conceding a totally unnecessary referendum to try—unsuccessfully, as it turned out—to appease his critics in the Tory party. With a campaign of dubious funding and even more dodgy publicity, they obtained just a slim majority, which took even them by surprise. As a result, they have struggled to negotiate this complicated and inadequate deal, which seeks to unstitch 40 years of really fruitful co-operation.
Today we have the unenviable choice of supporting a poor deal or rejecting it in favour of the even worse option of no deal. So, I will support the Government in this Bill not because I welcome the deal but because it is the less bad option. In doing so, while accepting the deal we are not endorsing it—that is a crucial difference. We also reserve the right to seek to renegotiate, as well as review, and ultimately—in my view—to seek to rejoin the European Union, which I believe will be increasingly successful.
Those who campaigned for decades to have us leave cannot deny us the same right to persuade the British people to think again. For those of us who fought the campaign in the 1970s, and the youngsters I believe will now join us, it is the time now to gird up our loins and prepare to renew the fight to restore our rightful position within the European Union.
My Lords, there is a whole series of security issues that makes the UK less safe as a result of this future relationship agreement. In the time available, I will concentrate on one: we have not taken back control of our borders.
Under this deal, EU, EEA and Swiss nationals will be able to continue to use e-passport gates at UK airports, allowing visa-free, no-questions-asked access to the UK. Currently, Border Force officers have real-time access to the Schengen Information System, SIS II, as my noble friend Lord Newby said. This system includes details of all those wanted under the European arrest warrant—something else the UK will no longer be part of—and details of travelling sex offenders and those of interest to the counterterrorism community. From 1 January, real-time checking against the SIS II database of those passing through the UK border will no longer be possible. Passenger name record data, covered by this Bill, is collected by airlines; it contains no information about actual or suspected criminal activity.
Not only is there no hardening of the border compared to what currently exists under EU free movement rules, but the ability to prevent the entry of undesirable foreign nationals will be significantly reduced, because it will be much harder to identify them. Patrolling police officers on the streets of the UK can currently check whether the person they have stopped is wanted in any EU state, whether they are known to EU law enforcement as a sex tourist or suspected by another EU state of being involved in terrorism, simply by checking the person’s details on the police national computer—a PNC check. From 1 January 2021, the link between SIS II and the PNC will be disconnected, and none of these real-time checks will be possible. As a result of this deal, wanted criminals, sex offenders and suspected terrorists, who would have been identified through a simple check, will be allowed to go on their way. The National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for Brexit said last month that the loss of SIS II
“will have a massive impact on us”.
Anyone who claims we are safer with this deal than we were as a member of the European Union, or than we would potentially have been if we had paid as much attention during the negotiations to the safety and security of our citizens as we did to our fish, is sadly mistaken. The Bill is wholly inadequate when it comes to maintaining the security of the UK, and that is another reason why we cannot support it.
My Lords, I congratulate my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, and the whole negotiating team in the Government, on achieving this deal. It is not perfect and could never have been perfect; the cake was never available to be had and eaten at the same time. But it is a remarkable achievement to have done this in such a short space of time. I spent much of my early ministerial career negotiating the UK’s way into the European single market during the late 1980s. I know better than most how slow, painstaking and meticulous that work was, but also how fractious the relationship frequently was.
Yes, this is a thin deal, as some have said. It does not cover services, but we know that the single market for services was far from complete, especially for financial services. We know that it does not cover mutual recognition of qualifications, but that does not immediately mean that professional qualifications will not be recognised. The same applies to conformity requirements.
The point has been made by a number of your Lordships that much work remains to be done. This is not the finished article, and it never will be the finished article. It should not and cannot be, because the world is changing, and technologies are changing. This has to be a dynamic relationship that adapts as time goes on to the needs, possibilities and challenges of the moment. If anything has shown how important the need to be agile and adaptable is, it is the dreadful experience of 2020. It shows how unexpected events can throw out what has been foreseen, but also throw up opportunities and challenges.
There is a great deal more to be done. I personally believe that there is an opportunity for the relationship to be taken forward in a better spirit than there was for much of the time when we were a full member of the European Union. We were never committed in the way that other countries in the European Union have been. Some noble Lords talked about Britain being at the centre of Europe—we never were at the centre of the European Union, nor could we ever have been. We were an important contributing member in many ways, and all the ways in which we can continue to contribute to and benefit from that close relationship with our European neighbours and friends remain available to us in the future. I hope that will be the spirit in which we enter into this next epoch in our nation’s life.
My Lords, I do not believe that this thin agreement—as the noble Lord, Lord Maude, called it—with the EU is in the long-term interests of this country. But I will support the Bill this evening, because the only alternative would be the worse chaos of a no-deal departure.
The British people will discover in the months ahead that this agreement will produce an avalanche of restrictions, bureaucracy, extra costs and delays. As that reality sinks in, at least this deal provides a platform on which to start the long process of building back a closer partnership in the years ahead.
I have two brief comments on the substance. The agreement on security and justice provides for a closer association with the EU than I, for one, had feared. I welcome that. But the principle underlying all the complex detail is that the UK will no longer have direct, real-time access to the EU databases and systems which have become so important for British policing, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, just explained. We heard in the Lords EU Security and Justice Sub-Committee that British police had consulted the SIS II database over 600 million times in 2019. In future, they will have to request information from the SIS II database, with all the delays that will entail.
Access to some of the other databases for fingerprints, DNA and passenger name records looks at first sight to be easier, but the overall loss will be significant. I cannot understand how it can be claimed that Brexit will make us safer. The question is rather: how much loss of capability will there be? What will be the operational impact of slower and more cumbersome processes, and more police officers tied up in front of computer screens making requests to the EU? Your Lordships’ EU Security and Justice Sub-Committee will hold an inquiry into this in the new year and will report to the House.
Briefly, my view is that the decision not to continue participation in Erasmus is short-sighted and mean-spirited. Erasmus gave life-enhancing opportunities to many thousands of students from the UK and across the EU. Less well-known is the fact that it also enabled vocational and adult education colleges and schools, many in disadvantaged areas, to set up joint projects with counterparts across Europe. It lifted the admin burden of organisers, which allowed smaller organisations that did not have the resources to arrange projects. I am deeply sceptical that a UK scheme, starting from scratch with the funding envisaged, will come anywhere near replicating the transformational impact Erasmus has had on so many lives. I hope this decision to leave Erasmus will be reviewed at the first opportunity.
My Lords, I very much enjoyed the valedictory speech of the noble Lord, Lord Cavendish of Furness, who has been a stalwart and perceptive member of the European Union Committee. I wish him well—and indeed many plates of oysters—in his retirement.
The EU Committee has reported many times in the last four and a half years on the risks associated with not having a wide-ranging agreement with the EU. The 1,256 pages of Christmas Eve are thus very welcome, and I add my congratulations to the Government on achieving a deal, in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Frost, and his large and hard-working negotiating team. However, this represents only the start of a long process. Many areas are not covered, as we have already heard, and—for many that are—much detail has yet to be hammered out.
As noble Lords have just heard, the EU family of committees has already begun its work of full scrutiny of the trade and co-operation agreement—the TCA—and will in due course publish detailed analysis on every aspect of the agreement in a series of reports. The TCA sets up a partnership council that will be supported by a partnership committee, 18 specialised committees and four working groups, and it will have the ability to create more committees. This structure will sit alongside the existing joint committee on the withdrawal agreement, its six specialised committees and working group—a total of 32 committees across the two treaties. Like the joint committee on the withdrawal agreement, the partnership council of the TCA has the very major power to alter the TCA itself by decision. Scrutiny of this new and powerful structure will be of great interest to Parliament, so I ask the Minister to confirm that the Government will work with us to put in place a proportionate and transparent scrutiny system.
An important aspect of the TCA is the establishment of a parliamentary partnership assembly—a body that will involve Members of both Houses and of the European Parliament. I much welcome this and will return to it when we have more time. That assembly and the many TCA and withdrawal agreement committees represent a vital set of channels of communication and will offer the opportunity to help to repair the mutual trust that the Brexit process has dented. In the meantime, I acknowledge that legislation is vital to ensure that the TCA comes into force on 1 January to avoid the significant disruption and adverse risks that no deal would represent, so I support the Bill.
My Lords, having spent many years in your Lordships’ House on the Opposition Front Bench with responsibility for foreign affairs following my time in the Foreign Office long ago in the days of Francis Pym, I have always found it possible to combine a passionate interest and attachment to what the Prime Minister recently called the history, security, values and geology that bind us to our friends in Europe with an economic belief that the current European project, which is still in transition, will ultimately face challenges and possible failure on economic and then political grounds. I have always believed that we are better as a close friend and ally on the borders of the EU than one of 28 member states principally tied to the economic and political constraints within it.
Accordingly, I congratulate the Government and the negotiating teams on both sides, and associate myself with the 17.4 million people, including myself, who voted for Brexit and began the process that has led to the passing of this historic Bill. I believe the surprising strength of this deal will in time lead other member states carefully to consider their membership of the European Union.
The Bruges speech in 1988 was the turning point for many of us in government in the 1980s. We can now end the 30 years and more of fractious debate and often exhausting misdirected political energy and demonstrate increasing certainty for business after four and a half years of uncertainty. This Bill—this return to national sovereignty—comes at a time in our history when the establishment pillars of 20th-century Britain are also being challenged as we rightly move to a more meritocratic society where we must level up.
Today, we have loosened and restructured unequivocally the political ties of interstate integration. In 2021 there will be a growing awareness of the importance of entrepreneurship, productivity, competitiveness and opportunity in a global market—themes that will need to resonate as loudly in the boardrooms and on factory floors of UK-based companies as they will be reflected in the increasingly unfettered corridors of Westminster and Whitehall.
However, I temper my optimism with a recognition that, as has been said, this future relationship Bill is ultimately a tool—not an end in itself, but a new beginning, capable of unleashing this country’s potential and above all its people. In using that tool in the Bill before us, I regret the use of Henry VIII powers, which are widely evident in this Bill and which permit the Government to avoid parliamentary accountability and scrutiny with, as became known after the Statute of Proclamations in 1539, a swift flick of the quill that leaves spilt ink on otherwise excellent parchment.
That said, with unfettered optimism and determination, the Prime Minister has delivered, but what above all should be remembered is that Parliament today approves the Bill. The PM should be congratulated. Today is a historic day and a most welcome opportunity that cannot and should not be taken for granted. It must be grasped to be successful.
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Hayter’s Amendment. I chair the EU Services Sub-Committee, which conducted an inquiry into the future UK-EU relationship on professional and business services, including financial services. I had no expectation that these topics would be covered in this thinnest of thin treaties, even though they are vital to the UK economy. Professional and business services accounted for almost 12% of the UK economy, £224 billion in gross value added, 4.6 million jobs and 23% of all registered businesses in 2019. The UK has a trade surplus of £12.4 billion with the EU.
What we do know is that the Government have failed to achieve mutual recognition of qualifications or to maximise short-term mobility of labour, which will have a detrimental effect on creative industries. Anything involving selling goods or services will require a work visa. These barriers will have a disproportionate effect on small and medium-sized enterprises.
On the wider issues not yet covered, if we fail to achieve a data adequacy agreement, the cost to business, at a conservative estimate, will be between £1 billion and £1.6 billion to arrange standard contractual clauses. Agreements on equivalence and regulatory co-operation in financial services, intellectual property, cross-border supply of services, rights of establishment and business mobility, in addition to the mutual recognition of qualifications, are all vital ingredients to professional and business services’ continuing success. What priority will the Government give to these areas?
Finally, the decision to leave Erasmus+ is a political one. My committee will scrutinise the detail of any alternative, to ensure that our students and universities are not worse off. In reply to a Question in the Commons, the Prime Minister said that
“the hon. Gentleman is talking through the back of his neck. There is no threat to the Erasmus scheme”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/1/20; col. 1021.]
I suppose that that is technically correct; Erasmus will thrive without us. Is that what he really meant? It is still not too late to try to negotiate to stay in Erasmus and I urge the Government to do so.
It is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy. I will focus on three business consequences of this treaty. First, the deal creates an ocean of new paperwork. The Financial Times reports that each year British companies trading with Europe will have to fill in an extra 215 million customs declarations, at a cost of about £7 billion per year. At best, each delivery to and from the EU will take an average one day longer. Can the Minister explain how the Government will ameliorate this fettering of British trade?
Secondly, there will be double regulation. Any UK company wishing to export to the EU will now have to comply with both the new UK regulations and standards and the EU ones—an extra set of design, testing, certification and administration costs. For example, UK chemicals regulation requires British-based companies to reregister every chemical that is currently legal in the EU. Double regulation means double cost. In the case of chemicals, that is about £1 billion of extra cost. What are the Government doing to alleviate the millstone that is hanging around British industry?
Thirdly, on rules of origin, traders can self-certify the origin of goods sold and then enjoy what is called cumulation. That is good, but the deal does not allow for parts imported from regions outside the UK and EU to be counted towards local content—what is called diagonal cumulation. This will make it hard, or impossible, for our more complex manufacturers to avoid being hit by heavy tariffs from the EU. What are the Government doing about that?
These are undeniable issues. The Minister and the Government should face up to them. This Conservative treaty makes things worse for investors, workers and consumers.
Finally, it is clear that, despite its size—no skinny treaty here—this deal is actually a master framework. As the House has heard, from the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and other noble Lords, there are many further deals to be made. As the noble Earl set out, there is a welter of committees to hammer out these details— 32 committees and working parties by his count. Noble Lords should remember that, if either party is not happy, the entire deal could be terminated with just one year’s notice. The UK and the EU will be arguing about our relationship for years. So much for this deal giving certainty to business. Business will soon realise that things are not fixed; they are still moving. Without certainty, capital takes flight.
My Lords, this is indeed a historic day and a historic debate. Over a year ago, on 23 October, I wrote to the Prime Minister thanking him for his tenacity over the withdrawal Bill. I do so again today, because he has shown leadership, vision, statecraft and sheer willpower. He and his team have produced the Bill before the House today and shored up a relationship which will stand the test of time, based on zero tariffs and zero quotas.
So, an opportunity beckons for the United Kingdom. Just look at Asia with its new 15-country grouping, covering 30% of global GDP. Africa is about to launch its free trade area in 2021, covering 1.2 billion people. South America’s covers 300 million. As the fifth-largest economy in the world, what do we do to make the most of that? We need leadership in every embassy and high commission, with someone appointed, with the status of at least the second most important person there, to seek out future agreements.
I will mention a couple of countries. I have known Chile for 15 years or more. It is the most successful country at negotiating deals around the world, now covering 90% of global GDP. Sri Lanka, which I love, and where I have lived and worked, is a fintech-oriented society of talented young people and another opportunity. Both those countries are very pro-British.
The City is not a problem. We were told that there would be a tremendous amount of unemployment there. There is not; it has not happened. Its wholesale finance is much better prepared than any other part of the UK. It is historically very rare for anywhere which has as dominant a role as our City does to lose it. Of course, it needs some help in the forthcoming months. I look to my noble friend on the Front Bench, who has done such a good job. Will that help be forthcoming as they negotiate the details with Europe? I am sure it will be. Perhaps there is a role for a Minister of State to be appointed temporarily to look after the City for 18 months.
To conclude, there are massive opportunities around the world. The key, though, is leadership and an understanding of the role of marketing. I promise to do my best to help our country and my Government on this journey to becoming a really successful country. As the noble Lord, Lord Frost said, the Brexit trade deal is a “moment of national renewal”.
My Lords, of course I feel some relief—as anyone would—that we did not fall off the cliff edge of no deal, but I am not joining in the fanfare. Bill Cash compares the PM to Pericles and our EU membership to subjugation. I prefer Margaret Beckett’s word “salvage”, because this incomplete deal could have been done weeks, if not months, ago. It would have been just as incomplete then, but it would have satisfied the farmers, manufacturers, SMEs, students, musicians and many others whose livelihoods have been damaged, even wrecked, by the delays. What was all that about preparation? How can anyone be proud of setting up a massive lorry park against no deal, when it turned out to have a completely different and unexpected use in the pandemic? That was lucky, was it not?
The deal was, of course, cleverly announced by the Prime Minister on Christmas Eve with all the hallmarks of a gala, with the magician drawing rather small rabbits out of a top hat.
What is still not done? There is parliamentary scrutiny and financial services, and fishermen need more reassurance. Devolution is in a lot of trouble; the Schengen data is missing. We will lose Dublin III regulations for asylum seekers seeking family reunion. Gibraltar still has no deal. Then there is, of course, Erasmus. Like the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, I feel the loss of that scheme almost personally, because it is founded on a great European scholar. The Turing scheme is fine, but its resonances are different.
Some say that Brexit is all over, but there is, and will always be, a fundamental divide between those who see themselves as European and those who see Great Britain in a global context. I am not sure that the Government appreciate that the first group may already be a majority. I was brought up as a European in a post-war climate and, for me, the UK has always been in Europe. I agree with those who want a European family of nations, not a political union or a giant bureaucracy—we are going to have some of that ourselves. Of course, the EU has to be reformed and it has an equal right to a level playing field. Europe will still be here on 1 January. Because of our shared experiences, we will inevitably have a closer relationship in the future. Most people will want that in the course of time. Meanwhile, we cannot expect Europe to want us back.
My Lords, I have listened with great interest to the debate so far. I am sorry to hear so many occasions where people are criticising the Government for what they have done and in particular suggesting that in some way they were dragging out the proceedings, for whatever benefit. This is a most unfair approach. One could predict at the beginning of the negotiations that there would always be a flurry at the very end—that is how the European Union carries out negotiations. It only puts its hands on the table right at the very last minute, and sometimes then things get into a mess when you are trying to sort them out. There is a lot still to be done to sort out what has happened, but to put the blame for the handling of this solely on our Government and Prime Minister is not fair, and the party opposite should reflect on that.
I look at this as a unionist, and I do not particularly like what I see. There was a reference from the Front Bench about there now being a division down the Irish Sea. There is a worse situation, actually: the position we have arrived at is that the European Union now governs part of the United Kingdom. That is the present situation. The part that is governed is the one dealing with a lot of agricultural matters. The problems there could always be handled, but instead of handling them the EU has walked away with a position where it now legislates for agriculture, and some business things in Northern Ireland are now governed by the EU. How long is that going to last? What are we going to do about it? We cannot accept this. I have listened with interest to people talking about setting up discussions, or at least pursuing the matters—we must not go around thinking we have solved this issue, because we have not. Today, we have no choice because this has to be carried through in order that we have an Act—we do not want to have a situation where we end up with no deal; we have to have that. But we have to realise that it is only a beginning, and we have to pursue it further.
I particularly want to go back to what people call the Good Friday agreement, and to remind people of the core element within that agreement. Under Article 1, paragraph (iii) says:
“it would be wrong to make any change in the status of Northern Ireland save with the consent of a majority of its people”.
This agreement changes the status of Northern Ireland, in that part of Northern Ireland is to be governed by the EU without the people of Northern Ireland having any say in that process at all. We cannot allow that to continue, and it is for that reason that we have to press on with this Bill, so that we achieve what is necessary. I will leave it at that point—I can see the Front Bench thinks that no more should be said—but, as I said, this is unfinished business. Waving hands may feel nice, but it will not solve the problem. We are going to have to come back to this as soon as possible, without delay, so that we get something worth while out of it.
My Lords, critics complain that Brexit and the trade and co-operation agreement will somewhat reduce economic growth, but should maximising growth be paramount? They regret too that we will lose freedoms to study, to start a business, to live; even, the Observer laments, to fall in love in Europe. Those who foresee such a diminished life for us ignore that we will regain a fundamental freedom: the freedom to make our own laws, in our own Parliaments, accountable to our own citizens, with those laws applied in our own courts, subject to no foreign jurisdiction. That parliamentary sovereignty is the great prize.
There has been much misrepresentation of the concept of sovereignty. The term does not denote untrammelled freedom of action; all nations operate within constraints—of physical and economic reality, power politics, the need to negotiate and compromise. The point is obvious and banal. It is not a ground for deriding Britain’s reassertion of sovereignty, properly understood as the right to legislative autonomy and self-government. As democrats, we should treasure sovereignty. Some who oppose Brexit deplore invocation of sovereignty as populism, a fantasy of British exceptionalism, anachronistic, a slide into isolation and ugly nationalism. It should not be any of those things. To reclaim our sovereignty is to articulate anew the liberal constitutionalism that led us over centuries to develop parliamentary government. If British exceptionalism means a proud and tenacious attachment to parliamentary democracy, I embrace that exceptionalism now and for our future.
Why do politicians who applaud the assertion of democratic values in other countries regard it as retrograde in our own? Why do they assume that as a self-governing democracy we will not enter alliances with mutual obligations for mutual advantage, working with the European Union and across the globe on the great issues that require international co-operation, honourably observing international law?
Since the 1970s, we have witnessed, with sadness and foreboding, a growing disaffection from Westminster. It has been no coincidence that this has happened since the enactment of the European Communities Act 1972. There have been other sources of political disaffection for sure, but the fact that Westminster alienated sovereignty—abdicating to Brussels its responsibility to govern across a broad range of policies—has been a primary one. Westminster now has the opportunity to recover the respect of our people. This is Britain’s opportunity for democratic renewal. I say to my friends who are despondent: we only need faith in our democratic capacity, confidence that we can govern ourselves successfully and ambition to be a model to the world.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, that Britain’s democracy presently has many problems with public alienation and that we need democratic renewal. But leaving the European Union neither restores nor respects the sovereignty of Parliament. To add to the list of wildly misleading promises about Brexit, which have fed public alienation, Michael Gove’s assertion on 26 December that the agreement and its implementation will establish
“a special relationship… between sovereign equals”,
linking the UK to the EU, is a whopper.
Our special relationship with the United States is of course an unequal one, in which the USA matters far more to Britain than we do to them. We allow American bases within the UK to operate without parliamentary scrutiny. We embed British officers in US commands. Within the EU for 40 years we shared foreign policy co-operation with our partners. Indeed, the whole framework of European foreign policy co-operation was constructed under British leadership, from Jim Callaghan to Lord Carrington to Geoffrey Howe. The EU offered to maintain that relationship. Theresa May’s Government agreed to do so. It was Boris Johnson who preferred the illusion of sovereignty and who has thrown away the European foundations of any British global role.
This Bill, and the agreement it transposes into domestic law, commits us to continuing negotiations across a very wide range of issues, in which the UK will be the dependent partner. I mention two issues only out of the many that remain unresolved. The issues of data access, and the adequacy of data protection, are vital to the future of our economy. Three-quarters of UK data exchanges flow between here and the European continent. Sovereign independence on data regulation for the UK is not on offer; our choice is between closer alignment with American or European regulation. We will pursue the Government on this.
Mutual recognition for cultural professionals, musicians, actors and artists is left out of the agreement, as has already been mentioned. I declare an interest as a trustee of the VOCES8 Foundation. Many of us will seek written assurance from the Government that mutual recognition will be negotiated.
Lastly, I query the territorial extent clause of this Bill. This Government have pledged to “take back control” of UK sovereignty. Yet the Crown dependencies and overseas territories—the offshore havens that benefit from British sovereignty but avoid many of its obligations —are left outside. These are of course sources of large donations to Conservative groups and right-wing think tanks, and the headquarters of companies that win public procurement contracts. It is a deceit on the British people to proclaim total sovereignty against the EU but to permit British possessions exemptions from the obligations of sovereignty. This too we will pursue further.
My Lords, I will vote for the Bill without hesitation because I do not see any realistic alternative. However, although I will vote with relief that we have escaped no deal, I will not vote with euphoria because I have some regrets and concerns. I regret that we did not rally behind the deal that was painstakingly negotiated by Theresa May some two years ago. I regret that the Government have been so fixated on meeting their self-imposed deadline even in the midst of pestilence and recession—a recession such as we have not seen for 300 years. I regret that parliamentary sovereignty has been violated by obliging both Houses to pass an 80-page, 40-clause Bill, peppered with Henry VIII provisions, as my noble friend Lord Moynihan said, in just a few hours.
I am concerned at what we are approving: an inadequate recognition of our financial services sector; an abandonment of promises to maintain Erasmus, which a number of colleagues have touched on; a neglect of our cultural sector; and, in everything, a proliferation of bureaucracy and red tape, such as the creation of 23 supervisory committees. I am also concerned, and others have touched on this, that the future of Gibraltar remains uncertain.
I do not want to sound churlish but I fear there is more tinsel than guiding star in this Bill. Having said that, we must make it work, and in doing so we must put past differences behind us. We must seek to repair and strengthen our own union because it is at risk. We must do everything that we can to recreate close and convivial relations not only with the EU but with each and every one of its constituent countries. They are all our colleagues and our friends, and we need to go forward together in these difficult times.
My Lords, I shall greatly miss the noble Lord, Lord Cavendish of Furness; one could not ask for a more congenial opponent.
I echo the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, on these farcical proceedings, rubber-stamping a crucial Bill in an afternoon.
What is most striking to me about the treaty is its asymmetry. We are a service economy running goods deficits and service surpluses, yet this treaty gives the 27 free access here for their goods but gives us nothing in return on services. There is nothing for the City or Edinburgh; no passporting, no equivalence and no recognition of qualifications; nothing on data adequacy; and nothing for the digital or creative economy, hard hit by the loss of free movement.
As for exports of UK goods, on top of the new borders and bureaucracy, our negotiators have lost on rules of origin, on SPS and on testing and certification. EU exporters to us face no similar costs here, so it is not just asymmetrical, it is lose-lose. We have let the 27 get away with saying that our service access will be determined by their autonomous, reversible decisions. Maybe the noble Lord, Lord Butler, is right, and that is just the reality of being the junior partner—we are sovereign but not equal; they are seven times bigger and they call the shots—but the outcome is a treaty that may grow their trade but cannot and will not grow ours.
But at least we have taken back control and with one bound we are free. Alas, no. Gulliver is tied down by that web of 32 committees, where we have to explain ourselves not to the member states but to the Commission. If we ever use our sovereign right to diverge on standards or subsidies, the Commission has been given—by us—the treaty right to punish us with rebalancing tariffs. So in practice we will still be rule-takers, though no longer with any say in the rule-making. We have sold our access for a mess of pottage and our real economic interests for a sovereignty shibboleth.
I reckon that is a rather bad deal, but no deal would have been worse, so today’s farce must run its course. It is a bad day for the country and a very sad day for Parliament. I share the regret of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and I will vote for her amendment.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Cavendish of Furness on his valedictory speech. I know that many in this House will miss him, but he will never be forgotten.
I congratulate the Prime Minister, my noble friend Lord Frost and all his team for their steely determination to deliver what is without a doubt a historic deal. The Prime Minister has—I am sure to the shock and bemusement of many in this House—delivered what he had promised all along: a trade deal by the end of the year and no extension of the transition period. He has honoured the result of the referendum and delivered what a majority of the British electorate demanded four and a half long years ago: Brexit.
Divorce can be a bitter affair, especially after a 47-year relationship, but what is extraordinary about this negotiation is that we have achieved a win-win result, no better illustrated than by the fact that both sides are claiming victory. Of course there have been compromises on each side, some painful, but without compromise there can be no agreement. That is why the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, is for the birds. It would appear that the Labour Party has little experience of international negotiation.
This deal is by any account a truly remarkable achievement—the first ever free trade agreement that the EU has reached based on zero tariffs and zero quota, worth £600 billion. We will recover our independence, no longer be subject to a foreign court and take back control of our own laws. The challenge now is to make the agreement a success. There is no realistic way to go. It is time to stop fighting the referendum campaign over and again—that is a colossal and useless waste of energy. We should concentrate on rebuilding our economy after the ravages of the pandemic, on fortifying our union and on giving real meaning to the vision of global Britain—the global ambition that has been our national instinct and destiny for the last 500 years. It will take hard work, enthusiasm and imagination, but nothing is beyond a nation that believes in itself and is united in pursuit of its goals. This is a bright future to be seized with both hands.
Many noble Lords have expressed reservations about this Bill. Like me, many noble Lords will vote for it with reservations. As a committed European, my feelings are tempered by the need to move on with certain knowledge that there will be a clinical dissection of the issues in the Bill and an examination of its implications, and that individuals and organisations in the UK and Europe will continue to collaborate in different ways to maintain relationships.
I shall address, as several noble Lords have already, the potential loss of the Erasmus scheme, which I greatly regret. Erasmus is a long acronym, but many associate the name with the great Dutch scholar Erasmus, who said:
“The main hope of a nation lies in the proper education of its youth.”
How very appropriate and true. Noble Lords will know the Erasmus scheme aims to help students, many of whom are from deprived backgrounds, to take advantage of educational opportunities abroad, with supplementary funding for the needy students. I do not know how or why the Government are proposing to reinvent the scheme in some way, when a perfectly good system exists already. The Government often express their commitment to social mobility, so why diminish such an enterprise as Erasmus, which contributes to social mobility?
In 2018-19, I was a member of the EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee, which carried out an inquiry into the Erasmus and Horizon schemes. We interviewed many people with experience in managing the programmes and young people who had benefited. These young people expressed passionately the positive impacts and life-changing opportunities Erasmus had provided, and many of them were from needy backgrounds. The EU Committee stated that the
“loss of access to Erasmus or Horizon … could have a significant impact on ‘mobility opportunities’ for people in the UK to study, train, teach, and gain experience”
and be involved in research abroad.
I have five questions for the Minister. I do not expect answers today; I merely flag them up. What influenced the decision not to continue the Erasmus programme? Who did the Government consult in reaching the decision? Did they consider the report drawn up by the EU Committee? What, if any, interim or long-term alternative arrangements are envisaged for the future? If there are any, how will they work, what funding streams will be available and what costs are estimated? I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I, too, felt an enormous sense of relief on Christmas Eve when this agreement came through, delivered, as it was, four and a half years after this country decided its interests were better understood in Burnley and Bournemouth than Brussels. But I, too, share a sense of regret, being married to a German who was forced to become a Brexit Brit. His experience of nationality here was very different to mine some 40 years ago, when I became a British citizen. Mine was exuberant, enthusiastic, optimistic; his was merely to protect his rights. But for me, this deal will do. Importantly, it leaves us on good terms with our neighbours and allows us to build on those terms as we go forward towards a better future.
The noble Lord, Lord Newby, asked what this Bill will do to unite the country. I have thought of that quite frequently. The House will know of my movement from the Liberal Democrat Benches to the Cross Benches on the case of democratic accountability. I would ask him the question, in light of his contortions of the last five years, of why the Liberal Democrats believe that they can help unite the country by disagreeing with this agreement. To vote against this agreement is effectively to say that no deal is better. That may not be what they want to do, but it is fortunate for us that this is just a gesture. That is what it is—a gesture that will have no consequence for the passage of this Bill today.
Let me turn to the most significant missing element of the Bill, which is the lack of a comprehensive agreement on financial services. I had the privilege of chairing the EU Financial Affairs Sub-Committee from 2015 to 2019. Five reports on Brexit and financial services later, it cannot be said that the costs of losing passporting were not calculated. But the fact is the sector had to take decisions on regulating approval in good time, and most firms made the necessary moves to onshore in the EU before the current deal even started to be negotiated. Our financial services sector will do fine. It is well regulated and well regarded. It is known for its high professional standards and will continue to thrive, most importantly in the greatest growth area—east and south-east Asia and other emerging markets.
I follow the noble Lord, Lord Butler, in my sense of optimism—that, as we go forward in a different trajectory, we will do more than survive and we will have new opportunities and horizons. We must prepare with optimism for the new challenges. For the next generation, we must strive to demonstrate that we can be a force for good in a global world.
My Lords, I shall start by saying how sad I am to hear of the retirement of the noble Lord, Lord Cavendish. He is a great expert on trees, and I enjoyed many conversations with him. Turning to the Bill, I congratulate and thank the Prime Minister for his courage and tenacity throughout this process. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Frost, and all his team for the excellent work they have done in negotiating this deal.
What a momentous occasion this is—an occasion I hoped for but never expected to see. I am delighted and, although I expect the way ahead to be difficult in parts, overall, it is a way full of hope, excitement and expectation that, as a people, we can make a great success of our independence and our freedom. Recriminations are sorely tempting but must be resisted and firmly put aside for two important and obvious reasons. The first is that history alone will judge the divisive events of the last four and a half years and the parts that different people and institutions played in them. The second, and most important, is that we must all put divisions behind us to make these changes work. The opportunities will be there; we just have to grasp them. I really do believe the country is sick of all the rancour, particularly when we are trying to deal with Covid-19, and mightily relieved that we can be one nation again, pulling together for the sake of people, their families and the country.
The Bill before us, which I happily support, and which confirms the recently finalised trade agreement with the EU, may not be perfect, but it is a huge step forward; it is a milestone, thankfully marking the end of a prolonged period of destabilising uncertainty. As one era ends and a new one begins, we shall remember that as a country, we are truly blessed in so many ways—in our unwritten constitution, our peace and stability, the steadfastness of our people, our inventiveness, our industry and our monarchy. We should count our blessings, have faith in our traditions and institutions, appreciate all we have, put past divisions firmly behind us and, with our new-found freedom, all work together for the sake of our country and generations to come.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this historic debate, but I am disappointed by the lack of time afforded to Parliament for prior scrutiny of the legislation and debate in the House today. I welcome the signing of a free trade agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union. It is better than a no-deal outcome, but it does not undo the detrimental effects of the Northern Ireland protocol. Any consideration of the trade deal has to take place in the context of the withdrawal agreement, which includes that protocol. That is why we will be voting against the Bill today.
The protocol was, as your Lordships know, imposed on Northern Ireland without its consent. It means the promise of restoring control over laws, borders and money does not apply to the same extent in Northern Ireland following Brexit. It should be stressed that Northern Ireland is outside the EU alongside the rest of the United Kingdom—out of the common fisheries policy, out of the common agricultural policy and out of large parts of the single market rules, and it remains within the customs territory of the United Kingdom.
Nevertheless, it is deeply regrettable—and frankly it was unnecessary—that the United Kingdom Government chose to go down the path of the protocol, given that there was never any intention to have a hard border on the island of Ireland, as both the EU and the Irish Government openly stated time and time again. Also, given the vastly greater importance of Great Britain for Northern Ireland’s trade, going forward we will work with the Government to ensure that they hold to their promises and commitments on unfettered trade between Northern Ireland the rest of the United Kingdom in both directions. There are many important outstanding issues still to be agreed, and with sovereignty restored to Parliament, along with the review mechanisms available in the treaties, the Government must prioritise the safeguarding of the internal market of the United Kingdom and deliver economic prosperity for Northern Ireland.
Nationalists, who of course were hoping for a no-deal outcome, will nevertheless use Brexit to seek to undermine the union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, even though I suspect they will have to change their tune as the UK capitalises on new opportunities. Nationalist arguments against Brexit apply even more strongly against the break-up of the union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The benefits of being part of the fifth-largest economy in the world have been illustrated again in recent times, and there is little enthusiasm among most people in Northern Ireland for a future characterised by continuous republican eulogies for terrorists and their sordid deeds.
There remains a great deal of work to be done, and we are committed to seizing the opportunities and progressing the challenges as a full and integral part of the United Kingdom in the years ahead.
My Lords, it is an honour to speak on this historic occasion. I add my congratulations to those already expressed to the Prime Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Frost, and their hard-working team, for reaching an agreement that means Great Britain will once again be a sovereign power and still be able to trade goods with the EU free of tariffs and quotas. That itself is an outcome that many said could not be achieved, and it should be greatly celebrated.
Of course, as others have said, the agreement is not perfect. It could not be perfect. It is the result of negotiations involving compromises, and some disappointments, especially regarding the border in the Irish Sea. As others have said, there is much work to be done to protect Britain’s interests, and there are gaps and uncertainties. The absence of an agreement on financial services has been noted but, as a practitioner, I beg to differ from the pessimism of the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer. This sector prides itself on reinvention and innovation. The City has always had a global perspective and is already eyeing up the potential positives in the event—should it occur—of regulatory divergence.
Notwithstanding any flaws, the Bill before us is a watershed, because it finally enables Britain to become a truly independent nation, four and a half years after the referendum, eight years after the then Prime Minister David Cameron said that the British people must “have their say” on EU membership, and after decades of rancorous argument in this country and in Parliament over the issue. Now, after a year in which our freedoms and economy have been ravaged by the pandemic, when we have the opportunity afforded by the deal to start a new relationship with the EU that reflects the democratic wish of the British people, it is surely time to put our destructive Brexit divisions behind us, as my noble friends Lord Framlingham and Lady Meyer urged.
Until now, leaving the EU seems to have been managed more as a damage limitation exercise, to do as little harm as possible to existing trade. That has been understandable but, as we look to the future, it is vital that we encourage and support the British tendency to entrepreneurship and innovation. As my noble friends Lord Lang and Lord Naseby suggested, it is time to focus somewhat less on the EU and rather more on the rest of the world for multiple vibrant and lucrative trading relationships. A new era for Britain starts on 1 January 2021 and we in this House have a specific responsibility to help to seize the opportunity through our various areas of expertise, including those with business and finance backgrounds. I will be supporting the Bill so that Britain can move forward and focus on creating jobs, on helping people get their freedoms back and on being a force for good in the world.
My Lords, these agreements fairly reflect the political priorities of their parties. These included, on our side, a dogmatic and substantively empty notion of sovereignty that confounds the reputation that we once enjoyed as Europe’s canny pragmatists. As a young man in the office of Commissioner Lord Cockfield, I observed the removal of precisely the red tape that now returns to constrict us, so my enthusiasm for this deal has its limits. In the security field, a particular regret is the loss of access to the immensely useful SIS II database. We must hope that dogma on the European side does not defeat the data adequacy determination on which so much else will depend. However, given the dismal alternative, I greet these agreements with relief, see much in them that is good, and will focus today on the terms of the Bill itself.
I would describe it as an essay-crisis Bill. Four increasingly expansive styles may be spotted in its hastily assembled pages. The first style, seen at the start in the treatment of criminal records, is the careful hand-threading of these agreements into existing law. On VAT fraud and social security, a more broad-brush approach is taken. Whole protocols to the agreement are simply pasted into domestic law—whether seamlessly or not, only time will tell. Thirdly, we have delegated powers. These clauses feature elements that your Lordships found exorbitant in the 2018 EU withdrawal Bill, including a power to create new criminal offences punishable by up to two years in prison, and a bootstraps power to amend the Bill itself, if “appropriate”. Henry VIII has been on the steroids again.
Finally, to cover any gaps left by even these broad provisions, we have Clause 29, which requires our judges to give effect to domestic law
“with such modifications as are required for the purposes of implementing”
the agreements. The objective is noble, but implementation often requires choices, and to impose those choices on the courts is to push them towards the forbidden ground of policy. The existing legal doctrines of direct effect and strong interpretation have inherent limits which avoid that result. Clause 29 contains no such limits. Perhaps it is an afterthought. It certainly needs knocking into shape.
This is a rushed Bill—inevitably—which I strongly regret that we are in no position to scrutinise or to improve. But, as the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, said, our committees will scrutinise it after it becomes law. If necessary improvements are identified, I hope that we will find a way of making them.
My Lords, I congratulate both negotiating teams on concluding the agreement before us today in this Bill, and I welcome the fact that there is a deal allowing the United Kingdom to transit out of the European Union in an orderly fashion. However, I would like to pause and consider the plight of the great British banger, which seems to have fallen foul of the rules of origin—as indeed has milling flour. I urge the Minister to use the next three months before the Bill finally comes into full effect on 28 April 2021 to ensure that the British sausage will again be allowed to be exported to Northern Ireland and the European Union. This is one of the unintended consequences of the Bill being drawn up at short notice, which brings many benefits but has a number of unintended consequences as well.
I will take this opportunity to pursue parts of the Bill with my noble friend, and I hope that he will respond in his summing up. It was mentioned earlier that financial provision 8 allows for either party, by written notification through diplomatic channels, to terminate the agreement. So the whole agreement could be terminated unilaterally by one or other party. Is that really something that the Government intended? Obviously, they have agreed to it, but is it right that it should be terminated simply by notification, even through diplomatic channels?
Pursuing the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, on the architecture that is set out in this Bill, what will be the role of both Houses of Parliament in those institutions which form the architecture set up by the agreement? I hope that we will play a full role in that because, as my noble friend Lord Cormack and others have said, we want to repair some of the damage caused to relations with the European Union and individual member states.
There will be a review of the agreement every five years. What form will that review take? As regards the implementation of judicial agreements, do the Government have a date in mind for the adoption of the Lugano Convention, which would enable recognition and enforcement of civil and commercial judgments to ensure that the rule of law is maintained through the agreement and the Bill before us today?
Finally, on Erasmus, I believe it was the lack of knowledge of foreign languages by parliamentarians, officials and businesses, that has led us to the state we are in today. If so, I do not believe that abandoning the Erasmus programme is the answer.
I am sure it is much better to say exactly what we think about public affairs and this is certainly not a time when it is worth anyone’s while to court political popularity. I will therefore begin by saying what everybody would like to ignore or forget, but which must be stated, that
“we have sustained a total and unmitigated defeat”.—[Official Report, Commons, 5/10/1938; col. 360.]
Those were Winston Churchill’s words in the House of Commons on the Munich agreement 82 years ago. Alas, they apply word for word to the Brexit agreement we are being asked to rubber-stamp today.
My Lords, we are directed to debate this 85-page Bill, which hands extraordinary executive powers to Ministers and gives effect to a trade agreement running to over 1,000 pages, in three-minute speeches, without hesitation, scrutiny or amendment, and to pass it in less than a day.
I, for one, have no intention of supporting a Bill representing such an unprecedented and indefensible contempt of Parliament and the public. The European Parliament, by contrast with ours, will have the opportunity to properly scrutinise the deal during the period of its provisional application, which runs until 28 February. It was open to the Government to arrange matters to provide a similar opportunity to our Parliament. They chose not to—so much for parliamentary sovereignty.
Who can blame the Government for hiding from scrutiny? Far from being a triumph, this trade deal betrays our young people, abandons Gibraltar and undermines our businesses, our farmers and our fishing industry. It provides tariff-free access to the UK market for trade in goods, in which the European Union has the overwhelming advantage, and no comparative access to the EU market for services, in which the UK excels. It is inherently unstable because tariff-free access is dependent on maintaining alignment with the EU and, should we diverge, it explicitly provides for the imposition of tariffs.
The deal provides a 25% reduction in fishing quotas for EU boats in UK waters instead of the 80% which was promised and allows tariffs to be imposed if we go further than that. It ties us in to an abundance of new UK-EU governance structures wholly unaccountable to this Parliament. So much, again, for parliamentary sovereignty.
It is a deal which compromises our prosperity and our security and for which the British people will pay a heavy price in lost jobs and lost opportunities. It is not even the end of Brexit, just an inherently unstable prelude to the neverending negotiations that will follow.
So, four and a half years on, the Brexit illusion ends, not with the easiest trade deal in history, but with the first that constrains trade rather than liberalises it. It is a deal with instability woven throughout and red tape wrapped all around it. To get even this threadbare deal, there was nothing the Government were not willing to sacrifice. First, they sold out Northern Ireland, subjecting it to EU law over which its people will have no say. They then sold out our service industries, the most important sector of our economy. Next, they sold out our young people by breaking their pledge on Erasmus and finally, after all the bluster and baloney, they sold out the fishing industry too.
In the end, they sold out the British people by promising things that were never possible and proving it by failing to deliver them. So much for having our cake and eating it. With this deal we discover that we have not eaten it and we have not got it either.
My Lords, four and a half years after the referendum we have a deal—hallelujah. It is with our biggest partner and our neighbour, our principal economic partner, with 43% of our exports and 52% of our imports. We have achieved this deal in the midst of a pandemic at a time when we have the worst economic crisis in 300 years—our economy is expected to have shrunk by 11% this year and businesses have had nothing short of a nightmare. It is important that we have achieved a zero tariff and zero quota deal with the EU.
There is a lot to be done, as has been mentioned, such as financial services equivalence. The deal is lighter than the EU trade deals with Canada and Japan. The Government need to prioritise a dialogue on equivalence with urgent speed. Next week, regarding the situation management and problem solving with keeping the borders open and moving, if there is disruption, what plans are in place to manage the crisis? Could the Minister reassure us?
Looking forward, Brexit is what we make of it. How do we make the UK competitive and dynamic? How can we boost business investment across our regions and make ourselves a world leader in net zero? How can we continue to be the second or third largest attractor of inward investment in the world and continue to be an open, outward-looking economy with the best of the best capabilities of everything in every field? How do we build on this deal? That will be a priority, including the services sector which makes up 80% of our economy.
I want to thank Michael Gove for his Brexit business task force. That task force will continue to operate over the coming months. I was relieved to hear that the we are going to continue to be members of the Horizon programme. Will the Minister confirm this? However, I am disappointed that we are leaving Erasmus, which has been a phenomenal opportunity for our students; as president of UKCISA I know how good it has been. Will the Minister reassure us that the new Turing scheme will be as good and give our young people a chance straightaway—that there will be no time lag and that opportunity will exist? Much has already been said on security. We need to make sure that we continue to have the security arrangements with the EU that have been so fundamental to us.
Business has proven itself. Even in this time of doom and gloom, we have shown that we can bounce back when given a bit of a chance. I think that now, with this deal, with the AstraZeneca vaccine announced today and mass testing being rolled out, next year is going to be a great opportunity. Britain will be a leader on the world stage, holding the presidency of the G7 and hosting COP 26. We have shown world-class collaboration between our universities and business, as has been shown with Oxford and AstraZeneca, and internationally. This is going to be fantastic—I am very optimistic.
We have rolled over more than 60 trade deals, including with Canada and Japan. The CPTPP opportunities and opportunities to do deals with countries such as the USA and India are enormous. We will continue to be members of BusinessEurope. As president of the CBI, I want to say this: we are now moving to an era of partnership with the European Union. There is an African saying:
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
We are going to go together in prosperity with the EU and the UK working together.
My Lords, it is a great honour to speak here for the first time. I want to thank the officers of the House, Black Rod, Fiona Channon, the doorkeepers and everyone who has made me so welcome. I would like to thank in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, for her kind words earlier today. I am especially grateful to my supporters the noble Lords, Lord Knight of Weymouth and Lord Mendelsohn. I have learned so much from the noble Lord, Lord Knight, about education, a subject on which I hope to be able to contribute. The noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, has been a great friend for many years and an enormous support to me. I cannot thank either of them enough.
I am very proud to have the title Lord Austin of Dudley. Dudley is where I grew up, where I live, where I served on the council and where I was a Member of Parliament. I am so grateful to the people of Dudley for electing me four times. I will never forget them and places like the black country, which have been denied opportunities others take for granted. The Government’s promises to level up the country after Brexit will be judged on how they bring new jobs to communities which lost industries on which their prosperity was based.
I voted to remain in the referendum, but 71% of my constituents voted to leave. I thought that their MP should respect their decision and that the referendum result should be upheld. I was worried about the economic impact of leaving and very worried about leaving with no deal. I was particularly worried about the impact on manufacturing and the car industry, which are so important in the Midlands. That is why I supported Theresa May’s deal in the last Parliament and why I am voting for this one today. I was also very worried about the impact on trust in our democracy that trying to overturn the result would have. One of the most important lessons of the last few years must be the responsibility we all have to protect our democracy and the institutions that underpin it, because these are the foundations of a fair and open society.
My dad came to this country as a 10 year-old Jewish refugee in 1939. The rest of his family were murdered in Treblinka. He was so dismayed to see an organisation so robust and important to our democracy, and which had such a proud record of fighting racism, as the Labour Party embroiled in anti-Semitism over the last few years. This terrible situation led to me leaving the party which I had been so proud to serve all my life. It is a shame that my parents were not alive to see me join your Lordships’ House, but it is a great thing about our country that the son of a refugee can end up here. I intend to use this great privilege to speak up for the values that he taught me and which I have believed in all my life: democracy, equality, freedom, fairness and tolerance; listening to other people and trying to find compromise; and the power of education to open up opportunity, and bring good jobs and prosperity to people left behind for too long.
It gives me great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Austin, and to congratulate him on his maiden speech. I regret only that he was driven from the Labour Party by its wrangle over anti-Semitism, which was deplorable, but he is very welcome. I approve very much of what he said about his stand in defence of democracy and those who need support in our society.
I registered the fact that the noble Lord was also a shadow Culture Secretary, so I want to endorse his interest there by speaking about the damage that this agreement will do to the cultural life and artistic reputation of this country—indeed, it is already doing so. Last week, a professional trumpeter was sent an invitation to audition for the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam. Yesterday, he received a letter cancelling that audition because we are no longer in the EU, so he is not able to participate in an audition. This damage is already happening. The youth orchestra of Europe no longer invites young British musicians to audition to belong to that remarkable institution. We are already losing out. In this regrettable settlement, which I disapprove of, there is still time to do something about it.
The problem with travel for performers of all kinds is that it is damaged by our leaving the EU. They will not have freedom of movement and their careers will be at risk. These people include classical musicians, jazz musicians, pop musicians, artists, actors, dancers, photographers and filmmakers. They will all suffer unless the Government institute a visa-free cultural work passport—I put this to them, and please will they do so—that avoids their having to apply for a visa to each of the 27 countries where they want to travel, tour and be distinguished. There is also the carnet which they have to have to carry their equipment with them. This will make a huge difference but without it the earning capacity of this country through its cultural life will fall. At the moment, the creative industries are worth £110 billion and the arts earn £13 billion for this country. This problem needs remedying.
I also add my voice to many of those, including my noble friend Lady Massey, who spoke so eloquently about the Erasmus scheme, which has served young people very well. We should build on it and extend it, instead of starting from scratch with a new scheme having learned nothing. We should depend on what we have learned from Erasmus and go forward to make it even better.
My Lords, the proposals before us are not the end of the road as far as our relationship with our former partners in the European Union is concerned. I speak as one old enough to have participated in our entry to the EEC in 1973, and to have been elected to the EU Parliament in the first direct elections in 1979. I therefore welcome the Bill as something on which we can build. As circumstances change, we must be prepared to change, too, as the Prime Minister has been heard to say. My hope is that we shall be able to re-establish a much closer relationship in the future, in particular to restore many of the cultural, educational and professional links built up over the years.
My purpose in wishing to speak today is in part to participate in what is undoubtedly an historic debate, but also to raise the specific issue of Gibraltar and our other overseas territories. It is the last moment to try to safeguard the future of the loyal people of Gibraltar; I had hoped and tried to do so previously but was not as fortunate in those ballots as I have been today. It has already been said that Gibraltar had received assurances that there would be no deal unless its position was covered, and it has been excluded. But I think the Government of Gibraltar agree, as I do, that the worst-case scenario would have been no deal at all.
Is my noble friend able to put on the record assurances that, for the future, a free trade agreement between Gibraltar and the European Union would be the appropriate light-touch approach to deal with the movement of goods, and that the airport, ports and border with Spain will be the subject of further careful and detailed negotiation, which will always include the Government of Gibraltar? Let it be said that the Government of Gibraltar have behaved in an exemplary manner by not making a fuss or falling out of line with official UK policy. They have always sought to find ways to resolve the difficulties that Brexit has brought to them, even though 96% of Gibraltarians voted to remain. Can my noble friend further outline the extent to which this Bill affects our other overseas territories, especially perhaps Anguilla, which also has a border with the European Union, albeit in the Caribbean?
I believe we should always look after our friends and family with care and look to a post-Covid and post-Brexit future with as much optimism as possible. Finally, I welcome and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Austin of Dudley, and say a sad farewell to my noble friend Lord Cavendish.
I want to pick up a theme from my noble friend Lord Newby’s speech: British global influence. The Prime Minister claimed after the referendum campaign that post Brexit we would become
“a great European power, leading discussions on foreign policy … to make our world safer”,
as if being in the EU hampered rather than helped that or as if we could, for example, do more if we left NATO or the UN. We were the bridge for the United States to the EU; that will now be Germany or France, which is also a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
As my noble friend Lord Wallace pointed out, the EU agreement has no provision for British involvement in foreign policy. That was not an EU decision but a British one, even though the UK working within the EU meant that we were able to maximise our influence. Thus we led across EU capitals on tackling climate change, helping to secure the agreement in Paris. The EU, working together, helped to bring about the Iran agreement.
The treaty states:
“The Parties shall continue to uphold the shared values and principles of democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights”
and “promote” these “in international forums”. How exactly will we do that? In advance of key UN votes, we will not be in the meetings that decide the EU position. Take the example of Hong Kong. When China enacted its national security law, we had newly threadbare support at the UN. What of Gibraltar? As the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, has just said, the Government said they would not agree a deal without including Gibraltar; they have done just that. Can the Minister explain exactly how and when the Government will resolve Gibraltar’s position, and why they failed to finalise it as we rushed towards their self-imposed deadline of 31 December?
Those who urged Britons to vote for Brexit pointed to sunlit uplands. Now, those claims are rarely made; the Government do not even dare to commission an impact assessment. What do we hear? The circular argument: “The British people voted for Brexit, and this is what we have delivered for them”—nothing about how they sold this to the British people: the cake and eating it, to which the noble Lord, Lord Maude, referred. The Minister spoke of asserting global Britain and said that now we could play a leading role on the world stage. However, we are already seeing in foreign affairs that we have, in fact, made it more difficult, not easier, to play that global role.
My Lords, in supporting this Bill, I start by adding to the shower of congratulations that the Prime Minister has received on his brilliance as a negotiator. I couple his name with that of Ursula von der Leyen; I hope she may one day be Chancellor of Germany, but, of course, it is crucial that she continues in her present post for several more years.
I was a reluctant, although convinced, Brexiteer. I always believed in de Gaulle’s concept of Europe des Nations. That was proving a losing battle—but a battle not yet lost, which is why we had to get out while there was still time. The internal contradictions of a single currency with multiple economic policies was sustained only by the courage and skill of the ECB, fulfilling many of the functions of a federal finance ministry.
It was when the EU Commission overreached its legitimate mandate of getting things done, in particular with the single market, by intruding to an ever-greater extent on the sovereignty of the EU member states that the limit of political integration was exposed most egregiously in September 2015, when it proposed mandatory quotas of how many illegal migrants each state should accept. Since then, the whole EU political structure has become increasingly fragile.
Brexit may be done, but we still have a crucial role in protecting Europe, not only with our military. Europe is under threat from external forces greater than any of those that have, from time to time over the last 1,300 years, torn it asunder from within. This is not the moment to spell them out, but their menace becomes clearer with every month that passes. In his foreword to HMG’s summary of the agreement, the Prime Minister wrote:
“The UK is, of course, culturally, spiritually and emotionally part of Europe.”
When our European values are at stake, Britain will always step forward to be part of a united Europe.
My Lords, I congratulate the Government on this agreement; it is roughly as good as we could have hoped for in the circumstances. I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Frost, and his team of civil servants, diplomats and lawyers on their huge and successful efforts. As some noble Lords will know, I was appointed as a Cross-Bencher for my work on immigration, so I will concentrate on those aspects today.
The Government claim to have taken “control of our … borders”. It is true that they have secured control of our laws on immigration but, sadly, they have done nothing to control the numbers—quite the reverse. Their new points-based system will open 7 million UK jobs to new or increased international competition—they do not even dispute that. At the same time, they have substantially reduced salary and skills requirements so that literally several hundred million workers from around the world would qualify for a work permit. The effect of this is that the Government have closed the door on low-skilled workers from the EU but have opened wide a barn door for an unlimited number of medium-skilled workers from all over the world. This is a total surrender to business interests; it is not what the public had in mind when they voted for Brexit, and it is not what they want now. A poll by YouGov in July found that 54% think that immigration has been too high over the past decade; only 5% thought that it had been too low.
So finally, what can now be done? The consequences of these new arrangements may of course be delayed by the collapse of international travel due to the Covid crisis. However, it is extremely difficult to rein in a wave of immigration once it has developed. The Government would therefore be well advised to place a cap on work permits before the numbers start running out of control. I shall leave it there and I will of course vote for the Bill.
My Lords, I want to put on record my huge relief that we have reached a deal and thank all our negotiating team, EU negotiators and the parliamentary staff for their exceptional work to ensure that we can pass this legislation today. This Bill must pass; given the alternative of no deal, I shall vote for it.
My concerns about Brexit are well known. These stemmed not from a love of the EU, as I recognise its many faults, but most particularly from the value I place on peaceful, post-World War 2 intra-Europe relationships. The loss of peace caused unspeakable horrors not so long ago. As a fellow child of refugees, I welcome the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Austin, and congratulate him on his exceptional work standing up against anti-Semitism. I also thank my noble friend Lord Cavendish for his valedictory speech and wholeheartedly agree with his sentiments: to love thy neighbour and rebuild close relationships with the EU.
Part 2 of the Bill provides for tariff-free, quota-free trade with the EU, as well as for co-ordination on social security, energy trading and Euratom. These are welcome, but I regret the serious shortcomings that many noble Lords have outlined: the border in the Irish Sea, new non-tariff barriers, border frictions, bureaucracy and mountains of business red tape that the Bill introduces, no deal for financial services, inadequate security partnerships and recognition of professional qualifications, and no Erasmus. These are no longer fears; these are facts. Yes, we have restored our sovereignty, but this Bill, which we will have to ratify without proper scrutiny, contains frightening Henry VIII powers excluding Parliament from law-making or modifications relating to it. Taking back control was surely not intended just for the Executive, so I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, that we must stand up for the role of both Houses.
Perhaps I may put on record some apologies. I am sorry that we failed adequately to explain the huge value of EU membership, its agencies, integrated supply chains and research co-operation. I am sorry that we failed adequately to counter misinformation about what Brexit would mean for Northern Ireland and Gibraltar. However, I fully accept that the referendum is over. We have left the EU.
I finish on a note of hope. I hope that, as a sovereign, independent nation, we will in coming years rebuild much closer co-operative relationships with our European neighbours, including on issues such as research, data flows, security and education, than are contained in this Bill.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann—particularly as I find myself in a large measure of agreement with her on this issue, as on the many other issues that she raised.
I shall support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Hayter. I am in no way challenging the referendum decision—that is water under the bridge—but these negotiations represent a brave effort, although “brave” is perhaps too complimentary, at damage limitation and making the best of a bad job. I do not think that anybody has contradicted that sentiment.
I have a sadness about this because I believe in the EU, its values and its internationalism. Many of these attributes are British attributes—things that we helped to develop and encouraged within the EU. However, we have to move forward. Over the years, I have had the privilege of serving on the EU Select Committee and two of its sub-committees. These committees and their work were well regarded across the EU; sometimes, their reports were translated into local languages, indicating the high regard in which many parliamentarians throughout the 27 have held this country for a long time.
In the negotiations, I was impressed by the solidarity that the 27 showed—something that our negotiators never expected, I think. Our Government acted as if we could pick off the EU leaders one by one and try, as it were, to sign little deals and try to get a more favourable outcome, but we were thwarted in that. The solidarity shown by the 27 was commendable; I congratulate the EU on the way on which it retained that sense of unity.
I will refer briefly to a number of specific issues. All of us individually, and the Government and both Houses of Parliament, must work hard at improving our relations with the 27, which have gone through a bad patch during the negotiations. We must use all the existing methods whereby we can relate to parliamentarians from EU countries. For example, the Council of Europe is not exclusively EU, but many European parliamentarians are there. There is the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, of which I am a member, and its parliamentary assembly, the British–Irish Parliamentary Assembly, and the sterling work done by the Inter-Parliamentary Union. We have to use those opportunities.
Like many others, I am saddened by Erasmus. It gave young people an opportunity to see Europe and become more international in their outlook. I am sorry that we have closed that door.
I regret that we are in a very vulnerable position as regards maintaining workers’ rights, some of which stem from the sensible policies of the EU. I hope that we will be able to debate them more fully in future.
We are also in a much more vulnerable position regarding security. Over the past 10 years, using the European arrest warrant, we have sent back 10,500 people and received in return 1,500 criminals, including drug traffickers, rapists and murderers. The Schengen Information System was consulted 600 million times by British police forces in one year.
Finally, I am saddened that refugees and asylum seekers have been left to separate declarations, which we will have to negotiate.
I will vote for this with a heavy heart. I look forward to a better day in the future.
My Lords, the draconian limitation of our scrutiny of this Bill—with no Committee stage, no Report stage, no amendments and three minutes each to speak—flows directly from the Government being too cowed by the ERG to seek to extend the transition period beyond tomorrow. So we have a disgraceful Hobson’s choice between this agreement, which is rushed and inadequate, and leaving the EU without an agreement.
I will vote against the Bill, not because I want to leave the EU with no deal but in protest against this bad agreement and its chaotic, undemocratic implementation. The Bill is undemocratic not just in its timescale but in its content, with massive, all-encompassing Henry VIII powers in Clauses 31 to 33.
I turn to the justice system. The Prime Minister wrote to us all on Christmas Eve that the agreement prioritises the safety and security of citizens. Why, then, are we abandoning the European arrest warrant for an inadequate substitute surrender system that is, in effect, traditional extradition with probable court delays and many escaping justice?
Why, too, are we giving up real-time access to the Schengen Information System—our main source of criminal data—accessed, as others have said, by the UK police 600 million times last year? Why are we giving up our leading roles in Eurojust and Europol, the world’s most successful international collaborative policing body ever, for fig-leaf spectator seats and limited, conditional and slow information exchange?
In civil law, why are we losing the reciprocal recognition and enforcement of judgments and the choice of court rules under the Brussels regulations, leaving British litigants, including children, without the international co-operation and civil and family cases that have served us so well? Yes, we have the three Hague conventions that we recently passed into law, and we may ultimately have the Lugano Convention, but that requires unanimity among the Lugano members and cannot be achieved in time. The replacements are no match for what we are losing.
Why, then, this series of retrograde steps for security and justice? The answer lies in the Government’s wrong-headed fear of any involvement in the European Court of Justice, even in areas that plainly advantage the UK. There has been a lack of any attempt to negotiate some limited special UK judicial involvement in the court, where we, this country, have a clear and special interest.
My Lords, the deal has been struck, and I would like to concentrate on the necessity for a digitally enabled 21st-century border.
For the last decade, the UK has had a comparative advantage in many of the elements of the fourth industrial revolution, not least AI, distributed ledger technology, fintech and cyber. As a result, on 1 January this opportunity—this advantage—now becomes absolutely imperative when it comes to our border provisions. Is my noble friend the Minister aware of the proof of concept around reducing friction in international trade, which I was fortunate enough to be involved in?
I know that we have a great opportunity to deliver at Dover. An excellent, forward-thinking chief executive runs the port there. Also, as other noble Lords have mentioned, there is a key need to get this right around the UK, and that absolutely includes Gibraltar. Will my noble friend the Minister update the House on our 2025 border plans? What will happen in 2021 at scale and at speed to get us to the place where we need to be to have a digitally enabled border right around the UK? Does he agree that, if we get this right, we can enter the 21st year of the 21st century digitally enabled right around the UK, not least at Dover, and look forward with pride from the white cliffs of technology?
My Lords, this is a grand and historic day for democracy because, after four years of unprecedented resistance by parliamentarians to the will of the people, as expressed through three votes—the referendum and two elections—it has come to pass. We should congratulate the draftsmen and draftswomen and the determination and skill of the negotiators on reaching an agreement up against a deadline and on upholding the goal of sovereignty in the face of huge resistance and chicanery, not least in this place. It was clear that Mrs von der Leyen had never understood it when she defined sovereignty as being able to work, travel, study and do business in 27 countries—as if sovereignty was an Interrail ticket—and said that in a time of crisis it was about, as she put it, pulling each other up instead of trying to get back on your feet alone, which is precisely what the EU states have not done during the Covid crisis.
We have had a lucky escape. Had the UK stayed in an EU pursuing further integration, we would have been faced with more euro crises, more bailouts of states stricken with Covid, a common defence policy and European forces under the command of the EU. In its pursuit of federalism, the EU has given rise to the repression of minorities and to extremist politics. The former Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, said in his first Reith lecture that the EU embodies financial valuing over human valuing. It is a union that pursues economic benefits but does not share fundamental values, whether over foreign policy, religion, immigration, freedom of speech or the rule of law, where the UK has clear beliefs.
For example, this month your Lordships voted by a large majority to revoke trade deals with countries found guilty of genocide. Meanwhile, the EU is finalising the EU-China comprehensive agreement on investment. The EU has asked nothing new of China; there are no preconditions relating to the abuse of the Uighurs, or even of Hong Kong. So where is the EU’s commitment to human rights, so often proclaimed? It has even thrown the British judge off the court, which was not called for and not because it was dependent on our being in the EU. As Voltaire said of the English,
“They are not only jealous of their own liberty, but even of that of other nations.”
Never again must we tie our fate to countries whose history, laws and customs are so antipathetic to our own. We can now pursue the rule of law and human rights without hindrance.
My Lords, I admit to feeling conflicted. As a pro-European and former MEP—I declare my interests as in the register—who had responsibility, actively and enthusiastically encouraged by my Government, for putting together measures on security and justice encompassing a high level of co-operation and closeness with our neighbours, the present circumstances are somewhat regrettable. However, I am also someone who always likes to look ahead; using too much of my ever-dissipating energy on fighting old battles would be unsatisfying and unproductive.
What we have in the agreement, and in the Bill, will, of course, be interpreted in different ways by different factions and individuals. Some will suggest that it draws a firm and unbendable line under our relationship with the EU. Some will be somewhat dissatisfied, like the self-styled ERG, having probably hoped for a greater separation from Europe’s institutions. Some, like me, know that it is better than no deal and the then inevitable total collapse in the prospect of any meaningful future relationship. In fact, I regard this, like the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, earlier, as a platform: a place and event where we can at least maintain a reasonable closeness to Europe pending the construction of new and positive connections.
Ministers, including the Prime Minister, are talking of “our friends across the channel”. Friendship does not just happen, nor can it be assumed by one party; it needs hard work, especially following a divorce. It may need time too, but in a world that is moving fast, with so many challenges—in health, the environment, the economy, technology and security—that may be a luxury we cannot afford. The gaps and uncertainties in the agreement must be filled and consolidated quickly. My interests in the fields of security and justice, for instance, oblige me to press for the maintenance of real-time exchanges of information and data between law enforcement and intelligence agencies, rather than a simple “note of intent”, which is currently all we seem to have. That is a priority, and I hope the Government pursue a solution, but it can be achieved only if we are genuinely seeking to keep a real friendship with our European neighbours. It also requires trust. Some of our actions and political rhetoric over the last few years have put that element of friendship at great risk.
As we move on, we must ensure that we do so openly, positively and amicably. While some talk of the new global canvas for our country, they should be reminded that Europe continues to occupy a significant part of that globe and continues to occupy the hearts and minds of many of our citizens.
My Lords, Brexit, like devolution, is a process, not an event, and such a process often evolves in unanticipated directions. Brexit is a framework which impacts on our links with Europe but also on relationships within these islands. It will probably trigger an independent Scotland, quite possibly the reunification of Ireland and, in Wales, greater support for independence than ever before.
Such key proposals should never be bulldozed through Parliament without adequate debate. We are told that we must vote for this deal because the alternative is a no-deal Brexit, but why is this the only option? It is because the Government have chosen to make it so. Over four years, successive Tory Governments have failed to secure a consensus. So Boris Johnson drives this deal at gunpoint, assuming that we will back anything to avoid a no-deal Brexit.
This deal will create a mountain of bureaucracy for those exporting to the EU. They were unable to make adequate preparations because the Government could not tell them what sort of Brexit would emerge. This will strike the food-exporting sector hard. The Food and Drink Federation begged the Government to provide a six-month adjustment period for new rules to be assimilated and actioned. The EU was willing to facilitate such a period, but the UK Government refused, because of the Prime Minister’s macho stance on getting Brexit done. Yet, in Northern Ireland, where the British sausage—or, I should say, “le saucisson anglais”—was about to be banned this week, he took up the EU offer for a six-month delay. For him, it seems, the sanctity of the sausage in Northern Ireland ranks higher than the rest of Britain’s food-exporting sector altogether.
This deal, contrary to Boris Johnson’s earlier pledges, takes us out of the Erasmus scheme so valued by young people. He now tells the Governments of Scotland and Wales that, despite education being fully devolved, they may not seek direct access to Erasmus. We are to lose the vital criminal database. The deal leaves key sectors, such as social care, unable to recruit staff from Europe to fill empty jobs. It leaves Brits who work in Europe, particularly in the creative arts, uncertain of their futures, travellers in doubt of their passports and unsure about their healthcare cover, and the fishing sector in despair.
The uncertainty we now face could have been avoided if successive Tory Governments had sought a sensible compromise, involving a single market and customs union. Had time allowed, this rushed deal should have been rejected and the Government told to return to the negotiating table, but the Prime Minister’s self-imposed deadline has denied Parliament that option. As was rightly asserted by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, these issues will not go away. We shall return to re-establish links with our European cousins and to build with them a secure future, economically, socially and politically—a future that, today, is being wrenched away from our children’s generation.
I congratulate and thank the Prime Minister and the Brexit negotiating team on achieving a good deal and ongoing relationship with the EU. I agreed with much of the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and the constructive comments of the noble Lord, Lord Butler.
My question for the Government is: what will the deal do for the financial services industry? From reading the co-operation agreement, it appears that little or no material changes are proposed. None presented in the co-operation agreement is specifically damaging to financial services. This is surprising given the French hostility and claims, during the negotiations, that France would win over substantial business from London.
Chapters 2 and 3 in the agreement include well-established provisions on cross-border trade in services and investment, which are expected to secure continuing market access across a broad range of sectors. Section 6 deals specifically with financial services. It includes provisions on cross-border trade in financial services and investment. The agreement provides protections that should ensure that EU and UK regulatory authorities can act to ensure financial stability and integrity, and to protect customers. The two parties agreed a joint declaration of commitment to their shared objectives, and a memorandum of understanding for regulatory co-operation has been signed.
Section 7 provides the important reform enabling lawyers acting for clients in the UK but who have business elsewhere in Europe to deal with the clients’ business across the EU. There is the important liberalisation of digital trades, which will be dealt with subsequent to its first being raised. Title VII provides joint support for SMEs but does not address the seven-year life limitation and state aid issues, which have limited EIS funding for SMEs.
Overall, the agreement looks okay for the financial services industry, but there is much more yet to be agreed. I keenly await the Government’s reaction when they negotiate areas for the financial services industry.
My Lords, what a tragedy. Dogmatism which confuses sovereignty with power and influence has triumphed. This thin deal is better than no deal, which is why I will not vote against it today, but no pumped-up, jingoistic celebrations can disguise an act of gratuitous, enormous national self-harm.
Our weight and influence on the global stage as a senior member of the world’s biggest trading and diplomatic bloc is now reduced to that of a bit player in an increasingly dangerous multipolar world. As the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, explained, we will be a rule-taker, excluded from the very European trade, defence, foreign and external security policy-making that still impacts directly upon us as a close neighbour and trading partner.
Leaving the EU single market, which constitutes around half our trade, will, the Government estimate, reduce national income per head by around 5% and have two to three times the medium to long-term economic impact of Covid-19. Non-tariff barriers, estimated by HMRC to cost £7 billion a year, will damage UK goods, where we have a trade deficit with the EU. Yet on services, where the UK has an £83 billion surplus with the EU, the deal provides absolutely nothing, future access humiliatingly dependent on EU permission.
As for taking back control of immigration, since the 2016 referendum net immigration from the EU has collapsed but from the rest of the world it has exploded. As EU nationals have been driven away, our NHS has been left with over 40,000 nurse vacancies and our care sector with over 120,000 vacancies—not much increase in sovereignty for our sick and elderly citizens.
UK nationals are losing sovereignty over our rights to live, work or study in the EU and will need visas to stay there for more than three months. We are losing sovereignty over rights to free healthcare, mobile roaming charges, frictionless border entry and much else. In the name of reclaiming sovereignty, we are torpedoing the sovereignty of the UK, as Scotland threatens to go its own way, maybe to be followed by Northern Ireland. Even my homeland, Wales—long a bastion for UK unionism—has recently seen an unprecedented boost to the independence cause.
Project Fear? More like “Project Reality”, for which I cannot and will not take personal historic responsibility by voting for this sovereignty-reducing, control-surrendering, rights-destroying, job-cutting, poverty-increasing, nationalism-inciting, miserably demeaning Brexit deal.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Austin, on his powerful maiden speech and thank him for his heroic efforts in fighting anti-Semitism.
Almost all this debate has focused on the contents of the agreement, which this House cannot amend. I will focus briefly on how the Bill implements the agreement into our law, a matter on which some of us would have wished to move amendments.
Like my noble friend Lord Anderson of Ipswich, I am particularly concerned about Clause 29, which makes all existing domestic law subject to the contents of this agreement, unless equivalent provisions have been enacted. I understand of course why this needs to be done as a matter of urgency before 11 pm tomorrow, but as a permanent provision on our statute book it is not acceptable. Clause 29 means that in all the areas covered by the agreement, from agriculture to transport, the legal clarity and certainty which our statute book aims to achieve, and usually does, is now subject to the terms of the agreement—terms which are in so many places deliberately vague in order to secure consensus between this country and the EU.
Because of the legal uncertainty that Clause 29 will inevitably cause, it is a great deal for lawyers—I declare my interest—but not for anyone else. Clause 29 should therefore have a shelf life of no more than six months. Clauses 31 and those following already confer broad powers on Ministers—I would say excessively broad—to make regulations to ensure the consistency of our laws with the agreement. Ministers should have a duty to do that and to sort the statute book out by 1 July next year, on which date Clause 29 should cease to apply.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, said, in the 21st report of your Lordships’ Constitution Committee, produced at unconstitutional speed yesterday, we give notice that we will be reporting on this and other constitutional concerns about this Bill early in the new year. We must pass this Bill today, but post-legislative scrutiny in January is essential.
My Lords, we have a trade deal with the EU and, as someone who voted to remain, I celebrate it and will be supporting the Bill. Listening to this debate, it is clear that some noble Lords are still struggling to accept that we have left the EU and, rather than support this Bill that will deliver the platform for the UK economy to prosper, would rather vote against it, in what will appear to many as being nothing more than a vain attempt to prove that they were right and the British people were wrong.
The Prime Minister, however, has proved his doubters wrong and delivered a deal that takes back control of our laws, borders, money and trade, and changes the basis of our relationship with our European neighbours from EU law to free trade and friendly co-operation. I have heard noble Lords complain that there will now be greater friction for trade with the EU, and they are undoubtedly correct, but this rather misses the point. The price of increased friction with the EU in some areas delivers the flexibility to strike deals with other parts of the world where it is in our national interest to do so. With the signing of our trade deal yesterday with Turkey bringing the total to 62, and worth a cumulative total of £885 billion, we are clearly seizing this opportunity. The point is that the restrictive one-size-fits-all straitjacket of the EU is off, while at the same time preserving the immense benefits of free trade for millions of people in the United Kingdom and across Europe.
I am not claiming the deal is perfect. By definition, any successful negotiation relies on compromise. The numerous political declarations published on 26 December demonstrate that this is far from the end and questions remain. To take just one example, while there are broad overarching commitments on state aid, we still await the detail on what exactly the new UK subsidy control regime will look like.
The safety and security of our citizens is the Government’s top priority. I agree with the growing consensus that the deal with regard to law enforcement and judicial co-operation in criminal matters is better than expected. The agreement provides a comprehensive package of operational capabilities that will help protect the public and bring criminals to justice. If I have one criticism it is that while many of the relationships remain —for example, data sharing, the exchange of DNA and fingerprinting through Prüm, or access to the ECRIS criminal records database—these will no longer be in real time. The point here is that speed of access to information is paramount, and I would be grateful if the Minister can outline how the impact of a move from real-time access to data sharing will be mitigated.
Finally, if there is one threat that respects no national boundary it is that to cybersecurity, and I am pleased that the agreement provides a framework for UK-EU co-operation in this field. Having experienced first hand the very real benefits of the exchange of co-operation in international bodies promoting global cyber resilience, I seek the Minister’s assurance that the UK’s voluntary participation in the activities of the various expert bodies will continue to be a priority.
My Lords, I refer to my registered interest as the Cabinet Office lead NED.
Today’s Bill completes the process of ceasing to be a member state of the European Union. This is the beginning of a new relationship based on mutual respect and geography, as well as shared values and interests. It preserves the UK’s sovereignty as a matter of law and fully respects the norms of international sovereign-to-sovereign treaties. That was the core of Vote Leave’s promise to “Take back control of our borders, laws, tax and trade”. This deal delivers that promise.
We are leaving on good terms—“good” as in having achieved a better deal than many of us had hoped to expect. This was not easy to achieve, and I congratulate in particular the noble Lord, Lord Frost, and the team. Any deal involves compromises on both sides, and this deal has got the balance about right. It protects mutual interests as well as allowing the UK to make its own decisions and shape its future. But it is also “good” in the sense of amicable and orderly.
Ursula von der Leyen quoted TS Eliot:
“What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.”
The UK always has been and will continue to be European. Our new relationship can be, and should be, to the benefit of both sides. This is a rare moment in history, when everything is “unfrozen” and as a nation we have the chance to reset. The EU can proceed with the deeper political integration a single shared currency requires, and we can no longer blame the EU for not doing things domestically.
But I acknowledge that for some today is a day of deep regret. I understand that. In Burnt Norton TS Eliot speaks of:
“What might have been and what has been”
“Footfalls echo in the memory”.
We should now give these things their proper place and look ahead, grasping the opportunities as well as the responsibilities coming our way. We must invest in our future, with new industries, new skills, and greener technologies; work on smarter regulation to boost our competitiveness while enhancing environmental and social standards; and levelling up so that the four nations of the United Kingdom can prosper and narrow the gap in prosperity between cities, towns and regions across the UK. By passing this Bill today, we now have the certainty of a framework to do all these things.
My Lords, the parliamentary proceedings in which we are participating are a travesty. How else can you describe a Bill set to go through all its processes in one day; a Bill endorsing an agreement of more than 1,200 pages; a Bill accompanied by a distinctly partisan summary circulated by the Government; and a Bill which is getting no genuine parliamentary scrutiny and has not been reported on by either of the two committees of this House explicitly set up to deal with these sorts of agreements? If that is taking back control, it is certainly not effective control by Parliament.
The Government’s case needs, of course, to be listened to and examined with care. But it is not helpful when it is accompanied by a tidal wave of hyperbole, flippancy and plain untruths. Does the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in this country cease on Thursday of this week? No, not in Northern Ireland, and not in respect of issues relating to the status of EU citizens living and working in this country. Are we regaining our independence on Thursday? No, we never lost it. How otherwise could we have decided to leave the EU? Are we regaining unfettered sovereignty, that golden calf before which so many supporters of leaving the EU seem now to worship? No, this agreement we are debating inhibits the exercise of our sovereignty in hundreds of different ways, as does our membership of NATO, our acceptance of the compulsory jurisdiction of the UN’s International Court of Justice and of the World Trade Organization’s dispute settlement procedures, as do the provisions of the rules-based international order we are, quite rightly, defending and promoting.
I suggest that one of the best tests of the agreement is what is not covered by it—what we really will lose on Thursday, or at least risk losing. That includes freedom of services, which are 80% of our economy and in substantial surplus with the EU; financial services, which depend on the thread of equivalence of treatment yet to be settled; recognition of professional qualifications, which depends on a cat’s cradle of bilateral arrangements yet to be negotiated; and data exchanges, which are still in limbo. Our internal security and the ways to deal with the challenge of international crime are severely reduced from what we have now, with the Home Secretary surely alone in asserting that we shall be more secure.
The Erasmus student exchange programme is being thrown overboard as too costly, but why on earth, then, do other non-EU European countries belong to it? There is not a trace of any provision on co-operation on foreign policy and security, yet we need not only bilateral co-operation with other European countries, but co-operation with the EU’s decision-making institutions. I really would like to hear the Minister’s views on Gibraltar when he comes to reply. Why are we not sticking to the commitment that we would not enter into a deal in which Gibraltar was not covered?
This is a sorry tale before we even get to the detail. I suggest a simple set of conclusions: Britain could have done better, Britain needs to do better, and Britain will do better at some future point when we have regained some of our national characteristic of pragmatism.
My Lords, today is an extraordinary day that few of us were certain we would ever see: Britain, her sovereign status restored, having taken back control of our laws, borders, regulations, money, trade and fisheries, ended the role of the European Court of Justice and left the single market and customs union. I add my voice to that of others who congratulated our Prime Minister on the way he conducted these negotiations and the results he has achieved.
For nearly five years we have been shaken to the core of who we are as a nation, with many asking what it means to be British and to stand on our history, looking forward, free to decide our values and our character. A sovereign nation, able to take responsibility for our own decisions and future, able to shape who we are: this is the opportunity we now have; this is a moment to think carefully.
As a member of the EU there was safety in numbers, so we hardly noticed the complacency of an overdeveloped nation that was beginning to take root. Now that our future is entirely in our own hands, we can see the challenge that lies ahead. There are no well-worn paths ahead of us, and each of us will need to keep taking risks and driving innovation into the space that does not yet exist. This takes leadership, courage and the ability to see and create the new—the not yet. This is all in our hands and we are responsible.
What are the building blocks that need to be rooted and cemented into the foundations of this nation at this moment of transition? In my three minutes I will suggest two: first, a building block of creativity and innovation; and secondly, one of care and compassion.
Our future prosperity relies on economic decisions that foster employment, productivity, innovation and dynamism. Building back better and levelling up: these are terms that recognise that there is work to be done and things to stretch for. They are not static terms; we need to create, innovate, build and level up across the worlds of commerce, manufacturing, engineering and agriculture with our global partners in Asia, Africa, the Americas and, yes, Europe.
But a nation is only ever as strong as the character of its people. We are strong when we stand on our Judeo-Christian heritage. If we want to build our nation and to genuinely level up, it means rediscovering the ancient paths and the values that unite us. Yes, we must be economically strong and innovative, but also caring and compassionate. For too long we have neglected to support our families, and our healthcare and social care systems. If it is true that a nation is measured by how it cares for the elderly and the young, we have work to do. So, as we cast our vote to celebrate this moment of transition, let us also feel the responsibility and commit to innovation and compassion that expresses itself in building a strong economy and a society that genuinely invests in all.
My Lords, I congratulate my friend the noble Lord, Lord Austin of Dudley, on a brilliant maiden speech. When normality returns, I look forward to working with him.
The proceedings today are a farce. Parliament has failed again to stop more powers going to the Executive without scrutiny. And it is not the end of Brexit; it is just the start. Food, our largest manufacturing sector, is badly served. Rules of origin are more important than tariffs. Several products are now impossible to export to the European Union. Trade rules in food for the European Union are now more onerous for the UK than they are for New Zealand.
Confidence in food safety must be maintained at all costs. The Bill means that the UK is now outside many of the notification systems, and those have mainly been invented during our membership, so there is no previous system to fall back on. For animal diseases and pests in plant products, there is RASFF, the rapid alert system for food and feed. Of RASFF notifications, the top seven EU members account for more than 50%, with 11 notifications a day around the EU. The UK is the second-highest notifier, Germany being the highest, followed closely by France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Austria. The United Kingdom is kicked out of RASFF while Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland are still members.
Real-time information is crucial for food safety. In my view, it is urgent that the Food Standards Agency, for which I have massive respect and of which I declare an interest as a former chair, and which has been working on this issue for a long time, asserts its operational independence and publishes, before 11 pm tomorrow, the policy to protect UK consumers, manufacturers and others. It is a two-way process: we need to be able to alert others as well as looking after ourselves. Confidence will not be maintained as matters arise without an open and transparent system. I was very pleased to learn in the last hour from the director of FSA Northern Ireland that Northern Ireland is remaining in the RASFF.
That is a bit of detail out of the way. One of my biggest problems is that I do not trust the Prime Minister. EU members have no reason to trust him. His word is not his bond. I am reminded of Churchill, when he wrote:
“Great nations are no longer led by their ablest men, or by those who know most about their immediate affairs, or even by those who have a coherent doctrine.”
That completely sums up our untrustworthy Prime Minister and his Government. We need a firm commitment, not to make the treaty work or to build on it but to renegotiate it to avoid being smaller and alone and to be bigger together and greater than the parts. I have not heard that from any quarter. This Bill will not have my name on it.
The Prime Minister is fond of claiming world firsts, and he has one here: we will be the first nation in the world to put up trade barriers as the result of a trade deal. This is the first trade deal that creates additional bureaucracy: 23 working groups, a partnership council and some 4 million new forms— every one of them a non-tariff barrier deterring free trade and increasing business costs—along with £13 billion of expert red tape for business and 50,000 new customs agents needed, only half of whom have so far been trained.
Logistics businesses are at the sharp end of this. They have reduced rights to trade in the EU. They estimate that each delivery to and from the EU will take a full day longer, with obvious price implications for goods in our shops. In today’s world of optimised business chains, that will inevitably encourage many businesses to move to the EU. Last week we saw how quickly queues build up at our ports. We saw the impact on surrounding areas and how unprepared the Government were; they could not even manage to provide the basics of food and toilets for hauliers stuck in the queues.
The automotive industry is also at the sharp end. Today’s vehicles comprise parts from many countries. Although there are some useful provisions on rules of origin, it will still require additional paperwork and data gathering, and that means additional costs. The timescale is hopelessly short; the industry believes that a phase-in period is critical, but we are not getting that. Of course, businesses are not ready.
There are huge uncertainties built into this deal, because it is based on today’s standards, and standards change, particularly in vehicle manufacture and aviation, as technology advances. Each change needs a complex approval process, with potential penalties. Of course, this is just a framework deal, subject to endless reviews and supplementary agreements.
For all these reasons, and many more, I will vote against this tonight, because I will not vote to lose my voice on so many rules that will govern my life. I will not vote to reduce the rights for young people to study and travel abroad. I will not vote for more bureaucracy. I will not vote for job losses in the auto industry, aviation and haulage. I will not condone lower environmental standards, and I will not condone this charade of scrutiny. Be in no doubt: this Tory Government must bear responsibility for what follows. This is not getting Brexit done—it is just the beginning.
I rise to ask the Minister how this excellent new relationship will help Gibraltar. What form will the strengthened link with the United Kingdom take? As we know, most importantly, the excellent prosperity of Gibraltar is linked closely to the prosperity of the local region around Algeciras and La Línea particularly. Some 15,000 Spaniards depend upon their jobs in Gibraltar through having access each day to Gibraltar across the border. What can be done in the new improved climate to enhance economic co-operation in the region to the benefit of both Gibraltar and the neighbouring Spanish region, even given the current problems and restrictions from Covid-19? I believe it would be most helpful for Gibraltar to get some encouragement from the Minister in his wind-up speech.
Of course, as a former first vice president of the European Parliament’s senior committee, the Committee on Foreign Affairs, I am keenly interested in growing our nation’s strength and enlarging our influence in all parts of the globe. Naturally, there are already many “doubting Thomases”, whose fearful commentary of our supposedly weakened position they foresee as a consequence of this excellent legislation now before your Lordships’ House. I can assure these would-be harbingers of doom that no less personages than our two closest contributors to our new and powerful position, Mr Barnier and Charles Michel, have indicated that they hold a different view, closer to my own, of Britain’s uniqueness in this position.
As Mr Michel tweeted last night, he is “looking forward to co-operate on … foreign policy issues as allies sharing common values”. Mr Barnier added correctly that:
“The British have experienced diplomats who don’t give up and always ask for more”.
Of course, I would remind Mr Barnier that we do not just have excellent diplomats—we do indeed have the best in the world—but we also have fantastic people in the departments of industry and trade, and in other departments too. But I would suggest to the Minister and other Members of your Lordships’ House that with those endorsements from the two people who gave us the most difficult of times, and with this historic agreement in the bag, we cannot fail.
As there is now no alternative to this deal, except no deal, there is one brief point I wish to make for the future. There we do have an alternative: implementing the deal in a way that rolls back the growth and supremacy of the executive branch of Government, which this Bill seeks further to strengthen, in ways described by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, and the noble Lords, Lord Pannick and Lord Anderson of Ipswich. That alternative requires the restoration of the position of Parliament, adherence to the devolution arrangements and ensuring the continued independence of the other branches of Government.
I will take one illustration: state aid, set out in part 2, heading 1, title XI of the treaty. Its proper implementation and operation are essential to our prosperity, and to a strong relationship with the European Union. One central provision again suffices: article 3.9 within that title, which requires the UK and the EU each to establish
“an operationally independent … body with an appropriate role in its subsidy control regime.”
There are at least five defining tasks that we must carry out in relation to this one article alone. First, consensus is needed with the devolved Governments for, although state aid control is now a reserved matter, state aid is devolved. Secondly, proper registration, dealing with all the detail, is needed, not framework legislation with delegated powers. Thirdly, the independent authority that is to exercise the control over subsidies must have independent decision-making powers, and not be some sort of quango advising the executive branch of government. Fourthly, there must be no attempt to curtail proper judicial review or appeal, by independent courts or tribunals, of the decisions. Finally, the working of these arrangements in the UK, and the way the corresponding arrangements work in the EU, must be scrutinised by a properly resourced parliamentary committee.
That is the task in relation to one article, but if it is achieved for that article in relation to state control, and there are similar achievements in the countless other new arrangements necessary, we should be able to ensure that, as the UK regains control, that control is exercised through parliamentary sovereignty, under the properly balanced operation of our constitution, and not under executive supremacy.
My Lords, like other speakers I welcome the fact that there is a deal, albeit that we do not have the opportunity to scrutinise it properly tonight. I also welcome the reference in the Bill to the peace programme, which was negotiated between former EU President Jacques Delors and Northern Ireland MEPs John Hume, Ian Paisley and Jim Nicholson. It has been an enduring programme to help Northern Ireland and the border counties of the Republic and I welcome it.
However, I have to say that one theme stands out for me. In a recent letter to us, the Prime Minister said that the deal,
“takes back control of our laws, borders, money, trade … and ends any role for the European Court.”
He goes on to say:
“We will be a truly independent country, with our sovereign Parliament in full control of the laws that we live by.”
Michael Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, said that we are no longer bound by EU law, there is no role for the European Court of Justice, we will have full political and economic independence from 1 January, and our laws will be determined by our own elected politicians.
I am sorry to say it, but all those statements are untrue, because one part of the United Kingdom—Northern Ireland—is left in the European Union. The European Court will still have a role; we will be subject to laws and regulations that will be negotiated and agreed in Brussels, where we have no representation; and we cannot even bring over €10,000 of our own money into Northern Ireland without permission. The idea that these statements are factual is wrong. I wish that somebody on the Government Front Bench would openly admit that we have done a deal that works for Great Britain but, because of certain circumstances, Northern Ireland is not at this stage able to benefit from it. EU officials will stand beside HMRC officers at customs posts at all Northern Ireland ports. One of them being built at Larne is 44,000 square metres, which does not seem to me to be “light touch”, and we will have to treat Great Britain as a third country.
Unfortunately, I want to ask the Minister: what consent was obtained from Northern Ireland for these arrangements? Can he give me that answer, because nobody so far has? I hear some unionists in the other place, and indeed in your Lordships’ House, railing against this deal because of the protocol that was introduced last year. But the very same people facilitated the introduction of that protocol, so they are not in a position to challenge things tonight.
What I want is honesty. We will make the best of what we can, but the union is seriously weakened as a result of this decision, and it is a fact that our laws will be determined by others and not by our sovereign Parliament. That is not taking back control.
I welcome and support this historic Bill. Following the agreement, we will truly be an independent country, in control of our laws and national destiny, without any influence of the European Court. We will also set up an arrangement which can be worth more than £650 billion in reciprocal trade with the EU.
The agreement covers a number of subjects but, in view of lack of time, I shall discuss issues relating to the financial services sector, which I declare is my business. The financial services sector contributes around £130 billion to the UK economy and employs more than 1 million people. It generates more than 10% of tax revenues and contributed about 40% of the country’s £18 billion trade surplus in services with the EU in 2019. We should do all we can to protect its future.
As of 1 January 2021, UK financial services firms will not be able to continue their passporting privileges, which have allowed them to undertake financial services activities freely in the European Union. To undertake financial services activities, firms will need to register and comply with necessary requirements in each country or rely on equivalence.
Our Prime Minister has commented that the Brexit trade deal perhaps does not go as far as he would like on financial services. If a firm is to seek authorisation from individual countries, this will add to its costs and make the matter complicated. I appreciate that equivalence was not part of TCA negotiations and have noted that access to European markets can be established by a separate process which can grant equivalence to UK firms. I hope that further negotiations will be undertaken as soon as possible to establish market access to the European Union for our financial services firms. I very much hope that an agreement is reached and a memorandum of understanding is signed as soon as possible. I emphasise that we must endeavour to secure equivalence on a permanent basis.
Another issue of concern is that, from 1 January 2021, UK professional qualifications will not be recognised by the European Union. A British-qualified person will need registration in the country where he or she would like to undertake work. British qualifications are of a very high standard and are the envy of the world, and they must be treated accordingly. I hope that this point is discussed further and that an agreement is reached on this issue, together with the important matter of equivalence. I ask my noble friend the Minister to comment on the matters that I have raised regarding the financial services sector.
My Lords, I strongly agree with my noble friend’s amendment. In practice, under the CRaG Act, we cannot stop the treaty; we can only delay it. However, the Leader’s upbeat assessment in her opening speech was entirely misplaced. It is a thin deal, with no properly thought-through impact assessment and on such an important matter—a serious omission.
However, like many others, I shall vote in favour because, as they have said, the alternative of no deal is worse. I do this not because the agreement facilitates business trade—it does not; unlike any other trade deal, it creates more non-tariff barriers and more bureaucracy, as the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, explained—but because it provides a period of certainty, enabling businesses to plan and, hopefully, invest and adapt to our new status outside the EU, while at the same time coping with this terrible pandemic.
Yes, I shall vote in favour, because the Government’s mismanagement is threatening the integrity of our union. The Government have given practically no opportunity for the devolved Administrations to give this matter proper consideration, yet unity is of interest to us all.
I shall vote in favour in the hope that it will make our departure less acrimonious and will create a better atmosphere to settle the many outstanding issues, such as the future of our services sector, which the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, and many others mentioned, where we have a healthy surplus. We must settle the outstanding non-trading aspects of our relationship, which are so important—academic, scientific, educational, cultural, data sharing, security, climate change and emissions trading. We will have to learn how to operate the 30-odd specialist committees that set standards, arbitrate and settle disputes and with which we will have to work—otherwise they will operate at our disadvantage.
Meanwhile, we must deal with the pandemic, the double-dip recession, high unemployment, public and private debt and the inevitable change in taxation. We will need a Government who do not indulge in wishful thinking about sovereignty and who will put our relationship with the EU on a much better footing than this.
My Lords, it is no surprise to me that we are sitting today, at the last gasp of 2020, to consider legislation published just yesterday to deliver the most radical change of trading circumstances in our history. The Government never wanted Parliament to be involved in the process. We are being bounced into giving the Government sweeping and unspecified powers to do what they please without further reference to Parliament. Much of the detail was clearly agreed months ago, so it is total hypocrisy to suggest that legislators must simply buckle when it could and should have been perfectly possible for adequate time to be provided.
The compromises now reveal that all the braggadocio about sovereignty was just that. It is a pity that it was done with such ill grace and to such long-term damage. We will accept EU rules without having any role in shaping them and face endless argument and disruption should we seek to diverge.
With so little time, I wish to ask for clarification on two points and issue a warning on one. As a member of this House’s EU Services Sub-Committee, I was party to our long letter to the Secretary of State regarding Horizon and Erasmus+. We were concerned that, in participating as a third party to Horizon, we would move from being a net beneficiary of to a significant net contributor to a programme over which we would have limited control. Can the Minister tell me whether that has been addressed?
In the case of Erasmus, 53% of all students who studied abroad did so through Erasmus, which also funded EU students to study in the UK, bringing an academically enriching and economic benefit. Yet we have opted out completely. Why? Can the Minister say what that will mean to current students looking for a placement in the next academic year? Can he also explain how the proposed Turing scheme can possibly deliver comparable benefits to the multinational, multilayered Erasmus scheme? Will it just focus on the English-speaking world and further distance us from our European friends?
The warning relates to the impact of this deal on Scotland, and it is aimed both at the Government and people of the UK and at the Government and people of Scotland. It is becoming too glib and too easy to remark airily that Scotland is on course for independence and to assume that negotiating Scexit—Scotland’s exit from the UK—will be quick and easy compared with Brexit. We have heard that before. The institutions that we share are not peripheral; they are the arteries of our society. Similarly, the assumption that Scotland will achieve a rapid and seamless transition to membership of the EU, regardless of the lack of a central bank or currency and with debt several times the permitted threshold, is simply unreal. More to the point, erecting a border with the rest of the UK before any agreement can be reached with the EU should give anyone pause for thought.
Of course, the devolved Administrations should be treated with more respect, just as the reality of the benefits that we share across the UK should be valued more. The nightmare of the last few years, topped off with Covid, should surely teach us the value of togetherness, however strained relations become. If we do not learn from this, we face a future of endless debilitating division and argument as we decline in influence. If we can learn and find a more constructive way of engaging with each other, we might—just might—begin to see the glimmerings of a brighter future. I do hope so.
My Lords, I share the dilemma expressed so often today, faced with an agreement that is far from the one I would like to see but far better than no deal at all. I particularly regret those places where even the Prime Minister concedes that the deal does not go far enough, and I make no apologies for revisiting my familiar theme of services, which contribute so much to the economy, exports and employment but which are so poorly served by this deal. Its service provisions are not only limited but are subject to a vast list of exceptions, varied by sector and member state. Crucial issues such as data adequacy, passporting rights and financial equivalence are unresolved, and the end of mutual recognition of qualifications is a serious blow.
Services were always going to be hit hard by the determination to end freedom of movement. So, although the deal allows short-term business visitors to enter the EU visa-free for 90 days in any six months, the activities they can undertake are limited—more a case of networking than work. Meetings, trade exhibitions, conferences, consultation and market research are all fine, but any selling of goods or services directly to the public is subject to a work visa, the requirements for which will vary across each member state.
The cultural sector is particularly ill served, with visa-free travel seemingly denied to working performers, artists and musicians, who now face new burdens of admin, carnets and costs. The absence of any creative, cultural or media services and occupations in the SERVIN 3 and 4 lists of suppliers and independent professionals will impact across music, film and TV, dance, theatre, journalism, gigging, photography, fashion and more.
The Prime Minister spoke this morning of
“restoring a great British industry”—
he meant fishing—
“to the eminence that it deserves”,
but one cost of this has been the sacrifice of services, including the creative industries, which really are one of the truly great British industries of today. The Minister assured me in yesterday’s very helpful briefing that performing artists and musicians are in fact covered in the deal, but I still struggle to understand how. Perhaps he could clarify this on the record today and, subsequently, in writing to the House.
This deal denies the next generation the freedoms that we have enjoyed, and I believe that it will have economic, social and cultural consequences. But today we are all Henry Hobson—we face Hobson’s choice—and I cannot support no deal. This agreement will at least delay divergence. It carries the promise of further agreements and, at five-year intervals, it gives us the chance to review and improve. It offers a framework on which our future relationship with our nearest neighbours can be built. For those reasons, and despite my reservations, I will be voting to implement it in law.
My Lords, when we last held a referendum on Europe in 1975, like many businessmen I strongly supported membership. The entrepreneur in me felt that to be part of a bigger bloc would give us the advantages that American companies already enjoyed in their huge home market. In the early 1990s, as president of a group representing European ship owners, I spent a great deal of time in Brussels meeting many Commissioners on a regular basis, and in the following years in connection with the European interests of my own company, P&O SN Co, I continued those meetings.
Why did I change my mind? Taking account of what I have just said, the original aim of it being a trading bloc has been lost. The European Commission is the sole initiator of policy, and the ambition of most in Brussels is a fully united Europe instead of a confederation of nation states. That is why I worked with Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and Gisela Stuart in the leave campaign—and, subsequently, with David Davis for four years, when he was Brexit Secretary. Our 40-year membership of Europe is a very short period in this country’s history. Many keep referring to our decision to reassert control of our own destiny as a divorce; I never understood why because we were never married—at most, we were engaged.
Power today is no longer about possessing territory and heavy industry; nor is it even dependent on having a large population. Increasingly, it is a corollary of the extraordinary advances in technology and the expansion of world trade through the ever-increasing global supply chain—economic strength is vital. One lesson I have learned in international commerce is as valid today as it ever was: trade is a natural human activity—as natural as communicating with each other. It should not be dictated by government bureaucracy. That is why this country has always believed that free trade and freedom are inextricably linked—a view strongly held by Margaret Thatcher. I have no doubt whatever that we can more than hold our own outside the EU, working closely through strong long-term relationships worldwide, particularly with the Commonwealth, the USA and the far east—and, of course, by enlarging and enhancing our trade relations with the European Union.
We must never forget the magnificent role of our armed services in defending our realm night and day. Hearing the comments of many others, I emphasise that Gibraltar is of extreme importance to the Royal Navy, and we must make certain that, in due course, this is addressed in a way that helps it and our interests.
I have never liked the word “deal”. In business, long-term relationships are founded on an agreement, where trust and respect are fundamental. At the announcement referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Butler, Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, spoke warmly about the ongoing relationship with partners in the United Kingdom. Many of us have deep friendships and family in continental Europe, and, with such sentiment, I have no doubt that our relationship will only deepen in the years to come.
I strongly welcome this agreement and congratulate the Prime Minister and all those involved in the negotiation. Having been involved in major negotiations in many ways over 50-odd years, I have to say that the Prime Minister’s judgment in the last two to three weeks before they came to an agreement, the risks he took and the courage he showed are something to be admired—
I have three minutes to describe a great national disaster—a tragedy—and to issue a plea to noble Lords to do what they can to mitigate the impacts. The appropriate approach for today is not a comparison of the thin deal on which we vote—a kit sailboat of matchsticks, put together by a careless child—against the storm of crashing out; rather, we need to compare this Bill to what we had before Brexit.
First, on freedom of movement, Britons historically had, and were able to force on the rest of the world, freedom of movement across the Empire, and for decades we have enjoyed consensual, two-way movement across our continent. However, from 1 January, the majority of Britons, who do not have the cash or social capital to grease their way, will have less freedom of movement than their ancestors enjoyed for centuries. The nation has been put into permanent global lockdown.
Secondly, I cite our services sector, that hugely dominant part of our economy, which the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, was just talking about. As the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, said, EU states will be calling the shots about what architects, lawyers, musicians and copywriters can and cannot do. For trade in goods, this is not frictionless trade, but the addition of voluminous tangles of red tape. This is “a wonderful thing”, says the Prime Minister, striding firmly into Orwell’s Ministry of Truth.
Individuals and businesses have lost the rights they can assert and enforce for themselves with EU membership. Instead, there are meagre rules and obligations that exist only between the UK and the EU. If you, as an individual, lose out, you will rely on the Government to act for you. Good luck.
Our already depleted and degraded environment has lost crucial EU protections—just ask Greener UK. The non-regression provisions involve a test that is “notoriously difficult to prove” and has been ineffective in previous trade agreements. Rebalancing mechanisms are restricted. The full horizontal dispute settlement mechanism does not apply to the environment or sustainable development chapters. We have lost the democracy these islands have enjoyed through the European Parliament. For Westminster, as the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, said, the events of today represent a massive power grab by the Executive. This speed is engineered by either incompetence or design.
Both government and opposition opening speakers lingered on the overwhelming majority this Bill won in the other place. But 521 to 73 in no way reflects the views of the country. I beg each noble Lord individually to represent the people abandoned by the other place. Show your opposition to this disaster and provide a counterbalance to the extreme forces that want, as we patch up this ill-assembled boat, putting up sails and rigging and a hand on the tiller, to steer us straight on to the undemocratic, exploitative, destructive, deregulatory shores of Singapore-upon-Thames.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to contribute, albeit for three minutes, to this debate. I agree so much with those who have congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Frost, and his team. Anybody who has been involved in negotiations, with the EU in particular, will know they are a challenge. They often end in the small hours of the morning, and there is always compromise. I accept, as somebody who voted to leave the EU back in 2016, that compromises were always going to be needed. So, I do not feel bitter in any way, and I hope, whatever side of the argument people were on, bitterness can be put aside because, frankly, we have work to do. That work will fall so much on our House—our Chamber and our committees.
I hope, as we go forward, we will make clear the standards and values of this country which now holds the reins to set its own legislation and create its own rules. For example, when we set the professional qualifications we are prepared to accept across a range of businesses and professions, we can aim for the best. We can aim for quality and decency and things people can rely on and trust.
Also, I hope we can get our own House and our own Parliament in order, because the recovery of sovereignty in this area means that we have to make sure we hold the Government to account. So, I hope we will see fewer pieces of legislation where Henry VIII clauses and other devices that give power to the Executive are just automatically built in, as though a scattering of them is needed in every Bill. I say that as a member of the Delegated Powers Committee, where it is a matter of great concern. I hope, too, that we will look at what is good regulation.
A lot has been said about gold-plating and people wanting to go for the best, cheapest deal. We do not want to be the cheapskates of the world; we want to be people who, with our design and cultural history, can produce the industries, technologies and cultures of the future, which can be relied on everywhere, not least at home. As we look forward to 2021—and I hope we are looking forward to it—this is a great opportunity for us, and I hope our House, in particular, will play its part in making sure that it is successful.
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to follow on from the speech of my noble friend Lord Austin, who has been a great friend over the years, promoting cycling at a time when it was not quite as popular as it is now. He is very welcome in your Lordships’ House.
There has been a lot of talk from the Prime Minister and others about regaining our sovereignty, but I have to ask this question: whose sovereignty and what exactly do they mean? It is very easy for Ministers to sit here, at the end of 2020, and think that we are a sovereign island state, maybe even with an empire whose every move they can control, forgetting that they do not have one any more and that most of the Empire sought more relevant economic and cultural links long ago, and we are left alone. After 50 years of war and its aftermath, our involvement in Europe and with our neighbours, and the encouragement that we gave to widening the EU eastwards, was a major contributor to peace: the free movement of people for work, leisure and relationships, and the understanding of the different traditions, languages, local rules and customs has been a major contributor to peace. Of course, the Erasmus programme, about which many noble Lords have spoken, is an essential part of that, and I hope the Minister will come back with a positive answer when he responds.
I lived in Romania for several years in the 1970s, under the Communist regime, and it was not a happy place. There was no liberty and no freedom, and the issues that occurred then are not over yet—as we see when we look at what is happening in Ukraine and Belarus. I have a train-operating business colleague who sent me a photograph a few years ago of one of his freight trains with machine-gun holes all the way up the side. Just imagine trying to run a business when you have machine guns going past you all the time.
I think the rest of Europe should be seen as our friends and trading partners—to which, of course, we export some 40% of our trade—and we should really encourage them. Therefore, the criticism of Europe as being bureaucratic is wrong. The people are not bureaucratic, but some of the processes needed to be, maybe to cope with 26 member states. Are our Government really right to criticise the EU for this when they produce just a framework Bill, which many speakers have said will dramatically increase the bureaucracy of trade with the EU, just as the interests of that mythical idea of sovereignty are lost?
My conclusion is that all the Government are doing is transferring sovereignty from what they believe was Europe to themselves, bypassing Parliament. For the reasons many other noble Lords gave, I will support the Bill, but through gritted teeth.
My Lords, today we are debating a Bill to implement the Brexit agreements with the EU. I want to focus on one aspect of the Prime Minister’s comment that, despite the agreement, the UK would
“remain culturally, emotionally, historically, strategically and geologically attached to Europe”.
Those cultural and emotional questions are fundamental. I have no doubt that the Prime Minister identifies with elements of historic European culture; we have all noted how often he quotes from pre-Christian Greek and Roman sources. While Jean Monnet, one of the great architects of the European project, may not have made the comment often attributed to him that
“If I were to do it again from scratch, I would start with culture”,
the question of culture is fundamental for Europe.
Supporters of the European project emphasise the transnational commonalities of European culture, and I share that perspective, but many people identify more with the culture of their own historic national community. They are prepared to sacrifice economic and social well-being to protect it when they feel it is under threat; that is much of what Brexit is about. Immigration, for example, is felt by people like that to be changing the culture of their communities more quickly than they can accommodate. Within the EU, constant effort is required to contain the historic cultural and religious differences between the north and the south, and the east and the west. Those who promoted Brexit, like those who are trying to undermine the European project from within and without, have released powerful nationalist forces that will not be put to bed by Brexit.
The complaints that the Prime Minister laid against the EU and his solution of taking back control are now being turned against him from within the United Kingdom. The Scots, the Welsh and the Northern Irish did not want to take back control from Brussels in order to hand it to London. That is why he is having such a problem with the passage of legislative consent Motions. Mr Johnson may see himself as the British Prime Minister and wrap himself in the union flag, but in Edinburgh and Belfast, and even in Cardiff, he is increasingly seen as an English Prime Minister. My wife and I moved from Belfast to Oxfordshire a couple of years ago. We are very happily settled there, but we immediately sensed the depth of the cultural differences between the community that we had left and the one which is now our home.
Our United Kingdom has held together deep historic cultural differences that are now being exposed by Brexit. The appearance of a border down the Irish Sea, so clearly described by the noble Lord, Lord Empey, and the decision of the Irish Government to offer Erasmus and EHIC benefits to British citizens in Northern Ireland are significant straws in the wind. If, or perhaps when, Northern Ireland leaves, it is the end of the United Kingdom—for, as noble Lords will recall, it is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The impact on Scotland could be profound. Are Her Majesty’s Government as blind as their former Brexit-voting allies in the DUP to the fragmentation that may be triggered by the powerful centrifugal dynamic that they have released? Can the Minister tell the House what Her Majesty’s Government are going to do to hold our United Kingdom together?
My Lords, I declare my relevant interests, as detailed in the register. Like other noble Lords, my overwhelming sensation on hearing the Prime Minister’s announcement was of relief. I could not believe that any British Government would take us out of the transition period with no deal, trading on World Trade Organization terms as advocated by the ultras. Today, it is clear that this legislation must pass. However, I and many others are left with a number of worries, which I hope the Minister addresses when he winds up.
I worry for the fishermen, who have not achieved what they were promised in the referendum. I worry for small hill farmers, who will find that their sheepmeat must comply with new bureaucratic processes to enter their principal continental markets. I worry for all exporters, who will certainly encounter delays in the European ports. I hope the process can be streamlined to create something closer to the promised frictionless trade.
I worry for business travellers, artists and performers who need to move in and out of continental Europe without hindrance. I worry for students, as we have chosen not to remain part of the Erasmus programme. I hope that the new Turing scheme gives students as much chance to study overseas, and international students to come here. I worry for the City of London and financial services. I hope that the Government move with speed to negotiate an agreement for access to the continental markets.
I worry that the police and security services will not have the same access to European databases. I worry for the National Health Service, which has a lengthening list of vacancies, where EU citizens have been such an important component in the past. I worry for the citizens of Gibraltar and hope they reach an agreement with Spain to keep the frontier open. Finally and most importantly, I worry about our union of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Despite my concerns, we must commend the Government for making a deal, however imperfect. It is my fervent hope that Ministers realise that there is still much to do. I hope that the country finds a renewed prosperity under these very changed circumstances.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to the Government and their negotiating team under the leadership of my noble friend Lord Frost. I cannot begin to imagine how difficult this must have been for the negotiators, but the stresses and strains over the weeks towards the end were indeed palpable to those of us who observed the negotiations closely. While the whole Brexit issue may have caused division within the ranks of politicians, and indeed the public at large, whichever side you were on, we can now all hopefully come together in the knowledge that we have a deal which, all being well, will bind us together for a prosperous future with our new trading arrangements.
In the limited time allocated, I should like to touch from a practical perspective on two areas that I have a particular interest in. To some extent I am pleased to see the agreement struck in relation to aviation, particularly with co-operation on aviation safety, security and air traffic management. It will, however, impose a restriction on UK airlines as they will no longer be considered EU carriers and will lose existing traffic rights in the EU. The practical effects of that are yet to be seen and experienced.
It also has consequences for general aviation. A simple example of this is the light aircraft pilot’s licence, which was originally and rather ironically conceived by EASA as a simpler and easier way to obtain a licence. However, from 1 January 2021, British pilots who hold such a licence cannot fly into Europe as a pilot in charge of an aircraft, as it will become a national licence with UK-only privileges. This is very regrettable.
I am, however, a little more sceptical in respect of security and policing. I voted remain on the basis of my experience of working as a police officer in eastern Europe and my belief that the UK’s best interests would be served by maintaining our close working relationships, both formally and informally, with our European security and policing cousins. I am still of that opinion. Key tools such as the Schengen Information System SIS II, and membership of Europol and Eurojust, enabled us to work closely with our European partners, but membership will now be lost.
The noble Lords, Lord Pannick and Lord Ricketts, and my noble friend Lord Lancaster, have already referred to the effects of the loss of SIS II. I agree that it will deny the operational officer on the street key real-time information with regards to foreign nationals engaged in criminality or who may be wanted for serious crimes. I do not therefore fully share the enthusiasm of the Home Secretary, who has
“hailed the UK’s new comprehensive security agreement with the EU.”
Yes, we have arrangements for the sharing of information on air passenger travel, vehicle registration, DNA and fingerprints, but I fear that these amount to only the basic essentials. It is real-time database access that is vital and is lacking in this agreement and, as a consequence, in the police toolbox.
All of that said, this Bill was brought about as a result of a democratic vote by the people of the United Kingdom. I respect that, as I believe others should. While I have reservations on some areas of the deal, there are many aspects of the deal that I applaud. Above all, it is the will of the people. It is fair to say that the EU has certainly developed into something far greater than that that which was voted on way back in the 1970s. I feel sure that many of the issues raised by your Lordships this evening, including those raised by myself, can be addressed in due course. Therefore, I have no hesitation in supporting the Bill this evening.
My Lords, I support the regret amendment, but with the greatest reluctance will vote for the Bill. Leaving the EU on the Tory Government’s terms—with or without this Bill—will produce immense economic and social damage to the UK. But the option of having no legislation to implement the Government’s deal would be worse. I have three substantive points.
First, it is clearly nonsense to suggest that the treaty means that we take back control, as the Brexiteers claim, particularly if we mean democratic control. The Bill creates a whole panoply of joint regulation and control between the UK Government and the European Commission, with the partnership council, 19 specialised committees and four working groups. These bodies will reach agreements at the European level, without parliamentary scrutiny, which will apply directly in British domestic law. So the UK Government will be subject to next to no democratic scrutiny or oversight of what they negotiate with the EU. There will be less democratic oversight than we had as a member of the European Union. What we will see are truly the horrors of unaccountable power, with laws being made by administrative diktat.
Secondly, of the many unknowns left open by the treaty I want to highlight the inadequate provision for mutual recognition of professional qualifications. What we have here is simply a framework, with the practice to be agreed through the joint partnership council along the lines of the CETA treaty. What this means in practice is unknown, but, judging by the slow progress of recognition under CETA itself, this means years of uncertainty. This will not only affect UK professionals, who will be at a competitive disadvantage, but will make matters worse for our hard-pressed health and education sectors, where EU nationals have provided essential support. It also poses an additional challenge for delivering the world-class academic research that underpins so much of the UK’s competitive advantage.
This undercooked and ill-thought-out Bill presents not the solutions we need but simply a long list of undecided but vital UK links that have provided great advantage to the UK, its economy and its standing in the world.
Thirdly, and all too briefly, I must mention the failure to guarantee labour standards. We know that it is the Prime Minister’s ambition to weaken employment rights in a race to the bottom. This has not been forgotten and it is most certainly an issue to which we will return in future debates.
My Lords, when Chamberlain came back from Berchtesgaden with a piece of paper proclaiming “peace in our time”, he was greeted with almost universal acclaim. When Johnson came back from Brussels with his free trade agreement, he was greeted with adulatory praise from most of the Conservative press and his party. It was, he announced, the realisation of the claims made for Brexit in the referendum and in the last Conservative manifesto. Well, will it really be the journey into the sunlit uplands? Not according to the vast majority of economists, for reasons powerfully argued in this debate by several speakers. I believe that Johnson’s Panglossian optimism will prove no more justified than Chamberlain’s belief in “peace in our time”.
We will probably continue to wallow in nostalgic complacency: “We are the best, especially when we are fighting alone”, “We won the war”, “We have a special relationship with the United States and the Commonwealth —who needs the Europeans?” As a result, we are likely to fall behind our European colleagues in economic growth; we already have the lowest productivity of any advanced European country. The great deal that Johnson has will be no help to our services industry, which makes up 80% of our wealth. There is great uncertainty among manufacturers about the new bureaucratic delays at borders. In addition, we may well find that Johnson has created an irresistible desire for independence in Scotland, which wishes to remain part of the EU, and may set Northern Ireland on the path to a referendum for a united Ireland. Part of Johnson’s legacy could well mean the end of the United Kingdom, leaving us as a relatively small, chauvinistic and isolated country with very little influence in an increasingly hostile world. Is that really what Brexiteers voted for?
My Lords, we now step out into a future whose course will be set largely by ourselves. This is as it should be.
It was on a Friday morning almost exactly seven years ago that, from these Benches, I introduced the European Union (Referendum) Bill. It was a wonderful piece of private legislation that belonged in the other place to the excellent James Wharton MP, now our very own noble Lord, Lord Wharton of Yarm. He had rather more luck than I did: it passed through the Commons with a massive majority. In this House, of course, it was destroyed with malice aforethought. I said then:
“The principle behind this Bill is that the people have a right to decide their own future.”—[Official Report, 10/1/14; col. 1738.]
Now, those who were once derided as swivel-eyed loons have turned out to be the largely silent and remarkably insistent majority. Swivel eyes gave way to tousled hair, hope and the herculean stamina of my noble friends Lord True and Lord Callanan—and the noble Lord, Lord Frost, whose impact has been like that of an entire Spartan army. Then there is our Prime Minister, of course. What a year he has had, worthy of all his beloved ancient Greeks.
There are those who still believe that the earth is flat, made of nothing but level playing fields. They spend their nights sleepless, worrying about the possibility of molehills, whereas we see our world filled with different shapes, glorious colours and the opportunity to rebuild our society, renew our democracy and bring government back closer to the people it serves. We see the opportunity to raise both the spirits and circumstances of those who have for too long been left behind.
All this comes at a price—of course it does—but what price freedom? We made the principled, democratic and yes, moral, case, and that case won. We have done what we promised the people we would do and what they instructed us to do. To use the jargon, Brexit at last means Brexit—and I, for one, am very happy.
My Lords, I fear that today’s debate is something of a sham. We have just an afternoon and evening to debate the agreement, which was made available to us only a matter of days ago, with little realistic prospect of amending it. To all intents and purposes, we are spectators and commentators rather than true legislators or scrutineers. This is deeply regrettable, but it does at least free us up to talk instead about the wider issues involved.
There are two ways of looking at the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement: first, what we have avoided, and secondly, what we have lost. We have avoided coming to the end of the transition period without a trade agreement, with all the disruption and economic damage that that would have involved. At a time of great uncertainty due to the impact of Covid, we have at least been spared that. This leads some, not unreasonably, to conclude that they should reluctantly vote with the Government, as the immediate alternative is a lot worse.
However, the alternative way of considering this agreement is to look at what we have lost. Compared to what we have now, what we have lost is very considerable. Our ability to trade with the EU will become harder—especially in the vital area of services, where we have an advantage. Consequently, growing the economy will be more challenging. Freedom of movement and cultural exchange will be more difficult. Our global influence will be much diminished. Ironically, despite these big losses, we will stay firmly in the orbit of the EU, which will surely challenge us on policy diversions a lot less serious than returning to sending children up chimneys. The Government have declined to produce an impact assessment. I sincerely hope that others will take up that task on their behalf.
We all want the UK to succeed and prosper post Brexit but, if we do, I fear that it will be in spite of this agreement, not because of it. The passing of this Bill will bring an end to the dreadful Brexit years. We all want closure on this unhappy and divisive period in our history. But it will not end the proper debate about what is the right relationship between Britain and the European Union. The Bill will undoubtedly be passed today. To vote for this Bill would for me signal, at some level, satisfaction with the way the Government have handled the issue, the choices they have made, and the relationship we have now arrived at with the European Union. I have to say that I am not satisfied, and so I shall not support the Bill.
My Lords, there are some of us who have spent a political lifetime opposed to the UK’s membership of the European Union, who look on with a sense of sadness that the Brexit that is being delivered for GB will not be enjoyed by the people of Northern Ireland. Those who live in Northern Ireland and contributed to the 17.4 million people who voted leave were entitled to expect that they would leave the EU on the same terms as the rest of the United Kingdom. Indeed, as recently as Christmas Eve, the Prime Minister declared:
“We have taken back control of our laws and our destiny. We have taken back control of every jot and tittle of our regulation in a way that is complete and unfettered. From January 1 we are outside the customs union and outside the single market. British laws will be made solely by the British Parliament, interpreted by UK judges sitting in UK courts and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice will come to an end.”
As a Member of this House, I think I am entitled, and indeed have a duty, to ask the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, who is this “we” that he speaks of? Because as “we” will become all too common to hear in the time ahead, this offer does not extend to Northern Ireland. I am sorry to say that the Prime Minister must know that.
I do not deny that the work done by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and his team in the JCC has blunted some of the worst aspects of the Northern Ireland protocol, and I hope more progress can still be made. But the reality is that reducing friction in trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain cannot remedy the constitutional outrage that laws will be made for Northern Ireland over which people who live in the EU will have more say than the people in Northern Ireland.
Yesterday the ERG star chamber concluded that the EU–UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement preserved the UK’s sovereignty as a matter of law. It did not and could not conclude that the withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol preserved the sovereignty of the United Kingdom. Had that rigorous legal analysis been conducted 12 months ago, I doubt we would find ourselves in the position that we do now.
There are those who are claiming victory today although, if it is a victory at all, it is a pyrrhic victory, for a clean Brexit for Great Britain comes at the cost of the economic integrity of the United Kingdom. I am just sorry that, although we joined the EEC as one country, we are not, in a meaningful sense, leaving the European Union as one country. It would appear that the military saying “leave no man behind” lacks any political equivalent.
Finally, the protocol under which Northern Ireland will now operate is a travesty and I and my party have consistently opposed it. No consent has been given to the protocol by the people of Northern Ireland.
My Lords, I rise to welcome this Bill, and to congratulate my noble friend Lord Cavendish on his brilliant valedictory speech. We will miss him, his historical perspectives, and his love of small business.
Virtually my whole career has been spent in EU circles, either negotiating in and with it as a civil servant and later as a Minister, operating across its single market as a retailer or, most recently, sitting on the EU Committee. I love European art and culture and travelling across the continent, but the last five years have changed my view of the viability of the UK’s position within the EU.
I warmly congratulate the Prime Minister, my noble friend Lord Frost and the rest of the UK negotiating team, and I welcome the treaty and the Bill before us today. My sister reminded me yesterday that on the day after the referendum in 2016 I told her, “It has to be Boris.” I have taken that view consistently because only he had the chutzpah, the confidence and the experience of Brussels necessary to take the hard line that would convince the EU negotiators that we might really proceed with no deal on trade if what was on offer was inadequate. Only that could shift red lines crafted when we had made the catastrophic error of agreeing a schedule of talks that separated the money and Northern Ireland from the trade provisions. Even worse, the UK negotiators had to operate against a background where some UK legislators, no doubt well-intentioned but hopelessly misguided, were actively seeking to make it a legal requirement to reach agreement, thereby fundamentally undermining their own side.
The Prime Minister has been admirably honest that the deal is not perfect, with which I agree but, given the background, that ought not to be a surprise. However, overall it is in our economic and political interests, and much better than many had feared. By ending in agreement we also have the chance as a sovereign state to chart a friendly path forward with the EU once the dust settles. I can foresee—correctly, I hope—a revival of interparliamentary political dialogue with the EU, as advocated by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and of collaboration on business, economics, health, digital, creative industries and climate change. However, for the first time in 50 years, we also have a chance to forge independent relationships on those matters right around the world and to create a simpler climate of control for our entrepreneurs at home. With a successful vaccination programme and Covid behind us, we can emerge from the fog and the gloom of recent times. Opportunity knocks. Thank you, Prime Minister. You have changed the weather.
My Lords, I share the sadness of many in this debate as we reach the end of the road for our EU membership, of which I have been a strong supporter since well before being elected to the first directly elected European Parliament in 1979. Indeed, my support for the EU was strengthened when I was a Minister attending Council of Ministers meetings on justice and home affairs, agriculture and foreign and general affairs. In contradiction to the caricature of the bullying EU, I found it a forum where British interests could be defended and advanced, and where you could forge alliances and conclude beneficial agreements. It is a tragedy that we left when we had a number of special arrangements and had made a huge success of the internal market. Rather than being a victim of rules imposed on us, we were leading lights in forging those rules in many sectors of our economy.
This is a bad deal, exacerbated by being unnecessarily squeezed up against a self-imposed deadline, causing difficulties and uncertainties for business. It is certainly a worse deal than Theresa May’s deal, particularly because of the creation of a border down the Irish Sea. It represents a loss of freedom for our citizens to live, work and study in the EU. It fails on proper mutual recognition of qualifications, which may cause us to lose contracts as a result. It causes difficulties for musicians and freelancers in our vital creative sector. It even creates new restrictions within the UK, an example that I came across being the introduction now of rules for pet travel between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland where no rules previously existed. It does not surprise me that so many parties in Northern Ireland represented in our Houses of Parliament find the deal unpalatable.
This morning, I listened to the impressive speech made by my party leader, Keir Starmer, who not for the first time showed the qualities that I hope will make him Prime Minister in due course. It was clear that he knew the details of this deal better than the Prime Minister, who still will not admit that he was wrong to claim that there were no non-tariff barriers in the deal when there obviously are.
I am glad that Labour was united against no deal, and I am glad too that Keir Starmer pointed out that those voting against the deal do not actually want to win the vote, because it would lead to a no-deal outcome. However, I still believe that abstention is a credible course of action for people like me. This is the Government’s deal. As we have seen, they have the majority to get it through. Abstention is not walking away when it is accompanied by a clear statement of the reasons behind it, and it does not facilitate no deal but simply makes clear how poor this deal is. While I support my noble friend’s amendment to the Motion, I shall actively and deliberately abstain on any vote on the Bill itself.
My Lords, the Prime Minister and his colleagues have a nasty habit of telling us to sing “Land of Hope and Glory” while selling key sectors and interests down the river. Last year it was Northern Ireland, now it is Gibraltar and the fishing industry, and it has become clear that our creative industries too are being sacrificed on the altar of so-called sovereignty.
We have been assured by Ministers countless times of the value they place on the arts, but they have now abandoned one of our most successful sectors, already heavily battered by Covid lockdowns, to its own devices. The noble Baronesses, Lady Bull and Lady Bakewell, are absolutely right. In the trade and co-operation agreement, our hugely successful audio-visual sector is specifically excluded. They represent 30% of all channels in the EU, but if they are not to be subject to the regulators of every single country, they will need to establish a new hub in a member state.
We can look in vain for anything that helps our touring artists, particularly musicians, actors and sports professionals, with the ending of freedom of movement for UK citizens. From January, when freedom of movement ends, anyone from the UK seeking to perform in an EU country will need to apply for a costly visa for that country, carnets for their musical instruments and necessary CITES permits, and even, perhaps, provide proof of savings and a certificate of sponsorship from an event organiser. No wonder a petition seeking the UK Government to negotiate an EU-wide touring work permit and a carnet exception has gained over 200,000 signatures in record time, and no wonder UK Music and the ISM have expressed their dismay.
On top of this, quite apart from its dramatic impact on the creative industries, there are huge gaps in the agreement. Services are barely covered, despite making up 42% of our trade with the EU. There is no deal on recognition of professional qualifications, no deal on data adequacy, no membership of the Erasmus scheme for our students, as we have heard, and very limited recognition of the needs of the tourism, travel and hospitality industry, especially given the catastrophic impact on jobs that Covid is forecast to have on the sector. This is a failure of negotiation on a grand scale.
Our architects and engineers, who have made a huge impact on the built environment on the continent over the past 40 years, will have no right to work in the EU. Service industries, global business and tech companies who depend on data exchange with the EU will have no assurance that data flows can continue after six months. Our UK students, 15,000 of whom have taken advantage of the Erasmus scheme each year for exchanges and work placements, will no longer take part.
To describe this as a thin deal does not quite cut it; the Bill implementing it hugely erodes parliamentary sovereignty. “Negligent” and “ignorant” are words that describe it most aptly.
My Lords, I shall be voting in favour of this Bill. This is not because it is a great outcome—far from it—but because we are faced with a binary choice here between a poor deal and a no-deal outcome, which would be catastrophic for British interests.
I want to make two brief points about why I think it is nevertheless a bad deal for British interests; the first concerns trade. The Government have made some extravagant claims, and the agreement in principle provides for tariff and quota-free access, but it also creates new non-tariff barriers in the form of extra bureaucracy and checks on goods, imposing significant extra costs on British business. I spent 15 years of my Foreign Office career working on EU policy in London or representing the UK in Brussels. I recall endless criticism, from many quarters, of a supposed unstoppable tide of EU bureaucracy. The reality is that, especially in comparison with what is coming, this was a golden age of genuinely frictionless trade.
By comparison, we are invited to see this deal, with its creation of a vast amount of form-filling and red tape, as a triumph. To put it gently, this feels a stretch. Moreover, the deal does nothing for the British services industry, as others have said, which is 80% of our economy and is an area, unlike goods, where we have a surplus with the European Union. Frankly, it is hard to understand the negotiating strategy, which seemed to prioritise fishing—0.01% of the economy—and did almost nothing for financial services, which contribute £75 billion to the Exchequer every year.
On trade, the deal is also not the sovereignty triumph that is claimed. Behind the detail about processes and committees, there is a hard reality: if now or in future we diverge significantly from EU labour or environmental standards, the EU will respond by restricting our access to its market. As the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, pointed out, if we want to maintain free trade, we must become rule-followers rather than rule-makers.
As for the security provisions, senior government Ministers claim the deal makes the UK safer. As my predecessor as National Security Adviser, the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, pointed out, this is impossible to reconcile with the facts. The deal delivers some worthwhile provisions, such as the fast-track extradition arrangements, but, most damagingly, we have lost access to the Schengen Information System, which delivered our police and security services real-time information on the location of terrorists and criminals. I know from my time as National Security Adviser how valuable that was. Now it is gone, and British citizens will be less safe as a result.
It is not all bad news. The deal at least provides a framework and structure on which we can build. This process will go in only one direction; both common sense and, I anticipate, economic necessity, will compel us to build deeper and wider co-operation in future. I agree with the Prime Minister’s statement that this is not an end but a beginning, but I suspect I have a different vision of the ultimate destination.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to be able to speak in this debate, which, for me, will be most memorable for the excellent valedictory speech of my noble friend Lord Cavendish of Furness. He is much respected on all sides of your Lordships’ House, and his wise and sensible interventions will be greatly missed.
I congratulate my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal on introducing the debate with a powerful speech that fully recognised the significance of the occasion. I also add my congratulations to those of other noble Lords for the triumph of the Prime Minister, my noble friend Lord Frost and his team, and all those who have worked so hard for so long to ensure that the majority of the population’s will, as expressed in the 2016 referendum and confirmed by the stunning election victory in November 2019, has been honoured in full. It is immensely reassuring for business that free trade in goods, without tariffs or quotas, will continue.
I have felt for a long time, since soon after I first went to work in Japan 40 years ago, and when I worked in Brussels, that we were uncomfortable passengers on the European train because we did not agree with most of our fellow passengers on the ultimate destination. I am delighted we have finally recognised that fact and had the courage to get off the train.
Many have expressed an opinion that the trade and co-operation agreement is somewhat thin in its services chapter. I do not think that matters much. Will the EU really put politics ahead of economics and try to stop Daimler or Axa raising funds in London’s capital markets? Anyway, the single market is only partially constructed as far as services are concerned. Furthermore, the EU has been including political as well as technical and economic criteria in its equivalence assessments. As a financial services practitioner, I agree strongly with the views expressed by my noble friend Lady Morrissey but completely fail to recognise the financial world described by the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer.
Does my noble friend agree that it is important that the UK’s regulators, rather than continuing with special pleading for equivalence, should urgently start work on devising a simpler, principles-based, innovation-friendly, more British style of financial regulation, consigning the cumbersome, expensive and complicated MiFID II, AIFMD, EMIR and UCITS to the dustbin in the process, in order to retain the UK’s position as the world’s leading financial centre and recognising that its competitors are New York, Dubai, Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong rather than Paris and Frankfurt? We need to adopt a completely different regulatory style and framework rather than continue with cloned copies of EU rules based on individual regulations and directives.