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House of Lords Hansard
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Brexit: Single Market
24 October 2016
Volume 776

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they intend to fulfil the pledge in the 2015 Conservative Party manifesto to “safeguard British interests in the Single Market”.

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My Lords, we will seek the right deal to give UK businesses the maximum access and freedom to trade with and operate in the single market. We are analysing the entire UK economy, looking in detail at over 50 sectors and cross-cutting regulatory issues to understand the key factors for business and the labour force.

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I thank the Minister for that reply. Given the importance of trust in politics, is it not a problem that the resounding yes to the single market in the Conservative manifesto, on which this Government were elected just last year, has become, in effect, a no to the single market? Even more important, is it not a huge blow to this country’s economic prospects if there is no coherent and responsible objective to keep all parts of the UK and all sectors of the economy in the single market?

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I entirely agree with the noble Baroness about maintaining trust in politics. She is absolutely right about quoting page 72 of the Conservative Party manifesto, which I have in front of me. However, I draw her attention to the next paragraph, which says:

“We will hold that in-out referendum before the end of 2017 and respect the outcome”.

It is important that we respect the outcome of the referendum. Regarding the deal that we are seeking, we obviously wish to get the best possible arrangement for British companies to trade in goods and services across Europe while taking control of immigration. I am not going to speculate on what that looks like at this stage—I am sorry, but that is a refrain noble Lords will hear a lot—but the UK is in a unique position and we will be seeking a bespoke agreement with the EU.

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My Lords, would the Minister care to speculate on how long it will take for the Government to realise that Brexit has been a colossal mistake, with banks threatening to leave the United Kingdom, the pound plummeting and, as we have heard, with EU citizens unsure of their future as well as our uncertainty over the single market? Is it not about time the Government recognised that Parliament ought to be given an opportunity to sort out this mess?

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My Lords, 17.4 million people would slightly disagree with the noble Lord.

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I am sorry but the noble Lord is wrong in the eyes of 17.4 million people. I also disagree with him on the point about our future. There are obviously challenges ahead but the Government are determined to build on the progress we have been making in the economy over the last five to 10 years and to ensure that we deliver a smooth and orderly transition for Brexit.

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Will my noble friend confirm that the United States has access to the single market without being a member of it?

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My noble friend is absolutely correct. He makes a very good point that precision on language in the weeks and months ahead is key. We need to differentiate between membership of, access to and special access to the single market. It is critical that that point is made.

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My Lords—

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My Lords, is it not quite clear that when the Brexit Secretary indicated that it was not necessary for the UK to remain a member of the single market, he caused profound uncertainty in business, finance and trade? Is it not clear therefore that unless the Government begin to establish clear principles on which they are acting on Brexit, we will go through a period of enormous uncertainty to the cost of the nation?

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The noble Lord makes a very fair point about the challenges and uncertainty that we face. I and my ministerial colleagues have been having a series of meetings around the country. I was in Nottingham and Derby last week meeting representatives of several large businesses. I agree that we face challenges, but we have set out as far as possible the measures that we can take as a Government to bring certainty to the process—for example, our approach to the repeal of the European Communities Act and the timings to which we intend to adhere as regards triggering Article 50. As regards our aims and overall approach, the noble Lord will know that the Government have set out that we wish to take control over our borders, our moneys and our law, at the same time ensuring that we have the best possible access to the single market. However, I have to say to noble Lords that, as the Prime Minister and I have said many times, we cannot offer a running commentary on this as we go along.

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My Lords—

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My Lords—

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My Lords—

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My Lords—

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My Lords, after a number of unsuccessful attempts, it is the turn of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson.

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My Lords, I am most grateful. Do the Government agree that the single market has prevented us doing our own free trade deals and has overregulated the 90% of our economy which does not trade with it? Therefore, is not continuing free trade all that we need and are we not likely to get it because the EU needs it so much more than we do—for instance, with 2 million more jobs making and selling things to us than we have selling things to it, and any new tariffs falling much more heavily on it than they would on us, as we saw from the Civitas report today?

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The noble Lord comes to this with a certain track record and position. I will not comment in detail on what he said. I have read the Civitas paper by Mr Justin Potts. I cite from the document for noble Lords who have not read it. It says that the findings of its analysis,

“highlight the importance of a trade deal for both the UK and for EU countries”.

In other words, a trade deal, not falling back on WTO rules, which I think may be where the noble Lord is coming from.

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My Lords—

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My Lords—

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My Lords, it is the turn of the Cross Benches and then the Liberal Democrats.

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My Lords, will the Minister tell us whether the word “access” he used in his original Answer was access, special access or membership of the single market? Could we in future perhaps distinguish between those and stop using the ambiguous and slippery word “access” to mean absolutely anything we want it to mean?

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I think the noble Lord is accusing me of being Humpty Dumpty and saying that the word,

“means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less”.

However, I will not add further to what I said or breach the Prime Minister’s commandment and start issuing running commentaries.

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My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the financial services industry contributes in excess of £66 billion a year to the Treasury. If the British Bankers’ Association is correct in its recent predictions of departures and transfers out of the UK thanks to the Government’s Brexit attitude, what cuts are expected in public spending on the NHS, schools and infrastructure?

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I am sorry but I disagree somewhat with the assumption behind the noble Baroness’s point. I have met many financial service companies the length and breadth of the country, and it is clear that like many parts of the UK economy they are looking at Brexit and what it means for them. The noble Baroness takes a somewhat pessimistic view of things as they stand. We are talking to the financial sector as we are talking to all sectors, to ensure, as I have said before, that the outcome to the negotiations leads to a smooth and orderly exit from the EU.