My Lords, I would like to thank Baroness Smith for putting down the motion on today’s order paper.
When this idea of a joint committee was first suggested, I was sceptical about it for two reasons.
First, I thought, surely, it’s so obvious that the costs of leaving without a deal are horrendous that there’s no need to spell them out again. That was before it became crystal clear that both candidates for leadership of the Tory Party were prepared to contemplate no-deal as a serious option and seemed either ignorant of or unconcerned about its consequences. So, there is definitely a need for the exercise to be done.
Secondly, I thought that even if we were to propose such a committee, the Commons wouldn’t pick up our suggestion and it would therefore be a waste of time. But I was mistaken. There is clearly an appetite in the Commons for this exercise to be undertaken and we should therefore set the ball in motion today.
We will hear during the course of today’s debate detailed exposition of the costs of a no-deal Brexit not only in economic and trade terms, but also in respect of security, the environment, transport and the integrity of the United Kingdom, but before looking at individual impacts I think we need to be clear about what leaving the EU means withut an agreement at a headline level.
It was recently spelt out by Sir Ivan Rogers, the former head of UKREP:
“No deal is not a destination. It is simply a volatile and uncertain state of purgatory, in which you have forfeited all the leverage to the other side because you start with a blank slate of no preferential arrangements and live in the interim – probably for years – on the basis that they legislate – in their own interests.”
Leaving without a deal means that there would be no transitional arrangements and on 1 November, some 17 weeks away, we will be on our own.
Some Brexiteers have argued that nothing will change and in particular that goods will continue to flow freely, and no-one will notice the difference. It’s therefore worth reading the Commission’s take stock report to last week’s Council meeting on preparations they are making for no-deal.
To take just one item, “In the field of sanitary and phytosanitary controls,” it states “EU Member States have set up new Border Inspection Posts or extended existing ones at entry points of imports from the United Kingdom into the EU” I may have missed something, but I assume that the only logical point of having new inspection points is to conduct new inspections. Which means delays. And these delays are not going to disappear anytime soon.
Noble Lords may have heard an interview with the head of Fujitsu on the Today programme last Thursday. He explained that his company were members of a UK Government task force looking at technological ways to avoid controls at the border. Asked how the work was going, he said that there were “many difficulties”. Asked how long before there would be any implementable solutions he couldn’t even begin to hazard a guess.
So, when Noble Lords opposite say, as they repeatedly do, that the new border controls which will be in place for 1 November are unnecessary, they are, to put it at its politest, peddling a myth. And to suggest as they sometimes do that we could simply dispense with customs controls altogether and let smuggling rip, they are not only being criminally irresponsible, but ignoring the fact that, even were we to do this, the EU won’t follow suit.
And as the Government set out in its own document on Implications for Business and Trade of a No Deal Exit, published on 26 February this year, even excluding the costs of delays at the ports, the administrative burden on UK firms of preparing customs declarations alone, would amount to a colossal £13bn pa.
Fujitsu is one of 1000 Japanese companies which operate in the UK. Last week Taro Kono, Japanese foreign minister explained that no-deal would “have a very negative impact on their operation.” In other words cuts in investment and in jobs.
A joint select committee would be able to confirm that this is what we face.
It would also be able to confirm the overall impact on do-deal on the economy. Again, referring to the Government’s own document, a transition to WTO rules would lead to a n economy which would be between 6-9% smaller over a 15 year period, but that the decrease would be 8% in Scotland and Wales, 9% in Northern Ireland and over 10% in Northern England. And as the document chillingly points out, these figures don’t even account for any short-term disruptions.
Of course, these costs are only part of the story. From 1 November, freedom of movement would end and British citizens planning to work in the EU would find that they had no right to do so. Equally, we would find many sources of vital workers blocked, under the Government’s planned immigration policy.
The Government is very fond of saying that they still want the brightest and best to be able to work here. But as far as they’re concerned this doesn’t apply to the brightest and the best care assistants, the best and brightest agricultural workers, baristas or lab technicians, all of whom we need and all of whom would be barred under the Governments’ immigration plans.
No deal would also immediately end a whole raft of mutually beneficial mechanisms for security cooperation including data sharing, police co-operation and extradition. As a nation and as individuals we would simply be less secure.
A no-deal Brexit would also preclude any involvement at all in the mechanisms which project a shared European voice in international affairs, whether on climate change, the promotion of human right or security and terrorism threats. These are the biggest issues facing the globe. As last week’s G20 showed, Europe s voice is the only powerful one advocating policies in these areas which we – and the Government – strongly support -because they reflect our values as a liberal democracy.
Any sort of Brexit, but particularly one without a deal, would diminish our influence in resolving them.
These are some of the costs of a no-deal Brexit, but what about the benefits? I think everyone accepts that there would be net costs in the short term – and Jeremy Hunt for one is completely relaxed at the prospect of looking people in the eye and telling them that no-deal means the loss of their job and their business.
But beyond this immediate pain, for some the sunny uplands beckon. This nirvana however is ill-defined, devoid of specifics and wholly unsupported by any credible analysis. The economic costs through lost growth greatly outweigh our net contributions to the EU budget and there is no evidence that trade deals with the rapidly growing markets outside the EU would be better than those which the EU as a whole can negotiate – as evidenced by last week’s EU-Latin American deal.
And I challenge anyone to offer even a shred of hard evidence that leaving without a deal would leave do anything but make us less safe and less secure. And what has now become a Tory virility symbol wasn’t remotely being offered in 20106 and has but minority support in the country now.
In 2016, the Vote Leave campaign ruled out a no-deal Brexit and spoke repeatedly of negotiating a deal before starting the legal process to leave.
And today, in the latest YouGov poll, only 28% of the population – less than the Brexit Party vote in the European Parliament elections – support leaving with no deal. Amongst 18-24 year olds this figure falls to just 8%.
So a policy option being clutched by Johnson and Hunt as their crucifix against the vampire of the Brexit Party is not even going to protect the Tory Party from the electoral and existential threat it now faces.
Yet, Boris Johnson said last week that we would be leaving the EU on 31 October “do or die”. Jeremy Hunt on Sunday, not to be outdone, said that there wasn’t much difference between himself and Boris. There is in reality zero chance of reaching a new agreement with the EU by the end of October and therefore leaving without one remains a growing possibility.
As this would be an act of monumental irresponsibility and stupidity, Parliament should at least prepare for such a decision with its eyes open.
The joint committee which this motion envisages would ensure that we did not stumble blindfold into a no-deal Brexit. It therefore has our strong support.