Dianne Hayter on the government’s ongoing failure to set out a clear plan for Brexit
The EU referendum has been responsible for many firsts and today there will be another, as the House of Lords devotes the fourth of our Queen’s Speech debates to Brexit.
It is now more than a year since the referendum and while the government is slowly shedding light on what it hopes to achieve from the negotiations, we still await answers to a plethora of questions as to how exactly it plans to take us out of the EU. It is, after all, the biggest leap we will make as a nation since the 1939 decision to go to war.
While Theresa May has gambled away the Conservative’s majority in the Commons and tried to appease her backbenchers, Labour has set out its determination to achieve a different departure route. We will use every means available to bring about a Brexit which promotes jobs and the economy, safeguards our security and the environment, and which benefits all of the UK’s nations, cities, regions, towns and rural areas.
In setting out its legislative programme last week, the government has failed to address various issues, where there is no room for complacency or procrastination. Questions remain about our future role on the international stage. By pooling our influence with 27 other countries, we’ve been able to gain real clout in the world, promoting human rights and playing a lead role in agreeing the Paris Climate Accord. We need to ensure that our future trade, security and diplomatic relations – along with the tone of our withdrawal – preserves as much British influence as possible.
Ministers want continued trade and security cooperation with the EU. While purely domestic post-Brexit laws should be passed by our Parliament or the devolved administrations, it is irresponsible to ignore the importance of dispute adjudication to any international agreement. With the negotiations under way, the government must either drop its arbitrary red line on the European Court of Justice or set out a feasible alternative. Without this, the UK will struggle to retain access to important EU databases, security protocols, and legal and regulatory regimes.
The UK currently belongs to some 34 EU agencies. Without a settlement, the European Medicines Agency will no longer be able to approve UK products for use in the EU, meaning we would need to establish a new body to fulfil this role. There are equally urgent questions over future participation in – or replacement of – the European Chemicals Agency, European Food Safety Agency and Euratom, all of which play a key role in keeping the public safe.
Finally, there is the important matter of immigration. The government has put its offer to EU citizens on the table but it is clear from the reaction of EU figures that more work is needed. Labour led the way in attempting to amend the Article 50 Bill to prevent EU citizens being used as bargaining chips. Had we won the election, EU citizens living here would have been given a unilateral guarantee on day one of a Labour government.
Longer term, we need to ensure our immigration policy meets the needs of our communities and the economy. Farms have already been hit by a shortage of migrant workers and the chairman of the UK’s largest supermarket has warned that an arbitrary cap will damage the UK economy. The government’s Immigration Bill will pave the way for a new system but it is still unclear what this will be. We will push the government to consult fully with business, consumers and trade unions, as well as industries which rely on the mutual recognition of qualifications and standards.
These are all crucial issues and the government cannot afford to get Brexit wrong. The new Lords Brexit Minister Baroness Anelay should perhaps approach the job with immense trepidation. In the government’s hands are the future of our economy and, as a result, the wellbeing of our people. How it negotiates our future relationship with the EU will have immense consequences for the nation, both now and for generations to come. That’s why Labour will do everything possible to bring about the best deal for Britain.
Baroness Dianne Hayter of Kentish Town is Shadow Brexit Minister in the House of Lords and the new Deputy Leader of the Labour Peers Group. She tweets @HayteratLords
Published 28th June 2017