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Response to the government’s statement: A New Partnership with the EU

DianneHayter.jpgDianne Hayter speech in the House of Lords, 17th January 2017

I would like to thank the Noble Lord the Minister for repeating the statement which, regrettably, we saw on TV before it was given in the House of Commons.

We welcome the commitment to a vote in this House on the final deal – how much better had the government had committed to this on Article 50 rather than being dragged to the courts. And we welcome the objectives of ending up with a fairer Britain - it would have been strange to have wanted a less fair Britain.

Our worry is the sting in the tail of saying “no deal” and a new economic model was better than a bad deal. That sounds like lower taxes, which means fewer public services. So a price to be paid by exactly those ordinary working people that the Prime Minister claims to prioritise.

But I don’t want to dwell on the possibility of failure in negotiations. I want to welcome the commitment to as free trade as possible with the EU – our major market, our closest neighbours, our security partners. And I welcome the government’s use of the word ‘partnership’: a grown up relationship which benefits both sides.

My concern is whether this is possible if the government is contemplating leaving the Customs Union. Because without that we are in World Trade Organisation territory, with no protection for services, a poor deal for agriculture (something not mentioned in the speech), and higher prices for consumers as tariffs are imposed. Indeed, the National Farmers Union estimated cheese and meat tariffs of up to 30%, with extra red tape adding a further 6%.

More than this, if we are not fully in the Customs Union, we will not be able to import and export finished products or components without ‘country of origin’ rules and checks. This will be costly and time-consuming.

If costs to business increase, how could we expect them to invest and innovate? And our financial services would be at a disadvantage – a cost to industry as well as the services themselves. If our insolvency regime doesn’t work, investors will think twice about locating here and putting their money at risk. And if our insurance, hedging, clearing and other major services are weaker, then so is the chance of entrepreneurs and investors risking their capital.

My Lords, we welcome the commitment to maintaining workers’ rights, and hope the government will therefore support Melanie Onn’s Private Members Bill. Furthermore, workers are consumers too, yet they did not get a mention. Their rights to be protected from unsafe goods or food, their ability to travel visa free, using their domestic car insurance, or to get compensation from delayed air travel – all these need to be retained.

We were pleased to hear the acknowledgement of the importance of science, but we heard nothing as to whether we would be able to stay within the Medicines and other Agencies which help our trading relationships.

And what of the future needs of our economy? The government wants to protect EU citizens already here, but what of the future? A quarter of a million EU nationals work in public services but there will be churn and – in care homes as well as hospitals – we may need these in the future, as with the 100,000 EU working in food and drink. 

I leave three simple questions with the Noble Lord The Minister:

Firstly, what impact assessment has been made of the UK being outside the Customs Union?

Secondly, does he accept that – even if we come out from the European Court of Justice – any trade agreement requires some sort of dispute adjudication body, so what thought has been given to what might be appropriate for a free trade agreement with the EU?

And thirdly, what response does he envisage from the EU27 to these objectives?

- Ends -

Baroness Dianne Hayter of Kentish Town is Shadow Brexit Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets @HayteratLords

Published 17th January 2017

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