Angela Smith speech in the House of Lords, Thursday 22nd November 2018
My Lords, the last week has been full of highs and lows, not least for the embattled Prime Minister. Even when the proverbial white smoke appeared last Wednesday evening, two departing Cabinet ministers and their friends in the ERG quickly snuffed it out.
So now, with today’s statement the Prime Minister and the Government are repeating what they do best – they are living in the moment. The Prime Minister has often talked about the JAMs – the ‘Just About Managing’. If the truth be told today, this statement is Just About Managing to get through another week.
What have the 19 extra pages offered us? If we’re honest: very little.
I will acknowledge some progress in a couple of extremely important areas. Many noble Lords will remember the passionate speech of my noble friend Baroness Sherlock during the Second Reading of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. In a few short minutes she highlighted the significant challenges facing families as a result of our withdrawal from the EU. I welcome the inclusion of paragraphs 57 and 58.
At last the Govt has recognised the importance of this – but it still isn’t agreed in that after two years all the Government can offer is that “The parties will explore options for judicial co-operation in matrimonial, parental responsibility and other related matters”. Still work in progress.
Similarly, my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath led a cross-party effort to amend the Nuclear Safeguards Bill to ensure continued UK-EU cooperation on medical radioisotopes. We therefore recognise progress with the inclusion of paragraph 71 re co-operation through “the exchange of information on the supply of medical isotopes”.
But, my Lords, this is so far from the “detailed, precise and substantive” document previously promised by the Government. It somehow manages to list dozens of aspirations for the future UK-EU relationship – without any feeling of aspiration or optimism.
Far from providing citizens and businesses with certainty, it kicks the can down the road. It delivers neither the deal promised by the Government, nor the one that Parliament would have mandated had Ministers accepted the Monks amendment to the Withdrawal Bill.
My Noble Friend, Lord Monks brought forward his amendment to assist the Government. Had the Government gained a mandate from and genuinely engaged Parliament in the negotiations the PM wouldn’t now be scrabbling around desperately trying to get Parliament to support her deal.
Today’s extended Declaration continues to point to a ‘blind Brexit’ which is likely to leave our country less prosperous, less secure, and less influential around the globe. Being generous to the Prime Minister, it should at least buy her extra time to try and bring together a divided Conservative Party. Which is really what this statement is about.
And just think at the last election it was those that voted for my party who were told it would be a coalition of chaos.
According to this document, which isn’t even certain to get approval from EU27 Sunday, we’ll be outside of the customs union and the single market after the transition period. But despite their importance to UK businesses, we have absolutely no idea about the nature of our future relationship with those entities.
My Lords, I’ve just come from a meeting with NI businesses and farmer, it’s clear that talking to them how it has been hugely damaging for the Prime Minister and the government to talk up the prospect of ‘no deal’. They are facing the impacts already.
We may eliminate tariffs on goods but, however unprecedented, provisions on services will be subject to “exceptions and limitations”.
The security section alarmingly confirms that we’ll be outside the European Arrest Warrant after the transition, as well as a number of other vital EU schemes and databases. Yet, we have no idea which aspects of them we will be able to replicate, or to what degree this will help keep UK citizens safe. Surely, as a former Home Secretary, the Prime Minister must know the importance of these systems.
So many questions left unanswered and we are just addressing a few today.
For example, whilst paragraph 9 confirms that work will start on a data adequacy decision as soon as possible after exit, this is not consistent with the Government’s stated desire for an agreement with the EU that goes beyond the adequacy framework.
Could the Noble Lady, the Leader of the House confirm whether this ambition been dropped, or if it remains?
Paragraph 24 refers to three of the agencies, European Medicines Agency, the Chemicals Agency and the Aviation Safety Agency that the Government recognises are of value of the UK. But all the declaration offers is that we will “consider regulatory alignment” and “explore the possibility of co-operation.”
What does this actually mean? Are we seeking to somehow gain membership – or does the Government intend to set up parallel agencies, with the costs and additional bureaucracy involved? And will that be by Primary Legislation?
I am also disappointed that the document doesn’t appear to include anything on the onward movement of UK citizens living in the EU. This is an issue that I’ve raised with the Noble Lady, the Leader of the House on a number of occasions, and Your Lordships’ House was assured that this would be a key part of the second phase of negotiations.
Could she confirm whether the Prime Minister or the UK negotiating team formally requested the inclusion of onward movement rights in this document? If so, where are they? And if not, why not?
She will understand the concerns of Gibraltar, so can she update the House of the conversations with the Prime Minister of Spain? Is the Spanish PM more encouraging in private telephone calls that he is in his public declarations ahead of upcoming elections.
The Prime Minister, standing on the steps of Downing Street or at the dispatch box in the other place, talks of a deal that upholds the national interest. Even if this political declaration were to be delivered in full, there is no way that such an arrangement could serve the best interests of this country.
I have absolutely no doubt that talented negotiators on both sides will approach future talks with the positive spirit and best endeavours so frequently referred to in the declaration document. But if the Brexit process has highlighted anything, it is the incompetence and inefficiency of a divided Government.
I have one final question for the Noble Lady, the Leader of the House. Paragraph 145 notes that, based on their preparatory work, the UK and EU will agree a programme for the next set of negotiations. I think we all hope that the Government will undertake a little more preparatory work than it did ahead of the referendum.
Could the Noble Lady share with the House the lessons learned by the Government as a result of the Article 50 process, and perhaps give an indication of how past mistakes – including the David Davis capitulation on sequencing – will be avoided?
Baroness Angela Smith is Shadow Leader of the House of Lords. She tweets @LadyBasildon