Baroness Ludford (LD)
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, said that he was gritting his teeth and holding his nose. I sympathise with his feelings on Brexit, though I shall not be copying his physical reaction.
I thank all noble Lords who have spoken, not least the 12 from the Liberal Democrat Benches. I congratulate the two maiden speakers, the noble Lords, Lord Barwell and Lord Mann. I also appreciated the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds. I welcome the reports of the EU Committee and the Delegated Powers Committee and look forward to that from the Constitution Committee due out tomorrow, as the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, confirmed.
In the case of this Bill, we have the benefit and insight of seeing the pre-election and post-election versions, with the latter displaying the confidence, or arrogance, of a comfortable Commons majority. It might have been a more statesmanlike move to keep the more conciliatory version, which included matters such as parliamentary scrutiny, child refugees and workers’ rights, all of which have been highlighted today. However, that route was not chosen, and we have heard about the many issues in the Bill that concern Members of this House and will be pursued in amendments in days to come.
I was interested to hear the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Barwell, which were not very complimentary about the new version of the Bill and, I think, encouraged us to try to secure some changes, contrary to the advice of the noble Lords, Lord Cormack, Lord Taylor of Holbeach and Lord Forsyth, but in line with the intentions of my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, who said that we should do our job, and the noble Lord, Lord Butler, who said that we should not be intimidated.
Unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, I do not think parliamentary scrutiny is an unnecessary process that drains the energy of Ministers and civil servants; they should be a little more robust than that. The deletion of Clause 31 of the previous Bill, asserting Parliament’s role in continuing scrutiny of the negotiations, alongside the addition of Clause 38, asserting the absolute nature of parliamentary sovereignty—which, as my noble friend Lord Beith said, is of no legal effect anyway—is a somewhat delicious but absurd irony or, one could say, hypocrisy. The Government are advancing a populist thesis, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, said, Ministers have to realise that parliamentary scrutiny is not an optional extra.
The Delegated Powers Committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, has produced a most helpful report, warning about “potent” Henry VIII powers or, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, put it, “Henry VIII on steroids”. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, wisely warned against the devolution Acts being changed through delegated powers under this Bill. We will explore all these matters in Committee.
The Government’s plan under Clause 26 to give lower courts the power to overturn CJEU rulings rightly raises great concern. My noble friend Lord Beith doubted the enthusiasm for this in Whitehall. One imagines that HMRC is not thrilled at the thought of lots of taxpayers trying their luck in the tax tribunal at overturning European court rulings on, for example, VAT. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, has a powerful article in the Times today warning that
“a flood of litigation would hit companies and individuals”.
Obviously, we hope that this is not some kind of revenge on the Supreme Court for its decisions against the Government in Miller and on Prorogation, otherwise we might have to organise some kind of march with judges from other EU countries similar to that held the other day in Warsaw in the face of the Polish Government’s repressive measures against the judiciary and cited by my noble friend Lord Campbell.
On citizens’ rights, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, said that the independent monitoring authority would be “fully independent of government”, but under Schedule 2, the Government could abolish it through regulations, so that will hang over it as a threat. My noble friend Lord Oates made the point that guarantees given at the time of the referendum about automatic recognition and keeping the same rights have not been respected. I look forward to the debate on the amendments which he, my noble friend Lord Greaves, and others are proposing on appeal rights and a physical document.
My noble friends Lady Hamwee, Lord Teverson and Lady Miller raised the problem of US citizens losing onward free movement rights and the ability to work across borders. I have co-signed an amendment on that. I hope that, in the days to come, we will get clarity regarding Northern Irish trade with Great Britain, but I fear that the Government’s attempt to sow misinformation about checks and red tape on that trade will end in tears, or in the courts, possibly with infringement proceedings by the European Commission. Many Peers have rightly spoken up in favour of the Dubs amendment on child refugees. I suspect that that may well be a subject on which this House will decline to follow the advice that we should abstain from seeking changes to the Bill.
Regarding the level playing field, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, advised that there will be “hard choices” to be made on the extent to which the UK aligns with EU standards. One could add that there may well be hard consequences if we do not. My noble friend Lady Bakewell spoke of the key importance of upholding high environmental standards. One might cite air pollution, where the UK has been in breach of EU targets on nitrogen dioxide for a decade. Does anyone honestly think that Brexit will improve this situation? Last night, I heard a new Conservative MP, Alicia Kearns, on the BBC’s “Westminster Hour” saying that the EU is not what keeps us safe. My noble friend Lord Paddick cited the National Crime Agency’s support for EU mechanisms—for example, the European arrest warrant, or the Schengen Information System—and its warning that the UK would be less safe if we left or were less than full members of Europol. This will also be discussed in Committee, as will the crucial issue of a data adequacy decision.
The Government need to come clean on what UK citizens will potentially lose and what can be saved. They are losing the free movement to live, work or retire in another EEA country, which their parents and grandparents had, possibly Erasmus, research grants, data roaming caps, the EHIC and pet passports. They are losing visa-free travel, with the need for a visa-lite or ESTA, as the noble Duke, the Duke of Somerset, mentioned. The noble Lord, Lord Bowness, mentioned recognition of UK driving licences and blue cards. We would like to hear from the Government exactly which facilities that British citizens have come to take for granted are to be lost. Leavers, as well as remainers, would be shocked to lose some of these.
Finally, instead of unleashing potential, new GDP figures show that the UK has had the lowest 12-month growth for seven years. The Prime Minister’s insistence on a hard Brexit, and his willingness to keep a no-deal Brexit as a threat hanging over negotiations, is a major cause of this shockingly poor economic performance. There will be major hits to our economy from being outside the single market and from the exclusion of services—80% of our economy—from the Government’s intended free trade agreement, as well as the imposition on manufacturing businesses such as car and aerospace of rules of origin through being outside the customs union: an economic hit is sadly unavoidable. Some £130 billion has already been lost to Brexit: £8 billion on no-deal preparations, £100 million on Brexit ads and £11 million on a Brexit 50p piece, which had to be melted down. Now £120 million is to be spent on a festival of Brexit. How unifying is that?
I strongly agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, that in 40 years this Parliament failed to properly engage with EU laws, or the European Parliament, and the BBC failed to inform and educate the British public on the EU. I suspect that, during this year, knowledge levels of what we are losing will increase.