My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, on her interesting and thoughtful maiden speech.
The gracious Speech confirmed that the Government’s priority is to achieve Brexit at the end of this month. Even the most ardent remainers now accept that it will happen, and that it will be a real Brexit. The strong mandate given by the voters to the Prime Minister and the manifesto on which the new House of Commons has been elected make it abundantly clear that the constant pleading by the remain lobby that the people did not know what they were voting for in 2016, and so the result of the referendum should be discounted or diminished in importance, was complete fiction.
I normally agree with the wise contributions to your Lordships’ House made by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, but in his remarks on voting share in the general election, he did not include the point that 78.4% of the electorate did not vote for the Labour Party. Perhaps the Liberal Democrats, those strong proponents of proportional representation, should take note that the 100 seats they occupy in your Lordships’ House overrepresent their share of the vote by 63%.
There never was any point at all in half leaving the EU, such as would have been the case if a so-called soft Brexit had been pursued. I am delighted that we will properly leave the EU and regain our freedoms to make our own laws and regulations, which may or may not be the same as those adopted by the EU, but which will be those that we consider most appropriate for our businesses and our people, providing necessary protections to consumers and workers, while not encumbering businesses with red tape which may protect businesses in other European countries but does nothing to assist British entrepreneurs and innovators as they respond to the new opportunities open to them as Britain resumes its place as an independent country on the global stage.
The election result also permits a start to be made in rebuilding the trust and confidence formerly held by the public in our political institutions. The obstruction of the people’s decision to leave the EU by another place, aided, abetted and encouraged by your Lordships’ House, is the reason why Parliament has come to be held in such low regard by the people. I am happy that the process of recovery has already started, given the clear and decisive direction in which the Government have moved since the election, as articulated in
“the most radical Queen’s Speech in a generation”—[Official Report, Commons, 19/12/19; col. 44.]
to deliver on the priorities of the British people, in the Prime Minister’s words.
I welcome the Government’s statement regarding the trade Bill. To build opportunities for businesses and maximise the future prosperity of our citizens, we need our own independent trade policy. In his uplifting introductory speech, my noble friend Lord Gardiner gave me some comfort that the Government’s sights are set a little higher than their paper on the Queen’s Speech suggests. The paper lists four principal elements of the trade Bill. They are all entirely sensible and necessary, but they are defensive and have more to do with preserving our present trading arrangements and protecting British firms against unfair practices than with setting out an exciting new trading strategy for the country after Brexit. The negotiation of our future trade relationship with the EU is of paramount importance, but it is also important to start negotiations with our other major trading partners. I was delighted to hear the Minister confirm that the Government intend to start these quickly. This will doubtless assist our negotiating position with the EU.
In addition to this, I believe it is of enormous importance for our independent trade policy and our geostrategic place in the world that we should, as soon as possible, indicate formally our intention to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. Since the withdrawal of the United States, Japan has provided much of the leadership of the CPTPP, six of whose 11 members are Commonwealth countries. The CPTPP could thus provide basic trade agreements quickly with 11 countries on the basis already negotiated in detail by the present members, while negotiations on deeper bilateral agreements proceed in tandem with Japan, Australia and others, which may take longer to finalise. The Japanese and Australian Governments have both on several occasions indicated their positive stance towards UK accession to the CPTPP. Again, I believe that an early application for accession by the UK would strengthen our position in EU trade negotiations.