European Union (Future Relationship) Bill DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Earl of KinnoullMain Page: Earl of Kinnoull (Crossbench - Excepted Hereditary)
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My Lords, I do not believe that this thin agreement—as the noble Lord, Lord Maude, called it—with the EU is in the long-term interests of this country. But I will support the Bill this evening, because the only alternative would be the worse chaos of a no-deal departure.
The British people will discover in the months ahead that this agreement will produce an avalanche of restrictions, bureaucracy, extra costs and delays. As that reality sinks in, at least this deal provides a platform on which to start the long process of building back a closer partnership in the years ahead.
I have two brief comments on the substance. The agreement on security and justice provides for a closer association with the EU than I, for one, had feared. I welcome that. But the principle underlying all the complex detail is that the UK will no longer have direct, real-time access to the EU databases and systems which have become so important for British policing, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, just explained. We heard in the Lords EU Security and Justice Sub-Committee that British police had consulted the SIS II database over 600 million times in 2019. In future, they will have to request information from the SIS II database, with all the delays that will entail.
Access to some of the other databases for fingerprints, DNA and passenger name records looks at first sight to be easier, but the overall loss will be significant. I cannot understand how it can be claimed that Brexit will make us safer. The question is rather: how much loss of capability will there be? What will be the operational impact of slower and more cumbersome processes, and more police officers tied up in front of computer screens making requests to the EU? Your Lordships’ EU Security and Justice Sub-Committee will hold an inquiry into this in the new year and will report to the House.
Briefly, my view is that the decision not to continue participation in Erasmus is short-sighted and mean-spirited. Erasmus gave life-enhancing opportunities to many thousands of students from the UK and across the EU. Less well-known is the fact that it also enabled vocational and adult education colleges and schools, many in disadvantaged areas, to set up joint projects with counterparts across Europe. It lifted the admin burden of organisers, which allowed smaller organisations that did not have the resources to arrange projects. I am deeply sceptical that a UK scheme, starting from scratch with the funding envisaged, will come anywhere near replicating the transformational impact Erasmus has had on so many lives. I hope this decision to leave Erasmus will be reviewed at the first opportunity.
My Lords, having spent many years in your Lordships’ House on the Opposition Front Bench with responsibility for foreign affairs following my time in the Foreign Office long ago in the days of Francis Pym, I have always found it possible to combine a passionate interest and attachment to what the Prime Minister recently called the history, security, values and geology that bind us to our friends in Europe with an economic belief that the current European project, which is still in transition, will ultimately face challenges and possible failure on economic and then political grounds. I have always believed that we are better as a close friend and ally on the borders of the EU than one of 28 member states principally tied to the economic and political constraints within it.
Accordingly, I congratulate the Government and the negotiating teams on both sides, and associate myself with the 17.4 million people, including myself, who voted for Brexit and began the process that has led to the passing of this historic Bill. I believe the surprising strength of this deal will in time lead other member states carefully to consider their membership of the European Union.
The Bruges speech in 1988 was the turning point for many of us in government in the 1980s. We can now end the 30 years and more of fractious debate and often exhausting misdirected political energy and demonstrate increasing certainty for business after four and a half years of uncertainty. This Bill—this return to national sovereignty—comes at a time in our history when the establishment pillars of 20th-century Britain are also being challenged as we rightly move to a more meritocratic society where we must level up.
Today, we have loosened and restructured unequivocally the political ties of interstate integration. In 2021 there will be a growing awareness of the importance of entrepreneurship, productivity, competitiveness and opportunity in a global market—themes that will need to resonate as loudly in the boardrooms and on factory floors of UK-based companies as they will be reflected in the increasingly unfettered corridors of Westminster and Whitehall.
However, I temper my optimism with a recognition that, as has been said, this future relationship Bill is ultimately a tool—not an end in itself, but a new beginning, capable of unleashing this country’s potential and above all its people. In using that tool in the Bill before us, I regret the use of Henry VIII powers, which are widely evident in this Bill and which permit the Government to avoid parliamentary accountability and scrutiny with, as became known after the Statute of Proclamations in 1539, a swift flick of the quill that leaves spilt ink on otherwise excellent parchment.
That said, with unfettered optimism and determination, the Prime Minister has delivered, but what above all should be remembered is that Parliament today approves the Bill. The PM should be congratulated. Today is a historic day and a most welcome opportunity that cannot and should not be taken for granted. It must be grasped to be successful.