My Lords, the famous British group, The Beatles, had worldwide success with the song “Don’t Let Me Down”. I am confident that the Government will not let Britain down as we leave the European Union. “We Can Work It Out” was another huge hit for The Beatles; I believe that working it out is what will happen. Although that song was No. 1 around the world in 1965, its opening lyrics are timely for Britain and the EU today. I am not going to sing them, but they read as follows:
“Try to see it my way,
Do I have to keep on talking till I can’t go on?
While you see it your way,
Run the risk of knowing that our love may soon be gone.
We can work it out”.
Brexit was always going to be a process, not an event. Let us not forget that three Brexit-related Acts of Parliament, including the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, have already been passed this year. Progress is being made. Furthermore, 80% of a draft withdrawal agreement has been agreed between the UK and the EU.
In April last year in this House, I described Brexit as a “Deal or No Deal” scenario. Then in January this year, we had a debate entitled “Brexit: Deal or No Deal”. There has been growing talk of a no-deal result, which would have us walking away from discussions—whipped up, I have to say, mainly by the media—but the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, is on record as saying:
“The ‘no deal’ scenario is not the scenario we are looking for. We are looking for success, not against the United Kingdom but with the United Kingdom”.
Let us not forget: the EU will not gain from a no-deal outcome and it has an incentive to offer compromise and concessions. The most glaring is in the area of security. Britain is one of Europe’s biggest military and intelligence powers. Limiting its role in projects such as the Galileo system, at a time when questions are being asked about NATO and Russia is causing concern, would endanger all Europeans.
Furthermore, a no-deal scenario would mean the EU losing that £39 billion divorce payment, in sterling, which the UK has agreed to pay. That would leave an unwelcome hole in the EU budget, which I cannot see the other EU member nations being too keen to fill. Let us also not forget, please, that 45% of UK exports go to the EU while 53% of our imports are from the EU, so a no-deal result could cause real damage to EU exports. The EU Heads of Government have voters whose livelihoods would suffer greatly if no agreement is reached. We should be bold as we continue discussions with the EU, but I am not convinced that calling it names such as the “European Mafia”, as some in the other place have done, is that helpful. There is an old saying: “We cannot shake hands with a clenched fist”.
While the EU has said that the White Paper in its present form is not acceptable, Mr. Barnier has said that it is a constructive way of going forward. I very much echo the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, in that regard. Let us build on that foundation and not destroy it. This morning on the BBC’s “Today” programme, the German Minister, Stephan Mayer, was very positive about the White Paper as a foundation for discussion. At lunchtime on BBC Radio 4’s “The World at One”, Karin Kneissl, the Austrian Foreign Minister, was also positive.
It is illuminating that throughout history there is a clear theme of one empire after another eventually overreaching itself, often through excessive taxation and overbearing rules. In Old Testament times it was the Egyptian empire, followed by the Assyrian empire, the Babylonian empire and finally the Persian empire. They all collapsed. In the New Testament, we see the powerful rulers of the Roman empire, such as Nero, but they all eventually fell. Now we have the European empire, with discontent with Brussels bureaucracy showing itself in ballot boxes throughout the Union, so the Bible and history demonstrate how national sovereignty always proves more durable than the politics of imposed empire.
Brexit does not mean replacing trade with the EU; it means adding trade on top of existing trade with the EU. There will be 27 members in the EU, but 195 other nations worldwide are not tied into deals with the EU and trade freely. We already trade more outside the EU than inside the EU. We are just talking about building on that. My American wife Laura is always reminding me that the United States remains the UK’s largest trading partner. As a nation we have much in common with Commonwealth countries, and Brexit will allow us to expand on all these trading ties.
I have two questions for the Minister. First, will the Government provide more detail on the future for financial and other services post Brexit, since they account for 80% of our economy? My second question is about the EU’s requirement for freedom of movement. How will that align with the Government’s proposal of a mobility framework?
The mood of the nation this summer was lifted by a rather unusual occurrence: the England football team showing itself to be a giant nation again in world soccer. It proved what can be achieved through a strong vision and teamwork. Brexit provides the opportunity for both. It will allow Britain to leave the single market and the customs union and take back control of its borders, laws and finances.
Some years ago, I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting Nelson Mandela while he was President of South Africa. We enjoyed lunch together and he wrote out a message to me, placing it in my hand. The world celebrated his centenary last week. As President Mandela famously said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done”.