So much attention has been devoted to Tuesday’s ‘meaningful vote’ in the House of Commons, that other legal requirements of the Withdrawal Deal have been somewhat overlooked: a debate in the House of Lords, the agreement of the European Parliament, passing a Withdrawal Implementation Act and seven other Bills, and the ratification of the agreement by the UK Parliament.
The first requirement – a ‘take note’ debate for peers – concludes tonight with a vote on a regret motion tabled by Labour’s Leader in the Lords, Angela Smith. Acknowledging that the decision on approving the Deal lies with MPs, it states that ‘No Deal’ should be ruled out and judges that the government’s Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration would damage the UK’s economic prosperity, internal security and global influence.
A no-deal Brexit must never be an option, given the drastic effect it would have on UK business, exporting and importing, food production and distribution, manufacturing, and our service sector, ports, security and policing. Not to mention the immediate impact on the legal status of a million of our citizens living across Europe. It would be a dereliction of the duty of the government to plunge our country into such chaos.
On Northern Ireland, the Deal fails to ensure no hard border with the Republic in a way acceptable to the whole of the UK by ruling out a Customs Union, opting instead to favour separate trade deals with third countries – a mythical future which takes no account of the protectionist “American first” tendencies of the US President.
The framework ignores our precious service sector, the need for alignment of standards for manufacturing exports, involvement in cross-EU policing and the European Arrest Warrant, and the recognition and enforcement of civil legal judgements (vital for those trading across the EU). It also overlooks cooperation on patents, competition law and a myriad of other issues from which we currently benefit.
In addition, the White Paper’s proposal to end any special right for EU nationals to work here poses risks to health and social care, food processing and distribution, our creative and educational sectors. Its reliance, meanwhile, on a salary threshold for entry confuses pay rates with skill level – to the detriment of SMEs, start-ups, science and young people.
Two days of Lords debate on the deal before Christmas and another two last week witnessed a chorus of concerns from peers, with leading Conservative Lord Patten remarking that the inane slogan “no deal is better than a bad deal” seems to have been replaced by “a bad deal is better than no deal”. The Prime Minister has failed to convince many on her own side – even those who give it begrudging support describe it as the “least worse option”.
Tonight is likely to see the government receive a big thumbs down from the Lords. We must hope the Commons takes the same view, sending Mrs May off to find a better way forward for our country in these precarious times.
Baroness Dianne Hayter is a Shadow Brexit Minister, and Labour’s deputy leader in the House of Lords