Super Lib Dem Lords on Super Saturday: Sarah Ludford – No progressive politician could vote for this deal

Sarah Ludford is very much in our thoughts at the moment. It’s only three weeks since her husband, Steve Hitchins died. On Saturday she was in her place in the House of Lords pulling apart this appalling Brexit deal. She reminded peers that it was being sold to the Tory right wing as a delayed no deal. She talked about how it would mean more bureaucracy for businesses in Northern Ireland and all of us as we lose things like our pet passports and seamless access to healthcare. She warned of the effect on workers’ rights, saying that no progressive politician could vote for the deal.

My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Reid; I agreed with every word. I found the opening remarks of the noble Baroness, the Leader of the House, somewhat perplexing. She reproached those of us arguing against Brexit for not arguing for a federal Europe. The clue is in the name: “remain”. We just want the status quo, not to expand or change our existing terms of membership.​

I agree with Tony Blair—not something I used to say. He rightly says that the Government are using the,

“sentiment of ‘let’s get it done, let’s get it over with, end the agony’, to sweep away proper scrutiny of what is a profoundly bad deal for our country”.

Tony Blair is right that:

“You don’t take a decision of destiny through a spasm of impatience”.

Boris Johnson had previously damned the division of Northern Ireland and Great Britain through regulatory checks and customs controls down the Irish Sea, declaring that:

“No British Conservative government could or should sign up to any such arrangement”.

Now, he says that this is a fantastic arrangement. It is a looking-glass world. Can the Minister, in winding up, clarify how these arrangements comply with Section 55 of the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018, which makes it unlawful for the Government to enter into arrangements whereby Northern Ireland forms part of a separate customs territory from Great Britain?

It is astonishing that the Chancellor refuses to give us a new economic analysis, but both government and independent figures suggest that every household will be around £2,000 worse off than even under Theresa May’s version—a drop of 6% or 7% in GDP. The weaker Canada -minus trade relationship that this Government envisages, compared with Mrs May’s association agreement, will worsen that prospect. The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, told Radio 4 yesterday that access to the customs union and single market would be good for Northern Ireland’s economic stability and security. Excellent. So why is such access being torn away from England, Scotland and Wales? It would be good for us too. Instead, the Government want to cut the rest of the UK adrift from the continental internal market. This does not honour the heritage of Mrs Thatcher.

Hard Brexiters are being encouraged to vote for the Johnson deal with a nod and a wink that it will still allow a no-deal crash-out next year, leading former Chancellor Philip Hammond to write that he would not be,

“duped into voting for a heavily camouflaged no-deal at the end of 2020”.

Quite right. The Government’s plan for a much looser trading relationship gives far greater scope for divergence, with no reference to dynamic alignment with EU rules or a level playing field arrangement. This means no guarantees for employment rights or environmental and food standards. I am really not sure how any progressive politician could vote for this deal.

As for the promise of slashing red tape, being outside the customs union and the single market will bring a cost, time burden and job losses for British businesses. My noble friend Lord Newby talked about rules of origin and the devastation for the car industry. In Northern Ireland, the need to juggle two customs, regulatory and VAT regimes for trade will be onerous. For consumers, there is the loss of pet passports, recognition of driving licences, free roaming or free emergency healthcare under the EHIC card—they are all being torn away. It is more bureaucracy, more administration and no slashing of red tape.​

The noble Baroness, the Leader of the House, spoke of the wonderful prospect of international trade deals. President Trump has just imposed a 25% tariff on imports of single malt whisky. Smaller independent whisky producers risk having their “feet taken out from under them”, as one said. Compare this with how the EU has used its clout to lever open markets for Scotch whisky in Asia that were previously heavily protected by tariff walls. We cannot trust President Trump.

From the loss of free movement rights to the impact of weaker cross-border law enforcement arrangements with loss of access to key EU security tools, this is a bad deal. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds said, we need humility, not hubris. The people must have the final say.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Peter Martin 21st Oct '19 - 10:41am

    ‘I agree with Tony Blair—not something I used to say. He rightly says that the Government are using the, “sentiment of ‘let’s get it done, let’s get it over with, end the agony’, to sweep away proper scrutiny of what is a profoundly bad deal for our country”.’

    The curious thing is that not only does Sarah Ludford agree with Tony Blair, which is perfectly understandable for two political centrists, but she’s also, in many respects, agreeing with Nigel Farage too.

    He also says that in Northern Ireland, “the need to juggle two customs, regulatory and VAT regimes for trade will be onerous.”

  • Arnold Kiel 21st Oct '19 - 2:32pm

    6 or 7% of GDP equals GBP 2000 per person, not household. The per household number is 5000.

  • Peter Martin 21st Oct '19 - 4:54pm

    Assuming the 6 or 7% figure is correct, which is a big assumption and probably not to be taken too seriously, it neither means £2000 per person nor £5000 per household. For the sake of argument let’s assume that it is 7%. It would only be that if every household contained 2.5 people who were earning £28,000 each or £70,000 is total.

    That’s nowhere near even the median figure per household. The “every household” or “every person” argument simply ignores the distribution of incomes

  • Richard Underhill 21st Oct '19 - 7:21pm

    The government is quoting the Governor of the Bank of England, who is positive. Quality news sources say that pent-up inward investment is being delayed by indecision. If so it will probably only be short-term and dependent on future circumstances.

  • Arnold Kiel 22nd Oct '19 - 7:39am

    GDP of 2 Trillion (2,000,000,000,000) x 7% = 140 Billion (140,000,000,000) / 65 Million people = 2000. This is the loss of GDP per capita from now (another 500 have been lost already since 2016). I doubt that the distribution of this loss under a Johnson Government (ensured by passing this horrible deal) will favour the most needy.

    The Governor of the BoE was addressing the upside of an agreement compared to no-deal, comparing a second-worst scenario to the worst. Some pent-up inward investment might be released, most has already been rerouted to the continent.

  • Peter Hirst 22nd Oct '19 - 1:20pm

    The Conservatives have too much political capital invested in leaving at the end of the month to behave rationally. It is up to MPs to again thwart BJ’s latest attempt to steam roll the latest bill through parliament. We need more time as a nation to decide and that should be by a people’s vote.

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