Expert View

Ministers must listen to Lords: come clean on no-deal damage

by David Hannay | 04.07.2019

David Hannay is a member of the House of Lords and former UK ambassador to the EU and UN.

The position of the House of Lords on a no-deal Brexit is clear. Last winter, in the debates on January 14 and 28, motions were carried by very substantial majorities stating that a no-deal Brexit was an unacceptable outcome which would reduce the UK’s prosperity, security and influence. That view has not changed since. If anything it has strengthened as the two remaining candidates for leadership of the Conservative party have vied with each other to be bloody, bold and resolute.

Yesterday’s debate and the motion passed by a majority of 245 to 99 did not go over that same ground again, but instead urged the Commons to establish a joint committee of both Houses to carry out an enquiry into the costs and implications of a no-deal Brexit. This joint committee would report back by the end of September, when the decisive moment in the Brexit negotiations and in Parliament’s handling of them will be very close.

What good might that do, you might ask? It will not in itself solve anything. But it will provide a platform for all interested parties – business, the financial sector, trade unions, think tanks and, most importantly, the government itself – to set out in detail an updated analysis of what the probable consequences could be of an event which would by then be only one month away. It would thus be a valuable precursor and a basis for the decisions which will have to be taken by Parliament in the month of October.

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The debate in the Lords showed just how vast the costs and implications of leaving without any deal would be. It would hit our trade with the rest of the EU (44% of our exports), our trade with third countries around the world where we benefit from the EU’s customs union and free trade agreements (for example with Japan, Canada, South Korea, Turkey, and shortly to be joined by the Mercosur group in South America which contains two out of the three largest economies in that continent), our trade in services (80% of our economy) which benefit from membership of the single market, our environmental protection and labour standards, a large number of pan-European regulatory agencies for which we have no adequate national alternative, our defences against organised crime, terrorism, people trafficking and drugs, and our exchange of data across borders. 

All these areas and many more will be adversely affected if we wake up on November 1 outside the EU without a deal. That is not Project Fear. It will be daily reality and it will affect the availability and price of goods in our shops and the revenues available to finance public expenditure.

So happens next? The Lords motion for an enquiry will go to the Commons where, if the government has any sense, they will accept it and institute the joint committee. But the government’s track record for common sense on anything related to Brexit is not impressive. So they may well try to smother or to sidetrack this initiative. In which case we shall have even more convincing evidence that they are determined to hide from the public the likely consequences of their policies until it is too late to do anything about it.

The fact that, three years after the referendum and two and a half years after triggering Article 50, the government is still not coming clean on the consequences of their actions is bad enough. What is staggering is that these are the same people who say that our democratic institutions would be irretrievably damaged if we gave the electorate a say on Brexit’s final outcome.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

3 Responses to “Ministers must listen to Lords: come clean on no-deal damage”

  • It is hard to battle a No-deal. No-deal is the default. The next prime minister just has to sit in number 10 and do nothing for it to happen. Parliament needs to get together and make a change, but it is divided.

  • A typical case where 52% of “the people”, who in all likelihood were not brought up to use their brains anywhere near properly and who therefore ended up acting precisely like the German population between the twenties and 1945, get taken to the cleaners. The main advantage now as far as the rest of the EU is concerned, is that the process can be meticulously recorded and broadcasted abroad. Just to take the wind out of the sails of populist politicians there. Shame, but I marvel at things like how long it took trade & industry to let their voice be heard. And even now it resembles a squeak rather than a roar.

  • Sadly we are now past rationality and clear thinking on the part of the Brexiteers. This has become tribal warfare lead by head witch doctor Boris egged on by Donal J Ducke. Parliament has been reduced to a bear pit with each side simply snarling at each other and no attempt being made to have a rational discussion. Is there a way out of the merde that David Cameron led us into? I really don’t know, but what is happening at the moment is living proof that “Those the Gods wish to destroy they first make mad”.