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Lord Davies of Stamford speaks out
12 Feb, 2018

During the recent Second reading of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill in the House of Lords, Lord Davies of Stamford spoke in the debate making very valid points.

Here is his speech in full:- 

"My Lords, my view is that Brexit is a real and present danger to the prosperity of the country, to future public services, given the likelihood that tax revenues will not be as high as they otherwise would be, to our influence in the world, to the stability of Europe and, not least, to the personal opportunities open to our people now and in future generations. I feel it is my patriotic duty in these circumstances to do anything I can to assist in the avoidance of that calamity, but I recognise that if the worst occurs, we will need something along the lines of this Bill—or hopefully a good deal better—to avoid a legal vacuum.

The Government have been strongly criticised on both sides of the House in this debate, and quite rightly so. I intend to continue the criticism. They have committed four major, and quite unforgivable, errors. The first is to have been less than straight with the British public about the costs of Brexit, particularly its economic costs; that has been the story of the last 36 hours —their disgraceful attempts to prevent the public learning about the impact assessments. The public have had to pay for those impact assessments; they deserve to see them, and directly from their Government, not indirectly by way of leaks. The whole episode has been quite disgraceful.

Over the last few months, the Government have been coping by quoting historic figures on the economy, apparently showing the economy coping well in the face of problems raised by Members of this House about the present and future prospects of the economy. ​There was a good example of that just a couple of weeks ago when the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, answered a question of mine about people planning to leave the City of London and go elsewhere in the European Union to pursue their careers. That is an issue relating to the future, which he answered by talking about current of employment levels in this country, which is a lagging indicator of the performance of the economy until now. He would not get many marks in an economics exam if he mixed up leading and lagging indicators. I do not know if it was incompetence on the part of the noble Lord; I think it was part of this general campaign by the Government to throw dust in people’s eyes and prevent them realising what is going on.

This neglect of the economy—plus a certain amount of self-deception—has also led the Government to make the very worst call they could in selecting a form of Brexit that will be the most economically damaging to the country, a form in which we are excluded from the single market and from the customs union. I was shocked yesterday when the noble Lord, Lord Callanan—I am sorry that I keep referring to him—blamed the British public for that, saying they had decided it. They decided nothing of the kind. There was nothing on the referendum ballot paper about the single market or the customs union. The single market was very little mentioned in the campaign and was often mentioned on the Brexit side by people such as Daniel Hannan, who were trying to encourage people to vote for Brexit to get a Norway or EEA-type solution. The British public can hardly be blamed for that. I never heard the customs union mentioned in the whole campaign. As for the Irish border issue, the only time I heard that mentioned was when I mentioned it myself at a big public debate at the Mansion House in the City. I completely floored my opponent because he had not even thought of the problem. Such was the extent to which the British public had an opportunity to make a judgment on this. The Government cannot get away with blaming the people for the consequences of their own decisions. Parliament must not allow them to get away with it, and I trust that we will not do so.

The political judgment of the Government has been about as bad as their economic judgment. They started these negotiations with an enormous degree of naivety and over-confidence. Perhaps they really believed you can have your cake and eat it, too. Perhaps they believed, as Mr Gove said, that the day we left all the cards would be in our hands. They have behaved as though they believed those naive things. They thought the big German exporting companies—Siemens, BMW and so forth—would say to the German Government, “You have to make concessions, you have to keep the British Government happy”, and the German Government would say, “Yes of course, we’ll do that”, and go to the Commission. Of course, none of that happened. They very recently thought the continentals would panic, go to the Irish, bully them and say, “We cannot take on your problems, you are only 3 million people and you can’t stand in the way of tens or hundreds of millions of people; you must give up your insistence on the Irish border”. They failed in both cases to understand the concept of solidarity in the European Union. The Eurosceptics in this House have never understood the European idea—not since we ​joined the European Union—so they were very surprised. They had made a complete miscalculation and were very surprised by the reactions they got.

The worst thing about the Government’s attitude to all this is surely the order of priorities—moral priorities, if you like—reflected in their actions so far in this field. Those values have resulted in a most bizarre situation. We have a lot in this country that we should really be very concerned about. The National Health Service is in crisis. There are people literally dying on trolleys hours after they have been admitted to hospital, without ever being seen by a nurse or a doctor. That is a disgrace for all of us in a civilised society. We have had defence cuts which are, in my view, quite irresponsible, and are of the greatest concern to anybody who has taken any interest in defence at any point, professionally or otherwise. The Government are now planning further defence cuts, we are authoritatively told. They have cut the police, disastrously, so that clearly the police are not capable of responding to threats, particularly in areas such as terrorism, cybercrime and the serious crime of rape, as we have seen in recent sad cases. Against that background, what are the Government doing? They are spending money hiring 5,000 customs officers. Can you imagine going to a patient who has been waiting on a trolley for hours and hours, perhaps in serious pain, and telling them, “I’m sorry there’s no doctor or nurse to look after you, but don’t worry—the Government are hiring customs officers”?

Then there is the ultimate obscenity: the Government’s plans to spend £1 billion building a vast lorry park by the sea at Dover to accommodate lorries for hours and hours on end, a monstrous project that will contribute absolutely nothing, not an iota, to economic output or prosperity of the country or to human happiness, and which will of course detract from both.

We must be pitied in many parts of the world to be in this situation, and I fear that in many parts of the world people may be laughing at us and the mess that we have made of ourselves. It is a situation that none of us can be happy about, and it seems to me absolutely our duty to do everything possible to try to make sure that we get out of this terrible mess as soon as possible."