Below is the text of the speech made by Lord Cashman in the House of Lords on 12 September 2017.
My Lords, not for the first time am I delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, and give a completely different perspective. As someone who voted to remain in the EU, I assure him that I will certainly not finally bow on what I believe was a wrong decision that does not serve the future of this country.
In recent weeks, there has been much speculation about a Brexit transition agreement. Sadly, the position papers—or “shifting position” papers, as I call them—have not helped matters. There is now greater uncertainty, not less. Where there should be clarity on the Government’s position and intention, there is only confusion—especially within the negotiating chamber in Brussels. I have to admit that there seems to be confusion too within my own party on where we want to be post Brexit, but I look forward to a speedy resolution.
I voted to remain. I oppose Brexit, as is my democratic right, and believe that we must maintain membership of the single market and the customs union at the very least, even if it is along the Norwegian model. Anything else would be national suicide as we throw away the rights fought for by previous generations, such as my father and grandfather, who fought in two world wars for a united Europe—for a Britain in solidarity with Europe, not isolated and aside from Europe. We would be throwing away, too, the rights of younger generations and generations yet to come.
There are over 3 million EU citizens in this country who face a starkly uncertain future. Everything is no longer certain: their homes; the education of their children; learning and life choices for their families; their employment and retirement prospects; indeed, their very right to reside in a country that they have lived and worked in and where they have played by the rules. Instead of offering those people certainty, the Government use them as cheap bargaining chips in shoddy negotiations. It is entirely unacceptable.
We cannot even negotiate to offer certainty to British citizens living and working in the EU 27. The emails and messages I have received are truly heartrending: people who have married other EU nationals and raised their families in a country where they thought they were welcome and wanted, only to find that they are now feared by some, resented by others and misrepresented elsewhere. In that regard, elements of the British press have played a despicable and reprehensible part.
Let me come to some facts about where we are from two surveys. London First and the Lloyds Banking Group have worked together on a UK-wide survey of over 1,000 businesses, both large and small. They found that over half of businesses have faced a negative impact from Brexit. They have been forced to put investment and recruitment decisions on hold and to revise their supply chains. They are seeing reduced demand for products and services. Some 40% of UK businesses believe a transitional agreement will have a positive impact, enabling them to unblock investment or recruitment decisions. Those businesses that see a transition agreement as having a positive impact want to see an agreement that covers all the elements of the existing EU relationships, including freedom of goods, services, capital, talent—yes, that means people—a common set of tariffs and EU legal arrangements. For those businesses, continued access to the people they need is their number one concern; they call for the Government to give a unilateral, unconditional guarantee to the EU citizens already living and working in the UK, and to set out plans for a fair and managed approach to future immigration policy—a call I am sure every decent person would endorse.
In another survey, Focus on Labour Exploitation—FLEX—and the Labour Exploitation Advisory Group explore how migrant worker vulnerability to exploitation has been affected by the UK referendum. Sadly, they highlight uncertainties creating conditions for vulnerability. There is a rise in hate crime and hostility post referendum that contributes to a general sense of being unwelcome and makes migrant workers feel like second-class citizens in the UK.
These are the human consequences of Brexit. We must keep these people and their families and their deep and all-consuming concerns at the forefront of our minds in all our deliberations and negotiations. In the Brexit negotiations, now more than ever before, we need leadership allied with courage, imagination, flair and daring. Sadly, as I look out across the Brexit horizon, I see none.