Lord Bishop of Leeds – 2018 Speech on the EU in the House of Lords

Below is the text of the speech made by the Lord Bishop of Leeds in the House of Lords on 8 May 2018.

My Lords, I move this amendment for two principal reasons: first, in order to assist the Government in their shaping of their case for the UK’s future relationship with the European Union post Brexit; secondly, because it is consistent with Amendment 49, which was passed earlier on Report.

Speakers in these debates have repeatedly suggested that anyone who moves an amendment is a hypocritical remoaner intent on sabotaging the Bill and trying to prevent Brexit from ever happening. I regret the referendum result, but I accept that the UK is to leave—even on this 73rd anniversary of VE Day. My concern, along with that of many in your Lordships’ House, is to ask the Government seriously to consider improvements to the Bill in order that the people should be clear about the how as well as the what of ​Brexit, and that the transition to a final arrangement is as good as we can get it. It is my understanding that this is both the role and the responsibility of this House.

I remain concerned that a deeply divided country is being offered two stark alternatives which, if you will bear with me, I will put in biblical terms—someone has to. Like the people of Israel in the desert, we too easily romanticise the past and yearn to return to Egypt; or, on the other hand, we promise on the other side of the mountain a land flowing with milk and honey, ignoring the challenges that go with it not actually being our land to do with as we will.

I mean it seriously when I suggest that we should be honest in our discourse on Brexit and acknowledge that we shall be spending some years in the wilderness as we begin to work out the consequences of the decisions we have taken and the implications of the relationships we must now begin to establish. Wilderness time is not necessarily negative time—simply a time of waiting, wishing and hoping or recriminating—but a time for stripping away the clutter, identifying and owning our values and priorities as a nation and actively bringing together a people divided by their varying apprehensions of events that have befallen them. That serious need for a concrete unifying strategy has yet to be addressed seriously in either House of this Parliament: slogans and wishful thinking are not enough.

With this in mind, then, I come to the substance of the amendment standing in my name, and to which, I am sure, the Prime Minister would give her consent as it rests on commitments already articulated by her. In her Mansion House speech of 2 March 2018, the Prime Minister confirmed for the first time that the UK will seek to maintain a formal relationship with certain EU agencies after Brexit. She further acknowledged that the terms of the future UK-EU relationship may see the UK Parliament take the step of replicating certain provisions of EU law. I hope noble Lords will forgive me for quoting in order to obtain clarity. She said:

“Our default is that UK law may not necessarily be identical to EU law, but it should achieve the same outcomes. In some cases Parliament might choose to pass an identical law—businesses who export to the EU tell us that it is strongly in their interest to have a single set of regulatory standards that mean they can sell into the UK and EU markets. If the Parliament of the day decided not to achieve the same outcomes as EU law, it would be in the knowledge that there may be consequences for our market access”.

She went on:

“And there will need to be an independent mechanism to oversee these arrangements”.

She also said:

“We will also want to explore with the EU, the terms on which the UK could remain part of EU agencies such as those that are critical for the chemicals, medicines and aerospace industries”.

She added:

“We would, of course, accept that this would mean abiding by the rules of those agencies and making an appropriate financial contribution”.

The Prime Minister then went on to set out what the mutual benefits of such an approach might be. These include: first, that such membership, however ​described, is the only way to ensure that products need to undergo only one series of approvals in one country; secondly, that such membership would enable the UK to contribute its technical expertise in setting and enforcing appropriate rules; and thirdly, that this might then allow UK firms to resolve certain challenges related to the agencies through UK courts rather than the ECJ.

That is enough for now to demonstrate the Prime Minister’s case. She concluded with a further statement about the sovereignty of Parliament and the acknowledged costs of rejecting agency rules for membership of the relevant agency and linked market access rights. It is important to remember that these decentralised agencies were originally established following a proposal from the European Commission and agreement by both the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, which, if I am correct, means that the establishment of over 40 bodies was achieved with the support of the UK. Surely it makes sense, then, to be consistent and retain access to them.

As the Prime Minister made clear in her speech, there will be consequences of not doing so. For example, and to take just one, there is the European Maritime Safety Agency. Our international reporting and monitoring obligations on maritime safety are currently handled via EMSA and there are shared EU rules on seafarer working conditions. That enables the UK to maintain its status as a “quality flag state” under international law. The complexities involved in replicating this would appear to be immense. Furthermore, establishing a domestic equivalent to the EMSA will inevitably put a huge strain on the Civil Service, taking many years to negotiate, and will be enormously expensive. Could that be yet another uncosted consequence of Brexit? I could equally cite the European Aviation Safety Agency, the European Chemicals Agency, Europol, the European Medicines Agency, and many others.

Is it not probable that any future UK-EU trading relationship might demand replication of certain EU measures—product safety regulations, for example? As other regulations continue to evolve in Brussels in the years to come, is it not probable, if not inevitable, that the UK might have to keep pace if reciprocal arrangements with the EU 27 are to continue—for example, those covering matrimonial and parental judgments?

This amendment does not in any way place an additional burden on the Government, nor does it ask the Government to change their stated policy stance. It formalises and reinforces those commitments made by the Prime Minister in her Mansion House speech. Furthermore, with phase 2 of the negotiations now well under way, the addition of this clause would demonstrate Parliament’s wish for the UK to maintain a close relationship with the EU and, in this sense, it is consistent with the role envisaged for Parliament in Amendment 49.

It is fair to say that, although amendments relating to EU agencies were rejected in the House of Commons, that was possibly because the Government had not at that point announced their policy position. Now that ​their policy position is clear, sending this amendment back to the Commons would simply give an opportunity for further debate on future UK-EU co-operation.

I hope that I have given a clear rationale for this amendment and its inclusion in the Bill. I hope that the Minister in responding will recognise its constructive nature and its attempt to give some idea as to what sort of milk and honey might lie over the mountain once we have negotiated the wilderness journey. It does no one any favours to pretend we are where we are not; it does everybody a favour to attend to a detail that at least has the virtue of acknowledging the uncertainties ahead and the size and potential costs of the journey on which we have now embarked and gives one element of shape to what to many looks, to quote another biblical line, somewhat “formless and void”. I commend the amendment for debate and beg to move.