Lord Hannay – 2017 Speech on UK and EU Relations

Below is the text of the speech made by Lord Hannay of Chiswick in the House of Lords on 12 September 2017.

My Lords, reading the 12 papers—I am afraid I have managed only to get to 12 because the Minister added one that arrived at lunchtime today—has struck me as a pretty depressing experience, even if one does not throw in for good measure the leaked paper on immigration policy which we are told is not government policy, or at least not yet. It is depressing because there are so many words yet so little substance, so few clear indications of what sort of outcome the Government are hoping to achieve in the Brexit negotiations—and that when a quarter of time for their completion has already been frittered away.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Government are still playing hide-and- seek with Parliament. That is bad enough when it is Parliament which is meant to be taking back control from Brussels over these matters, but what is worse is that the Government seem to be playing hide-and-seek with our negotiating partners, too. No doubt there is an element of the tactical in the complaints from Brussels of a lack of clarity in the Government’s negotiating position, but these papers demonstrate pretty graphically that those complaints are not simply tactical. That is serious indeed, because successful negotiation requires each side to have some clarity about what the other is seeking to achieve.

Many of the papers are just “cut and paste” jobs; for example, the paper on The Exchange and Protection of Personal Data. Often, it is simple common sense, as in this case it is, to conclude that it is essential to avoid the fragmentation of a currently frictionless entity, the exchange of data right across Europe, but the paper is remarkably coy about the fact that to achieve that objective on a lasting basis, we will need to mirror here any future changes in the EU’s data protection regime and any rulings on it by the European Court of Justice. That data protection iceberg conceals a mass of other EU regulatory functions, some 35 at the last count, on which the Government have not yet revealed their hand.

Other papers were obscure to the point incomprehensibility. I instance the paper on Enforcement and Dispute Resolution. It is fairly clear that the Government have at last realised that the line that the Prime Minister drew at last October’s party conference on the outright rejection of any jurisdiction of the ​European Court of Justice is simply unnegotiable. So they are moving crab-wise away from it, inventing a new description, “direct” jurisdiction, and juxtaposing it with “indirect” jurisdiction. We are now told that direct jurisdiction remains taboo, but indirect, by admission, is not. How is that to be done? Just producing an academic list of the options, which is what the Government’s paper does, is not a negotiating strategy. If, as I would suspect, something along the lines of the EFTA court is required, why not simply say so?

Then there are the papers such as the one on Northern Ireland and that on customs arrangements, which suddenly surface completely unprepared and out of the blue new and untried solutions—what the Secretary of State for DExEU called blue-sky thinking—but without a trace of any detail or any evidence-based underpinning. Indeed, the new customs arrangements are described in the paper as “unprecedented” and “challenging to implement”—words that could have come from a script for “Yes Minister”.

The paper on co-operation on science and innovation is welcome if belated, but it conceals that this chapter of EU budget expenditure—one of the most rapidly growing chapters of that budget and set to continue to be so—is one from which we have derived huge net benefits. That is surely unlikely to survive any new arrangement when we are outside. The paper glosses over rather unconvincingly the fact that we will no longer have a full say on the EU scientific and research programmes, which will be decided by the 27 without our participation.

Is this all unduly critical of the Government’s approach? I do not think so. The Brexit negotiations are not going particularly well and there is little or nothing in these papers that we are debating today which will help them to do any better. Nor, I fear, is the Government’s relationship with this House over Brexit going particularly well. Last week, the Government’s response to your Lordships’ report on the Irish dimension arrived one hour before the debate began and seven months after it should have been available. Today, the Government produced a new paper in the series that we are debating which was available only an hour or two before the debate began. That, frankly, is no way to run a railroad, let alone a Parliament.