Wise words from Andrew Duff and the Lords on Brexit

Andrew Duff, until 2014 a Liberal Democrat MEP for the East of England, has just published an outstanding review of the House of Lords’ Europe Committee’s latest reports on Brexit

Andrew Duff

His article deserves to be widely read and reflected on: at a time when the public discussion seems to veer between squabbles over who has the authority to give notice under article 50, the eurosceptic part of the media painting a wildly optimisitic vision of Brexit and a steady stream of stories highlighting the damage, it is very encouraging to see some serious reflection from the House of Lords, and from Andrew Duff.

Under the coalition government the Lords Europe Committee undertook a thorough review of the balance of competences between the UK and EU, only to see their report buried because it didn’t support the repatriation of powers. I fear their excellent work now is also in danger of being ignored.

I strongly encourage people to read the whole post, but key points include:

  • We are deeply intertwined with the rest of the EU: unpicking that connection, even if that were a good idea, would be a very complex task
  • “the Lords have gone beyond the battle of ideology between Leavers and Remainers by speaking to, and now in their reports speaking for, those British Europeans for whom Brexit is fundamentally counter-intuitive”
  • UK-Irish relations are based on our both being in the EU — re-negotiating this would be highly complex;
  • trade with the EU would also require a highly complex negotiation, in which the UK stands to lose if things don’t go well, and there is no formula under which we would continue to have the influence we now have, so we would end up having to follow rules over which we have no control;
  • negotiating the rights of UK nationals in the rest of the EU and EU nationals in the UK is also far from straightforward;
  • the UK financial services sector is particularly vulnerable, and other EU cities are vying for this business (and the tax revenue it brings);
  • continued close co-operation on security is not a foregone conclusion, and the UK would lose most if this were undermined;
  • Brexit doesn’t mean our fishing industry can flourish: it faces real limits from low fish stocks, and this can only be addressed by co-operation with the EU.

I am delighted to hear some well-informed comments coming into the Brexit debate. Andrew comments “The House of Lords should be encouraged to continue with its efforts to make sense of Brexit by bringing the government to account. It should not let ministers slip through the net as they did with the ill-fated balance of competences review in 2014.”

I can only hope that the voices of sanity on the Lords Europe Committee, and Andrew Duff, will be heeded in the coming months.

Personally, I can’t avoid the conclusion that sanity also points to abandoning Brexit, engaging with the frustrations that led people to vote for it (which are not to do with the reality of the EU). My own hope is that, having discovered that EU membership makes far more sense than Brexit, we will find a way to be fully committed to the project — and to the attempts to improve the EU. In any case, I strongly encourage people to read Andrew’s article.

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