Welsh Liberal Democrat Baroness Christine Humphreys has reiterated the importance of staying in the Single Market and Customs Union to Wales. In a speech on the EU Withdrawal Bill's committee stage in the House of Lords, Baroness Humphreys highlighted the crucial role the UK played in establishing the Single Market and the damaging consequences of reverting to WTO rules.
My Lords, at this stage of the debate and with the indulgence of the Committee, I wish to return to the debate on Amendment 6 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. I thank him for his eloquent introduction to the debate.
The amendment calls on the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament a report outlining the effect of the UK’s withdrawal from the single market and customs union on the UK economy. That the Government have tossed away the UK’s commitment to the single market and customs union without seeking an impact assessment or providing evidence for this has to be a cause of real concern. There can be no doubt that membership of the EU single market and customs union has been of benefit to Wales. If the noble Lord, Lord True, will allow me, I wish to refer to my Second Reading speech in which I pointed out that it has given us tariff-free access to a market of 500 million people, it takes more than two-thirds of our exports and the freedom of movement for citizens and goods has led to the success of many of our industries.
The creation of a single market was at the UK’s insistence. We helped to create it, we have benefited from it and, until recently, we have wholeheartedly supported it. The Government’s position on the single market and customs union is confusing, to the say the least. They appear to want all the advantages of both while rejecting the institutions themselves. I have to say that I find the attitude of the Government and of the hard Brexit supporters to be almost anarchic. There is a certain gung-ho, jingoistic element to their desire to crash out of the EU, the single market and the customs union with no parachute or safety harness to protect the country—straight into the arms of the WTO.
Those who advocate the WTO option have, according to experts, made a basic but fatal mistake. Their obsession with tariffs has blinded them to the difficulties presented by non-tariff barriers such as border checks, visual inspections and physical testing. Industries that now rely on integrated supply chains working to a “just in time” regime could find that their systems start to snarl up and eventually grind to a halt.
We would be turning the clock back to the world of 1988, the year that Margaret Thatcher made her speech opening the single market campaign. It makes for interesting reading:
“We recognised that if Europe was going to be more than a slogan then we must get the basics right. That meant action. Action to get rid of the barriers. Action to make it possible for insurance companies to do business throughout the Community. Action to let people practise their trades and professions freely throughout the Community. Action to remove the customs barriers and formalities so that goods can circulate freely and without time-consuming delays. Action to make sure that any company could sell its goods and services without let or hindrance. Action to secure free movement of capital throughout the Community. All this is what Europe is now committed to do”.
All this we have succeeded in doing, so what has changed? It seems that the advantages we have gained by being members of this massive free trading bloc have been sacrificed on the altars of two perceived problems: lack of control of immigration and loss of sovereignty. But in reality, the Government have failed to control immigration from outside the EU, which they have always had the power to do. They have also failed to use the powers available under EU guidelines to control immigration from within the EU, and they have failed to admit to the benefits to this country that have come in the wake of immigration over the years. The Government have themselves admitted that there was never a loss of sovereignty. Along with 27 other nations, we pooled our sovereignty to come to common decisions on policies.
In throwing away all the benefits of the single market and customs union without providing the evidence to support their case, the Government are adding to the sense of injustice felt by many and to the concerns that this decision has been based on politics and preconceived views rather than what this amendment calls for, which is what is proven to be beneficial to the people of Wales and the UK.