In this speech to the House on the day after the State Opening of Parliament Lord Bilimoria discusses the position of the UK and its economy one year on from the European referendum. He notes that Europe is currently growing faster than the UK and argues that the Prime Minister has not listened. He highlights that International Students are still included on immigration figures and discusses the issues involved in organising trade deals outside of the European Union and the nature of being in such a situation. He criticises past governments over the issue of security and also stresses that public opinion towards Brexit is changing. He expresses his belief that this perhaps shows that Brexit will never happen and suggests that when presented with the realities of leaving the EU and life outside it many may decide that the country should remain a part of the Union instead.
22 June 2017
Debate (second day) moved by Lord Forsyth on June 21st:
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:
“Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament”.
My Lords, looking back to 22 February 2016—the day that David Cameron announced the referendum—Britain was flying. We were the fastest-growing economy in the western world. We were the envy of Europe. Four months later, on 23 June, we had the 52:48 referendum result. Our world has changed since then. Look at the turmoil we are in a year later. Far from flying and being the envy of Europe, we are now the laughing stock of Europe.
Just look at what is going on. The Brexiteers said a year ago, “Look at Europe. They’re doing so badly. We’re doing so well. It’s in a mess”. Today, Europe is growing faster than Britain. The pound has weakened. Inflation is six times higher than the 0.5% that it was a year ago. Today, inflation is 3% and wage growth is 1.7%. Over the whole of the past year, Brexit overshadowed everything in Parliament and took up so much of our time.
The Prime Minister tried to sideline Parliament to implement Article 50. It was only with the big defeats suffered by the Government here in the House of Lords that the Prime Minister had to call the election, which has exposed a Prime Minister who, quite frankly, has not listened. She has not listened to Parliament, business or the people. The gracious Speech talks about establishing new policies on immigration. The Prime Minister has not listened on immigration and the target of tens of thousands. She has not listened to universities. I am proud to say that the University of Birmingham, where I am chancellor, and the Cambridge Judge Business School, where I chair the advisory board, have just been awarded gold in the new teaching excellence framework. International students bring £25 billion into the UK. They are one of the strongest forms of soft power in this country, yet they are still treated as immigrants in the net migration figures. The Prime Minister refused to listen and take them out of those figures.
Yet the Prime Minister is completely unlike Margaret Thatcher, the lady who was not for turning. She has U-turned time after time, whether on national insurance for the self-employed, no election until 2020 and calling a snap election, or social care measures in the manifesto. The Prime Minister does not just U-turn; she pirouettes more than Darcey Bussell.
The gracious Speech talks about new Bills on trade and customs which will help to implement an independent trade policy. The noble Earl the Minister told us that the Department for International Trade is having high-level dialogues. Liam Fox, our illustrious Trade Minister, speaks of “going global” and opening up to the new world. How naive is this? It took the Canadians eight years to secure an EU-Canada free trade agreement. In a BBC radio programme, the lead negotiator for Canada said he does not think that Brexit will happen.
During the visit in November, Prime Minister Narendra Modi brought up with Prime Minister Theresa May that movement of people is important for India. We talk about trade deals, but there can be no trade deal without looking at the movement of people as well. The Indian High Commissioner here, Mr YK Sinha, has said very clearly that India is open to a bilateral trade deal but there will be no trade deal without looking at the movement of people. Look at the realities of a country such as India, with 1.25 billion people. How many bilateral trade deals does India have with the rest of the world? Nine, and not one with a western country.
These trade deals are meant to support the UK in making a smooth exit from the European Union, ensure that UK businesses are able to benefit from trade with the rest of the world and cement the UK’s leading role as a great global trading nation. What a contradiction this is. On the one hand, the Brexiteers say, “You do not need a free trade deal with Europe—look at America and India, they deal with Europe and they do not have free trade deals with Europe”. On the other hand, they say, “The solution to all our problems is to do free trade deals with the rest of the world, which we can do once we leave the European Union”. Why do people not see though this nonsense? People have got to wake up to this. We are already one of the most open economies in the world. Trade already makes up 65% of our GDP. We are already the third-highest recipient of foreign direct investment in the world and the highest recipient of foreign direct investment in the EU. To leave the EU would be to leave 50% of our trade—45% of our exports and 55% of our imports.
The noble Lord, Lord Sterling, talked about defence. I am delighted that we are continuing to commit to the 2% NATO spending target. We are not going to join any EU army. On the other hand, I would go so far as to say that we owe so much to our EU membership that I would pay the £8 billion a year net to the EU just for the peace that we have had not only because of NATO but because of our EU membership.
Regarding security, Governments over the past years have been absolutely negligent given the tragic events that have taken place. We have cut our police forces by 20,000 officers. The number of police we have now is at the level we had before 9/11. On top of those 20,000, we have also cut the 26,000 neighbourhood policing officers. I do not see them around the streets anymore. They are the ones who were a deterrent, who picked up information and gave security, and they are gone. We also hear about 1,500 more armed police. At the time of the IRA problems in the 1980s we had 5,000 armed police officers in London alone. Today, we have barely 5,000 in the whole country.
The Prime Minister said after the awful attacks that we are going to give more power to our security and police forces. However, did she say immediately, as she should have, that we are going to bring back the 20,000 and the 26,000 and put more armed police officers on our streets? That is what should have been done straightaway.
On the negotiations, David Davis has spoken about the summer of battles that will take place. We all know what happened on the first day of the negotiations. The Minister spoke about exiting the EU with certainty, continuity and confidence. Although I am sure his intentions are good, one of the sad realities of Brexit is that Britain is losing its standing and respect in Europe and the global community. This puts us in a much weaker position. We are negotiating against all the odds. We are one country against 27. We are 65 million whereas the rest number 500 million. We are up against the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council, and we also have a weak Government right now. We need the respect and confidence of the world.
We have seen clearly that public opinion is changing swiftly. In its latest survey—with the Mail on Sunday, of all papers—Survation, one of the few polling organisation to correctly predict a hung Parliament, suggests that 69% of the British public oppose the Prime Minister’s hard-Brexit approach and 53% back a second referendum. This supports what I have been saying since 24 June 2016, that Brexit may never happen. An analysis of MPs suggests that if there were a free vote in the other place, there would be a 44% majority in favour of remain. As we know, probably 70% of the membership of this House is in favour of remain.
The silver lining, one hopes, is that people will wake up. People were fooled by the claims about £350 million on the side of the bus, and some are being fooled to this day. They think that there is no turning back. The Prime Minister said that there will be no turning back after she triggered Article 50, whereas the noble Lord, Lord Kerr—the person who wrote Article 50—has said time and again that we can turn back at any time simply by saying, “We do not want to do this. Unilaterally, we withdraw”. I suggested doing so when I was interviewed on LBC by Iain Dale and he laughed. However, he who laughs last laughs loudest. It was thrown at us last year that we have to respect the will of the people. Following an election—even if a party gets into government with 50.001% of the vote—you respect the will of the people. The reality, however, is that in five years’ time, the people will be able to change their mind and throw that Government out. But in this case the people are not being allowed to change their mind. Where is the will of the people in that? What will the people think in 2019—if that is when the decision is made—when they have all the information in front of them? What will happen when the youngsters turn out to vote? They did not do so earlier but did in the recent election. It is the will of the people at that time that will need to be respected, not something that happened the year before.
Bill George, who taught me at the Harvard Business School, recently wrote about the strategy for steady leadership in an unsteady world. He said that in a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, leaders have to have vision, understanding, courage and adaptability. It is that adaptability that we will need in order to get through Brexit.
The Minister spoke about creating a secure and better future for our people. In reality, it is only a matter of time before the people see that the Brexit emperor has no clothes. Given the option of a hard Brexit or a soft Brexit, the opinion of the British people at that time will probably be: “Why not just stay with what we’ve got, which is the best of both worlds?”. As President Macron has said and as the rest of the EU would welcome, it would be much better for us to end up staying in the EU, and there may well be no Brexit whatever.