Chester’s Labour life peer has launched an anti Brexit barrage.

Former MEP and Cheshire county councillor Lyndon Harrison - Lord Harrison of Chester since 1999 - launched a 10 minute tirade when the controversy reached the House of Lords.

Lord Harrison insisted:

  • The Commonwealth is ‘a small corner shop compared to the vibrant shopping mall of the EU single market’.
  • One of the reasons for the Leave vote is Britain does not speak foreign languages.
  • World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules ‘are a disgrace and a disaster’
  • The Brexit White Paper is ‘shifty’.

Lord Harrison began: “One of the seldom-discussed reasons why Britain voted for Brexit is that we do not speak foreign languages.

“Our ignorance of continental languages, people, customs, habits and especially markets has made us carelessly complacent. We idly rely on speaking English fortissimo in brokering trade deals. The result? Our shameful balance of trade deficits.”

The ‘supreme irony’, suggested Lord Harrison, is that when the country leaves the EU, English will remain the common language binding the EU 27 ‘as they circle the wagons’ against threats to their existence.

“There is slim hope that we will expand our linguistic capabilities as we become buccaneers trading those wider world markets. Does the Minister agree that our ropey language skills have weakened us when it comes to competing within the single market and will do so again outside of it?” he asked​.

The peer continued: “Our domestic failure to ready ourselves for the challenge of the modern world persists, look at the habitual, stumbling response to our poor productivity rates where we lag behind the rest of the G7.

“Brexit is not a tailored response to our self-inflicted shortcomings and that brings me to some practical concerns.

“Do we have sufficient skilled and experienced civil servants to conduct trade negotiations now and in the future?

“I know that in my own field of financial services, the Government are begging, borrowing and stealing financial experts from the City of London, at goodness knows what cost, while our civil servants’ negotiating skills in the art of trade have lain dormant for years.

“How are we to make up this shortfall in trade experts and at what cost? Indeed, what preparations are HMG undertaking to broaden and deepen those trading skills as we look to new markets round the world?

“Will the Minister say how much we have paid in hiring those financial and trade experts? Why could we not have done all this beforehand?”

Lord Harrison referred to the contradictions inherent in different paths to advancing world trade and warned: “The vagaries of WTO trading rules are the very pit into which we will slip if we fail to secure a deal with the remaining 27. Is that what we want? Is that what we really, really want?

“The WTO rules are a disgrace and a disaster. Parliament must have the final say on securing a deal if we are to be pitched into the WTO rules.”

He asked: “What decisive advantage does HMG discern in embarking on this hard Brexit for the UK? I ask the Government to please spell it out.

“The White Paper is shifty while the three Brexiteers retire daily from the fake advantages they hailed in the run-up to the referendum.

“The weekly £350m for the NHS was the most evanescent of the will-o’-the-wisps cited by the leavers. We are buying a pig in a poke.”

Lord Harrison pointed out a report had found the City of London under threat from New York ‘as well as the continental contenders such as Frankfurt and Paris’.

“Why on earth are we imperilling the City of London’s pre-eminence as Europe’s global financial centre?” he asked.

He concluded: “I will indeed do my patriotic duty and oppose this reckless, ill-thought-out plunge into the murky waters of illusory UK independence in a (trading) world of ​ever-increasing interdependence” and added: “The Commonwealth is a small corner shop compared to the vibrant shopping mall of the EU single market.

“Holding hands with a rudderless President Trump will not make up for our wilful self-exclusion from the world’s biggest single market.”