My Lords, with the leave of the House, it may be helpful if I make a brief business statement regarding our proceedings this afternoon and in the coming days. My noble friend the Leader will now repeat the Prime Minister’s Statement on the outcome of the EU referendum. Following discussions in the usual channels, we have made provision for 40 minutes of Back-Bench questions. I have also agreed to consider further extensions if at the end of 40 minutes there is still a significant number of Members wishing to ask questions.
I reassure noble Lords, however, that this will be the first of several occasions for the House to take stock of recent events. There is a European Council meeting later this week, and we intend to arrange a full debate next week—probably on Tuesday, in lieu of the Second Reading of the Policing and Crime Bill, which will be rescheduled to a later date.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat the Statement given by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place. The Statement is as follows:
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the result of the EU referendum.
Last week saw one of the biggest democratic exercises in our history, with over 33 million people from England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar all having their say. We should be proud of our parliamentary democracy. However, it is right that, when we consider questions of this magnitude, we do not just leave it to politicians but rather listen directly to the people. That is why Members from across this House voted for a referendum by a margin of almost 6:1.
Let me set out for the House what this vote means, the steps we are taking immediately to stabilise the UK economy, the preparatory work for the negotiation to leave the EU, our plans for fully engaging the devolved Administrations, and the next steps at tomorrow’s European Council.
The British people have voted to leave the European Union. It is not the result that I wanted nor the outcome that I believe is best for the country I love, but there can be no doubt about the result.
Of course, I do not take back what I said about the risks: it is going to be difficult. We have already seen that there are going to be adjustments within our economy, complex constitutional issues and a challenging new negotiation to undertake with Europe. However, I am clear, and the Cabinet agreed this morning, that the decision must be accepted and the process of implementing the decision in the best possible way must now begin.
At the same time, we have a fundamental responsibility to bring our country together. In the past few days, we have seen despicable graffiti daubed on a Polish community centre and verbal abuse hurled against individuals because they are members of ethnic minorities. Let us remember that these people have come here and made a wonderful contribution to our country. We will not stand for hate crime or these kinds of attacks. They must be stamped out.
We can reassure European citizens living here and Brits living in European countries that there will be no immediate changes in their circumstances. Neither will there be any initial change in the way that our people can travel, in the way that our goods can move, or in the way that our services can be sold.
The deal we negotiated at the European Council in February will now be discarded and a new negotiation to leave the EU will begin under a new Prime Minister.
Turning to our economy, it is clear that markets are volatile and there are some companies considering their investments. We know that this is going to be far from plain sailing. However, we should take confidence from the fact that Britain is ready to confront what the future holds for us from a position of strength.
As a result of our long-term plan, we have today one of the strongest major advanced economies in the world and we are well placed to face the challenges ahead. We have low, stable inflation. The employment rate remains the highest that it has ever been. The budget deficit is down from 11% of national income and forecast to be below 3% this year. The financial system is also substantially more resilient than it was six years ago, with capital requirements for the largest banks now 10 times higher than before the banking crisis.
The markets may not have been expecting the referendum result but, as the Chancellor set out this morning, the Treasury, the Bank of England and our other financial authorities have spent the last few months putting in place robust contingency plans.
As the Governor of the Bank of England said on Friday, the Bank’s stress tests have shown that UK institutions have enough capital and liquidity reserves to withstand a scenario more severe than the country currently faces. The Bank can make available £250 billion of additional funds if it needs to support banks and markets. In the coming days, the Treasury, the Bank of England and the Financial Conduct Authority will continue to be in very close contact. They have contingency plans in place to maintain financial stability and they will not hesitate to take further measures if required.
Turning to preparations for negotiating our exit from the EU, the Cabinet met this morning and agreed the creation of a new EU unit in Whitehall. This will bring together officials and policy expertise from across the Cabinet Office, the Treasury, the Foreign Office and the Department for Business. Clearly, this will be the most complex and most important task that the British Civil Service has undertaken in decades, so the new unit will sit at the heart of government and be led and staffed by the best and brightest from across our Civil Service. It will report to the whole Cabinet on delivering the outcome of the referendum, advise on transitional issues and explore objectively options for our future relationship with Europe and the rest of the world from outside the EU. It will be responsible for ensuring that the new Prime Minister has the best possible advice from the moment of their arrival.
I know that colleagues on all sides of the House will want to contribute to how we prepare and execute the new negotiation to leave the EU, and my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will listen to all views and representations and make sure that they are fully put into this exercise. He will be playing no part in the leadership election.
Turning to the devolved Administrations, we must ensure that the interests of all parts of our United Kingdom are protected and advanced. So as we prepare for a new negotiation with the European Union, we will fully involve the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Governments. We will also consult Gibraltar, the Crown dependencies, the overseas territories and all regional centres of power, including the London Assembly. I have spoken to the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales, as well as the First and Deputy First Ministers in Northern Ireland, and the Taoiseach, and our officials will be working intensively together over the coming weeks to bring our devolved Administrations into the process for determining the decisions that need to be taken. While all the key decisions will have to wait for the arrival of the new Prime Minister, there is a lot of work that can be started now; for instance, the British and Irish Governments will begin meeting this week to work through the challenges relating to the common border area.
Tomorrow I will attend the European Council. In the past few days I have spoken to Chancellor Merkel, President Hollande and a number of other European leaders. We have discussed the need to prepare for the negotiations, in particular the fact that the British Government will not be triggering Article 50 at this stage. Before we do that, we need to determine the kind of relationship we want with the EU. That is rightly something for the next Prime Minister and their Cabinet to decide. I have also made this point to the Presidents of the European Council and the European Commission, and I will make this clear again at the European Council tomorrow.
This is our sovereign decision and it will be for Britain—and Britain alone—to take. Tomorrow is also an opportunity to make this point: Britain is leaving the European Union but we will not turn our back on Europe or on the rest of the world. The nature of the relationship we secure with the EU will be determined by the next Government but I think everyone is agreed that we will want the strongest possible economic links with our European neighbours, as well as with our close friends in North America and the Commonwealth, and important partners such as India and China. I am also sure that, whatever the precise nature of our future relationship, we will want to continue with a great deal of our extensive security co-operation and to do all we can to influence decisions that will affect the prosperity and safety of our people here at home.
This negotiation will require strong, determined and committed leadership and, as I have said, I think the country requires a new Prime Minister and Cabinet to take it in this direction. This is not a decision I have taken lightly but I am absolutely convinced that it is in the national interest. Although leaving the EU was not the path I recommended, I am the first to praise our incredible strengths as a country. As we proceed with implementing this decision and facing the challenges it will undoubtedly bring, I believe we should hold fast to a vision of Britain that wants to be respected abroad, tolerant at home, engaged in the world and working with our international partners to advance the prosperity and security of our nation for generations to come. I have fought for these things every day of my political life and I will continue to do so. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
On my own behalf and as Leader of this House, I believe there is a particular role for the House of Lords in this period as we deliver on the clear instruction of the British people. We can provide stability by lending our experience, knowledge and expertise to the challenges we face, and add something different to the House of Commons in helping to make this decision work for Britain. Our EU Committee and its sub-committees are well placed to assist the House. As my noble friend the Chief Whip has already indicated, we will facilitate a debate in government time next week which will provide a further opportunity for the views of noble Lords to be heard.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement and for her additional comments at the end. They are welcome and concur with our own views.
These past few days have been the most difficult and uncertain that we have faced for more than a generation. Despite the massive turnout, whatever one’s views on the referendum, there can be no pride or joy in a result that has divided this country across regions, the age divide and ethnicity, and in so many other ways. With such a narrow result, we must find a way to work together.
During the campaign we were shocked and devastated that our much-loved and highly regarded Member of Parliament Jo Cox was murdered by a man who later gave his name as “Death to traitors, Britain first”. There can be no pride in a campaign that saw political debate sink to a new low.
The leave campaign told us that £350 million a day was being sent to Europe that would be available for the NHS. Within hours of the result that was being retracted as a “mistake”. However, it was never true and is not the only promise now being denied.
We have to understand why concerns are raised about immigration. However, throughout the campaign, the way in which immigration and asylum seekers were demonised to persuade people to vote leave was utterly shameful. I welcome the fact that Nigel Farage’s poster of fleeing Syrian refugees was condemned across the political spectrum and I welcome the comments in the Statement on hate crime.
However, we have to look to ourselves. Is there anything in our words and actions that could have led us to the position where anyone would consider that such a poster was acceptable and legitimate campaigning? When the Prime Minister referred in Parliament to migrants as a “swarm”, did he consider beforehand the possible consequences? During the London mayoral campaign, when Theresa May and Michael Gove spoke of security and terrorism, and then attacked Sadiq Khan as a risk, did they ever consider that such comments were reasonable and responsible?
I concur with the noble Baroness’s comments and welcome them. As she said, we are all dismayed at the reports over the last few days of targeted attacks on a Polish community and protests outside mosques. There has been an increase in casual and deeply unpleasant racism. We have heard of schoolchildren saying that they are worried about their future and, perhaps the lowest of the low, people wearing t-shirts with slogans such as “We won. Go home”. That is the price we are now paying for the tone of the political debate over the past few months.
We need to heal our country and our politics. We need to encourage and provide hope, not hate, but that will not be easy. Our country is desperate for the political leadership that is so sadly lacking at present. The Prime Minister, who said he would see us through the negotiations, is resigning, the Chancellor was invisible for days, and we face three more months of Tory party internal warfare before there is a leader who will even attempt to deal seriously with this crisis. That is shameful. I am not making a cheap party-political point; there are serious issues here.
Wait and see, because I do not absolve my party leadership from this either. There is a serious issue about the quality of political leadership in our country as a whole. My party is also dealing with internal political problems, largely due to fallout from this result, and our country is crying out for strong, decent, decisive, caring and competent leadership from both Government and Opposition. Our country is entitled to demand such leadership from us at such a challenging time.
So what can we do? Individually and as a House as a whole, we have a responsibility. I believe—the noble Baroness emphasised this point as well—that we have the expertise, judgment and experience in this House to assist and lead in finding a way through. The role of your Lordships’ House in working through the referendum decision and in examining the detail will be essential. As we have already shown, the tone in which we conduct our debates and our deliberations must stay as it is, and we should show the way in being measured and honest.
Our excellent European Union Committee, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, has already considered and reported on the process and difficulties of withdrawal, referred to by Sir David Edward, a leading—or probably the leading—expert in EU law as the,
“long-term ghastliness of the legal complications”,
which he described as “unimaginable”. However, we have to imagine them and to work through them.
There are many questions not yet answered and many may not have even been considered, so I shall ask the noble Baroness just three which I think are the most urgent. Today, we are debating the Investigatory Powers Bill. Obviously, the practical implications of such legislation are linked to our co-operation with other EU countries. Given that we shall at some point disengage and have to create a new, separate framework for those countries, what consideration has been given to this and are a rethink and further consideration required?
Secondly, the legislative programme cannot just be business as usual. Paragraph 67 of the EU Committee report states that the Government would need to enact in law everything that they wanted to keep in law which had come from treaties or a directive. Clearly, this cannot be done overnight, but our relationship with the EU is deteriorating by the hour and there is real urgency here. Have the Government considered a timescale for such legislation and will it mean a new Queen’s Speech, so that the legislative programme can be withdrawn?
Thirdly, the Statement referred to the devolved Administrations, but there was more about the role of the Civil Service than about the role of Parliament. Parliamentary oversight of the negotiations will be essential and, clearly, we will want to play our part in scrutiny and policy formulation. Can the noble Baroness give an assurance not just on debates but on parliamentary oversight of negotiations?
These past weeks have been challenging. That so many people took part and voted shows real interest and engagement, yet with such a binary choice it was harder to make the case for the complexities of what was involved and what could follow. Many who voted still wonder and worry whether they have made the right decision. There is no route map for what comes next. There is no long-term certainty for our economy or our society, and it is at times such as this that we have to rise to the challenge and ensure that what unites us is bigger, better and stronger than what divides us.
My Lords, I, too, thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Prime Minister’s Statement and welcome the words she added in respect of what your Lordships’ House may be able to contribute. I declare my interest as a Britain Stronger In Europe board member.
As a democrat, I respect the outcome of Thursday’s referendum, but—I suspect like many colleagues across the House—I am profoundly saddened by the result. I have a deep anxiety about what the future holds for our country. I am worried about the divisions that have been laid bare across the country during this campaign and echo many of the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, about the tone of much of the debate and the campaigning. I am fearful for what this means for our outward-looking and tolerant country as well as for the future integrity of the United Kingdom. Many on these Benches are angry that notwithstanding his fine words in the Statement about his vision for Britain, this Prime Minister put party interest before national interest, complacently believing that he could win a referendum primarily designed to settle internal Tory divisions.
The European Union is an institution to which we have belonged and contributed for the past four decades. It has delivered peace, promoted equality, kept us safe and opened the doors of opportunity, but it will no longer be a part of Britain’s future. I think too that the leave campaigners do not appear to have any plausible strategy. We have already seen that they are backtracking on many of the promises they made during the campaign. So the result will change not only the very fabric of our country, it will change Europe and our relationship with the wider international community. Regrettably, the United Kingdom has on many occasions failed to provide leadership in the European Union. As a result, the people of this country have seen Governments play a half-hearted role at best. There has been a failure domestically to make the positive case for the European Union and the benefits it brings. In some ways, therefore, it is not unsurprising that when faced with years of the EU being blamed for everything that is wrong in this country, a majority of people voted to leave.
But I fear that we are only just beginning to realise the adverse impact the vote will have. Since Friday morning we have seen the value of sterling plummet. Some £120 billion was wiped off the markets in the first 10 minutes of trading on Friday, while this morning sterling slipped another 2.6% against the dollar and the pound is at a 31-year low. Surely the leaders of the leave campaign owe it to us to tell us what they think is negotiable with other members of the European Union, what is not negotiable in spite of their many promises, and what the likely consequences will be for the British economy. I welcome the fact that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Governor of the Bank of England have tried to steady the markets this morning, but fundamentally it is the uncertainty of the United Kingdom’s position which will continue to cause nervousness in the economy. Businesses and the markets like certainty, but certainty would appear to be the last thing we have in the wake of the referendum.
I have a number of questions for the noble Baroness. Can she indicate what the present Government would wish to achieve in negotiations with the European Union? Do they believe that we should seek complete access for the United Kingdom to the single market? Do the Government even have a view? Given that younger voters overwhelmingly voted to remain in, what hope can the noble Baroness and the Conservative Party offer future generations that they will have the same access to jobs across Europe as previous generations?
Of course it is not just the economy that is uncertain, but the very fabric of our constitution. Article 50 states:
“Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements”.
I think that the House will be interested to know what the Government’s view is as to what our own constitutional requirements are. Are they an Act of Parliament, a resolution of the House of Commons, a resolution of both Houses or an executive decision by Members? That is an important question for the noble Baroness to answer.
Scotland and Northern Ireland both voted strongly to remain in the European Union and the Secretary of State for Scotland has said that, if the people of Scotland ultimately determine that they want a second Scottish independence referendum, there will be one. Can the noble Baroness confirm that that is the position of the United Kingdom Government? Does it mean that if the Scottish Parliament asks for a further referendum, the Government will bring forward an order under Section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998 to transfer the necessary powers for a referendum to take place?
Northern Ireland as we know shares a land border with another EU country. Thousands of people cross it every day in both directions visiting friends and family, while the economy of Northern Ireland relies heavily on the European Union as a pull factor for internal investment, and directly in the form of research and development grants and peace grants. Can the noble Baroness set out the Government’s understanding of the operation of the common travel area where one country is an EU member and the other country is not? Can she also say something about mandate—the mandate of a future Prime Minister elected not by the country but by members of the Conservative Party, and what that means in terms of taking back control?
The leave campaigners have now admitted that they cannot do much to reduce immigration, so we need a serious and informed public debate about the long-term challenge of immigration. However, the anti-immigration rhetoric we have seen during the campaign has encouraged a surge of right-wing resentment. Perhaps the noble Baroness will wish to elaborate more on what the Government intend to do to tackle that. Finally, although I very much respect the decision of the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Oareford, to resign his position as a European Union Commissioner, we are still members of the European Union. Can she give an indication of the timescale for Britain to nominate another EU Commissioner so that we do not actually have an empty seat at the table?
We on these Benches firmly believe that it is in the United Kingdom’s best interest to stay as closely engaged in European networks of co-operation and joint operation as possible. We will continue to make the case for Britain’s future with Europe and to fight for an open, optimistic, hopeful, diverse and tolerant United Kingdom.
My Lords, as always I am grateful to the noble Baroness and the noble and learned Lord for their responses and I will seek to provide answers to some of the questions they have put forward this afternoon. I must start by saying that the British people have decided that we should leave the European Union and our priority now must be making this decision work for everybody in the UK, whatever side of the debate we were on. I am proud that this Government promised a referendum and delivered it and that we trusted the people with this very important decision. I voted and campaigned for remain, but a decision has been made, it is a clear one and it is very important that we get on now with implementing that decision and doing so in a successful way for the benefit of everybody who lives here.
I turn to some of the comments and questions put forward by the noble Baroness and the noble and learned Lord. As the noble Baroness knows, I was very shocked, like everybody else, by the death of Jo Cox. On the points she made about racism and some of the things that have been said and done in recent times, I do not want to debate again the way the campaigns were conducted, but I want to make some important points. The first is that whatever the result of this referendum and our decision to leave the European Union, this country has not given up on its values. We are still the United Kingdom and our values remain exactly as they were. I would condemn anybody who used the result of this referendum as an opportunity to promote racism. If there is any evidence of that, we should all work together to stamp it out. I certainly urge anybody who has experienced any kind of hate crime or racism to alert the police to that straightaway and to know that they do so with the full support of every decent person who lives in this country.
The noble Baroness referred to the role of this House and to political leadership in this country. As I said in my initial remarks as I concluded the Prime Minister’s Statement, this House has an important role to play. It is important for us to demonstrate our value to the democratic process by offering something that is a bit different from the House of Commons. One of the ways I hope we are able to achieve this, through our debates over the next few weeks as we consider the way forward on leaving the European Union, is that we are a little less political than the other House. That is one thing that is important about us, for which we attract a lot of positive response.
On the noble Baroness’s question about our current legislative programme—she referred to the Investigatory Powers Bill—the Government were elected on our manifesto commitments. We have a clear mandate and an important legislative programme that we have to continue to deliver. The Investigatory Powers Bill is one of the very important pieces of legislation that will safeguard the security and safety of people here in the United Kingdom. As for the impact on any of our legislation, we are in the European Union until we are out of the European Union and we have not yet triggered the Article 50 process that will put that process in train. We must very much continue with our programme and we have a mandate for that programme from the election of only one year ago.
The noble Baroness asked about the devolved Administrations and the role of Parliament in overseeing the process over the coming weeks and months. The noble and learned Lord also asked about Parliament’s role and what opportunity it will have to contribute to the decisions before final exit is made. It is too early for me to say what that might be, but as I hope I have indicated, I see it as an important part of the process that Parliament has a serious opportunity in this House to debate and express its views, and there is a role for our European Union Committee and its sub-committees to play in this process.
The noble and learned Lord asked about a couple of things in addition to the topics that the noble Baroness raised, the main one being Scotland and Northern Ireland. The people of Scotland made a very clear decision only two years ago that Scotland should remain in the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister has made it clear today—I very much echo the point—that in the way we proceed from here, we must work closely with the devolved Administrations. We will continue to do that, because we want to ensure that the way we exit from the European Union is to the benefit of all parts of the United Kingdom and all its people, so our constructive discussions will be a very big part of how we move forward from here.
My Lords, is it not deeply unfortunate that an inevitable side-effect of this referendum result is that we have lost an outstanding Prime Minister who has given long service to this country and had more to give? Although it was his decision to hold an in/out referendum, we should remind the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, that not long ago, in the general election of 2010, that was the policy of the Liberal Democrats as well, so they should not be too condemnatory about that. But will my noble friend broaden the thoughts rightly expressed in the Statement about bringing the country together to include the need for the economic and foreign policies pursued by a country leaving the European Union to be able to command the support of the millions of people who voted to remain in the European Union? Will that not be an essential attribute of a re-formed Cabinet and of a new Prime Minister?
My noble friend is absolutely right and I join him in paying great tribute to David Cameron as Prime Minister: it has been an honour for me to serve in his Government and his Cabinet. He is a remarkable man in the way he carries out his responsibilities as Prime Minister.
My noble friend said that we must ensure that the way we proceed from here commands the support of everybody in the United Kingdom, especially those who did not vote for us to exit. That is absolutely essential, and the next Prime Minister and his Government must give absolute priority to it.
My Lords, although I quite understand people complaining about the campaign, we are where we are, and the priority surely should be to try to give some political stability, and through that financial and other stability, at a time when, for all their personal qualities, it is obvious that the present Prime Minister and his opposite number across the Dispatch Box are completely lacking in authority on the subject of Europe.
I therefore want to ask one specific question that concerns the reassurances that nothing much will change in the short term and Article 50 has not been operated. What overtures were made to the British commissioner to persuade him not to resign with immediate effect, particularly given the crucial area of finance and financial services over which he had responsibility? I quite understand his personal position but can the Government assure me that they made every conceivable effort to make sure that the United Kingdom commissioner in charge of finances would be in place for the next few months? If they did not do that, it was another huge omission.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving me an opportunity to say how much I admire my noble friend Lord Hill, as my predecessor in this role and also for the work that he has done as a commissioner. He set out his reasons for deciding to step down from his role and the Commission decided to move his responsibilities to another commissioner.
Financial stability is clearly being given huge priority within government. We have heard from the Governor of the Bank and from what the Chancellor said this morning all the steps that have been taken so far to provide stability to the financial markets, and their readiness to go further, should that be necessary. But we must not forget that the reason we are in a strong position to deal with this situation is the progress that we have made over the last few years in ensuring that we have a strong economy and can deal with this situation. I absolutely acknowledge that the situation is uncertain, but we can deal with it.
My Lords, I, too, welcome the Leader of the House’s repeating of the Statement and the personal postscript that she added in relation to the role of this House, and specifically of the EU Select Committee which I have the honour to chair. Will she therefore confirm to the House that at all stages, however long it takes, in the complex process of withdrawal and the development of a future relationship with the European Union, it is essential—perhaps more than it ever has been before and, to be frank, more than was evidenced during the process of the Prime Minister’s now aborted renegotiation bid over the last 12 months—that both Houses of Parliament should be informed and enabled so that they may make a full and constructive contribution to the discussion of these crucial issues? Frankly, this is a moment of crisis. In the interests of both this country and, we should not forget, its immediate neighbours and their economies, too, must not an opportunity be provided to enable the collective wisdom and experience of this House to be heard?
My Lords, I certainly acknowledge—as the noble Lord noted—that there is a huge amount of expertise and knowledge in this House that will make a strong contribution to the process. I am not in a position to provide the detail for which he asked. However, I will pick up on an important point that he made: while we have a big task in front of us in negotiating our exit and a new relationship with the European Union, we have strong bilateral relations with other member states within the European Union and, indeed, other countries around the world. We must continue with those relations, and continue to strengthen them, during this process.
My Lords, some commentators have said that the result of the referendum was a resounding victory for Brexit. I am not sure that I see it that way: 52 to 48 is, to my mind, a rather narrow victory. Where there is no overwhelming consensus, there is an overwhelming need to take account of the views of others. Nobody likes a bad winner. There has been too much hyperbole and spite in this debate. Yes, one side did win, the result is clear and we have to act on it. Those who advocated leave obviously need to take the lead in the negotiations that will take place. But we urgently need the sort of wise leadership that can build consensus. We need some sort of national Government—a coalition of good will where we can work together.
I serve the diocese of Chelmsford, which is, “east London in and Essex out”. Yesterday I spoke to a head teacher who said that the children were frightened when they went to school on Friday and that she had seen an increase in race hatred and intolerance. What plans are there to address the lack of unity in our nation and to counter the fear and race hatred that is on the rise? Can we ensure that those who lost this vote, as well as those who won, can be part of the planning going forward?
The right reverend Prelate’s remarks covered a large amount of ground. Although I said that we could, perhaps, do with a little less politics in this House than in the other place, I would not go quite as far as his proposal for the future. But he makes an important point about us avoiding becoming a divided nation as a result of the referendum. All of us who are involved in politics, or business, or who have other positions of authority and responsibility, have to properly understand what people feel when they express their views. During the campaign and over the last few months, I was interested in comments about people no longer wanting or respecting experts. I do not agree with that analysis but people want to feel, more than they do now, that experts understand why they feel the way they do. People may not feel they have benefited from the turnaround of the economy, or have felt left out of many of the advances we have made over the last 10, 20 or 30 years. As we proceed, we all have a responsibility to keep trying to reassure them that we understand why they feel the way they do and why they voted the way they did. We must now make sure, in the way that we implement the country’s decision, that we bring everyone along with us and that everybody in this country feels that they have a proper opportunity to fulfil their potential.
My Lords, I am very much concerned about some of the complacency that I am currently hearing from the Government. Since the noble Baroness the Leader of the House and others on the Conservative Benches have the opportunity for direct conversation with the collection of MPs, one of whom will be our future Prime Minister, would they convey this? The City is already making its decisions, as are major businesses. Most of them started planning for the contingency of leave months ago. Over the weekend, we have heard very clearly, and the CBI have confirmed, that many major firms have put on a hiring freeze. Others are now reassuring their shareholders that they have plans in place to be able to move significant parts of their operations to continental Europe or Ireland. If they do not hear a clear commitment, a cast-iron guarantee, in a matter of days—possibly weeks, but certainly not months—from that group from which the Prime Minister will come, that we will remain wholly in the single market, the decisions will become irreversible. Many already are and the remainder and many more will happen. Complacency is not safe.
I reject the noble Baroness’s description of this Government as complacent. What has been evident over the last few days in what was said by the Chancellor this morning, by the Prime Minister today and by the Governor of the Bank of England on Friday is that there are measures in place to provide some stability within the markets. The noble Baroness is of course right that businesses will take decisions now that could affect people. We need, through a range of methods, to make sure that we project to the world outside that Britain is in a strong position to weather this period of uncertainty arising from the referendum decision. We can do that, and do it with confidence, because of the steps that we have taken over the last few years to strengthen our economy and to make sure that we are ready for whatever decision that followed. I also say to the noble Baroness and to the House that we remain a member of the G7 and of the G20, and through those kind of forums we have an opportunity to project that very strong and confident message as well.
My Lords, as one of the minority in your Lordships’ House who warmly welcomes the decision that the people made in the referendum, I also warmly welcome the statesmanlike Statement of the Prime Minister today, which my noble friend repeated. May I suggest, too, that the campaign is over and that we are now in a new phase, and that it would be no bad thing if the campaigning organisations on both sides should shut up shop? I speak as somebody who took a prominent part in one of them. What has happened was implicit in the Prime Minister’s speech: the people have spoken and it is now for the Government to implement wisely the decision of the people.
In that context, I welcome the Prime Minister’s decision to involve the brightest and the best in the Civil Service in charting the way ahead. I believe that there is a great way ahead. Nobody should be put off by financial market volatility—I knew quite a lot of that when I was Chancellor. Financial markets are by their nature volatile. What matters are the economic fundamentals, which are good now and can get even better if we pursue a sensible policy. I regret the fact that the Treasury for a moment morphed into the office for budget irresponsibility but the Treasury can play a great part. I warmly welcome the approach that was charted in the Statement. Does my noble friend agree that the campaigning organisations should now shut up shop on both sides?
I certainly agree with my noble friend that the campaign is over. The public have spoken and we now all have a responsibility to implement that decision—and, as I have said, in a way which means that it is successful and in the best interests of this country. As my noble friend says, it is right that we are using the brightest and most talented civil servants to that end. Indeed, I am sure that we will draw upon a wide range of expertise outside Whitehall as well.
My Lords, for the next two years the United Kingdom is entitled to have a commissioner in Brussels during a time when vital national interests will be considered by the Commission and the other EU institutions. Will the noble Baroness inform the House when that vacancy is going to be filled?
I am grateful to the noble Lord for that direct question but, unfortunately, I am not in a position to answer it in a direct way. At some point, I hope very much that I will be able to come back to him and make that information more widely available.
My Lords, will the noble Baroness confirm that the UK’s departure from the EU will not become final until our negotiations over the next two years are complete? Since the terms of our departure will only be known then, will it not be the duty of the Government to give the people a chance to take an informed view on those terms before the UK’s departure becomes final?
It sounds as if the noble Lord is trying to suggest a second referendum at a later point. This has been a once-in-a-generation decision. The people of this country have been clear. When we trigger Article 50 the clock on the two-year process will start. The Prime Minister has not triggered it now because he believes that it is right that when going into that process the Government are clear on what kind of relationship they want with the European Union in future. That is why he is not doing so himself but is leaving it to his successor.
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, I welcome the creation of an EU unit in Whitehall, although one wonders why it did not exist already—I think that in some incarnations, it did. In particular, the idea of bringing together policy expertise is welcome. What provision is there for cross-party and non-party involvement in setting the mandate for those civil servants? After all, Vote Leave was a cross-party thing—it even had a Liberal Democrat on its board—and the remain campaign was also cross-party. Surely in the national interest the new Prime Minister should be looking across the spectrum to get the best input so that whatever deal we get really is the best for the whole of the United Kingdom and not just something that narrow parties can bring about?
Clearly the campaigns for leave and remain were cross-party, but there is one party in government. It was elected last year and this elected Government will have the responsibility, albeit very much, as I have already indicated, wanting to draw on expertise and knowledge from a range of different sources, of deciding what precisely they are going to seek to negotiate with Europe in terms of our future relationship.
My Lords, although in the next few weeks or even months we are obviously in a period of very painful adjustment—that is perfectly obvious—does my noble friend agree that it ought to be perfectly possible to achieve practical and constructive relations with all our European neighbours in the near future? I say that not just because it is a desirable thing for us to do but because the European Union itself is undergoing enormous changes and challenges at this moment and we are required to have a very constructive voice, whatever our status under the treaties. Does my noble friend agree that that approach will at least reassure our many friends all around the world and enable us to contribute to the continuing development of a strong Commonwealth network which will be a great support for us in future?
My noble friend is absolutely right. In addition to our relationships with other countries via those established institutions, whether they are the European Union, the Commonwealth, which we are absolutely still part of, the G7 or the G20, we will continue to build and strengthen our relations with other countries.
My Lords, the Prime Minister made a very dignified statement on the steps of No. 10 last Friday. He again made a dignified Statement today in the other place. He is a decent and honourable man. Would it therefore not be very sad if future historians were to see his legacy as having made a very powerful statement against referendums a few years ago and then changing his mind because of a will-o’-the-wisp, illusive attempt to find party unity, a legacy which led to Britain leaving the European Union and, potentially, breaking up our own United Kingdom itself?
I am grateful to the noble Lord for the positive comments that he has made about the Prime Minister, but I am afraid I disagree with him about everything else that he has said. We were very clear in our manifesto that we wanted to provide the British people with an opportunity to decide on membership of the European Union. As I have already said, I am very proud that we gave people this opportunity and delivered on that clear commitment. We have arrived at a point that, as I was trying to suggest earlier, has been a long time coming. This is not about party unity, this is about giving people the opportunity to decide on something very significant. The people have decided they want change, and we have to respect that. It is not what I campaigned for, but they have decided. We are going to implement that decision, which is the right thing for us to concentrate on now.
My Lords, would the Leader of the House agree that the timing of the triggering of Article 50 ought to be a relatively trivial and technical decision? It is entirely reasonable for the Government to say that they do not wish to do it until there is a new Prime Minister and a new Government in place. That is a reasonable point of view. But it would not be reasonable to start using it as a negotiating card and turning it into a bone of contention with those with whom we are going to have to negotiate constructively if we are to get a good outcome. I hope that she can agree that that is indeed the best way forward. The noble and learned Lord and the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, raised the matter of the appointment of a British commissioner. The noble Baroness says that she will come back on that when she has an answer, but could she not register that it would be completely improper, under the terms of the treaty, for there to be no British commissioner for a period that could exceed two years? That really is not tolerable, either for us or for the Commission itself.
On the noble Lord’s first point, as I have said, it was a very clear decision by the Prime Minister that Article 50 should be triggered by his successor at the point at which they are clear on the kind of relationship that we are seeking with Europe. It has been reassuring that many other European leaders and senior figures within the European Union have acknowledged that we are right to consider this properly before we trigger Article 50.
My Lords, does the Minister not agree that Parliament is the constitutional sovereign power of the United Kingdom and that, consequently, referenda should be seen as advisory in nature? The nations of the United Kingdom did not vote in the same way in support of leaving. The United Kingdom Government have the presidency of the EU in the second half of next year and could therefore put forward procedures for reconsidering the structure of the European Union then.
My Lords, I gently point out that this is an unelected House and that the people have spoken. Instead of identifying threats, we should cheer up and identify the huge opportunities that are now available for Britain outside the European Union. I welcome the Prime Minister’s Statement and, in particular, the express promise to work with the devolved Administrations. In meetings with the First Minister of Scotland, can it be gently pointed out to her that she campaigned across the United Kingdom on a question that was decided by the United Kingdom? There was no Scottish question on the ballot paper; it was a United Kingdom question. As such, she and everyone in the United Kingdom should now do everything they can to advance Britain’s interests and not undermine them by seeking to do side deals in Brussels, which will make it more difficult for us to get the best deal for the whole of the United Kingdom.
My noble friend is right that this decision applies to the United Kingdom as a whole. I very much note the points that he makes but, as I have already stressed, in our involvement with the devolved Parliament and Assemblies we will seek to make sure that the outcome benefits everybody in all parts of the United Kingdom. We will engage in a way that is not just constructive but very positive, because that will be in the interests of the Scottish people.
On that very point about the people of Scotland and the way that they voted last week, it is important for your Lordships’ House to note that there was not just a small difference between the vote in Scotland and the vote in England and Wales; every single local authority area in Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union. That creates a significant difference between Scotland and England and Wales—not Northern Ireland, obviously—which has to be reflected in the discussions over the next two years. I welcome the fact that the First Minister of Scotland showed leadership over the weekend and said clearly that her number one objective in these discussions will be not to seek independence for Scotland or a second independence referendum but to secure Scotland’s relationship with the rest of the European Union. I should like an assurance from the Government that they will contribute positively to that discussion over the coming months and ensure that the First Minister has a role in the discussions in Brussels, not just in Whitehall.
I cannot give the noble Lord the assurance that he is looking for because it is just too early to be able to provide that kind of information. I understand the point that he makes about the difference of view in Scotland but the same can be said for the people of London; it was not just Scotland where a majority voted to remain. I come back to what I have already said: we are now seeking to implement a decision that was taken as the United Kingdom, and that is where we must focus our attention. However, that does not in any way diminish the Prime Minister’s commitment to involve all parts of the United Kingdom in the process—and that includes the London mayor and the London Assembly.
My Lords, I am afraid that I do not find myself in sympathy with the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Lawson; I find myself rather closer to the point of view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Butler. Does the noble Baroness the Leader of the House not agree that those in the leave campaign won the referendum on an essentially fraudulent prospectus? They said that we could continue to trade with the EU on very similar terms without having to accept freedom of movement. They said that there would be no adverse economic consequences, but we are already beginning to see them. They made completely unrealistic promises as to what could be done with the resources saved from our EU contribution—and, most glaringly of all, with breath-taking cynicism and within hours of victory they were maintaining that they never said that Brexit would enable them to reduce the level of immigration.
Moreover, it is clear that the leaders of the leave campaign have absolutely no plan as to the way forward. In these circumstances, and notwithstanding claims of democracy, does the noble Baroness not agree that the legitimacy of the referendum result is substantially undermined and that there is a very strong case for a second referendum on a more precisely focused question—something that nearly 4 million people have already signed a petition in support of?
I am afraid that I do not agree with the noble Lord. I am not going to comment on the different campaign teams and their campaigns. In my view, the people who voted to leave the European Union last Thursday knew that they wanted to leave the European Union. Their decision may have been motivated by a range of different things, but suggesting that they did not know what they wanted and that we should therefore somehow now seek another referendum to ask them, “Are you sure?”, is not the right way for us to go from here. I think that the right thing for us to do now is to focus on implementing that decision and to do so in a way that brings success and opportunity to the people of this country. We should make sure that it delivers a future that is good for everybody in this country.
My Lords, we are a parliamentary democracy in which Parliament is meant to be supreme. The leave campaign focused on restoring the powers of Parliament as one of its aims. Can the Leader of the House tell the House whether, before triggering Article 50 of the treaty, the Government will seek the approval of both Houses? If not, what do the Government envisage to be the role of Parliament? Will they rely purely on prerogative powers like a medieval king or will they involve our supreme legislature before taking the decision?
My Lords, does my noble friend accept that an enormous responsibility lies on the shoulders of the members of the Conservative Party in this country? They will be choosing not only a leader of the party but effectively a Prime Minister. Therefore, is it not crucial that they take into account the qualities of those who may be on offer, bearing in mind that we need a steadying hand on the tiller and someone who has the gift of statesmanship, and that the gifts of demagogy are not necessarily the same as the attributes of statesmanship?
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that on Friday morning I woke not only with a song in my heart but with the words of the “Magnificat”—
“He hath put down the mighty from their seat and hath exalted the humble and the meek”—
in my heart, as we had won the referendum? Can she tell me whether the British Commissioner, whoever may be appointed, is allowed by the terms of his oath of office to pursue the British interest as opposed to the interest of the EU? I thought that the oath was very clear on that matter. Am I wrong about that?
My Lords, as my noble friend the Chief Whip indicated at the start of this Statement, while we must respect the fact that there are a number of noble Lords who are down to speak at Second Reading of the Investigatory Powers Bill, so I do not want us to go on for too long, I can see that there are still at least four noble Lords seeking to ask a question. I am very happy, even though the clock will go beyond 40 minutes, to finish answering the questions of those noble Lords who have already indicated that they wish to ask one.
My Lords, I am deeply grateful. Will the noble Baroness give an undertaking to the effect that before even contemplating activating the machinery of Article 50, the Government will first of all take into account the solemn voice of the two legislatures, and that failing to do so would be to abrogate and render nugatory the whole concept of parliamentary sovereignty? It is extremely sad and ironic that in the light of the European Union Act 2011 it is necessary for there to be a referendum and a parliamentary resolution before there can be any acquiescence to change. Indeed, it would be very strange that an act so existential as leaving the Union could take place without a parliamentary decision.
My Lords, our constitutional role in this House is to scrutinise legislation and say to those in power, “Pause, reflect and vote again”. It is not a popular role, and I know that I will not be popular saying it here today. None the less, the House of Lords should ask those with power—in this case, the British people—to do the same thing that we ask the Government to do all the time: pause, reflect and vote again. They can vote the same way if they want—the Government do that all the time, don’t they?—but let us bear in mind that the British people were asked if they wanted the UK to remain or leave the EU. They were not asked if they wanted to break up the UK. Given that that is just one of the disastrous likely consequences, it is only fair that they should have that opportunity. In light of the petition, will the Government consider setting up a Joint Committee with the Commons simply to weigh the arguments for and against a second referendum, which may be at the end of the two-year process? If the answer is no, what happens if the online petition gets more than 17 million British signatories?
The noble Baroness raises an interesting point. I really do not have much to add to what I have already said. On the contribution of this House to our deliberations, I have set out how that should at least start. The people’s decision is clear on this matter.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Reid of Cardowan, said that we are where we are. He is quite right. Where we are is a country divided socially, economically and politically, where the very future of the United Kingdom is now at stake and with at least two years of economic uncertainty ahead. Is it not a bit rich that those who are responsible for creating these circumstances, apart from congratulating themselves, seem to want to take no involvement or interest in implementing the very decision for which they are responsible?
I am not sure that is quite how I would consider the situation. Clearly what has happened is that this Government believed that the UK should remain in the European Union, and we campaigned for Britain to do so. A decision has been made by the people to leave. The Prime Minister has accepted that decision and said that it has to be for his successor to implement it. That will be the way that we move from here.
My Lords, the decision that was taken last week has been widely described as democratic. However, it is not what we in this country have understood to be democracy—at any rate, since the time of Edmund Burke. We believe in a representative system of parliamentary democracy where Members of Parliament are elected as representatives, not as delegates, and therefore can take into account all the arguments and not be misled by the kind of misleading propaganda and lies that we have had in this referendum, which has shown very clearly what the disadvantages of a referendum are.
The fundamental problem with a referendum is that it is the dictatorship of the majority—in this case, a very small majority. It is therefore crucial now that our parliamentary system, in the light of what has been said but taking into account the divisions that are so apparent in society, does all that it can to ensure that the implementation of the result of the referendum takes into account the whole range of opinion across the electorate, not simply of those who happen, by a really rather small majority, to have won the debate.
My noble friend is right that in moving from here it will be essential that we do so in a way that unites all parts of the country, particularly those who voted a different way.
There is a point about parliamentary democracy that I have not already made: as I have said, this was in our manifesto. We passed an Act of Parliament to bring forward the referendum, and that piece of legislation went through both Houses. We debated the terms of the referendum. This Parliament decided those terms and they were the ones that applied. We must remember that. We have all contributed to the way in which the rules were set and the way that the people of this country then exercised their democratic right to vote in the referendum.
My Lords, surely the point well made by the noble Lord, Lord Low, about a dishonest prospectus cannot be honestly contested on the facts. The Daily Telegraph itself wrote this morning:
“The Leave campaign misled the nation about the full risks of Brexit and what can be achieved without collateral damage to the economy and the unity of”,
the UK. In those circumstances, and very much following on from what the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, just said, is it not the responsibility of Parliament to ensure that before we pass a line of legislation on this matter, we assure ourselves that the Government have plans in place that are viable, coherent and genuinely in the national interest and do not have any hidden costs attached to them?
My Lords, I was never in favour of joining the Common Market, and I have always wished to withdraw from the European Union so that we could govern ourselves. I rejoice at the instruction that the people have given us. If those people who are calling for a second referendum had won the existing one, I wonder if they would still be calling for another referendum. I very much doubt it.
I want to ask the noble Baroness a couple of questions. First, is it not necessary first of all to repeal the European Communities Act 1972, as amended? Secondly, if we remain in the single market, will we not still be obliged to agree to free movement of people and will not all of British industry be subject to the rules and laws of the single market?
As for as the legal process for exiting the European Union, triggering Article 50 is the only legal process for us to follow. It will clearly be led by another Prime Minister, but I am sure that we as a nation will want to do it responsibly. The noble Lord asks about the repeal of the 1972 Act. That would not occur at this stage, because it would be contrary to our wanting to exit from the European Union in a responsible manner. As for his question about the single market, yes, my understanding is that if we were to remain in the single market, it would require free movement of people.
My Lords, I have been trying to get on my feet for a few years. As we conclude on the Statement today, as my noble friend the Leader noted, every major elected politician in the other place has said that, while they may not like the result, it must be respected and it must be implemented. Will she therefore caution some of my noble friends and all noble Lords that if we wish to unite the nation after this, this unelected House must not seek to thwart the will of the people by going into endless negotiations on or amendments to the minutiae of any legislation, which would be seen as a direct attempt to sabotage the will of the people?
My Lords, do the Government agree that it would help to calm the markets and help our informal and later formal negotiations if our negotiators show now and clearly that they understand the difference between the single market and free trade? They should explain that we are in an irresistible position to maintain our free trade, which is what our businesses really need, because there are more than 2 million jobs, principally in Germany and France, making and selling things to us than we have making and selling things to them. That applies particularly to the motor trade, where we have been threatened with a 10% tariff, but for every car we sell them they sell us 2.4 cars and they own 64% of our domestic market. Can we make the distinction between the single market and free trade and decide that it is free trade we want to keep, so that it is the French and German industries that will keep their politicians in Brussels and elsewhere under control in this vital area?
The noble Lord is taking us into a stage which we are not currently at in asking about what we might want to negotiate, so that is something on which I cannot offer any detailed comment at this time.
I am very grateful to everybody, and I think we are about to move on to the next business.