Second Reading (2nd Day)
Moved on Monday 20 February by
My Lords, I made my maiden speech in the House of Commons in 1972, during the Third Reading of the European Communities Bill, in favour of our membership of the European Union. I little dreamt that 45 years later I would be standing up to advocate the reverse procedure—namely, that we should withdraw from the organisation that I advocated joining. However, it is not me who has changed but Europe, as was symbolised by its change of name from the European Economic Community to the European Community and finally to the European Union. Increasingly, I became concerned about the incompatibility of the growing integration and our national democracy and accountability. I also became more sceptical about the advantages of the single market.
I voted in the referendum to leave but I fully accept that we have to take account of the 48% who voted to remain. Many of us understand and share the concerns about links for universities and the status of foreign nationals in this country. That is, I think, common ground and those are objectives in the negotiations. Equally, I believe that those who voted to remain have a duty not to undermine the Government’s negotiating position.
I admired very much the speech made yesterday by the noble Baroness. I also admired very much the speech made by Keir Starmer when he led for the Opposition. He did not attempt to conceal the divisions in the ranks of the Labour Party. I assure noble Lords opposite that there is no temptation to gloat, because it was like looking in a mirror at the Conservative Party in the 1990s. Mr Starmer made it very clear that the idea that the referendum was, as he put it, consultative simply did not hold water.
I admired Mr Starmer’s speech but I did not admire the speech of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has an extraordinary ability to say two completely contradictory things simultaneously. He said that he did not dispute the result; at the same time, he called on people to rise up. He said that people might change their minds. What he meant was that he might be able to change their minds. All this from a man who promised a referendum on the EU constitution and even published a Bill, but then ensured that the constitution was written in a different order to avoid a referendum.
The former Prime Minister said that people were not given the full facts—that the decision was made on imperfect knowledge. Of course, in a negotiation no one has full knowledge of where we will end up. As for not being given the full facts, people have had more than 40 years in which to make up their minds. He said that Brexit was driven by ideology. I am not sure what ideology he had in mind. If anything, the opposite appears to be the case—European unification as a movement has been almost a religion.
Noble Lords have mentioned endlessly in this debate “membership of the single market” as though that in itself is simply an argument. They have made no attempt to calculate the costs, as my noble friend Lord Lawson referred to yesterday, of the rules of the single market, and they have not bothered to confront the fact that many countries that are not members of the single market have increased their exports to the single market more than members, and certainly more than we, have done. They never bother to comment on the fact that the three largest trading partners of the European Union have no special trading arrangements with the EU, while six of its 10 top trading partners have no special trading relationship or agreement. As my noble friend Lord Lawson said yesterday, there is no reason why there should be a cliff edge.
If noble Lords are sincere in saying that they accept the result of the referendum, it should be possible for them to do all they can to support the Government in their negotiations in the national interest. The amendments being talked about seem more like additions to the Bill, in that they attempt to lay down conditions on the Government’s negotiating position.
On EU nationals, I have great sympathy with what has been said. But the Prime Minister has made it clear that so does she and that this is an objective of the Government. There is, however, no response from other countries in Europe and it would make no sense to make a unilateral gesture that would simply leave the 800,000 British nationals in Europe subject to the leverage of other people in the negotiations.
Equally, when it comes to a parliamentary vote on the deal, the Prime Minister has again said that there will be a vote, so it seems naive to say that Parliament should have the right both to reject whatever deal may be negotiated and simultaneously to decide to stay in the European Union. There are two objections to that argument. First, it would be a denial of the result of the referendum and, secondly, as surely as night follows day, it would make it perfectly inevitable that the EU would offer the worst possible deal in order to have it rejected by Parliament.
I recognise and acknowledge the anxieties of the 48% that should be taken into account. Surely we all want the best possible deal and the best possible access for our exports. But as the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, said on referendum night, I suspect before the result was announced:
“In. Out. When the British people have spoken you do what they command. Either you believe in democracy or you don’t. Any people who retreat into ‘we’re coming back for a second one’—they don’t believe in democracy”.
I believe in democracy and I believe that we should proceed rapidly with the Bill without amendment.
My Lords, much has been said already in what was an extensive and intensive debate yesterday, and like many of those who spoke in that debate I was and remain profoundly saddened by the outcome of the referendum. We are unpicking some 40 years of history, which by and large has fostered prosperity, developed co-operation on vital matters such as climate change, and inculcated the concepts of a social charter and structural funds to help poorer countries and regions to grow more prosperous. It has kept us safer through co-operation on law enforcement and counterterrorism and has fostered peace in Europe throughout my lifetime.
We are now being asked to withdraw from all this and to step away from the single market and the customs union with no certainty about what arrangements will replace them. It is not an inviting prospect for us in Luton at a time when General Motors’ proposed disposal of its European operations could leave the Vauxhall operation outside arrangements that allow goods to move freely within its main market without tariffs, quotas or routine customs control. The uncertainty about whether the UK will have continued membership of the European common aviation area is also not helpful to an airport-based economy, and it is certainly not helped by a slowdown in growth.
Of course, responsibility for this mess, which is what I believe it is, rests squarely with David Cameron. He gambled that a referendum would heal the split in his party but has ended up splitting the country. History will rightly judge him harshly.
As the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution set out,
“neither the question put to the electorate, nor the provisions of the Act under which the referendum took place, set out how or when withdrawal should take place in the event of a vote to leave”.
What Parliament enacted may have been a clear proposition—yes or no, in or out—but it was deficient in setting down how any mandate arising from the referendum would be taken forward; what, if any, feedback, decision-making or further endorsement should follow.
There are myriad consequences and issues arising from leaving the EU, including the need to incorporate some 5,000 pieces of directly applicable legislation into UK law. Many of the options are mutually exclusive. If Parliament did not originally spell out a process for dealing with the mandate, it is right for Parliament and the Government to take up the reins now. But I would argue that we need to be cautious about suggesting that this is all down to the choice of the people rather than down to the consequences of the clear choice that they made to leave the EU. We are dealing here with choices of government, and these should not be sacrosanct.
One of the most profound choices that the Government are seeking to make is to eschew membership of the single market and the customs union. They are prepared to sacrifice these at the altar of reducing immigration, notwithstanding research, most recently from the Centre for Economic Performance at the LSE, again showing the benefits to national income, taxes and the budget deficit from immigration, and notwithstanding a report from the think tank Global Future that suggests that the Government’s approach could mean a fall in current net levels of immigration of no more than 15%, and that might be reduced further by the terms of new free trade agreements, which typically come with a demand for liberalisation on free movement.
I join others—and will vote with them—on insisting that the Government settle immediately the legal rights of EU nationals living in the UK, although I note the press reports that highlight potential practical difficulties with systems in administering a cut-off point. Is this right? The Government’s prevarication over this is cruel, given the substantial contribution that these communities have made to the UK. From local experience, I know the value of that contribution.
The alternative on offer to the single market is some vague prospect of,
“the freest and most frictionless trade possible”.
The OBR’s judgment, we heard yesterday, is consistent, it says, with most external studies that say that any likely Brexit outcome will lead to lower trade flows, lower investment, lower net inward migration and lower potential output. All this has adverse implications for the public finances and our social security system and will add some £60 billion of additional borrowing over the next five years. We know who bears the brunt of worsening economic outcomes under this Government.
As others have said, the White Paper sets out a framework for a deal that hardly amounts to a blueprint. Even if it did, these matters have to be agreed with our European partners. Article 50, once triggered, does not put us in the driving seat; for all practical purposes, it means that we leave the EU whether or not we have agreement. Transitional arrangements may well be in point, but these will presumably be subject to the ongoing jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
Complying with this Bill means an uncertain destination but no way back. That is the magnitude of the decision that we are making over the next few weeks. For me this is therefore a difficult choice between supporting what I believe is right for our country and the collision with the limits of our constitutional duty. I have to accept that the combination of the referendum result and the decision of the other place should prevail. However, we should push our authority to the limit in challenging the Government on their proposed deal. Seeking to ensure protection of workers’ rights, justice for EU nationals living in the UK, maximising free access to the market, sustaining our historic ties with Ireland and much more is one way in which we can salvage something from this process.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, said that he is very sympathetic to EU nationals in this country. However, he is perfectly happy for them to be used as a bargaining chip. Frankly, I do not think that is consistent with the view of this House or with British values.
Given the pressure of time, I will focus on the importance of giving people a second vote—that is, not a second vote on the original deal but a second vote that is a first vote on the final terms of exit from the European Union. I concur with those who have said that the June referendum gave the Government a mandate for Brexit but did not give them a mandate to choose the most extreme form of economic separation from the EU. It has been Theresa May’s choice and that of her Ministers to opt for a hard Brexit, leaving both the single market and the customs union.
I want to look at the impact of that decision by the May Government on just one sector of our economy—the financial services sector. This sector makes up 7% of the UK’s GDP, pays more than £75 billion a year to the Treasury and provides over 2 million jobs, most of them outside London. It is one of the few industries in which we are a global leader, clearing over 95% of the world’s $600 trillion a day in interest rate swaps, leading not just in traditional areas such as foreign exchange and specialist insurance, but also at the cutting edge of fintech. We damage financial services at our peril.
However, Theresa May and this Government have decided to walk out of the structures that underpin this sector. In reality, this industry is as enmeshed across the EU as a piece of crochet work. Under the May agenda, the UK will leave not only MiFID with its passporting freedoms, impacting Barclays, the American banks and many of the small players which want to grow, but also a whole raft of enabling arrangements from e-commerce used by crowdfunders across the EU and delegation powers that are essential to locating asset management in the UK, to access to skills, entrepreneurs and investment. That is why, salami slice by salami slice, financial institutions, big and small, are quietly rethinking their business models, negotiating leases, applying for licences and working on staff flexibility. They are making sure that they can operate outside the UK the businesses they have previously based wholly or overwhelmingly inside the UK. They are looking at front offices first—I hope the Treasury notes that that is where the big deals are booked and where the big tax revenue pay-off occurs—but where a front office moves, a back office is always at risk of following.
I commend the financial institutions that have chosen to speak out, such as the London Clearing House, which has been quite open that its clients are demanding that it moves transactions to New York, taking its ecosystem and over 100,000 jobs with it. The insurer Lloyd’s has been regretful but clear that it must have a major EU hub. Even little fintechs are considering second headquarters. For many in the industry, decision time is approaching. Given how long it takes to set up new operations, they need answers on what the UK-EU relationship will be—indeed, they need to know what the UK relationship with global regulators will be—not in two years’ time but in six months or less. I fear that by that point negotiations with the EU will barely have started, never mind finished.
The Government dismiss all these concerns by saying that the EU needs us more than we need it. However, I point out that where Frankfurt, Luxembourg and Dublin are unable to take business from the UK, New York will. Once out of the EU, the only advantage that the UK has over the US in European terms is a time difference. The specialist skills of London are already being transferred to New York. That is well under way.
The Government’s answer is that they will replace MiFID and the other regulatory structures that we have with the EU with forms of mutual recognition or joint supervision through equivalency agreements—bespoke, untried, long-term equivalency agreements, dozens of them of extraordinary complexity. Unfortunately, what once looked like a possible solution, though hard to achieve in the timeframe, now seems likely to founder on the Government’s insistence that they will not in any way engage with the European Court of Justice to adjudicate, even on a joint basis, the rules of agreements.
At this point, when we are being asked to consider triggering Article 50, the Government can tell us for certain only that a large part of one of our key industries, a major contributor to jobs, taxes and exports, is at risk. It has been put at risk not by Brexit but by the Government’s hard Brexit decisions and red lines. No one in this House or in the other place knows where in the range of outcomes the actual, final negotiated deal will fall. Will we remain one of the two great global financial centres of the world? Will we lose major activities such as clearing? Will we be reduced to just a substantial financial centre? If we do not know the answers for this sector, we do not know what the outcome will be for the economy as a whole.
I fully understand that for the Government the economy is low on the EU agenda compared to reducing immigration and removing any jurisdiction from the ECJ. I am pretty sure, however, that those are not the priorities of the British people. So let the people see the final Brexit deal, consider its consequences and decide on it. In two years we will have facts and reasonable clarity, not just speculation. Surely then is the time for the British people to have the final word.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, but it is a pleasure also to disagree profoundly with her suggestion of having a second referendum.
I would like to begin by congratulating the Prime Minister on her excellent Lancaster House speech; it had vision and clarity, and was exactly what we have been hoping to hear for many, many years. She was quite clear that she accepted the result of the referendum and that the result was “out”—no ifs, no buts, no EEA, no one foot in and one foot out, but a clear and clean Brexit. That was what the referendum called for and that is what this Government are going to deliver; I am very pleased with her for doing that. It was, as the noble Lord, Lord Lang, called it yesterday, a transformative speech—it was actually a UKIP speech, and I am very pleased with her for delivering that, too.
Some of us in this House have been waiting for very many years—it has been more than 23 years since we debated the Maastricht treaty in this House—to hear a British Prime Minister at last saying what Mrs May said at Lancaster House. We asked for a referendum during the debate on the Maastricht treaty but were sadly defeated in the Lobbies due to the very effective whipping of the hereditary Peers by Lord Hesketh, who later saw the light and joined UKIP. I am only sorry that many of the Peers who took part in those debates with us are not here today to see history made. I think in particular of Lord Bruce of Donington, Lord Shore, Lord Moran and Lord Harris of High Cross, who were effective speakers against our membership of the EU long ago, and they should be remembered for that. I also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, who for the whole of his political life has been an opponent of our membership of the European Union. He was taken ill two weeks ago in the House. I later saw him in hospital and he said he wanted to be here today but sadly his doctors have told him that he should not travel to come and speak today—I think it may be something to do with Mr Blair crawling out from under his wallet and telling us to rise up.
I should remind your Lordships that this House already voted to leave the EU during the passage of my noble friend Lord Pearson’s European Communities (Amendment) Bill of 1997; here it is. This House—the House of Lords—voted to leave the European Union. In spite of the attempt to torpedo the Bill by the Lib Dems—for whom no surrender to Brussels is ever enough—we won that debate. I say to noble Lords today that they have already swallowed the camel; they should not now strain at the gnat in passing this Bill.
Reading this debate now, it seems to me striking how the arguments we made then are still relevant today—we have been making them for 20 years. The problem we then had was that we were making such arguments to Governments who, for whatever reason, were committed to what they laughably called our European destiny. So we did not get anywhere making those arguments to Governments, but, last summer, we were finally able to take those arguments directly to the electorate, with the result we saw in the referendum: an out vote.
Thankfully, we are coming to the end of the days when we had to ratify every EU measure that was put before us in this House or in the other place—we could oppose them; we could debate them; we could even occasionally convince, although perhaps only ourselves—but, at the end of the debate, we had to listen to the noble Lord or the noble Baroness the Minister telling us that it was “the Government’s treaty obligation” and that was the end of the story.
From a historical perspective, when we look back and think that it was only in 1926 that women were given the vote in this country, we should be rather surprised and perhaps shocked at that. I was equally shocked, and still am—I did a little research—to find that it was only in 1965 that President Johnson gave African Americans the vote in America. In 50 or 100 years, when people come to look at this debate here, they will be equally shocked and surprised that, until 2016, this country of Britain was still contracting out its laws to be made by people whom we did not elect, we did not know and we could not sack. The time of “pay and obey” is done, and not before time.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to be able to take part in this debate, which is of such enormous historical importance. In 1975, believing that we had joined a trading bloc, I voted in favour of remaining a member of the EEC. However, it has been clear for many years now that we have been somewhat reluctant passengers on the European train, and our partners have been irritated by the brake that we have sought to apply to the political and federalist aspects of the project. As Sir Winston Churchill said in 1953 in relation to the embryonic European institutions,
“we are with them, but not of them”.—[Official Report, Commons, 11/5/53; col. 891.]
I have spent a large part of my working life overseas, especially in Japan. I was always clear in my mind that the firm I represented, Kleinwort Benson, derived its standing and the trust of its clients in no small part from the fact that it was a British firm headquartered in the City of London. It was nothing to do with the fact that the UK was a member of the EU.
I have also worked in Brussels as director-general of EFAMA, the trade association for the investment management industry in Europe. By 2006, it was already clear that the European regulators, the predecessors of EBA, ESMA and EIOPA, were intent on harmonising regulation across Europe. The diminution of the UK’s influence over European regulation accelerated after the financial crisis and the eurozone crisis, but it is increasingly at the global level that the interconnected major financial markets will develop the optimum regulatory framework and the influence of our own national regulators will surely be restored and enhanced after their subordination to EU regulators comes to an end.
Unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, I believe that the City’s success owes nothing to the EU and its future prospects are brighter and more secure freed from the European yoke and its somewhat dirigiste ways. My experience in Brussels increased my doubts that the UK could ever commit to the vision of Europe to which the European institutions aspire. However, I believed that the UK could and should reform the EU and our relationship with it from within. David Cameron tried to do this, but what he was offered as a new settlement was too far away from what I believe would have been in the UK’s interest. With some reluctance, I abandoned hope that we could reform the EU and our relationship with it from within, and decided to support the campaign to leave.
It was very clear from debates in your Lordships’ House and in another place that the European Union Referendum Act was not intended to ask the people to advise. It was clear that Parliament agreed to ask the people to decide this question. I agree with what Charles Moore wrote in the Daily Telegraph on Saturday:
“The judges in the Supreme Court and the Divisional Court had the greatest difficulty in understanding the point—plain to the most ordinary voter—that a government decision to invite the people to decide something by referendum is of great constitutional significance, not a sort of footnote”.
It seems clear that Tony Blair suffers from a similar difficulty. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, was wise in his drafting of Article 50, in so far as it provides that the Union shall negotiate the arrangements for a member state’s withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. This clearly means that the UK’s future trading relationship with the Union, in both goods and services, should be agreed alongside the terms of withdrawal. One idea which may well have merit is that we should enter into a treaty of collaboration with the EU which would govern our future bilateral relationship and would contain a number of pillars within which we would commit to collaborate as closely as our mutual interest will allow.
I would ask the Minister if he thinks that proposing such a treaty has merit in that it could help create a more positive background for the negotiations that lie ahead, helping to facilitate the best possible agreement on free and unencumbered trade between our markets in both goods and services. It goes without saying that the rights of EU citizens who have made their homes and lives in this country must not be altered in any way, but I shall oppose any attempt to amend this Bill because I believe that would restrict the Government’s flexibility in negotiating the best possible agreement for our future relationship. Furthermore, the Government have made a commitment that both Houses will be asked to approve both the terms of withdrawal and the agreement before they are put to the European Parliament.
I do not underestimate the challenges that lie ahead, but I am confident that the Government will find the right way forward and that the opportunities that this historic decision will unlock outweigh the disadvantages of being shackled to a regional trading bloc with a different outlook on the world to our own.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to be in this House; we all know it. Many have expressed misgivings about the unelected nature of this part of the legislature, but the rationale is one I want to remind us about. The rational for our being here—appointed—is that we bring expertise from so many different walks of life. Expertise is an idea that is now derided. The strength of this House is that we have people from many walks of life and with great diversity. We have seen holes being plugged in recent times, with people coming from our different communities. That abundance of experience is to be brought to bear on the legislation that comes before us. I ask this question quite pointedly: are we supposed to abandon that experience when it really matters and when we are dealing with the most important issue of our lifetime?
We in this House have a higher duty. We are more than fine-tuners of legislation. The idea is that this House takes the long view, and that we have to consider the well-being of our kingdom—of our nations within this kingdom. We are the guardians, too, of hard-won rights and liberties. In the modern world that has included the ones that have come from our collaboration with our European neighbours. They are important ones—the rights to live, work, study and love across Europe, our rights around employment, our maternity rights, and our rights on the environment and on many other areas that enhance our lives.
We do not have to look over our shoulder in the way that our elected House does. We are also stewards of the constitution. We also do not have to worry about the threats that are made by the hectoring media, and we can ignore trolls on the internet because most of us are at an age when those things do not count. We in this House should be able to exercise independent judgment, and I believe that we have a duty to do so in this historic decision. The consequences may be dire for these islands. They may be dire for future generations. I say as a Scot that I am worried for Scotland. I say as someone of Irish heritage that I am worried about peace in Ireland. I am worried for our economy. As a person from a working-class background, I think that the ordinary folk of this country are going to suffer greatly. I am worried for a vast array of good law that has come from this alliance. I say that as a lawyer and as the chair of the EU Justice Sub-Committee.
While there is a myth that we are the victims of a wash of law that comes from Europe, in fact we have contributed greatly to the creation of that law: harmonising standards, ensuring that the judgments in our courts are enforced easily and speedily throughout the European Union and protecting small businesses doing business with other countries. We have created consumer rights, and the quality of goods that are being sold has to meet our standards. It means that we can easily sue through our courts and have the judgments made effective.
We have to think very seriously about our role. Membership of this trading bloc has protected us against the downsides of globalisation. I ask us to ask ourselves: “Do you think that this conjunction of Brexit with Trump is not perilous for the United Kingdom? Is it not dangerous to become more reliant on a nation led by a man who is temperamentally unsuited to high office and so unstable and irrational? Should we not be thinking about how that affects foreign affairs and why we are not better placed by being part of this Union?”
I want us to think about this business of, “The people have spoken”. I am tired of hearing this distortion. It is a degrading of our public discourse. It is a poisoning of honest debate, as 48% of our nation who voted, voted against leaving. It would be incredibly divisive if we ignored them. I want us to think very seriously about the implications of this process. Like others, I reject the triggering of Article 50 in the way that the Government have laid it out, telling us that the single market is already off the table. We heard the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby, telling us that the Prime Minister made a UKIP speech. What a shame.
The Government have now agreed that the final deal will come before both Houses, but I will ask a question. A statement like that has political force but does not have legal force. What does the promise mean if it is not in the Bill? I am concerned about what happens if our negotiators do not reach an agreement, or part of Parliament votes against the agreement. We have been told by Ministers such as David Jones that, if a deal is agreed and Parliament rejects it, we simply go off to the World Trade Organization’s trading rules. That should be a matter of serious concern, so I want to see that in the Bill so that we might have a proper opportunity to vote on those matters.
I am also concerned, as many are, about the position of people who have lived in this country for a number of years and whose rights are going to be trampled on. I hope that an amendment to protect them will be forthcoming and will be voted on by this House. This House has gained increasing public respect in recent years. The reason is that we protect the common good. We are expected by the public to bring the weight of our experience to bear and to say that, basically, that experience is worth something. If our consciences are telling us that Brexit is a folly, with potentially disastrous consequences for the country, we have to listen to that voice of conscience and instinct. History will record what each of us does and our children and grandchildren, and theirs in turn, will ask, “What did you do when this was decided? What did you do at this crucial juncture? Were you shackled by convention, fearful that the House was going to be abolished? Did you dance to the tune of the Daily Mail, or did you stand up for principle and posterity, for the values of tolerance and inclusion, for the interests of our young and for the neglected communities in our midst?”. I will support vital amendments and, if they are not accepted, I am going to vote against the Bill. This House should be urging a rethink on this whole project. This House should be saying, “Not in our name”.
My Lords, I need to make a few declarations. The first is that I have the privilege in this House of chairing the EU Financial Affairs Sub-Committee. I would say this, but in my opinion it is the most significant committee at this point in terms of the angles that it is looking at, such as financial services and the EU budget. My other declaration is more personal. I am married to a German, I have lived and worked in France, and I have a house in Italy. So I have a big dog in this fight, not a little whippet.
However, I have to tell the House that on the passage of this Bill I will be voting with the Labour Opposition and the Government Benches. Why do I take the position I do? It is not because I am any less a remainer today than I was on 23 June—I am every bit a remainer; as I explained, I have a deep and personal motivation to wish that the result of last June had not happened. But I believe that a second referendum entails risks for which the price is too high: too high for the country overall and too high for the other European countries. It has been stated that the people voted for a departure but not a destination. In my view, people had a very clear idea of the destination: the destination was a break from the EU. I agree that they did not know exactly what the terrain would look like, but they knew they were taking a risk.
A vote is always conducted on imperfect information. There is an inherent risk in any decision about the future, whether it is intervention in Syria or, as on this occasion, the EU. Take as an analogy the Scottish devolution referendum in 1998. At the time, Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem unionists in Scotland were told that the electoral system was such that no single party could take power alone and so the nats would not be able to take power and re-open the independence question again. We all know how that turned out. Take the euro. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, voters in several EU states had a referendum on joining the currency. In their nightmares they could not have imagined the financial crisis and the banks too big to fail nearly bringing down the sovereigns. In Greece, Italy and indeed even in Germany, people could not have known what was to hit the euro in less than a decade. People always act on imperfect information.
The other reason why I believe that we now have to implement the result is the referendum Act of 2011. Let me remind the House that that Act commits us to a referendum if further powers or competencies are passed to the EU that entail treaty change. That is the current situation. There are people across this House who wished to try to defeat the Act—I was one of them—but we failed. We now have a situation where treaty change, driven by the exigencies of European integration, is inevitable. This House knows that the eurozone crisis, the security issue, the need for joint co-operation on immigration and a host of other things will bring the Europeans to the point at which they will need treaty change, if not in the next five years then in the next 10. We would have had to take this issue to the British people anyway, if not in 2016 then perhaps in 2026.
Let me turn now to the central purpose of the Bill, which is in effect to trigger Article 50. While it may be theoretically possible to revoke Brexit while the talks on the question are still going on over the next two years, politically we cannot revert to the status quo ante. It is contrary to what the other 27 countries of the EU envisage in terms of their understanding of Article 50: that in effect it is politically irrevocable.
Once we have passed this Bill, there is no longer any possibility of a negotiation where the UK could go into the talks again with a set of demands on the proviso that if they are not good enough we will have another referendum. I say “again” and “another”, because we have already done that. From 2013 a referendum was promised if the Conservatives won the election. After 2015 the Government spent a year renegotiating a new settlement with the EU, securing what I think was a very good settlement. However, we were not able to sell that to the people, and here we are.
The EU has seen the latest bout of UK-inspired disruption for six years now, since 2011, with at least a further two years to go. The idea that we can try the same thing again and again shows a profound misunderstanding of how the EU works and ignorance of our partners’ patience and preoccupations. They will not go into an Article 50 negotiation or give us any serious terms if they believe that we will prolong the agony, theirs and ours, with the risk that we might have the same result after another vote. In fact, the contrary is likely to happen, as there is already a view across the Channel that what we were offered last year was too generous. So to stop others from using the same ploy we are likely to lose some of our opt-outs and special exemptions. To keep united, the EU needs us to move on so that it can resolve the myriad problems confronting both the Union and us.
Janan Ganesh writing in the Financial Times today lays out a future for Britain’s relationship with the EU where we, the remainers, will have to mobilise, to make our case, and to wait for new relations to evolve. Bit by bit, the UK will have to renew its engagement with the EU if it is to thrive and not just survive. Pragmatism will be driven on that occasion by the voters themselves, again. He says:
“Brexit is an idea whose only effective rebuttal is its own implementation”.
It will take time and it will take patience. I hope to play my small role in the passage of this Bill.
My Lords, I have been very impressed by the wide-ranging scope of so many of the speeches. In contrast, I want to concentrate on a narrower subject that has been touched on only lightly so far in the opening Front-Bench speeches and in a few words from the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, my noble friend Lord Hannay of Chiswick and the noble Baroness, Lady Henig: that of police security and intelligence co-operation in Europe. In that, I wish to draw the attention of the House once again to the excellent report by the European Union Committee on Home Affairs entitled Brexit: Future UK-EU Security and Police Cooperation, debated by noble Lords on 7 February, and in doing so I declare my interest in policing matters. I also wish to pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, who chaired the relevant sub-committee that produced the report.
I will not repeat what is set out in the report or what was said in the debate other than to say that reading either brings into focus the striking unanimity of view by witnesses from the police and the intelligence agencies about exactly how significant were the agreements with Europol, the Schengen information system and the European Criminal Records Information System, which is described as,
“an absolute game-changer for the United Kingdom”,
by the National Crime Agency, together with the European arrest warrant. Noble Lords and the Minister will have read the report.
The point I want to make, however, is that this subject is unique amid the many areas of negotiation that lie ahead, in that co-operation on the way forward for the UK and the 27 on this subject is unequivocally in the interests of all 28 national Governments. This will not be an argument; it will be about how far we can do things together. It is not about a sector of government or an industry, but all the Governments of Europe in their own national interests.
My point today is to urge the Government to deal separately and at speed with this section of the negotiation in order to resolve the vexed issue of what future relationships on these issues the UK will have with the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg, which has already struck down most of the early abuses of the European arrest warrant which the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Ludgate, identified early in the debate. Speed in starting this process separately from everything else is at a premium.
I am pleased to quote from the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, to the debate of the EU Select Committee’s report on 7 February, who said:
“there is a cliff edge in this sector if the two-year period provided for under Article 50 expires without any agreement on either a temporary or lasting solution. This cliff edge is far more real than it is in the trade field, where … we can always fall back on … WTO membership … But there is no plan B for justice and home affairs … we shall simply drop out”,—[Official Report, 7/2/17; col. 1697.]
of these arrangements. The terrorists, the paedophiles and the drug barons will breathe a sigh of relief. The British ones will return for business as usual to the costa del crime. We once opted out of all these arrangements and this Prime Minister, as Home Secretary, opted back into the most important of the security, law enforcement, justice and intelligence-sharing arrangements. We need a kind of reverse grandfathering now to accept and acknowledge the judgments of the CJEU in this narrow sphere. Otherwise we shall, as in the excellent joke told late last night in this debate by the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, be half way down the cliff holding on to the branch when it breaks. In that event, all the peoples of Europe will be at greater risk.
My Lords, I rise with trepidation to speak in this historic debate. We live in troubling times. As the Prime Minister has rightly said, we must all respect the result of the referendum. That is why we are here today. Having spent many years trying to help ordinary people who have been affected by economic or pension policy changes to achieve better outcomes, I have often warned Governments when I believe that policy is damaging or unjust. I have always relied on economic or social rationale for such policy analysis, rather than political logic. Indeed, I have seen many times how short-term political considerations have led to long-term problems. I fear that this is happening now as politics is being put above economics.
For the first time in my life, I have been afraid of saying publicly what I believe is right. I fear the personal attacks, social media threats and hated-filled letters to which those of us counselling caution in interpreting the results of the referendum are subjected. I have listened to politicians admitting that they believe that leaving the EU in the manner apparently planned will be economically damaging and could undermine peace and prosperity for the future, but then saying that they will vote for it anyway. In all good conscience, and despite the consequences I may personally face, I cannot follow that example. I have been proud to sit on these Benches and to work with so many marvellous colleagues and with noble Members on other sides of this House. However, even though it will upset many, I have to say that the Bill could do as yet untold, unquantified damage to our economy and to the future of our great nation. In their hearts, many noble Lords believe this too.
Of course, the easiest thing to do is to keep quiet and just go along with what is happening. Believe me, I have felt the pressure to do so. However, my judgment is that the Bill needs amendment. It seeks to bypass proper parliamentary scrutiny and assumes that the will of the people expressed at just one moment in time has given carte blanche for any course of action, even the most extreme. That is not right. On an issue of such magnitude, it is irresponsible to plough ahead without proper preparation, as we seem to be doing at the moment. Of course, I accept that the elected Chamber has the final say, but what is the role of this House? Is it to just trot through the Lobby regardless of our considered views? No, I believe that the role of this unelected Chamber is to point out where legislation needs amending and to ask the other place to reconsider when we believe that mistakes have been made. If we do not do so on this issue, then, when?
Having studied UK and European economies and policies since the 1980s, I have seen that many of the EU’s problems stem from putting politics above economics. The euro, which I never supported, is a classic example of a political construct with damaging long-term economic consequences, but politicians who could have foreseen this ploughed on regardless. More focus on the longer-term economic and social consequences of pension policy, with better planning and safety nets, could have averted many problems too. I absolutely respect the result of the referendum. The people have spoken; they made a decision. However, MPs have interpreted this as a mandate to rush headlong into lighting the fuse of a two- year time bomb. Once lit, we probably have around 18 months to work out a way forward for our country of 65 million people. Should we not be as best prepared as possible for the coming crucial period? My question is: are we ready?
Clearly, there is deep dissatisfaction with the EU among millions of British people. Indeed, worldwide there is deep disquiet with conventional politicians and political discourse. But the way to rebuild trust and confidence in politics is not to lead the country over a cliff edge without taking care to put in strong safety nets. Yes, the people have spoken and, yes, we must listen. They now trust us to do our best for them. Some of my leave friends have covered themselves with the mantle of patriotism, as if they alone are acting in the national interest and protecting its sovereignty. I respectfully say to them, “You do not have a monopoly on patriotism. We do not question your love for this country. Please do not question ours”.
We should not be hurried into this without far better preparation for such a potentially irreversible journey, and without a careful and credible plan. The White Paper is not such a plan. It is not a considered assessment of the consequences of triggering Article 50 or leaving the single market and the customs union. It is a wish list. The White Paper does not quantify the costs. It is a cost-benefit analysis itemising only the benefits and none of the costs. Where is the risk assessment? It is full of hype and hope detailing great possible outcomes. As a marketing document, this would fail the “treating customers fairly” test that is applied to all financial firms. You could not sell someone a washing machine, let alone a pension, on the basis of this type of analysis. Yet for the most important financial decision that our country may make and this House is being asked to consider, there is not one estimate of the costs.
And what about immigration? From a demographic and economic point of view, immigration is absolutely essential. The NHS, social care, agriculture, academia and construction rely on immigration. Our ageing population is moving into retirement with fewer younger people to support it. Immigration has helped power our growth for the past few years. The conclusion that the British people voted to stop immigration regardless of the impact on the economy, and to leave the single market regardless of the impact on our living standards, is unsafe. Some did, but most were led to believe that somehow leaving the EU would mean no more immigration and a better economy. That is, quite frankly, fantasy.
Finally, all parliamentarians were freed from party-political shackles during the referendum. Why is that not the case now? If we are going to get a great deal on leaving the EU, why the fear of putting it to Parliament or the people? I ask all noble Lords to act in accordance with their conscience and to exercise their judgment of what they truly believe is in the best interest of all the people of the United Kingdom, and of our children and grandchildren who were not given a vote. If that means sending the Bill back to the other place with amendments, so be it. Is that not what we are here for?
My Lords, I will address my remarks primarily to my own Benches. Whatever our differences in response to the referendum last year, we are all now, with very few honourable exceptions, strong pro-Europeans—including the many Members on my Front Bench whom I am proud to call my friends.
Internationalism has always been a core socialist and social democratic belief. Interdependence in our globalised world today makes what was always a moral value an economic and security imperative as well. Today, we are debating this miserable measure to trigger the process of detaching the UK from the most successful peace project in world history. I hang my head in shame that the leaders of this country and my party were not able to win a majority for remain last June. It will live with me to my dying day.
There are many guilty men and a few women, too. There has been the failure of successive Governments, including, I regret to say, our own, to present a consistent case for our EU membership; a collective weakness in going along with the idea of a referendum—“a device of dictators”, as Clem Attlee once so accurately quipped; and of course David Cameron’s miscalculated opportunism. But let us be frank, I say with terrible sadness that the debilitation of our own party contributed to Brexit. We have a leader who, unlike the vast majority of Labour members, including many of those who joined up to support him, has never been a European true believer. In the referendum he failed the key test of democratic politics—to cut through media cynicism and the mass of seething public discontents with a compelling, positive case for Europe that forced voters to listen.
Now I see no clarion call for the fight—only a three-line Whip in the Commons to force Labour MPs to troop through the Lobbies alongside a right-wing Tory Government dancing to Iain Duncan Smith’s tune. That was even at Third Reading, when all our so-called red-line amendments had been defeated. Of course we must live with the referendum result—but I do not believe that public opinion is fixed for ever in the same place.
I would not have liked it, but there could have been a national consensus behind Brexit. A Government who were determined to establish that could have proposed a different approach that took account of the 48% and not given top priority to the ideologues of the Tory right. That would have been a Brexit based on the single market and the closest possible political and security ties. But in January we had the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech, which prioritised sovereignty and immigration over jobs and living standards—and the British electorate last June did not vote for that.
The referendum cannot mean that Parliament is bound to accept whatever withdrawal deal Mrs May cobbles together. If her terms are contrary to the national interest, there must remain open at least the possibility that the Brexit decision might be reversed. But I do not see Labour fighting for that. The remnants of the 1970s hard left are still stuck on “socialism in one country”. A leading adviser to Ed Miliband opined the other day that,
“Brexit opens the door for a new and exciting programme—from regional industrial strategy to the end of the power of the City of London”.
I say: think again.
Then of course there are the Blue Labour intellectuals, who think that drastic cuts in immigration are the way for Labour to reconnect with the working class. Their analysis is highly questionable and their policy cannot be implemented without unacceptable cost. As regards their political tactics, John Curtice’s analysis for the British Election Study shows that even in Labour-held leave constituencies, 57% of 2015 Labour voters voted to remain.
As for cutting low-skilled migration, there is no possibility of achieving this without huge damage to our NHS and social care, or any chance of finding in the next five years the workers that Britain needs to build the houses and infrastructure that we all want to see. It is time for Labour to tell the truth. The biggest losers from Brexit are going to be working families and the poor. As the devaluation of the pound forces up prices while benefits are frozen, a sharp rise in child poverty is the inevitable consequence of Brexit—and on sterling, I warn you, we have seen nothing yet as Mrs May teeters along her infamous cliff edge.
I venture that our internationalist forefathers would be shocked by our present state. Keir Hardie, who left school at eight, bravely condemned racism in South Africa, backed independence for India and fought to build solidarity with European social democratic parties in the hope of averting the catastrophe of the First World War. He never flinched in the face of the jingoists and imperialists of the day—many of them, of course, in the working-class electorate. The same could be said of Bevin opposing Nazism and Munich in the 1930s.
If all the Labour leaders of the past had bowed the knee to populism, would the great Labour Governments of Harold Wilson, with Roy Jenkins as Home Secretary, ever have abolished hanging, legalised homosexuality or introduced the first laws on racial equality? Labour faces two choices: accept a catastrophic hard Brexit or expose the multiple deceits that it represents, and campaign for public opinion to shift before it is too late. I know where I stand: as a proud member of the Labour Party, I am going to fight for the internationalist, pro-European and egalitarian convictions I have held for the last 50 years.
My Lords, I take a rather different approach from the noble Lord, Lord Liddle. That may be one of the strengths of this House.
I would like to address three issues. First, on the Bill, I agree with our Convenor: the decision is now taken and there is no turning back. That was set out with remarkable clarity by my noble and learned friend Lord Judge last night. We must now get on with it and bring the expertise of this House to making it a success. As for a parliamentary vote at the end of the process, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hill, that in an extremely complex negotiation with 27 partners and a two-year timeframe it is simply not feasible.
Secondly, in contrast to some noble Lords, I would like to introduce an optimistic note. I believe that the decision to leave the EU will eventually be seen to have been right for Britain. That is for three reasons. First, the direction of travel towards ever-closer union was increasingly uncomfortable for many people in this country, as the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, outlined. Secondly, there was a real desire to take back control of our own affairs, expressed not in detail but in a very widespread sentiment. Thirdly, the prospect of massive levels of uncontrolled immigration was placing unacceptable pressures on our society. Indeed, Mr Blair acknowledged in his speech last Friday that, for many, immigration lay at the heart of their decision to leave. I would like therefore to speak briefly about this central issue.
The fact is that there were good reasons for the public’s view. It is no use skating over them. At current levels, we will be adding to the population of this country half a million every year. That is the population of Liverpool. Imagine building that every year. Secondly, at similar levels, we will have to build a new home every five minutes, night and day, for new migrant families. Thirdly, there is the rapid change in the composition of our society—a society that is already struggling to absorb and integrate newcomers. The present Government, and indeed earlier Governments, have understood the need to get the numbers down. Unfortunately, our European partners stuck to what they saw as a position of principle and they declined to offer any viable remedy—hence, I suggest, in large measure, the outcome of the referendum.
Lastly, I will speak about the central question of what in fact can be done to reduce immigration from the EU. Efforts have been made—one was made yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson—to suggest that Brexit will make no difference to immigration numbers. Clearly, if that is true, the project is in real difficulty. But it is not true. Migration Watch has made some suggestions. Here I declare a non-financial interest as its chairman. In briefest outline, the key lies in the fact that 80% of EU workers who have arrived in the last 10 years are in lower-skilled jobs. We have therefore recommended that the current work permit scheme be extended to EU migrants who wish to work here. We estimate that that would reduce net migration from the EU by about 100,000 a year—that estimate has not been seriously challenged. That would be a significant step forward. Of course, there will have to be some transition arrangements—the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, referred to various categories where there is the need for transition—but in the medium to long term, that will be its effect. For others, such as students, tourists, the married, the self-sufficient, we would like to see, and we believe can get, visa-free access in both directions. That, we think, is extremely important to maintain the enormous variety and important links that we have with the people of Europe.
I recognise that I have skated over a lot of complexities, but I thought it right to outline that there is a way forward. I fully appreciate that the ride will be bumpy—perhaps extremely bumpy at times. It may well take five or 10 years, but in the end we will have stepped away from a union that in my view we never really fitted into. We will indeed have taken back control of our own country.
My Lords, one of the deep delights for me in your Lordships’ House is the fact that we have such deep divides in opinion and yet we can still stay polite. That was the position that I found myself in during the referendum campaign, when I was campaigning to leave the EU. I found myself in some unsavoury company at times, with some people with whom I share not a single view, apart from the fact that the UK would be better off outside the EU.
I believe passionately that we have made the right decision, but at the same time we have to be absolutely sure that we go about it in the right way. The Bill that the Government have presented to us is simply inadequate. Had there been a decent White Paper with some detail about the things that many of us care about, I would have felt calmer about voting for the Bill as it exists. However, the Prime Minister is approaching these negotiations with a blank sheet of paper. Where are the underlying principles? There are underlying principles in the EU, but where are the underlying principles that we will maintain during negotiations, or are there to be no principles at all?
The Green Party is particularly concerned that the Cabinet will attempt to dump protections for everything from wildlife and the countryside to the social protections that we see as normal in society nowadays. The Government could use a combination of exit negotiations and secondary legislation to do all sorts of things that the majority of people who voted leave would not want to happen. It is wrong to use the referendum result as cover for bypassing proper parliamentary procedure and scrutiny. The Lords has the job of ensuring that a democratic process is followed throughout the different stages of the negotiations.
As somebody who has advocated leaving the EU ever since we joined as a result of the 1975 European Communities membership referendum, I resent people suggesting that I am out to wreck the Bill by seeking to amend it—someone even said that it would be “traitorous”. That is an unpleasant thing to say about people who are trying to improve things. As for threats from the other place to replace the House of Lords with a different sort of Chamber or abolish it altogether, for me, that would be a welcome bonus. I believe that it is time for us to be abolished and replaced by a democratically elected Chamber. For me, therefore, that is no threat at all. However, it is bullying. What do we do with bullies? We stand up to them.
I will try to amend this Bill. I have put down five amendments that I feel would definitely improve the Bill and I will support amendments from other Members of your Lordships’ House. It is our job to advise and to reform and improve the sometimes very poor legislation that comes from the other place. My five amendments cover the following areas: transitional arrangements; legal enforcement; environmental regulators; access to justice; and employment and equality protections. These are self-evident. They will ask for detailed plans, lots of preparation and proper funding, which I know this Government have a huge problem with.
I am going to keep my remarks brief because some of what I would like to say is probably best left unsaid. However, before finishing, I would like to add that I also commend the amendment from a recommendation of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which will protect the residence rights of EU citizens legally resident in the UK on the day of the referendum— 23 June 2016. It is a precautionary but self-evident amendment and it would be cruel not to include it. I cannot see why the Government would have any objections to it being in the Bill.
Finally, although the outcome of last year’s vote was what I wanted, I have not taken a moment’s pleasure from it in the intervening time, partly because of the way in which the campaigns on both sides were conducted and partly because of the conduct since. There has been so much hatred and vile rhetoric, which has inflamed people. I am sure that many of us here have had abuse. That is a normal part of any progressive politician’s inbox but it has now reached levels that are just incredible.
We should take pleasure in issues such as immigration, because it is good for our country: it is good for the economy and it is good for our culture. I also believe that if you accept free trade, then why not accept the free movement of people? When we look at the Bill and vote on it next week, I hope that the Government will understand that we must not lower our standards. Whether it is on food, social protection or protecting our countryside, we must not go down the route of making things worse. In a sense, society is already worse because of the referendum and the Government must do everything in their power to heal as much as possible.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, whose contribution perfectly illustrated the breadth of opinion that this House brings to this debate. In the referendum I campaigned for the remain side as an adviser to Britain Stronger in Europe, an interest I declared in the register, and which ceased following the referendum. I campaigned alongside old friends from my own party and new friends from other parties and from none. I do not think any of us enjoyed a campaign which created such division, but I do not doubt that the Government were right to fulfil their manifesto commitment to renegotiate our membership of the EU and to allow the British people to decide in an in-out referendum—originally, of course, a Lib Dem policy of unusual robustness.
I reflected at the time of the campaign on the words of Liam Fox MP who said:
“Those who wish to remain in the EU are not ‘unpatriotic’, and those who wish to leave are not ‘idiots’”.
The campaign was not a thing of beauty, and it had some low moments on both sides, but it brought together people who set aside differences to fight for something that they passionately believed in. It engaged people who had never got involved before in our politics. I believe that the arguments about the trade-off at the heart of our membership of the EU—the balance between the benefits of access to the single market on one hand and control of our own laws and of immigration on the other—were weighed up by voters when they cast their votes.
I do not agree with noble Lords who argued yesterday that leave supporters did not know what they were backing. They knew what they were doing, and as democrats we must accept their decision. The result was close, but it was clear, and it was equally clear that a vote to leave would lead to the triggering of Article 50, which is what this Bill does. We know that the process of negotiating our exit from the European Union is incredibly complex. Our diplomats, our civil servants, this House and the other place face a great test. A very heavy burden falls on the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.
We now have to work together to get the best deal for Britain. I hope that we will work together in such a way that we restore trust in our politics, and that in our debates we will be thinking of the 48% as well as the 52%, that we will be ambitious for our country and respectful of one another. It is not enough to set the right tone in this House, as we have done in this debate. I did not agree with many of the arguments made by my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft, but I was shocked by her account of the abuse she has endured for her views and for speaking passionately and, frankly, bravely for what she believes to be right.
We have to do more to ensure that our own discourse is courteous. We have to do more than that. Those of us who have any influence must shout out those who are behaving in this way, and do everything we can to support the police in taking appropriate action.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Green, I am optimistic about the future because I have always believed that Britain can be a success in or out of the EU. I am optimistic because I believe in the course charted by the Prime Minister and the principles powerfully set out at Lancaster House. I welcome the Prime Minister’s determination that Britain will be an outward-looking, forward-looking nation confident of its place in the world, but I am not so insensitive that I do not understand that many of my friends on the remain side of the argument on both sides of this House do not share this optimism. They have fears and concerns that they must feel free to express, and they must have the opportunity to urge their case for the kind of Brexit that they think is in Britain’s best interests.
It is not thwarting the will of the British people to do so, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, pointed out in her admirable speech. It is their duty as Members of this House to make those arguments. I pay tribute to my noble friend the Minister. I know from many years’ working alongside him that no one is better equipped to deal with the intricacy and detail of this work, and I know that across the House his openness and the time he commits to meeting and consulting with noble Lords is appreciated. I wish him and his colleagues well in the task they face.
Listening to my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal in her generous opening speech, I was reassured that the Government recognise the role of this House and the contribution it that can make during the negotiations. It is clear that a great deal of good will is going to be needed if the Government are to meet their commitment to ensuring that this House, through debate and scrutiny in this Chamber and through work in Select Committees, is able to make the contribution that she described.
On the basis of the remarks from both Front Benches yesterday I see an abundance of good will and I welcome that. However, I accept the argument made so powerfully by my noble friends Lord Hill of Oareford and Lord Hague of Richmond that to tie the hands of our negotiators while the negotiations are under way is not in Britain's best interest. I therefore believe that the right balance has been struck between the vital need for real parliamentary scrutiny and the need for Ministers to be able to negotiate on our behalf in good faith. That is why I believe that this Bill, which simply allows the Prime Minister to notify our intention to withdraw from the EU as mandated by the British people, should pass without amendment.
My Lords, I do not believe that leaving the European Union is in the best interests of this country. I voted to remain. I very much wish that the remain side had prevailed in the referendum. However, it did not. The people of this country voted decisively—not overwhelmingly, but certainly decisively—to leave, with a majority of 1.3 million over we remainers. However, as others, including my noble friend Lady Kennedy have made clear today, the referendum vote last June was not legally or constitutionally binding either upon Parliament or upon the Government. That said, it is hard to escape the political reality that it was a clear instruction from the British people. Nevertheless, it raises questions about how the result of the referendum fits in with our representative democracy.
Yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord Hague, said that Tony Blair would not have been “amused”—I think that was the word that he used—if he—that is, the noble Lord, Lord Hague—had challenged the result of the 2001 election within nine months of its taking place. He is probably right. However, the crucial difference is that the people of this country had the right to change their minds four years later in 2005. Will the British people have the right to change their mind in 2019 or 2020 when the results of these negotiations are clear? Is the truthful answer not that the position will become settled, not just for this generation, not just for us, but for the next generation and probably long after our generation has gone?
Accordingly, I seek clarification on two issues from the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, when he answers this debate. In paragraph 26 of the recent Supreme Court judgment that found that the Government were wrong to believe that they had the prerogative power sufficient to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty and that only Parliament could take that decision, the Supreme Court said,
“it is common ground that notice under article 50(2) … cannot be given in qualified or conditional terms and that, once given, it cannot be withdrawn”.
The judgment goes on to say:
“It follows from this that once the United Kingdom gives notice, it will inevitably cease at a later date to be a member of the European Union”.
There is some doubt, because the Supreme Court said that it had not fully tested that argument and obviously there are differing views. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, who, as the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, said earlier, knows a thing or two about drafting treaties, has been quoted as saying that the Government can withdraw from Article 50 at any point during the negotiations. What is the Government’s view?
It is a vital point. Once Article 50 is triggered, will this country be irrevocably committed to leave without an agreement on future relationships or without the sort of agreement that our European colleagues say they are willing to give us, which will be much worse than the agreements that we already have? I stress that I am not asking the Minister a political point; I am asking him for his legal view on the legal advice. Can he, unlike the Justice Secretary, who evaded this point repeatedly at the weekend, give us a clear answer?
The fact is that at the end of the negotiating period in 2019 it will be almost three years since the referendum decision, and demographics change. In a few weeks’ time there will be half a million new 18 year-old voters. At the same time, approximately the same number of the over-65s who were eligible to vote last June will have died. In two years, those figures will be even more startling. It was clear in the referendum that a substantial majority of 18 to 30 year-olds wanted to remain but that the majority of those aged 65-plus wanted to leave. Binding future generations with no option but to accept whatever the outcome of these negotiations happens to be seems at the very least to be unwise, unfair and probably unworkable.
I am the chairman of the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce. Since the referendum, the chamber has worked very hard to encourage discussions with our members on free trade agreements. We had a conference at Lancaster House last year and, of course, we visit the region regularly, and I shall be doing so again very shortly. Like many others, I am committed to doing everything I can to keep this country prosperous and to support trade and investment whatever the outcome of the negotiations. However, the Government must answer the vital questions about what will happen in those negotiations.
Our currency has lost 15% to 20% of its value, prices are rising in our supermarkets and family budgets are more squeezed than ever. The noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, probably made one of the most telling points in her remarks yesterday when she said that, whatever the people of this country voted for on 23 June last year, they did not vote to become poorer. So a take-it-or-leave-it vote in Parliament will not be sufficient and it will not be fair—not fair to business or to manufacturing; not fair to families; not fair to the people of this country; and, overwhelmingly, not fair to the young people who will have to live with the results of these negotiations far longer than any of us debating here today.
My Lords, with 190 of us speaking, there are about 23 of us for every line of this short Bill, but that shows how important the Bill is. There were powerful speeches yesterday, including from the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, who spoke at 12.07 last night. There was even unprecedented applause from the Public Gallery for my noble friend Lady Smith of Newnham after her passionate defence of EU citizens living here. There have been brave and passionate speeches today, such as those from the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and the noble Lord, Lord Liddle. But, for me, the most moving speech yesterday was that of the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, who likened the debate to an elegy. The UK’s involvement in the European project might turn out to be, he said,
“a fine, if ultimately doomed, cause”.—[Official Report, 20/2/17; col. 74.]
We appear to be on course for much more than a Lord Patten Hong Kong moment.
In the UK, we rarely learned about the EU as a project for peace, even though in recent memory on our continent there have been conflicts in the Balkans, Northern Ireland and Cyprus, with freedoms brutally suppressed in eastern Europe. Nor was it often pointed out in the UK that almost half of our trade is with the EU. We look at the US and marvel at how it could possibly have elected Donald Trump. Round the world, including in the Commonwealth, I have found that people wonder at how we could have voted to leave the largest, wealthiest and strongest trading bloc in the world.
So how does this Bill chart our way forward in the light of the referendum result? There are indeed different routes, and I seek clarification in the Prime Minister’s speech. She prioritises controlling borders over our membership of the single market. She rejects the European Court of Justice, which adjudicates that single market, yet she wants the maximum,
“freest possible trade in goods and services”,
for British companies in the EU. She says that “we may wish to retain” elements for our strong industries—for example, the financial services and automotive industries. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Hill, pointed out yesterday, we are not the only ones negotiating; there are 27 others. What will they make of the words “we may wish to retain”?
Recently, in Berlin, I spoke on a panel with two Brexiteers to German businesspeople. Like Merkel, to a person they said, “No cherry picking”, even if it damaged their immediate interests, lest the EU as a whole be undermined. Our Prime Minister agreed in France that she would not cherry pick. In which case, what then for the financial services and automotive industries? How does the UK prioritise sectors of its economy? What about the pharmaceutical industry or high-tech? What happens as our economy changes? Any privileged access for certain sectors must mean some kind of equivalence in regulation. Do we invent another ECJ? Theresa May wants us to have a customs agreement with the EU but does not want to be in the customs union. What would this mean, given our interconnected supply chains? What would be the threshold for it being possible to have deals elsewhere?
Our trade with the rest of the world has been growing, seemingly unhampered by our being in the EU. However, in 2015, India took only 1.4% of our goods and desires a trade agreement that prioritises freer access to the UK, and New Zealand took only 0.2% of our goods. Yes, we must redouble our efforts, but we must also recognise the significance of the EU market to us and our greater ability to secure good trade deals via the EU.
We understand that there will not be a hard border in Ireland, but how is that to work? Are we about to see people trafficking displaced from Calais to Ireland?
We gather that we will not be paying what are described as “vast amounts” to the EU. It is not mentioned that the net amount is under 1% of GNI.
We wish to maintain our lead in science and the universities, but we already see EU students looking to Canada rather than the UK. We hear that Oxford and Warwick are considering campuses in Paris so that they can access EU funds.
We are told that we will have no cliff edge but transitional arrangements. However, the Government also make it clear that we are willing to walk away. That means that risk remains.
The Prime Minister’s speech appeals to those who voted for Brexit and seeks to address the concerns of those who oppose it. The problem is whether the two strands are compatible at all. My noble friend Lord Marks described this as the biggest foreign policy mistake in decades, so let us look at our position in the world. Justin Trudeau apparently feels lonely on the world stage, and one can see why. The EU is still the champion of liberal democracies and the rule of law, though populist movements even now challenge that. Populism has achieved an extraordinary result in the USA. We see a revived Russia active on Europe’s borders, in Crimea and Ukraine, threatening the Baltic states. The global world order is shifting eastwards. By 2050, China will be the largest economy in the world, with India in second place and Indonesia in fourth. Being part of the EU gave us disproportionate impact in global affairs. We are all members of NATO and, with France, we serve as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. We have indeed served as a bridge between the US and the EU; others will now become that bridge. The world is an unstable place and we must all be aware of populist, simplistic movements across our continent—not surprising in the wake of profound economic crisis.
This short Bill presages a long and complicated process. Parliament must be fully engaged, including meaningful votes at the end. If, at that end, we judge that what has been negotiated turns out not to be those sunlit uplands and is not in the interests of our now divided country, we must not be afraid to say so.
My Lords, almost exactly 44 years ago I was in Strasbourg as one of the secretaries of the British delegation to the European Parliament, at the first session of the Parliament that had the United Kingdom as a member state. Bringing up the century as the 100th contributor in this unprecedentedly long list of speakers may have a certain symmetry about it, but it is in no way an outcome that I wished for when I cast my vote on 23 June last year.
Over the years, I have spent a good deal of time on the relationship between this Parliament and European institutions. I devised the protocol on the role of national parliaments which was appended to the Amsterdam treaty, thanks to its enthusiastic endorsement by the highly effective then Minister for Europe during a UK presidency, someone for whom I had and continue to have great regard—and who by one of life’s little ironies is now the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU.
As many noble Lords have said, this is a refreshingly short Bill, but I am a little puzzled by the catch-all provision in subsection (2) of Clause 1. Is it simply an insurance policy—an attempt to avoid an “Oh crikey” moment within Government when some inconvenient provision of legislation is unearthed? Or do the drafters have something particular in mind—something which might be found to be at odds with the main provision of the Bill? It is as well to recall the old rule of legislative drafting: if you do not specify the target at which you are aiming, the courts may not agree that you have hit it. I am also looking forward keenly to the Government’s response to the magisterial intervention of my noble and learned friend Lord Hope of Craighead about what further legislative authority may be required. No doubt there will need to be a ratification of the exit treaty according to the CRAG 2010 procedure, but if prior approval of the terms of that exit requires legislation, that would of course add a new dimension. How practical any choice would be as the clock ticks towards the end of two years is another matter entirely.
The noble Lord, Lord Boswell of Aynho, and others, have spoken about parliamentary scrutiny of the negotiations as they proceed. My particular concern is about the legislative process that will follow, and of which the Bill now before us is a precursor. Chapter 1 of the White Paper says that the great repeal Bill will repeal the ECA 1972, preserve EU law where it stands at the moment we leave the EU, and where necessary make changes to allow that law to function sensibly. There will be a triage process where this Parliament and the devolved legislatures will,
“be able to decide which elements of that law to keep, amend or repeal”.
In the referendum campaign we heard a lot about regaining our parliamentary sovereignty; perhaps it is a little ironic that we have had in the first instance to rely upon the assistance of the courts. However, it would be even more ironic if the legislative process of withdrawal involved a major transfer of power to the Executive.
The extent of delegation of powers to Ministers, and the level of parliamentary scrutiny, will be crucial. One test, and it would be a strict one, could of course be that secondary legislation must be “necessary” to allow EU law to function sensibly, and to reflect the outcome of negotiations. However, if the test is merely that that subordinate legislation should be “expedient” then that allows a much greater degree of ministerial discretion. The means of scrutiny will be key. Although super-affirmative instruments allow in-depth scrutiny, Governments are quite allergic to them, and I doubt whether Ministers would be attracted by a surge of super-affirmatives. Perhaps some bespoke process might be devised—the issues are certainly substantial enough to warrant it—and I look forward to the conclusions of the Constitution Committee on this aspect.
I will conclude with two other thoughts. The first is on timing. There is a temptation to think that policy areas will come forward one by one to be tied up in neat parcels and dealt with by whatever legislative or scrutiny process is in place, but that is not the way that negotiations proceed in practice. A deal in one area may depend on reaching agreement on a wholly unrelated issue elsewhere. The practical effect of all this will probably be to move everything to the right, and only late in the two-year process will there be something to bite on in legislative terms.
It is welcome that the White Paper states in paragraph 1.8 that,
“any significant policy changes will be underpinned by other primary legislation”.
Here again, however, the pressure of time may be the problem. The process will, in any case, be a business management nightmare and the temptation to proceed by skeleton Bills will be powerful. That will pose real questions about parliamentary accountability.
Whatever means are found to scrutinise and authorise the process, I hope that it will involve people outside government, Parliament and the devolved legislatures. The changes in prospect will have profound effects on the lives and livelihoods of the people of this country, and Parliament has some ground to make up. Evidence-based scrutiny is the best sort, and this should be an opportunity to allow access to the process to those who will be directly affected, rather than have them simply as onlookers of a private conversation between Parliament and the Executive.
Noble Lords might feel that I have strayed a little from the Bill before us, but I would suggest not. The Bill would trigger notification, but it would also start us on what will be an extraordinary challenging time for Parliament. Now is the time to think seriously about how we meet that challenge.
My Lords, although I voted in the referendum, I did not campaign in the run-up to it because despite believing, on balance, that we would be better off out, there were genuine and strong arguments on both sides. However, we are where we are, and we now need to get on with it. Before I go further, I must declare an interest as a beneficiary of payments under the common agricultural policy.
I listened carefully to the debate yesterday and this morning. Much of it has been fighting last year’s battle. I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I take the rather novel course of making a speech on the Second Reading of the Bill before us. Many issues have been raised and amendments have already been tabled that deal with all manner of matters, and I have no doubt that there will be more to come. I intend to address only three key areas that have been raised in another place and are covered by amendments that have already been tabled here.
The first is EU nationals living here and their right to continue to do so. That is something that many of us—if not all of us—would wish to see. The Government have said that they are prepared to give them that right and that it must be reciprocal, with our citizens living in EU countries being given the same right. There is pressure unilaterally to give EU citizens the right to continue to live here, but it is in the nature of negotiations that related and reciprocal matters are dealt with together. If one point is conceded, this risks losing the reciprocal point, so by definition, to do this would run the risk of British citizens currently living in another EU country losing the right to continue to reside in that country. That would be grossly unfair on them, and that is why I would resist any attempt to insist upon the unilateral approach.
The second issue I want to address is that of scrutiny by Parliament between the triggering of Article 50 and the completion of the process two years later. In this context, scrutiny means two principal things: the provision of information and allowing time to debate it. I have no problem with allowing plenty of time for debate. As regards the provision of information, the Government have said that they would provide Parliament with the same information that the EU Parliament receives. That seems fair and right, but as far as the provision of additional information is concerned, I look to my career as a negotiator. I negotiated a significant number of corporate acquisitions and disposals in Europe and the Far East during that career. One of the golden rules of negotiating is that information about your counter party’s position and the detail of what is important to them, is gold-dust. You learn everything you can about their backstop positions, what they will negotiate on and what they cannot, the intricate details of their financial position and things that might not seem important but might later prove to be. It is a forensic science, and it makes all the difference to the outcome. Any information about our position that comes into the possession of the large number of people and institutions that make up our counter party—the Commission, the Council, the Parliament and their various members—will be used against us. That is why I would resist the provision of additional information.
My third issue, impact assessments, is closely related. I have explained my reasons for strongly resisting the provision of information to this Parliament beyond that provided to the European Parliament. An impact assessment on Brexit, if it were to be of any value, would reveal information about our options and negotiating position which would be hugely valuable to our counterparty, the negotiating representatives of the EU. That information would, without a shadow of doubt, be used against us by them. I am afraid that confidentiality arrangements that allow limited access to documents have a habit of failing to prevent leaks, so I do not find that suggestion of any comfort. As such, I resist any proposal for impact assessments.
Those are my views on three key areas. Many other issues have been and will be raised, and I look forward to hearing the views of noble Lords still to speak, to the Minister’s response and to debates at subsequent stages.
My Lords, as a signatory to the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, I would like to draw attention to the impact of Brexit on the UK’s trade, aid and security policies relating to developing and post-conflict countries. Aid to developing countries is under attack almost daily by elements of the press. Just this Sunday there was a report in the Sunday Times about using Brexit as an excuse to divert aid to eastern European countries to buy their good will. Will the Minister give an assurance that Brexit will not be used to divert the 0.7% of GNI devoted to development aid and that only countries on the DAC list are eligible for ODA? The fact is that development aid fulfils an essential task: not only is it right to help the poorest in the world but it is essential if we are to reduce the factors that push people out of their own countries and, in desperation, lead them to seek shelter with us.
It is a pity that on leaving the EU we will not be able to influence its attempt to manage the largest mass movement of people we have seen since the Second World War. The Calais camp on our doorstep may have been demolished but the problem has not gone away, and refugees are returning to the region because they have nowhere else to go. Can the Minister say, now that we have declared ourselves to be on the road to a hard Brexit, what consideration the Government have given to the Le Touquet agreement between ourselves and the French, whereby they police our border on their soil and vice versa? Can the Government guarantee the border will not move to Dover?
I will return to the broader subject of the impact of Brexit on aid, trade and security in relation to developing countries at later stages. For now, I would like to talk about the rights and wrongs of the process by which the Government are taking us toward Brexit, which is the undeniable result of the advisory referendum, albeit with a very small margin. What is happening is the stuff of nightmares. It is unprecedented in British history to have both the Prime Minister of the day and the Leader of the Opposition on the side of extreme risk-taking. But how else can we characterise their willingness to enter Brexit negotiations with hard-line rhetoric seemingly designed to remove any vestige of good will towards us? The only option we will be given at the end of this do-or-die road is a vote to take it or leave it. Given that the exit options have the potential to change our country so fundamentally, surely it is only fair and democratic that we ask the people what kind of Britain they want to live in. The process started with the people; it should end with the people.
I genuinely do not understand why that is controversial. The only reason why anyone would oppose that that I can think of is if “take back control” did not include the people. Come to that, the Brexiteers did not want it to include Parliament either. Who is meant to take control? Them? An unelected Prime Minister? What happened to trusting the people?
There are those who say that it is the patriotic duty of Peers to wave this Bill through. If noble Lords do not mind my saying so, that is utter tosh, because what, then, is the point of us? It is indeed our patriotic duty to debate and scrutinise this Bill and any amendments it attracts. It is then incumbent on each and every one of us to vote according to what we believe to be in the best interests of our country—and hang the consequences.
When people voted to leave the EU, by and large they did not vote to leave the single market. During the Richmond Park by-election, I knocked on many doors. Many who had voted to leave last June also voted for the Common Market in 1972. They do not want the hard Brexit that the Government are offering them. That is why Liberal Democrats, with their clear message on fighting against a hard Brexit, against leaving the single market and in favour of safeguarding the future of EU nationals, were able to overturn a 23,000 Conservative majority against a popular local MP and send Sarah Olney to Westminster. Let me end this point by quoting Winston Churchill, who said,
“the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin … Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/6/1940; col. 60.]
That was prophetic in 1940 and is perhaps prophetic again today.
Boris Johnson said that Brexit would take us to “sunlit uplands”, but my theory is that, as we plod our weary way uphill and look back on the grassy meadows bathed in mellow light that we leave behind, we will hear the curfew toll the knell of parting ways. I hope that noble Lords will pardon my taking liberties with Gray’s Elegy, but it is not as grave a liberty as that taken by Boris Johnson in his shameless parody of Churchill’s words. The “sunlit uplands” that he referred to were those of a united Europe, which our Government seem content to put at risk.
My Lords, I am truly astonished by the events of the past eight months. The future of the country is apparently to be decided on the outcome of a single vote—as Kenneth Clarke said, an opinion poll on a simplistic yes/no question on which few had any relevant information, nor any means to acquire it. As we have heard, the noble Lord, Lord Green, of Migration Watch is of the firm opinion that it was based largely on worries about migration; it is a vaguely anti-foreigner vote. Indeed, the contributions to the debate so far, and what I have heard in the past eight months from our Government, have given me absolutely no reassurance that the people’s advice on this matter should be accepted by Parliament as the last word.
The hard Brexit that we are promised seems to make it all the more important to think again about what we are subjecting the country to. To quote from the Daily Express, the notion that one should not,
“thwart the will of the people”,
does not mean that Parliament should become the poodle of the people. On three occasions—in Denmark on the Maastricht treaty, in Ireland on the Nice treaty and in Ireland again on the Lisbon treaty—voters initially rejected an EU proposal, only to vote in favour of it in a second referendum. I was in Dublin at the time of the second vote on the Lisbon treaty in 2009, and it was clear that the ordinary voter—the non-political voter—had no more idea about the content of the treaty the second time round than they had the first time round. They were voting on their emotional warmth towards the EU. Yet here, the Government have decided to give in and go with the rather angry flow on the first vote, even though the majority recognises that it will be to the detriment of the UK, of Europe and of the world. Well, I am unwilling to abandon my conviction that we should be full members of the European Union. However imperfect—and I agree it is imperfect—it is a whole lot better than the isolationist future proposed in this Bill.
Actually, it is not just the economics of the decision that worries me, although as the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, said, nobody voted to be poorer; it is the likely adverse impact on the health of the population through our health service, and on our future achievements in science, engineering and medicine. I really detest the unpleasant anti-migrant stance being pandered to. However, I am far more worried about the failure of the long-term political determination to make Europe safe from ourselves for ourselves. It seems we have very short historical memories. I am with Kenneth Clarke, the Member who, to me at least, made the most sense in the other place. But I am also with the noble Lord, Lord Rooker: I am with Tony. And here today I am with the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, who made such sense on how we might work our way towards getting a further opinion from the population; and with the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, who as always spoke such great sense in this House.
I cannot change my mind just because other Members of this House who were remainers have decided it is now politically convenient to change sides; nor should they expect me to. While I am sympathetic to the intelligent insights of the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Oareford, into the mind of Brussels, which wants us to make up our minds fast so that we can all get on with it, when the outcome is so catastrophic, frankly, we should wait, try again and see whether we can cajole and persuade people that the emotions they have today are wrong. I will leave you with John Donne, and a poem which will mean something to us all:
“No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less”.
I fear that this Bill will make clods of us all, to be washed away as Europe slowly disintegrates. I will not collude with any step that seeks to distance us from our European allies, and I will support the Liberal Democrats and those others in this House who wish to amend as far as we can, but also seek to persuade that we can make things happen another way.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, but I fear I am going to take a slightly different line. All great issues are essentially very simple. We make them complicated when we do not want to face them. Our leaving the European Union will count historically as one of the greatest ever examples of this. Quite simply, we are leaving. In the short time I have to speak, I am not going to talk about yesterday, or even much about today, but about tomorrow, about the future—the future of our country, of our people and quite probably our House of Lords.
Nor do I plan to talk about how I cast my vote in the referendum. It is on the record, but it is now irrelevant. Referring to how we voted in debates such as this is seriously counterproductive. It tends to colour not necessarily what we say but how our remarks are perceived by others, who assume we are seeking to justify our position and remake our case. For those of us seeking to move forward, this is just not so. The vote was taken; it is behind us; and we must now as a House prepare to face the future.
It has been said by some that in last year’s referendum the people did not really understand what they were voting for, the ramifications of their actions, and what was at stake. This is, I believe, wrong and patronising. No one could possibly understand every little consequential detail, but surely people knew and understood the broad principle and its effects.
There are three big differences between a general election campaign and this particular referendum. In a general election, the country divides broadly speaking on party lines; in the referendum, party allegiance counted for nothing. In a general election, each party produces a long and detailed manifesto, which few people take the time and trouble to read through; in the referendum, all the most important issues were set out by the Government and the opposing parties, and were further teased out in protracted debates—many on national television. The country was, and still is, as engaged as never before on this issue. Finally, in a general election people have just three weeks to take in all the available information and come to a decision, again usually falling back into their party groupings; in the case of the referendum, the country has had 40 years to watch the EU unfold. People have had plenty of time to digest its effect on their lives and quietly make up their minds. Many people will have had personal experience of the effect of belonging to the EU. Indeed, fishermen and farmers, to name but two groups, will know and understand the workings of the EU as well as anyone. I suspect that the votes cast in this referendum were given more careful consideration than any cast in this country in living memory, and to doubt the genuineness of people’s decisions is to do them, in my view, a great disservice.
Churchill said, as has been quoted before, “Trust the people”, and that is exactly what we should do. This debate, despite the way it is going from time to time, is not or should not be about the details of our leaving and the negotiations involved, but simply about the principle of leaving and starting the process. The country is looking to us at this crucial time. We are in the spotlight as never before. Which road are we going to choose?
Most people are expecting, and certainly the media are confidently predicting, that we will be difficult, grudging, unhelpful, obstructive, curmudgeonly, backward-looking and yearning for what has gone before. What a wonderful opportunity to prove them wrong. Let us be forward-looking, positive, helpful to the Government, constructive and, dare I even say it, optimistic. I know that for many of us this will mean a real leap of faith. It is asking a lot, but such a lot is at stake. I know and understand that divisions and loyalties are long-established and run very deep, but we must have faith—faith in the people, faith in their decision, and faith in their willingness to make it work. If they are willing to make that commitment and effort, should not we be prepared to make it too?
I have played a lot of sport in my life at all levels, and one thing I know for certain is that it is quite impossible to achieve a successful and happy result if half the team members not only want you to lose but are vigorously working to bring that about. I repeat what I said at the start of my remarks: all great issues are essentially very simple, but we make them complicated and we do not want to face them. We must face this one, the biggest decision that we in this House will ever be asked to make. We must face it and make it a success for the sake of the people, the country and, I believe, the future of your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, immigration dominated the EU referendum. Who can forget UKIP’s “Breaking Point” poster unveiled by Nigel Farage during the campaign? Given that the debate was about whether we should leave the European Union and not about whether we should leave the world, it is worth noting that not everyone who comes from mainland Europe to the UK has the intention to immigrate, nor is every immigrant who comes to our shores from the European Union. Recently, the other place defeated attempts to persuade the Government to give EU citizens permanent residence after Brexit, a right I hope will be accommodated by reciprocal arrangements. We can all speculate about what might happen in the future. I want to look at what is actually happening now. You do not have to travel very far to recognise that some of the decisions being taken are almost tantamount to shooting oneself. Of course, it is not difficult to shoot oneself in the foot, but to stand on your head to do it takes some energy.
Just who are these workers that the Government think we can do without and treat with such derision? It is recorded that some 55,000 NHS workers are from EU countries—doctors, nurses, paramedics, pharmacists, support workers and administrative staff. European workers make up 10% of our registered doctors and 4% of our registered nurses. It is common ground that the UK economy needs more workers with these skills, so why are we so ready to turn our backs on them as we say goodbye to our membership of the European Union? It is also common ground that we need more care workers. Currently, 5% of our care workers are from EU countries; approximately 90% do not have British citizenship and their future immigration status remains uncertain. Our nursing homes are closing at the rate of one per week due mainly to a shortage of nurses. It has also been reported that 15% of our researchers and lecturers in universities and higher education are already leaving or rejecting UK higher education posts because of Brexit. Many of these are scientists and researchers whose skills we badly need. Some 90% of British fruit and vegetables are picked, graded and packed by 60,000 workers from overseas, mostly eastern Europe. One farmer is quoted as saying:
“either we bring the people to the work or we take the work to the people”.
This shortage of agricultural labour brings economic danger because we import some 25% of our food from other EU countries.
The Government seem to be confident that they will be able to deal with the countries on which we are turning our backs. As a former negotiator, I would not be so confident. It is reported that the number of EU citizens applying for permanent residence has risen by nearly 50% since the referendum. However, research carried out for the Financial Times suggests that three-quarters of EU citizens working in the UK would not meet current visa requirements for non-EU workers if Britain left the block. The media coverage last weekend of the leaked documents from MEPs will be no surprise to many EU residents in the UK. They already find themselves in a legal no man’s land long before we actually leave the EU. Is it any surprise that EU nationals are already leaving what they see as a sinking ship? The financial and emotional cost to applicants and their families is enormous. What about the cost to us of losing their skills? What of UK citizens living in other EU countries? Recent headlines have warned of a backlash over the Prime Minister’s Brexit approach. Many have lived and worked in EU countries for years, building families and communities and being model citizens. They do so often into retirement and beyond. What are we offering to them? Not a lot—and some would say nothing at all.
I for one wanted to remain in the EU, but as a believer in the democratic process and accepting that the majority of people chose to leave, I accept that the will of the people should prevail. But this is not a political game. People on both sides of the Channel cannot be left in limbo. Decisions have to be made about their futures. Part of my responsibility in another life was the oversight of the union’s membership in Gibraltar. Ten years after retirement, I am still receiving letters about the position of Gibraltarian citizens. That is a neglect of duty and of moral responsibility. If we do nothing for weeks and months, we must address the uncertainties and fears of the Gibraltarians. I say that because I remember working through the problems associated with Gibraltar’s status some 10 years ago. Let us not ruin the relationship that has been built between Spain, Britain and Gibraltar. That also underlies this debate. I trust that the Government will give it serious and urgent consideration.
This is not a political game. We must reach an early decision, because too many decisions are being left in the out-tray without any attention in terms of businesses, communities and the lives of individuals. We must act now. The European Community came together to ensure peace. If we are to leave, let us leave in peace with our heads held high.
My Lords, one effect of growing up as a post-war child was hearing the amount of discussion and determination among the political classes that we would never have another war in Europe. At the top of my list of worries about Brexit is that we shall see an insular, narrow-minded nationalism taking hold and turning us from an outgoing, internationalist nation into an inward-looking nation.
We have heard much in the past day and a half about interdependence, which has to be one of the keys when we think about what we should do next. Brexit is not all about trade, although to listen to the Government you might think that it was. I firmly believe that, first and foremost, it should be about peace and security. I agreed strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, when he said yesterday that endangering peace and security in Europe would be grounds to reject the deal. Incidentally, although I agreed with some of the speech made by Tony Blair, I thought it ironic he should tell everyone to rise up. When more millions than were ever seen all rose up and marched when he was Prime Minister, he took not a blind bit of notice.
Many of your Lordships will know that I spend a lot of time in France when I am not here. My experience of reaction to the UK decision to seek Brexit is that it has been one of extreme concern that it will accelerate the rise of extremist nationalist parties. That is happening all over Europe now. Europe and its member states therefore have many concerns and worries other than negotiating a Brexit deal with the UK. Those whose job it is will of course concentrate on it but, politically, any deal will have to be negotiated against a fast-changing political picture in Europe. It is not as though our negotiating partners will stay unchanged. By the end of two years the Europe with which we are negotiating will be very different. It may be a much longer timescale than the Government are thinking.
In the meantime, I worry what we are going to do about the day-to-day legislation we should be looking at. My noble friend Lord Bruce of Bennachie put it so eloquently yesterday when he said that day-to-day life will be sacrificed. We will be spending time on the great repeal Bill and not on all the other incredibly important issues. There are so many pressing issues in the area which I concentrate on in this House—the environment, agriculture and food—yet the immense changes that are going to happen as a result of Brexit will be a threat to our food quality, animal welfare standards, family farms and landscape. If at the end of this we have a hard deal where WTO rules apply, we will see our food production driven down to the lowest common denominator. It would be a disaster in so many ways. It would not be accompanied by lower food bills: another day-to-day effect will be people seeing those go up.
Over the course of this debate it has bothered me that in the Government’s mind there appears to be a direct trade-off between UK citizens living in the EU and European citizens living here. In fact, UK citizens living in the EU face 27 different sorts of issue and their position is not necessarily equivalent to that of EU citizens here. The Government should, therefore, settle the situation of EU citizens here—thereby creating some good will—but at the same time do far more to help British citizens abroad, who have been left with no information, not even a helpline. The Government could decide now to give much more information about the future to those people who have to plan to relocate and find new jobs, schools for their children and care for their elderly. This would be about not the result of the negotiations but what their rights are now. That has been put on the sidelines because of this so-called trade-off.
There has been much talk of patriotic duty: I believe mine is to try and do what is in the best long-term interests of this country. As my noble friend Lord Newby said at the beginning of this debate, it is unconscionable to sit on our hands. If there is no deal, or the final deal is appalling, or it threatens peace and security, there is an absolute duty on us as parliamentarians to call a halt. I hope we will amend the Bill in order that we can offer that safety net to the Government and the country.
My Lords, I would like to make four points. First, the decision to hold a referendum on membership of the EU in the first place was driven by politics, especially those of the party governing the country. Not a great deal of thought was given to the economics of the issue, but now that we are faced with the reality we must do so. Secondly, while the decision to leave the EU is hugely important for the future of the UK economy and our society, I do not believe that it is the only important economic issue for our future. I believe that the challenge of productivity, the ongoing apparent weakness of key aspects of our education system and skills training, and the highly unbalanced nature of the overall British economy are all at least as important. Of course, sadly, it may be the case—indeed, it probably is the case—that each of these challenges will become even more difficult as a result of the decision to leave the EU. If the decision to leave were to result in more serious focus on these challenges, and smarter, better-thought-out polices, it might allow for some positives out of the EU departure than otherwise might not have occurred. There is, as of yet, no real evidence to support such an optimistic hope but one lives in hope. In this context, this House certainly has a role to play, and it should by ensuring we make the best out of a poor hand.
Thirdly, as someone closely associated with the changing nature of the world economy, I would have hoped for sharper thinking about trade issues. There has been, and remains, enormous focus on legal and other technicalities of Article 50 and trade deals. While partially understandable, the degree of it in my view is misplaced. The biggest drivers of trade are the performances of domestic demand growth and competitiveness, as well as the geographic distance from trade partners.
A country’s imports are greatly driven by the level of its own domestic demand and the cost of imports relative to domestic goods and services. Similarly, exports are typically driven by domestic demand in the most important markets and the price of those exports for foreign consumers. While bilateral and/or multilateral trade agreements are important, they are not as important as rates of domestic demand growth. It is noteworthy in this regard, for example, that today China is the number one importer—I emphasise importer—for at least 70 countries, without having meaningful trade deals with hardly any other countries, other than, of course, being a member of the WTO.
This kind of evidence suggests that UK trade could prosper outside the EU, but we would need to go about life perhaps somewhat dramatically differently than we have started to do so far. Since the referendum result, we should have, and should still be doing even more than before to try and boost our so-called golden relationship with China—not doubting it—and aggressively pursuing stronger relationships with other rapidly rising economies, including, of course, India. At the same time, we need somehow to do our best to keep as close as we can to our geographic neighbours in Europe. While their share in our overall trade has declined, and is set to continue to decline, it will be a long time before any other country or region gets close to the importance of the EU.
Focusing on geographically distant and smaller countries, as beautiful as they are, such as New Zealand, may be easier, and might suit the politics, but they will not be materially relevant for the economics of our future trade performance. It is also the case that some highly globally integrated industries, which among other things, are very important for UK exports. They need something effectively as close to the single market rules as possible to continue thriving. This is true for autos and financial services, and no doubt some others.
Fourthly, as important as our trade ambition should be, the bigger concern for me is our ability and desire to continue to attract the world’s most talented and skilled immigrants. There is a huge amount of evidence that skilled immigration is very positive for productivity, for some key industries, and of course, for our excellent universities—perhaps crucial. The Government need to be highly focused—and more focused—on making sure that any obsession with demonstrating overall impact about immigration does not result in losing key talent.
I would also like to say in finishing that it also continues to make little sense for overseas students to be included in any overall target for reduced immigration targets, and I encourage the Minister to request a shift in this part of the Government’s stance, irrespective of this Bill and any amendments to it.
My Lords, last June I voted to leave the European Union. After years of urgently needed reform of the Union being promised and never delivered, and finding ourselves on the path inexorably to ever-closer union, I decided that the time had come to leave and, thankfully, a majority of the British people took the same view. This has been and still is a marathon debate and we have heard an enormous number of views. Most of them I have seen as trying to refight the referendum all over again and I do not intend to be part of that argument. That argument has had its airing. I want to look forward to what is going to happen after the Bill is passed. The Bill will start the exit process simply and without frills. We do it no favours by hanging amendments on it. The process will be complex anyway and it will not be helped if this House appears to be making it even more complicated.
We have heard a lot in this debate and before about the need to set out a negotiating strategy publicly in advance. I learned during the peace process in Northern Ireland that successful international negotiations are better carried out under the radar. Attempts publicly to lay down the ambit of negotiations help only the other side. Equally, you do not negotiate with your cards face up on the table, much as Mr Barnier would like you to. You hold them close to your chest and play them at the best possible moment. No successful negotiations can be conducted if one side in those negotiations is at war with itself. I make this point in all seriousness. That presents an open target to the other side and we must think very carefully about how we deploy our feelings as we move forward. We have all expressed our views over these past months and I respectfully suggest—although, I have to say, not with great hope—that in the national interest we should now all exercise restraint and let the Government get on with it.
That is not all. There is another thing we need urgently to look at. We have a duty to think with imagination and self-belief about the future, not just our relations with Europe but our place in the world. The democratic decision to leave the EU provides an enormous opportunity to do this. Whether we seize it depends on whether or not we plan and prepare for it now. It will not happen if we are still fighting our old referendum battles. We must now put them behind us and look forward. It is not about just bilateral trade deals and rights of residence. Of course those are essential elements, which must be established as we move through the Brexit process and beyond, but we need to raise our eyes and our aspirations. We need urgently to decide how we see a future Britain. We need a new, bold view of what we want Britain’s role in the world to be—something which, I have to say, has rarely been possible within the EU. We should seek once and for all to end the culture that Churchill once described as being “adamant for drift” and to outline a clear new purpose towards which we can begin to plan now.
The history of our country was built on a combination of vision, dogged determination and the courage to take on the odds and win through. I believe that those elements are still part of our national psyche. Over these past years, they may have been somewhat dormant. The time has come to reawaken them. The Bill presages a momentous point in our history—whether for good or bad ultimately will depend on us. One thing is certain: successful momentous outcomes do not fall into your lap. You have to go out and earn them. We need a vision and a strategy and then that dogged determination and courage to make them a reality. That ultimately is how Brexit will be judged and, in the end, that is a challenge for us all.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow a friend of over 50 years. Even Brexit will not divide us.
The Prime Minister’s foreword to the White Paper says that we are “a great global nation”. Few would quarrel with that. What concerns me today is our responsibility to that globe. Have the Government considered properly the effects of our proposed withdrawal on developing and post-conflict countries in particular, including Commonwealth countries and our own overseas territories? The noble Lord, Lord Morris, has just reminded us of Gibraltar. I have tabled an amendment because even the White Paper is silent on this.
Ironically, before last June’s fateful decision, David Cameron had presided over some of the higher moments relating to our global responsibilities, most notably the new dawn of the new sustainable development goals. Today the more vulnerable countries, which value their relationships with the UK, fear that our leaving the EU also means a downplaying of our international relations and our many commitments to help them. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said a lot more about that.
I start with the effect of Brexit on post-conflict countries in eastern Europe, having just returned from a visit to Kosovo, a country which we have championed and were the first to recognise. The Government can hardly deny that leaving the EU must mean giving up on enlargement, one of the cornerstones of our European policy. I have had reassurances from Ministers that we “remain committed to European security”, but what about the civilian CSDP programmes in Ukraine and Kosovo? The noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, made strong points on security. I expect the Minister will say something definite about this.
NATO will remain the principal channel of security in eastern Europe. However, Russia has always feared and exaggerated Europe’s influence on its own former protégés. The EU’s projection of ideas can have an implicit political impact and the Commission may have overreached itself in Ukraine. Surely, however, we must stand firmly behind the Copenhagen principles of human rights, democracy, transparency and the rule of law that underlay membership of the EU. The noble Lord, Lord Balfe, reminded us that we were behind many of these principles from their origin. I assume that they continue to apply post-Brexit, not just for two years but well beyond the time of our departure. They may be difficult to apply in some countries, but we must resolutely stand by them. I fear that leaving the EU could weaken that resolution.
The European Union also brings these ideas to the poorest countries. In Africa the UK has been prominent in EU programmes, such as those to defeat piracy and to rescue trafficked migrants from the Mediterranean. We need to know how we are supposed to continue these operations other than in partnership with the EU. Will the Minister comment on that at least? In Mali and Niger the UK has played a small part in the EU missions against terrorism which, on the whole, have been successful in containing al-Qaeda, especially in the north of Mali.
Trade is another major area that brings considerable uncertainties. Once we leave the EU, we will need to negotiate separate free trade agreements with all 78 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries that currently enjoy tariff-free entry into Europe. This will not be an easy process in itself, but if it is left to the last minute some of the poorer, smaller nations could be left high and dry as far as our trade relations go.
On aid, I hope it goes without saying that the UK will continue to join international partnerships devoted to health campaigns against HIV/AIDS, polio and malaria. I expect our leadership role there to be unchanged, but all this will have to be reviewed. We make a huge contribution to health services in Africa, just as health workers from Africa make a vital contribution to our own NHS. Long may this continue while they can obtain visas and rights of residence.
I am less certain where we stand with the European Development Fund and ECHO. The EDF focuses on the least developed countries and the UK is the third largest donor. Our departure will have a great impact. ECHO is the EU’s humanitarian programme. It monitors emergencies on a daily basis throughout the world. Both are programmes of major importance to the poorest and most disaster-prone countries and the ones that are vulnerable to climate change. The EDF is technically outside the EU budget but it is a significant instrument, linked to the Cotonou agreement. Have the Government calculated the effect of our withdrawing from these on the beneficiaries as well as on the programmes?
EU member states form the world’s largest source of development funding, and taken together they currently make a huge contribution to poverty reduction and help to defeat epidemics. The UK’s withdrawal presumably will not mean that we no longer share data with other European countries, yet without partnership of some kind, we will be losing that important connection in international health—just as my noble friend Lord Blair reminded us also happens in policing and with the European arrest warrant. Can the Minister explain how this will work? Far be it from me to present Cassandra-like forecasts of doom, but no one has yet done the homework, and our former civil servants on the Cross Benches are quite doubtful about the cost of the whole process. But what is certain is that by withdrawing, we remove an important pillar from the European structure of aid and development, which we know is bound to hurt our most vulnerable trading partners.
My Lords, this is obviously an important debate, but I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I say that there is a certain degree of unreality about it, not just because so many people are anxious to refight old battles but because the discussion is about a negotiation. However, there is no negotiation at the moment, so to a certain extent this is so much hot air, talking about what might happen or what you might do. It is not until we get into the negotiation that we will start to encounter reality.
Therefore I say first to our Front Bench that we should trigger Article 50 as soon as possible, perhaps not even wait until the enactment of this Bill. The more time that is spent before Article 50 is enacted, the more time there is for people to waste their energy and confuse themselves—and there is plenty of that happening. I am not suggesting that immediately after triggering Article 50 things will be easy. They will be very difficult, I think, at that point.
I remember some time ago taking evidence in a Select Committee about the trade agreement, TTIP. A couple of witnesses observed to us that the European Union was a very difficult body to negotiate with. When asked why, one said that it spent so much time getting a common position among all 27 countries that it found it incredibly difficult to move away from that position. When we go in and put down our proposals, they will have already spent time working out their proposals, and I am not sure whether there will be any real progress after that.
As to how one should conduct the negotiation, I agree with the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, and my noble friend Lord Lothian, and with yesterday’s speech by my noble friend Lord Hill of Oareford, which all included good things to bear in mind about the negotiation. But we will just have to see how that works out.
What do we do in the meantime? We have 15 to 18 months to go. Addressing our Front Bench again directly, I think we should bring on the great repeal Bill as quickly as possible so that Parliament can get into it. There will be a lot more meat in that than there is in this Bill, and all the things that people are talking about as likely amendments would be dealt with much better in that context than in the context of this Bill. In fact, as the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, observed in the Times today, this is not a matter of scrutinising or improving the Bill, as all the amendments would put strange new things into the Bill that were not part of it. That is not really what we should be doing at this stage. We should do that at a later stage.
Bringing forward the great repeal Bill and going through its processes is fine up to a point, but there is a huge amount of work to be done alongside or after that, because that Bill will bring all our existing EU legislation into our own system. We can then look at it and consider what we want to keep, what we want to amend and what we want to remove. That will be a huge job, and it is difficult to see what will go into the Bill that will do it. We should start on that job as soon as possible. Saying that we will wait until the exit negotiations are complete is just sitting twiddling your thumbs when you could be doing something useful. We will have to consider how we are going to deal with this. We need a bespoke solution. Trying to modify normal legislative practice could cause some difficulty. Some people are anticipating the largest and most comprehensive Henry VIII clause that there has ever been. I do not think that is a terribly good way of doing it. We will have to find a way. We could then spend time—indeed, this House, with its experience in these matters, could make a significant contribution—sorting out what we do with the inherited acquis, which cannot just be left without being looked at; it has to be considered.
Another thing should be in the great repeal Bill. There is probably a plan for it to be in there, but if not I am sure it will go in. There should be some clauses to meet the points made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, yesterday. Such clauses could be tailored to provide the parliamentary involvement that he said the courts have indicated will be necessary. We should look at that.
By virtue of getting this Bill going, we underline and strengthen the Government’s position that they are prepared to walk away from a bad deal. It is important that they are prepared to walk away. If you are dealing with a negotiation such as this with lots of rules, it is importance to remember that you have no leverage if you are not prepared to leave the table. At the same time, you have to persuade people that you bring to the table something that is worth having. Those points are not entirely consistent, but you have to be prepared to do it. We will have to be prepared for something fairly tough.
My final observation does not follow from anything I have just said. It goes back a bit. There have been references to David Cameron’s attempt to renegotiate our position in Europe, which led to the referendum. My comment is simply this: had Europe really wanted to keep the United Kingdom in the European Union, it should have given him something of substance, something really important, to enable him to win his referendum. Its failure to do that tells you an awful lot about its basic approach.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, has often shown by his example something which can inspire us.
As speaker number 112 on this list, I must be your Lordships’ dinner gong as well. This is quite appropriate since, as a historian, I found in my archives a reference to the Flemings—when they negotiate, they ask you to lunch. This pearl of wisdom derives from a history of the 16th century, written at the time by the noble Bishop Bartolemé de las Casas, which I have in my library.
Lunch or not, I am a survivor of the first referendum on Europe—that of Harold Wilson in 1975. I organised, at that time, a list of no fewer than 200 writers who supported the idea of Britain in Europe. They included two of our Nobel prizewinners for literature—Sir Vidiadhar Naipaul and Mr Harold Pinter. I also wrote a pamphlet in the 1970s, entitled Europe, the Radical Opportunity, at a time when I still thought the adjective “radical” had a benign usage. I mention those activities, since I am tempted to say that I regard myself as still bound by the referendum vote of 1975, rather than of 2016. How long does a referendum bind its voters? There has been no discussion at all on this important constitutional matter.
I was impressed by many speeches yesterday, but I want to mention three. The first was by my noble and right reverend friend Lord Eames who was archbishop of Ireland. He adjured us to be exceptionally sensitive about the words we use. Language is more important than we think it is, he wisely commented.
I was also impressed by, and pleased with, the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem —I hope that I have pronounced that correctly—who insisted that Britain should adopt a generous, positive and affectionate attitude to all the European Union citizens who have come to live here. Mean behaviour is always a mistake.
I also enjoyed the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, not just because I once went to tutorials in Newnham, an important suburb of Cambridge, with a great scholar, Dr Walter Ullmann, but because I, like her, believe that the great achievement of the European Union, European Community or Common Market—however you put it—has been to confirm a permanent peace in Europe enjoyed by our generation. We do not always remember that Britain has been a continuous participant in European wars—not just the great wars of the 20th century but all those beforehand, with the exception of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870.
I was also affected by the eloquent speech of my noble friend—whom I am glad to see more or less in his place—Lord Faulks, who, like me, voted to remain, as he told us, and who I think argued that the time to contrive a new creative relation for this country has not quite come. That point was of course made by my noble and learned friend Lord Hope. However, it will have to be done, perhaps using NATO as our starting point, as suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham.
The late Lord Dacre of Glanton, Hugh Trevor-Roper, whose absence from this House is very much regretted, and always will be by those who remember him, described in one of his essays how his hero, the great Edward Gibbon—a Member of the other place as a matter of fact—was a European. It is an accolade which all historians and enlightened persons should aspire to obtain, whatever the details at the conclusion of our negotiations on this matter.