House of Lords
Monday 27 February 2017
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Newcastle.
Death of a Former Member: Lord Waddington
My Lords, it is my sad duty to report to the House the death of my noble friend Lord Waddington. Lord Waddington was one of the leading political figures of his generation. He arrived in this House as its Leader in 1990. By then, he had already had a long and distinguished record of service both as an MP and, at the highest levels of government, as Chief Whip in the House of Commons and then as Mrs Thatcher’s last Home Secretary. After his time as Leader of this House, he continued to serve his country as Governor of Bermuda.
On this day last week, many noble Lords may have had occasion to think of Lord Waddington. His maiden speech as Leader of this House was the last occasion on which the Prime Minister—then Sir John Major—sat on the steps of the Throne. That fact only hints at the legacy left by a great parliamentarian—a man who never abandoned his Lancastrian roots, retaining always a directness of approach, clarity of thought and plainness of speech which enabled him to cut through political complexity with enviable success; many of us wish we had that skill. His service to this House following his period as leader continued to show him at his best: a man of principle and grit; a tenacious and committed servant to the British public who effected real change, leading the charge from the Back Benches on major legislation such as the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, to which he carried an amendment in 2008; a man who always thought of others before himself. It was typical of Lord Waddington that in 2015, he was one of the first Members to retire under the House of Lords Reform Act 2014.
At this sad time, we send the good wishes of the House and these Benches to his wife Gilly, to whom he was a devoted husband, and their children and grandchildren. We can only share in their sense of loss, but we can also take this moment to reflect on a career and a life of outstanding public service. Lord Waddington set a standard of dedication and integrity to which we can all aspire, and he will be missed by us all.
My Lords as we have heard, Lord Waddington had a long and distinguished career as a lawyer, a politician, Governor of Bermuda and indeed Leader of this House and Lord Privy Seal. Many in your Lordships’ House today will know him well from his service in the other place as an elected MP and a government Minister, and will know that he was a man of strong conviction. I think he would have relished the description I read of him yesterday as being a no-nonsense politician.
Despite his very strong loyalty to Margaret Thatcher and his long and distinguished service as a Minister, he was surprised to find himself appointed Home Secretary, having himself recommended our Lord Speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for the position. I was surprised to find that we had something quite unusual in common: as the noble Baroness said, in his case it was during his maiden speech in this House that the then Prime Minister, John Major, listened from the Throne steps.
Like many noble Lords, Lord Waddington’s dedication to and affection for his constituency, Ribble Valley, continued long after his elevation to your Lordships’ House. There is no doubt that he missed being its MP, given his deep commitment. In some ways he wrote his own obituary when, in an interview in The House magazine some years ago, he said with disarming self-deprecation—I think he was having a joke:
“I would like to be remembered as a decent local buffer who wasn’t all that clever, but in his own way tried to do his best”.
What more can any of us ask than that we try to do our best? On behalf of these Benches I offer sincere condolences to his wife Gilly, his family, his colleagues and his friends.
My Lords, unlike many Members of your Lordships’ House I did not know David Waddington personally, although I recall a number of notable speeches that he made from the Benches opposite during my time in the House. It is fair to say he was not one of life’s natural Liberal Democrats, but my colleagues cheered when, as Home Secretary, he referred the case of the Birmingham Six to the Court of Appeal, where of course their convictions were eventually quashed.
The only thing I can really claim to have in common with Lord Waddington is that, like me, he was a proud northerner. He could not help being a Lancastrian but he certainly made the most of it and, as others have said, was plain-speaking and had the characteristics of straightforward behaviour that northerners like to think they share. It is typical of Lord Waddington that he is having his memorial service in Clitheroe rather than across the road; that says a lot about where his priorities lay, and those of his family. Like other noble Lords who have spoken, I wish to pass on our good wishes and condolences to Lord Waddington’s wife and family.
My Lords, in wishing to associate myself with all the remarks that have been made, I am conscious that, like them, I was not in the House when Lord Waddington was serving here as Leader, although I was here when he returned from Bermuda in 1997.
Time marches on. Only 20 of the current membership of the Cross Benches were actually in the House when he was Leader, reflecting the fact that there is quite a bit of distance between us and that time. My predecessor in the office of Convenor at the time was Baroness Hylton-Foster. The office that I hold now was very much in its infancy, so I do not think she had quite the same warm working relationship that I have with today’s Leader.
I have one advantage, however. I remember sitting below the Bar during a debate at which Lord Waddington was certainly present. It was a debate on the future of the legal profession—a matter in which I am sure that he, as a former lawyer, took a close interest. The Government’s policy was, it is fair to say, not universally welcomed by the profession. It is worth recalling that the Lord Chancellor, who was sitting on the Woolsack at that time, was the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. That reminds us of two things: that the Lord Chancellor sat in this House, and that the Leader was not the only Member of this House to sit at the Cabinet table. Those are two things we have lost, and which I am sure Lord Waddington would have valued very much.
When I passed through Gray’s Inn this morning on my way to the House, the flag was flying at half mast, in a very fitting tribute to Lord Waddington, as he was a bencher of that inn. One of his sons, who followed his father to the Bar, is also a member of that inn. To him and to all the other members of the family I would like, on behalf of all those on these Benches, to extend our condolences on their sad loss.
My Lords, I would like to be associated with the comments already made about the late Lord Waddington, and to add a few words of tribute on behalf of these Benches. Although I came to the House shortly after Lord Waddington retired, I know that his Christian faith was a source of great comfort and inspiration to him. The “Waddington amendment” that bears his name was prompted by his concern that those who sincerely hold traditional Bible-based views on relationships should be able to speak freely under the law. Hansard records that in 1998 Lord Waddington asked Ministers,
“that those responsible for the Church’s forms of worship should not lightly tinker with the language of prayers which millions have learnt in childhood and from which they still find comfort at times of distress and grief”.—[Official Report,12/3/98; col.302.]
I like to think that this morning’s choice of Psalm 46 for Prayers would therefore have been appreciated, not least as a line from this psalm,
“God is our refuge and courage”,
features in the late Lord Waddington’s own coat of arms. Future worshippers at St John the Evangelist, Read-in-Whalley, will benefit from a new stained glass window kindly donated by Lord Waddington, which will be a long-standing and fitting memorial to his care and concern for that community, and to his devotion to public service. I offer my condolences to his wife, children, family and friends. May he rest in peace.
Industrial Strategy: Engagement
My Lords, we have published a Green Paper that invites people and organisations across the country to contribute to our industrial strategy. The Government are also committed to strengthening the worker voice in the boardroom. The Green Paper on corporate governance reform explores a range of options, and the Government will publish their response in due course after analysing responses they have received.
I thank the Minister for that response. The 10 pillars of the industrial strategy cover the processes required to establish the structure against which the strategy’s progress will be measured. There is, however, no mention of the human interaction needed to successfully implement those processes. There is a well-established link between employee engagement and productivity, which in this country lags behind that of France, Germany and the United States. What is the Government’s plan to ensure that companies have in place appropriate training for all levels of management, so that inclusion and employee voice are present, and the effective delivery of the industrial strategy can be measured? I note that the noble Lord mentioned workers on boards—a policy that we support, but which does not deal with employee voice at all levels of a company.
My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right. The link between employee engagement and performance, however you measure it, whether in productivity or quality, is proven, so engagement is extremely important. However, I do not believe that just having someone on the board of a company is necessarily the right way of getting that engagement, as the noble Baroness mentioned. Engagement is much deeper than that. It is predominantly the responsibility of individual companies to tackle this. You can see the resulting performance when they get it right.
My Lords, I have just come from a meeting of the Institution of Engineering and Technology at which it launched its report Skills and Demand in Industry. The one thing it pointed out to everybody was that only 9% of technology and engineering staff are women, yet 15% of them graduate from our engineering schools and in my own university of Cambridge the figure is over 20%. What are the Government doing to ensure that more women become engineers in industry and participate in it, especially through the apprentice route?
It is interesting that only 15% of women graduate in this subject. In the case of medicine, for example, the figure is now well over 50% and is nearly 60%. It is a very good question. Interestingly, I went to Rolls-Royce last week and met a number of apprentices there, some of whom are doing degree-level apprenticeships. That may be one way of increasing the number of women going into this area. It has been a problem for many years and we are only in the foothills of cracking it.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that share ownership can provide the motivation to help employees and managers deliver for their companies and, of course, deliver the industrial strategy? If he does, what more can the Government do to promote such share ownership?
Share ownership can be a part of this but engagement of people in their workplace goes much deeper and is much more of a day-to-day issue than share ownership or board directors and the like. John Lewis and the mutuals have demonstrated the value of mutuality and ownership, so this does have a part to play. However, it is only part of a much bigger picture.
My Lords, I declare my interest as chairman of a public company. Will my noble friend look at the widespread practice among fund managers and large shareholders of contracting out their responsibilities for corporate governance to outside organisations, and encourage them to engage directly with companies involved in the matters which concern the Government, such as executive pay and other matters?
The noble Lord may have seen the letter that BlackRock sent round to all FTSE 100 companies in which it talked very strongly about the need for long-term sustainable improvements when considering remuneration. I was pretty staggered to see that between 1998 and 2015 the average take-home pay of a FTSE 100 chief executive has gone up from £1 million to over £4 million. In 1998, that represented 47 times the average salary of an employee, now it is over 128 times. Remuneration is a very serious issue and if we want to live in a fair society, we need to address it.
My Lords, will the Minister have a look at a Private Member’s Bill that was introduced here twice previously by the now deceased Lord Gavron, who was very prescient in seeing the difficulties arising from the growth in the salary gap between CEOs and their employees? That Bill was supported by noble Lords all around the House. It would be well worth the Minister’s while to look at it. He mentioned that he does not want the Government to interfere in the deals between employers and employees in the private sector. However, the Government have responsibility in a very substantial part of the country’s employment—namely, in the public service. What are the strategy and targets for improving productivity in the public service?
The noble Lord makes a very good point. Industrial relations, employee engagement—call it what you will—is much better by and large in the private sector than in the public sector. We are not good employers, if we are honest. Like me, a number of noble Lords in this House were staggered that the junior doctors, for example, were forced into taking strike action. These people are vocationally committed, yet somehow we created an environment in the public sector which is far from satisfactory.
My Lords, will the Minister, on behalf of the Government, have a word with the Speaker, the Senior Deputy Speaker and the Clerk of the Parliaments and ask them to consider how the employees of this place might be involved more in decisions regarding its running?
My Lords, a number of our leading companies have very innovative ways of engaging people in their business—for example, Google and other companies like it have installed table tennis tables. I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, might consider making way for a table tennis table in this place.
My Lords, does my noble friend concede that turning earners into owners and expanding employee share ownership in various forms can, in certain circumstances, be immensely beneficial and a great promotion for industrial competitiveness and effectiveness? Will he bear in mind particularly the case of the National Freight Corporation where a major share ownership by all employees had an enormous effect in improving productivity? It was a project carried forward with great vigour by no less a person than the noble Lord, Lord Fowler—now the Lord Speaker of this House—and me, as successive Secretaries of State for Transport in the 1980s.
I agree with my noble friend that employee ownership can be very beneficial—the mutual is another model that can be beneficial—but it does not guarantee success. There are many other aspects of corporate life that are very important. The Co-operative Bank is an example of an organisation that has not been a conspicuous success in recent years. It can be very important but it is not the whole answer.
Secondary Schools: Funding
My Lords, through our careful management of the economy we have protected the core schools budget in real terms. This means that in 2017-18 schools will have more funding than ever before for children’s education, totalling more than £40 billion. We are also committed to ensuring that all pupils receive a broad and balanced curriculum that includes both an academic core and additional subjects that reflect their individual interests, strengths and characteristics, including arts subjects.
My Lords, is not the Minister alarmed by the recent comments of the head teacher of a school in Cheshire, who said that if further cuts—and they are cuts according to the National Audit Office—go ahead then all non-EBacc subjects could be removed from the curriculum, meaning no art, music, drama or design and technology? Arts departments across the country are already bearing the brunt of the current cuts, such as to specialist teachers, provision of materials and ICT. Will the Minister accept that there is simply not enough of a funding cake to go round?
I am alarmed by the comments because it is quite clear that those schools that perform well in arts subjects also perform particularly well in the EBacc. As the NAO has said, by comparing efficient schools with others, there is plenty of money in the system and we have a number of tools in the department to enable schools to run themselves more efficiently, and those that do have sufficient resources, particularly for the classroom and for their curriculum.
My Lords, it must be the case that these cuts will fall disproportionately on non-EBacc subjects as schools encourage pupils to take more EBacc subjects to boost their results. To avoid a ticking time bomb for the creative industries pipeline, will the Government consider including design and technology as well as computer science as part of the EBacc, as proposed by his colleagues in the other place?
There is no evidence that the take-up in GCSE art subjects has declined as a result of the EBacc. In fact, the New Schools Network found that the number of art GCSEs taken by pupils has gone up since the introduction of the EBacc. We have to remember always that when we started in 2010, sadly, only one in five pupils in state schools were studying a core suite of academic subjects. That is why we focused on the EBacc and have doubled the number of pupils who have these academic subjects, which are particularly important for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.
My Lords, the Minister says that his Government have protected the main core school budget, but would he not accept that on-costs which schools have to pay, such as national insurance, have ensured that schools have not got the money? In fact, the IFS yesterday reported that, for the first time, there is a real cut in school budgets. Would this account for the fact that there has been a 10.6% decrease in the number of hours given over to creative art teaching?
The IFS pointed out that over the 20 years from 2000 to 2020, schools will have a 50% per pupil increase in real terms. As I said, we believe that there is considerable scope for savings in schools’ efficiency. We are already on course to save £250 million in academies by next year alone with our RPA scheme substituting insurance costs. We believe that our buying strategy can save £1 billion out of £10 billion a year of non-staff spending.
My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, quoted a head teacher and I would like to do the same. Last week, the head teacher of the Forest School in Winnersh, Berkshire, resigned her post because of the increasing amount of cuts facing her school. In a letter to parents, pupils and staff, she said:
“The situation with regard to schools funding, both nationally and locally, is bleak: in common with other headteachers, I did not enter the teaching profession to make cuts that narrow the curriculum, or to reduce the number of teachers and increase class sizes, yet my hand has been forced and I see no immediate easing of the situation. Consequently”—
this impacts directly upon the question—
“I feel unable to deliver the quality of education the boys at The Forest so clearly deserve”.
The National Association of Head Teachers says that that is increasingly becoming the situation across England. That is not surprising, as the National Audit Office has reported that there will have to be an 8% real cut in the schools budget up to 2020—this, it should be said, by a party that in its 2015 election manifesto pledged to protect the schools budget. The Government say that the new funding formula—
I do not think that time will permit me to respond to that speech. I can only repeat what I said: that schools that run themselves efficiently have ample resources for a broad curriculum. I invite the noble Lord to go on to the department’s website and watch a clip by Sir Mike Wilkins about the curriculum-led financial planning at Outwood Grange. Academically, this is one of the most successful and, financially, one of our most efficient multi-academy trusts.
Does the noble Lord agree with what Professor Brian Cox said when I asked him about the fetishisation of science in the school curriculum? He said that physics has taught us that the world had a beginning and will most probably have an end, but the arts will teach us how to live in the vast expanse of time in between.
I agree entirely with the noble Baroness about the importance of arts. We all know that the STEM subjects are very important, and it is encouraging to see that the STEM intake at A-level has gone up substantially in recent years. However, as I said, there is plenty of room in the curriculum. The EBacc takes only five subjects and on average students now take nine qualifications, with many taking 10 or 11. Therefore, there is plenty of room in the curriculum for arts subjects.
Defence: Industrial Strategy
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of their plans for a national shipbuilding strategy and significant investment in the United Kingdom defence nuclear enterprise, whether they intend to develop an overall defence industrial strategy.
My Lords, the Ministry of Defence is actively involved in the cross-government work on an industrial strategy. Many of the themes in this apply to defence, and we do not plan a separate defence industrial strategy. A substantial amount of work is already under way to encourage the growth and competitiveness of UK industry, including as part of the commitment in the strategic defence and security review to refresh defence industrial policy.
My Lords, although I like the cut of the noble Earl’s jib, which is not surprising considering his naval pedigree, I am disappointed by the Answer. There is a complete absence of analysis of the defence industrial base and no proper study of its real costs. These were identified in the King’s College study instigated by the noble Lord, Lord Sterling, but nothing seems to have been done to focus on them. We know very well the value for this nation of things such as the agile supply cycle, but we also know their value in terms of jobs, through not having to pay welfare payments or unemployment benefit. There are all these benefits, yet we do a simple calculation of costs, which does not make sense. Does the Minister not agree that we have to look very closely at the real cost of equipment and weapons before we decide to buy from abroad, with a loss of jobs, a loss of agility and a loss of ability to keep running our systems here, and that we really must get the balance right rather than taking the simplistic approach of saying, “This costs £4 there and £5 here”?
I agree with the central thrust of the noble Lord’s proposition. As I said, many of the industrial strategy themes, particularly around removing barriers for UK companies to do business with government are well aligned with our refreshment of defence industrial policy. It is all about updating our terms of trade with industry to continue to deliver the best equipment for the Armed Forces at the best value for money, but in a way that supports UK industry to grow and compete successfully. That is the balance we are trying to strike.
My Lords, I declare my interest as chairman of General Dynamics UK. Many years ago now, I was given the task of unscrambling the defence industrial policy, which was centred on so-called national champions. This policy resulted in significant cost overruns and delay in delivery of equipment badly needed by our Armed Forces. Will the Minister please confirm that the Government have no intention of reverting to that policy and remain committed to the policy of competitive procurement which has served the nation well?
My Lords, I can reassure the noble Lord in that regard. The Government remain committed to the principles we set out in our 2012 White Paper, National Security Through Technology, including promoting open competition. We will be refreshing our defence industrial policy very much within that framework.
My Lords, I totally agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord West. There is a big difference between cost, which this country has got so used to using as a measure, and value for money. What has been lacking for many years—I know the noble Lord, Lord Levene, feels very strongly about this as well—is a long-term relationship with industry. You cannot expect people to employ engineers, and get thousands of subcontractors and universities involved without long-term relationships. Does the Minister agree that that is a way forward? After all, the United States of America, Russia and China all have huge sovereign industry and it certainly seems to serves them well.
My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that part of the work we have to do, and are doing, is looking at how we can optimise the strategic interaction between the Ministry of Defence and industry, including how we make defence a more attractive customer for people who do not traditionally supply to the MoD, such as small and medium-sized enterprises. It is about creating simpler processes and a more competitive UK supply chain. Of course, we would like to source from companies and organisations in this country, but we have to make it as easy as possible for them to deal with us.
My Lords, last Tuesday, Labour’s shadow defence team, together with my noble friend Lord West of Spithead, held a workshop with representatives of some 20 defence companies. The clear message from that event was that a defence strategy was the best way to streamline procurement and give a clear vision for the future to the defence sector. Have the Government had similar discussions with industry experts on the need for such a strategy? If not, may I suggest that they do? They may learn something.
My Lords, I do not think we need to get too hung up on the word “strategy” as opposed to “policy”. The key questions, it seems to me, are how we can make UK industry more competitive, how we can drive innovation, how we can drive skills and, as I have said, how best to ensure that industry can engage productively with government and that government itself is a more intelligent customer. These are the questions we should address and I am sure they are the ones industry wants us to address.
My Lords, what are the considerations when making decisions about the maintenance and growth of the supply chain, particularly on issues such as the availability of British skilled workers, the current defence industrial locations in the UK and the impact on local economies of buying overseas?
In the industry consultation that we carried out, a number of areas were highlighted, all of which we are looking at in the refresh exercise. They included how we make our processes more straightforward for non-traditional suppliers, the improved use of early market engagement, and communicating our approach more clearly to industry at an early stage. Those things will all play into the issues that the noble Baroness recited.
United States: Immigration Policy
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the decision by President Trump to limit immigration to the United States, what steps they are taking to secure the rights of Iranian-born British citizens visiting the United States to return to the United Kingdom and not be sent to Iran.
My Lords, we gained assurances that measures enacted by President Trump’s executive order of 27 January do not affect British passport holders irrespective of their country of birth or whether they hold another passport. We are closely monitoring any changes and would consider intervening with the relevant authorities if necessary. Standard US policy is that visitors who are denied entry to the US are returned to the country from which they have travelled.
I thank the Minister, but what measures have the Government taken to ensure that, at the point of entry into this country, passport controls focus on the legitimate passports of individuals and do not ascribe an assumed identity to visitors in terms of their dress code, assumed nationality or religion?
My Lords, with regard to visitors to this country, I can give the noble Baroness that assurance. With regard to the access of visitors to the United States, its guidance says that those same factors should not determine the decision that is made: the decision is made on an equality basis.
My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s comments, but can she reassure the House that on the executive order that we expect either this week or next week, the department will be prepared to offer proper advice immediately and the Foreign Secretary will not waste any time in seeking urgent clarification, unlike the last time?
My Lords, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary did seek urgent advice the last time. The difficulty was that there was some confusion in the United States’s systems, as was evident from the changing nature of its travel advice online. Therefore, early engagement by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in this country and by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister meant that we were able to get the earliest advice to British passport holders that they would not be adversely affected.
My Lords, can I flag up the astonishing position whereby the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, who was born in Iran and is a former professor of politics at the University of York and much else besides, might herself be at risk in Iran and not welcome in the United States? Does the Minister agree that we should never go down that road, and that both countries are missing out, potentially, on an absolute treasure?
My Lords, that is an extremely important question because of the problems, as we have discussed over the past six to seven months, which ensue when one country does not recognise the validity of dual nationality. Iran is just such a country. We continue to have discussions at ministerial and ambassadorial levels with Iran to try to resolve some of the consequences of its refusal to accept that one can ever revoke one’s own Iranian nationality. Iran is not the only country involved and we continue those negotiations with other countries, too.
My Lords, what representations is the Foreign Office making to the American embassy on cases such as Mr Miah, the maths teacher born in Swansea who was accompanying his class to go to the United States? It seems that he was blocked in Reykjavik from boarding a plane for no other reason than that he is a Muslim. He was denied entry and then humiliated; he said that he “felt like a criminal”. Are these sorts of cases being monitored and followed up, and what representation is being made about this outrage?
With regard to the particular case of Mr Miah, who was removed in Reykjavik from a flight to New York, he has not been given a reason for the entry refusal by the US authorities. On the wider question, naturally when we were advised by Mr Miah of his position we gave consular assistance in position, in Iceland. More broadly, a really important issue underlies the noble Baroness’s question: namely, that we are not always notified when somebody holding a British passport is denied entry or, indeed, detained upon entry. We can only be sure of knowing about it if they notify us, given that the US does not commonly hold those records and there is no international rule that any country must do so.
Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Ratification of Convention) Bill
The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Business of the House
Motion on Standing Orders
That, in the event of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill having been reported to the House at the conclusion of its proceedings in a Committee of the whole House, Standing Order 40(1) and (4) (Arrangement of the Order Paper) be dispensed with on Tuesday 7 March to enable the Report stage to start before oral questions and the Question for Short Debate in the name of Lord Truscott to be taken between the Report stage and Third Reading.
Bereavement Support Payment Regulations 2017
Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 2017
Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 2017
Motions to Approve
Pension Schemes Act 2015 (Judicial Pensions) (Consequential Provision) Regulations 2017
Motion to Approve
European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill
Committee (1st Day)
Relevant document: 8th Report from the Constitution Committee
Clause 1: Power to notify withdrawal from the EU
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 3, at end insert “while retaining membership of the European Economic Area (EEA)”
My Lords, I think that one of the themes of these two days in Committee will be that there are no easy answers to the dilemmas we all now face in the United Kingdom. There are upsides and downsides to every option for Brexit and the country’s future. That includes membership of the European Economic Area.
Perhaps I may remind the Committee that we can retain our membership of the single market without membership of the EU only through maintaining our membership, which of course we have already, of the EEA. To spell it out, membership of one or the other is required; that is, either of the EU or of EFTA. That is why I need to say a little more about how we would work within EFTA, which currently comprises three countries: Norway, Iceland and the Duchy of Liechtenstein. We cannot, as we sometimes seem to be doing, rule out all of the options before us, and certainly not rule them out prematurely. Rather, we should look at the pros and cons of each, as has been done in the outstanding report of the joint sub-committee of the European Union Select Committee on Brexit and trade options, chaired by my noble friend Lord Whitty.
We were members of EFTA from its inception in 1960 until we joined the EEC in 1973. I declare a retrospective interest, having chaired the last meeting of the EFTA consultative committee, which was made up of national employers and trade union organisations in consultation with the Council presidency. The meeting was held in Vienna in December 1972. The EEA has a two-pillar structure: the EU on one side and EFTA on the other. They meet together in the EEA council at government level, with various joint committees on particular points, along with a joint parliamentary committee and the EEA consultative committee.
The substance of consultations with the EU depends to an extent on the weight of the member states involved, but I am told by contacts in Norway that these are not without value, and I think that something like this was also the burden of the message sent by the Norwegians who gave evidence to parliamentary committees in both the Lords and the Commons. On the objection to this approach, there is of course the constant complaint that plan B, C or D falls because, “We would not be at the table”. I have to point out that the famous 52% asserted—or supposedly asserted, if they knew what they were doing, which we assume they did—that, without equivocation, they did not want us to be at the table. So that can hardly be a drawback to where we go from here: end of story, full stop. Surely we can all agree that we have to balance influence on the one hand and freedom of action on the other.
EFTA has its own court of adjudication on issues such as interpreting the EFTA treaty and its application of rules of origin, technical standards et cetera. So we will be bound by the rules of EFTA consequent on the relationship with the single market, but obviously there is a great deal of legal alignment with the EU. The four freedoms can themselves be interpreted in different ways. For its part, the Commons Select Committee noted in paragraph 122 of its report that the Secretary of State for Brexit had indicated on 1 December last year that the Government,
“give very high priority to both tariff-free access and access without tariff barriers … that may or may not include membership of the single market”.
The Lords committee report stated in paragraph 82 that in trade terms, becoming a non-EU member of the EEA,
“would be the least disruptive option”,
providing free access to the single market in services and partial access to it in goods. The trade agreements are often negotiated advantageously by EFTA itself. I believe that there is a score of such agreements rather than agreements with individual member states.
I turn now to freedom of movement, border controls, work permits et cetera. Every facet of this debate has now been opened up more than it has been for many years—and by “open” I mean open and not closed down in advance. There is a considerable degree of variance among EU countries on how free movement is interpreted. In Belgium, there is a requirement for a job to go to, it is necessary to pay the rate for the job and no job advertisements can be placed in eastern Europe without being placed also in Belgium. Our Secretary of State seems to have come up with a new form of words about the guarantees for people who are already resident and working in this country. I would simply say that this is an area where we all know that constructive thinking needs to go ahead on a bipartisan basis.
Regarding attitudes in Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein towards our application to become members once again, which have to be thought about, it is fair to say that we have very close relations—with a possible question mark in the case of Norway about something that happened 1,000 years ago—notably because of the North Sea energy fields from Shetland through to Aberdeen and further south, in particular in the north-east of England and down the east coast. This is true for the UK as a whole in a great variety of ways, including through the activities of the Norwegians’ well-managed, energy-based sovereign wealth fund, which is now worth £250 billion. A lot of that investment is deployed via London, as we were told in a recent briefing by the fund.
Without being presumptuous, and while recognising that EFTA would change its internal dynamics and, to some degree, its character and profile, the advice generally is that one would not expect hostility in Norway—the largest of the three—to any hypothetical application from the UK to rejoin the association. Positives would also arise from this for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, compared with the alternatives. This is becoming more and more obvious as the weeks go by.
In paragraph 58 of its report, the Lords committee observes:
“Various studies had shown that from the EU’s perspective, ‘the EEA is the most preferred model’ of association for third countries”.
That is not a consideration to be underestimated, and it may influence attitudes among the EU 27 countries. These options for trade, investment, tariffs et cetera have to be the subject of not just theoretical argument but practical experience, such as was given by a Mr Emerson, who pointed out in evidence reported in paragraph 70 of the report that the advantage of the EEA option is, inter alia:
“It is a system that exists, offers legal clarity and actually works. It is closest among other options … to the status quo in economic terms and it would avoid uncertainty and thereby minimise damage to the UK as a destination for foreign investment aimed at the EU market”.
These are among the reasons why it would be counterproductive to leave the EEA, certainly prematurely. I know that going down the route I am advocating would entail Ministers eating some words. But I am sure that their digestive systems will be up to it once they have all run a few times around St James’s Park. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the amendment moved by my noble friend as a way to probe aspects of the Government’s approach to our future trading relationship with the European Union. The EEA was created when the UK, Denmark and Ireland changed from being members of EFTA to members of the EU, but the scale of their commercial relations with the other EFTA countries made it necessary to abolish customs barriers between the two groups of countries. A similar imperative will operate in the current situation as far as the UK market is concerned, given the scale of our trading with the EU. Obviously, in many ways the EEA would not be my preferred option because I would prefer to be in the single market—indeed, I would prefer to remain in the EU. However, given where we are after the referendum, I certainly think it is worth the Government considering and responding to the points that have been made.
My noble friend referred to the excellent report by the European Union Committee on Brexit: the Options for Trade and the fact that paragraph 5 of the conclusions says:
“EEA membership would be the least disruptive option for UK-EU trade, not least because it would maintain membership of the Single Market for services”.
I specifically ask the Minister whether this paragraph of the report, highlighting the importance of services to our economy and the way that that can be handled within an EFTA-type solution, has been discussed with the City of London, and what kind of response was made by the City to the point in the report.
Obviously, we will have a further chance to look at the report when it is discussed in this House on Thursday, but it is very germane to the discussions this afternoon, both on the EEA and on the single market. Therefore, it is quite right to highlight it today and I take this opportunity to do so. Certainly—this point has been made many times—whatever people voted for in the referendum, we are all pretty sure that they did not vote to make themselves poorer. As a result of that, exploring the best deal possible, in looking at all the possible options, is going to be vital. I believe that the Government need to take the amendment and the report very seriously.
My Lords, I agree very much with my two noble friends, who have set out very well the purpose of the amendment. I, like them, feel that it is a disaster for our country to leave the European Union in any circumstances, and that the economic costs have not begun to be properly assessed in this country, although as every week goes by we become more aware of some of them. However, I think it is common ground, even with those who think that we should leave the European Union and who voted and campaigned for that, that there are economic costs and even they would accept that those economic costs are very serious.
The economic costs essentially affect manufacturing, particularly areas such as automotive and aerospace where there are a large number of supply chains in the European Union going across countries, with parts and components and so forth going back and forth more or less the whole time. That business will be very severely affected by our leaving the customs union and the single market, particularly where we would have to pay tariffs, as we would do in the case of motor cars, for example. The other area is financial services, which accounts for 10% of the gross national product of this country, as we all know. The City at the moment is the financial capital of the European Union but that is likely to cease if we left the European Union. It is very difficult to imagine how it could continue to be that unless we had some way of remaining in the internal financial market.
The great thing about the EEA is that it is a way of avoiding some, if not all, of the economic costs—there would be a loss of investment in many areas and as time went by there might be threats to our competitiveness as a country, both in services and in some of the manufacturing areas I mentioned. Nevertheless, it would mitigate and very much reduce the economic costs, which everybody is agreed are considerable and serious. Therefore, it seems extraordinary that the Government have not even bothered to consider or negotiate the possibility of our remaining in the single market by virtue of becoming again a member of EFTA or otherwise.
The Government have very reluctantly conceded that there should be some parliamentary process in this procedure of leaving the European Union. They have very reluctantly conceded that they should report to us at least as much as the European Commission does to the European Parliament on the progress of negotiations. They have very reluctantly exposed to us some of their thinking on some of these points, which have been dragged out of them in different ways—and we have to go on doing that.
However, as we begin to get clearer sight of what the Government are doing, it becomes more and more curious because we observe that they are actually breaching some of what one had always thought were the golden rules of negotiation. They are behaving in a way that is clearly irrational. No normal person gives up an option unless he or she gets to the point when they have to. There is no point in giving up an option in advance so why did the Government state in advance they were not interested in becoming a part of EFTA and remaining in the single market on that basis?
Secondly, the Government have said that their priority is to prevent freedom of movement or stop freedom of movement in future so far as this country is concerned. We now hear from Mr Davis that he does not expect any significant reduction in immigration from the rest of the EU or anywhere else for the next few years. In other words, the benefit for which the Government are apparently prepared to pay this enormous economic cost is much less than it was always made out to be. That is very clear.
On the subject of giving away an option in advance, is my memory playing a trick on me in recalling that the noble Lord and others on the remain side during the referendum campaign argued that membership of the EEA would be the worst possible option because we would be bound by all the rules but have no say?
The noble Lord is uncharacteristically inaccurate; he normally does his homework before intervening in this way. He is quite right that I and many on the remain side argued against the EEA being the right solution but he is quite wrong to suggest that any of us argued that it was the worst solution. On the contrary, throughout the campaign I always said while it was a very bad solution, it was the least bad solution of all those on offer. I am on record as saying that and probably said it in debates in which the noble Lord took part. Indeed, that is my strong view today and is the case I now argue.
I wish we could stay in the EU—period, as the Americans say, or full stop—but if we cannot we must try to mitigate the enormous damage. That is the argument I have been making. The way to do that is to try to find a way to stay in the single market, and one way we could certainly do that is to rejoin EFTA, as my noble friend Lord Lea set out. It is extraordinary that the Government have excluded that possibility and I now come to their extraordinary behaviour.
The Government have not only revealed that the benefit for which they are prepared to pay this high cost is nothing like as great as it was always made out to be, but not even considered negotiating on the single market regime provided by the EEA and using that as a basis for trying to get some concessions on freedom of movement. My two noble friends suggested a way forward that might be possible. I do not think that we on this side of the House will be able to take over these negotiations but we want to know—it is important that everybody in the country knows—why the Government did not even think it worthwhile to sit down with our European Union partners and say we would like to stay in the single market but we would also like to curb freedom of movement at least to some extent. We could have a negotiation on that basis.
I think the previous Prime Minister was a completely incompetent negotiator. The way to make progress in European affairs—it is extraordinary that after all these decades the Tory party has not learned this—is to adopt a communautaire approach and the language of one’s partners, to say that what one is seeking to do is in the interests of everybody and not purely in the selfish interests of this country, and certainly not just to get a good headline in the Daily Express or Daily Mail. We make it clear that we share the long-term objectives of our neighbours and partners for the future of western civilisation, as well as for prosperity, competitiveness and employment and these important economic but ultimately subsidiary objectives. Then we say pragmatically, as we have a reputation for being pragmatic, “Would it not be a good idea to do X, Y and Z which would strengthen our common purposes and take further forward our common ambitions?”. That is the way to make progress but it is the opposite of the confrontational approach the last Prime Minister adopted. It is not surprising that he did not get very far.
I am glad that my noble friend made this brief intervention because it enables me to say that I am extremely worried—I am not alone in this—that the Tory party has learned nothing at all from this experience or from any other experience over the last 40 years of the European Union and so will make the same mistake again. It will find itself not achieving what it ought to in the national interest in these negotiations. They will be a disaster, and a largely avoidable disaster, precisely because the Tory Government have not learned the obvious lessons of the past which my noble friend was kind enough to give me the opportunity to remind them of this afternoon.
If you have somebody negotiating on your behalf—a solicitor, an accountant or some representative, agent, trustee or whoever—and you watch carefully what they are doing, you are entitled to get worried should they do something that goes quite counter to normal human common sense. I pointed out three ways in which the Government are behaving in an extremely irrational fashion. I will repeat them so that the Minister can address them when he sums up. First, why are we pursuing this particular objective with the same kind of intensity and passion when we have acknowledged that the objective that we are trying to achieve—what we are trying to obtain in exchange for the high price of giving up our membership of the single market—is not anything like as great it was previously made out to be?
Secondly, why have we not decided to negotiate on the basis of the available option, which we know exists, of our potential membership of the EEA and see if we can perhaps do a little better and achieve some additional concessions? We have not even tried to do this—why not? Thirdly, why are we proceeding in this negotiation by giving up options in advance, before we have even explored them and before we have even started the negotiations? It is a very extraordinary thing to do.
My Lords, I wonder whether the Labour Party could find room for others in this debate. Even if the noble Lord, Lord Lea, were right that we did not have to go through a process of joining EFTA and the EEA—I do not think that he was, actually—being a member of the EEA means accepting EU laws, as my noble friend Lord Forsyth has said, without any political representation or influence over them. This would, of course, result in less control for the UK over its destiny, rather than more. That is not what people voted for in the referendum. I oppose this amendment for those reasons and because it is directly inconsistent with the White Paper.
My Lords, there are those who say that, since voting to leave the EU was the only question on the ballot paper, it is legitimate to argue that people did not vote to leave the single market or the customs union. They are wrong, but we will deal with that in the fourth group of amendments. Those same people also argue that we can join the EEA and benefit from it while still leaving the EU. I believe that that, too, is wrong and misguided. However, your Lordships should not take my word for it: I will quote from the EEA website. After it describes what the EEA is, who are the contracting parties and when it was agreed, it goes on to say in point 4:
“What is included in the EEA Agreement? The EEA Agreement provides for the inclusion of EU legislation in all policy areas of the Single Market. This covers the four freedoms, i.e. the free movement of goods, services, persons and capital, as well as competition and state aid rules, but also the following horizontal policies: consumer protection, company law, environment, social policy and statistics. In addition, the EEA Agreement provides for cooperation in several flanking policies such as research and technological development, education, training and youth, employment, tourism, culture, civil protection, enterprise, entrepreneurship and small and medium-sized companies. The EEA Agreement guarantees equal rights and obligations within the Single Market for citizens and economic operators in the EEA. Through Article 6 of the EEA Agreement, the case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union is also of relevance to the EEA Agreement, as the provisions of the EEA Agreement shall be interpreted in conformity with the relevant rulings of the Court given prior to the date of signature, 2 May 1992”.
Therefore, if we join the EEA, we would, in effect, still be in the EU to all intents and purposes, with the exception of agriculture, fishing, justice and home affairs. All the rest of it we would have, lock, stock and barrel. We would not have control of our borders, our laws, our courts or much of our money. We would thus betray the people who voted to leave the EU, and that is why we should reject this amendment.
My Lords, I will make four very brief points. Will the Minister assure the House that this amendment is actually within the scope of the Bill? The Bill is about notifying withdrawal: this seems to me, as with many other amendments, to be about something completely different. Secondly, it is not within our unilateral gift. Even if the Prime Minister is instructed to remain a member of the EEA on our behalf, she cannot necessarily achieve this on her own. Thirdly, it is not a good idea to tie her hands in that fashion, and fourthly, even if this amendment succeeded—and the same is true of many others—and it became a part of this Bill, as the two years unrolled, it might prove to be inconvenient and an obstacle. There would be nothing to stop the Government simply repealing, or bringing forward measures to repeal, this particular measure, were it to be added to the Bill.
My Lords, surely the problem with the EEA is that it is a waiting room for people who want to join the EU. It was never designed for people who wanted to leave it. I do not quite understand why we have to sit here saying that we must take one of the options on offer from the EU. We are the third-biggest economy in the EU. The EU sells 50% more to us than we do to it. Why can we not have a unique free trade agreement with the EU? Why do we have to go along with any of these things that are on offer from the EU?
Perhaps I may be permitted to correct the noble Lord, who I know is an expert on these matters and normally gets his facts absolutely right. We have sat on European Union committees together for quite a long time. But he is wrong about the EEA being a waiting room for applicants to the EU. Norway had a referendum which decided against joining the EU. It decided not to be a member of the EU but it decided to be a member of the single market and to join EFTA on that basis. For Norway, it is not an anteroom, it is an alternative, as it could be for us if we so wished.
I accept that but it was designed originally to be a waiting room for those who wanted to join and that is why it has been put in place and you have to comply with all the regulations of the EU. But I come back to my point that if we join the EEA, we do not join the customs union so we have all the problems of the customs regulations. It enables us to do free trade deals with others but it has many disadvantages and I still do not really understand why we have cannot have our own unique arrangement with the EU. I am sure that is the ambition of the Government and that is why the amendment should be opposed.
My Lords, in declaring an interest—which is really my only qualification for joining this short debate—as a half-Norwegian, I advise the Minister to test the noble Lord’s assertion that the Norwegians are broadly content with their situation. Conversations I have had over the years with relatives and friends suggest that they see all the disadvantages that my noble friend Lord Forsyth so forcefully expressed five minutes ago.
One of the major difficulties that might stem from membership of the EEA is its implications for freedom of movement. I ask the Minister, when he responds, to give the Government’s assessment of the implications for freedom of movement for the UK of membership of the EEA.
My Lords, I think the Committee has heard quite enough from me so I will not speak on this other than to say that this will come up when we discuss the single market and I will reserve our comments until then. The Committee will probably know that we will not be supporting this amendment.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for the amendment concerning the European Economic Area, which seeks to ensure that the UK remains a member of the EEA.
I wonder if the noble Lord will allow me to make a little progress before he launches into the water. This Bill is about the process of our leaving the European Union. It is not about the Government’s approach. I will happily debate these matters with your Lordships, and I am sure that there will be other occasions on which to do so over the coming months and, indeed, years. But as the other place has shown, this Bill is not the place to put constraints on the Government’s approach.
What is it that the Minister says? I am obliged to him for giving way. As this is the first time we have heard from the Minister on this subject since the weekend, I wonder if he would care to comment on one of the most significant happenings. A very distinguished Member of this House, who sat through almost the whole Second Reading on Monday and Tuesday—a former Deputy Prime Minister for whom we all have the greatest respect—has said that he is going to oppose his own Government on this. He is completely against Brexit. What is the Government’s reaction? Are they not going to take account of the views of someone so distinguished, someone with such great experience of government and of the European Union? Would the Minister care to respond?
Yes, of course. The noble Lord to whom the noble Lord refers is not in the House today.
It is my intention to make some progress with this matter. The Prime Minister clearly set out her vision for the future of the UK post-exit in her speech on 17 January, including our future trading relationship with the EU. She was clear that we do not seek membership of the single market. Instead, we seek the greatest possible access to it through a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious free trade agreement. We want the UK to have the freest possible trade in goods and services with the EU’s member states but also to be able to negotiate our own trade agreements. As the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Epsom, observed, we seek our own, bespoke deal.
The United Kingdom has always been a leading voice for free trade, not only in the European Union but globally, and we have been consistently clear that we want the maximum possible freedom to trade for businesses in both Britain and Europe. But we also want to take back control of our laws and control immigration to Britain from Europe.
Being a member of the EEA would mean complying with the EU’s rules and regulations that implement the four freedoms—in respect of capital, goods, services and people—without having a vote on what those rules and regulations are. It would mean accepting a role for the European Court of Justice that would see it still having direct legal authority in our country. It would mean not having control over immigration. EU leaders in the other 27 states have been clear as to their belief in the indivisible nature of the four freedoms, and we respect that. The people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU, not to maintain partial membership of its bodies or institutions. When the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union institutions, they did not intend that we should leave by the front door and rush back to attempt entry by the back door.
As set out in the White Paper, we recognise that we will require alternative forms of dispute resolution once we leave the EU and are no longer subject to the European Court of Justice. But again, these mechanisms are common both to agreements between the EU and third countries and in international agreements to which the United Kingdom is also party, of which there are many examples. Once we leave the EU, the EEA agreement will no longer be relevant for the United Kingdom. It will have no practical effect. It will be an empty vessel. That is because the agreement is defined as covering all EU members and those three EFTA states—Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway—which have chosen to join the EEA. As we are leaving the EU, we will automatically be outside this definition, as found in Article 126 of the EEA agreement. So there is no choice open to us to leave the EU and remain a member of the EEA, which would require a separate negotiation with the EU and the three EFTA states that I have just mentioned. For example, Switzerland, which is also a member of EFTA, has separate bilateral agreements with the EU even though it is not in the EEA. EFTA membership is not, of course, the same as EEA membership.
Although it will have no practical effect after the EU exit, we are considering what steps might need to be taken formally to terminate the EEA agreement as a matter of law, as we will remain a signatory to the agreement. This could be done through Article 127 of the EEA agreement on giving 12 months’ notice, or by some other means, but no decision has yet been taken on that. We have laid out in the White Paper, however, the relationship we are seeking: a new strategic partnership which includes a new customs agreement and an ambitious and comprehensive free trade agreement. We are seeking the greatest possible access to the single market as part of this.
The noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, referred to the fact that we would not be at the table. That is absolutely right, and that is not what 52% of our population voted for when they voted leave. It is one thing to have power without responsibility; it is another to have responsibility without power, and that is what we would have in these circumstances. It was suggested that freedom of movement could be open to a variety of interpretations. That is not the view in Europe. It is open to only one interpretation—one which we have been under for a number of years.
The noble Baroness, Lady Quin, referred to the report of the House of Lords committee. I can reassure her that we take the terms of that report very seriously, and we will be taking forward our consideration of it in due course. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, referred to the suggestion that somehow we could keep our options open so far as the EEA is concerned, but that is not the case. EEA membership is not an option that is simply open to us if we leave the EU. As I said, it becomes an empty vessel. We have to face up to the indivisibility of the four freedoms, as insisted upon. It is not a case of going to Europe and saying, “We would like to negotiate out of one of the four freedoms”. We are told repeatedly that they are indivisible, and we have to take that into account.
At the end of the day, we cannot embrace membership of the EEA any more than membership of the EU without freedom of movement in Europe. In these circumstances, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw this amendment on the understanding that we cannot retain membership of the EEA for the reasons I have sought to set out.
Before the noble Lord sits down, there is one issue on this question which is very important to the national interest. When the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, came to the Select Committee to answer questions about the Government’s negotiating strategy, I asked him whether—as part of a transitional arrangement—they had ruled out membership of the single market or the EEA, and he said they had not. Can the Minister clarify the Government’s current position?
Whatever the Front Bench opposite thinks, most observers think it will be impossible to negotiate a comprehensive trade agreement within the practical 15 months of negotiation that will be available after the German elections. This implementation phase that the Prime Minister talks about is in fact a transition. Are the Government saying that under no circumstances would we consider being members of the EEA, or the single market? If they are, we are facing the most horrendous cliff edge as an economy.
My Lords, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, I do not accept that we face a cliff edge—there is no cliff and therefore no edge. We fully intend to negotiate a suitable settlement within the period set out in Article 50 and that is the course of action on which we are setting out at this time.
The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, questioned whether this amendment was within the scope of the Bill. That is a question for others, but clearly it is not related to the purpose of the Bill. The Bill is concerned with process and, if we lose sight of that, we are liable to become rudderless in very difficult waters.
My Lords, on that last point, I would point out that the Government are very good at demolishing every possible hypothesis that is put up, but at some point they will have to look at them constructively—they will have to look at the report on Thursday, as we have just heard—and consider the costs and benefits of each of them. At the moment, what seems to be happening is that one after another various ideas are brought up in debate, which is what we are here for, and the Government produce a tremendous round of artillery to blow up that particular bridge—that is, that particular idea. However, they have never laid out how those couple of sentences in the Lancaster House speech, reproduced in the White Paper, will work. We on this side are opening ourselves up to the vulnerability of saying exactly what we think might be an option. It behoves the Government very soon, in the national interest, to look at what might work rather than at what might not. We will have to return to these matters and look at the pros and cons of this option as well as all the others.
Instead of the Government just saying what is ruled out, it would be good to hear a bit more about what is ruled in. Instead of concluding, like Mrs Thatcher, that “there is no alternative”, they should see that there are several alternatives to just walking away, but we have not heard about these in any detail. We are getting to the ridiculous position where we will have the so-called great repeal Bill, and this Bill will be on the statute book, but there will be no detailed prospectus at all, on the flimsy grounds that that would give the game away about our negotiating position. This does not bode well for the Government coming back with a satisfactory solution to the serious challenges facing the country. However, that is as far as we can take this today, so I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
2: Clause 1, page 1, line 3, at end insert—
“( ) Before a notification can be given under subsection (1), the Prime Minister must give an undertaking to negotiate under the process set out in Article 50 to support the maintenance of the open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland as set out under the provisions of the Belfast Agreement of 1998 and subsequent relevant agreements.”
My Lords, this amendment is also in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Alderdice and Lord Murphy of Torfaen. It will be noted that this is a cross-party amendment by two former Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland and a former Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
In a few days, the people of Northern Ireland will go to the polls for the second time in eight months, at a moment when Northern Ireland’s self-government is in a political cul-de-sac and unresolved legacy issues and the past, including the prosecutions of long-retired British soldiers, continue to haunt everyone. The settlement in Northern Ireland is built on the delicate balance of the three strands of the Good Friday agreement: relationships within Northern Ireland, between Belfast and Dublin and between Dublin and London. Brexit will test each of these relationships and, if the Government pursue a hard Brexit, they could do profound damage to all three.
When I was Secretary of State in 2005, I flew many miles by Army helicopter from east to west along the mountains and fields of south Armagh that mark the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Knowing what had afflicted that area over so many years, it seemed to me that it had what Yeats called, in a different but related context, “a terrible beauty”.
Frankly, the border was, even at the height of the Troubles with security controls, impossible to police. Then it was dubbed “bandit country”. It is estimated that along the entire 300-mile Irish border there are up to 300 crossings and countless additional paths, with 35,000 people crossing each day and each month 177,000 crossings by lorries, 208,000 by vans and 1.85 million by cars. Since family farms straddle the border, there are goodness knows how many animals on the move, from domestic pets to livestock, conceivably being forced to carry ID tags if they stray either way in future—all because the border will become the customs frontier of the European Union.
Bertie Ahern, who served three terms as Taoiseach between 1997 and 2008 and was a central player in helping to secure the Good Friday agreement and deliver power sharing, was reported in the Observer recently as saying that the establishment of an Irish land border could have devastating results, putting Northern Ireland’s peace process in jeopardy.
“‘I worry far more about what’s going to happen with that,’ he said. ‘It will take away the calming effects [of an open border]. Any attempt to try to start putting down border posts, or to man [it] in a physical sense as used to be the case, would be very hard to maintain, and would create a lot of bad feeling.’”
I would suggest that “bad feeling” is an understatement.
“‘Any kind of physical border, in any shape, is bad for the peace process’, he said. ‘It psychologically feeds badly into the nationalist communities. People have said that this could have the same impact on the nationalist community as the seismic shock of the 1985 Anglo-Irish agreement on unionists, and I agree with that. For the nationalist community in Northern Ireland, the Good Friday agreement was about removing barriers, integrating across the island, working democratically in the absence of violence and intimidation—and if you take that away, as the Brexit vote does, that has a destabilising effect.’”
I agree with him. I am particularly aware that the consequences of a hard customs border between Northern Ireland and the Republic are potentially immense, and are not addressed at all in the Government’s White Paper. Frankly, I am not convinced that the Government have even begun to grasp the political significance of it.
I, like Tony Blair and my predecessors—my noble friends Lord Murphy, Lord Reid and Lord Mandelson—was utterly non-partisan when dealing with the Northern Ireland parties, even though in the space of two meetings we would be accused by one of being for a united Ireland and by the other of being rabidly pro-union. But I built as close a relationship with Ian Paisley as I did with Gerry Adams, with Peter Robinson as with Martin McGuinness. I remain unaligned today—and that allows me, I hope, to talk bluntly, and some might even say inappropriately, about the politics of Irish republicanism and nationalism.
For these people, an entirely open border of the kind that has operated without security or hindrance of any kind for many years now is politically totemic. It marks an everyday reality to all republicans that progress, albeit in their terms slow progress, has been made, and is being made, towards their aspirations for a united Ireland. It has been as if the border no longer mattered. Citizens resident on either side can and do take advantage of the health and education services nearest to where they live, on a cross-border basis. Northern Ireland businesses invest without hindrance in the Republic and vice versa. The two economies are being steadily integrated: there is even a plan to cut corporation tax in Northern Ireland to synchronise with the low rate in the south.
Of course the island of Ireland has not been united politically or constitutionally—to do that would properly require endorsement by referendum, and the principle of consent is one of the cornerstones of the Good Friday agreement—but it is almost daily becoming united in everyday life. That is welcomed by unionists as well, secure in the knowledge that there can be no change in the constitutional position without their consent. Above all, it is a symbol of the normalisation of relations between the two parts of the island. The Government disturb that at everyone’s great and grim peril.
Those who maintain that because the Prime Minister has said that she does not want a return to a hard border it will not happen should be aware that the Irish Government, who do not want a hard border either, have nevertheless, as a contingency measure, begun identifying possible locations for checkpoints along the border with Northern Ireland in the event of a hard Brexit.
The Northern Ireland peace and stability process is very far from over. The current disturbing breakdown and impasse in the Northern Ireland Assembly and its Executive is a manifestation of the extent of unfinished business. I do not say that we will go back to the murder and mayhem of the Troubles, but I insist that the process could easily unravel. It requires continuous forward momentum; a reimposed border with any form of restrictions is the very reverse of that. If the referendum means Brexit at any price, it might well be at dangerously high cost for the Northern Ireland peace process.
Apart from the politics, the post-Brexit border issue is fraught with practical problems. The excellent House of Lords report, Brexit: UK-Irish Relations, stated on page 65:
“The only way to retain the current open border in its entirety would be either for the UK to remain in the customs union, or for EU partners to agree to a bilateral UK-Irish agreement on trade and customs. Yet given the EU’s exclusive competence to negotiate trade agreements with third countries, the latter option is not currently available”.
The report added:
“Short of the introduction of full immigration controls on the Irish land border, the solution would either be acceptance of a low level of cross-border movement by EU workers, or allowing Northern Ireland to reach its own settlement on the rights of EU citizens to live and work there … which would require … an adjustment of the devolution settlement”.
In evidence to the House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on 1 February, international trade lawyer Michael Lux dismissed the Government’s commitments to an open border as “nice words” and warned that Britain’s departure from the customs union would require a significant enforcement infrastructure on the Irish side, possibly including cameras and helicopters. Lux calls for,
“a special status for Northern Ireland”.
In subsequent testimony to the committee, Irish Ambassador Dan Mulhall said:
“I just don’t think it’s remotely possible to think in terms of having a border that would really control every movement of goods and people”.
He also warned that it was,
“essential that Brexit does not affect the Good Friday Agreement, and that the people of Northern Ireland can have confidence that this will be the case”.
Experienced customs officials from both sides of the border have questioned the practicality of reimposing controls. Former UK customs officer Gerry Temple told the BBC:
“The border runs through many properties and it would be impossible for customs to check what comes in the southern side and goes out the northern side. The re-opening of the unapproved roads has changed everything and made the task for customs impossible”.
The Police Federation for Northern Ireland has also expressed concern about the consequences of a hard border.
“We are still operating under what the government says is a severe threat, which means an attack on our members could happen at any time and is highly likely”,
PFNI chairman Mark Lindsay told the Guardian. He added:
“If we are saying in the future that police officers could be deployed to customs posts and other fixed points on a hardened border then they would become static targets. They would in effect become sitting ducks for the terrorists”.
I am assuming that he is talking about the dissident IRA groups.
The outgoing leader of the Alliance Party and former Northern Ireland Justice Minister, David Ford MLA, observed that,
“the issue of the common travel area is not dealt with by people simply saying, ‘The CTA has existed since 1923’, because it had never existed when one jurisdiction was outside the EU and the other within it”.
Your Lordships’ European Union Committee has already highlighted the danger of exacerbating an existing smuggling problem on the border, a judgment that reflects testimony from Northern Ireland’s Justice Minister and police service among others. A hard Brexit risks a double windfall for paramilitaries from increased opportunities for fraud alongside growing political tensions. One wheeze, apparently emanating from the Government, is to have electronic controls of some sort.
“I haven’t found anyone who can tell me what technology can actually manage this”,
Bertie Ahern said. David Ford MLA observed that it was “utterly meaningless” to talk about electronic controls as a preventive tool against cross-border smuggling. He noted that there was already evasion of the different excise duties on either side of the border. The leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, Mike Nesbitt MLA, agreed that electronic monitoring of the movement of goods,
“just will not cut it”.
We need maintenance of the common travel area, the right of free movement within it for UK and Irish citizens, and their right to reside and work in both countries. We need the retention of the right to Irish, and therefore EU, citizenship for the people of Northern Ireland. We need a customs and trade arrangement between the UK and Ireland if the UK leaves the customs union. We need reaffirmation by both Governments of their commitment to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and continued support for cross-border co-operation.
One suggestion is to negotiate for Northern Ireland as a special zone with exceptional status within both the UK and the EU, justified by its turbulent history. An authoritative paper by Professor David Phinnemore of Queen’s University Belfast illustrated the complexities. He identifies what he terms the “reverse Greenland” option:
“This draws its inspiration from the departure of Greenland, which is part of Denmark, from the then European Communities in 1985. The idea of a ‘reverse Greenland’ envisages the UK remaining in the EU, but not all of its constituent parts doing so”.
Scotland and Northern Ireland—as constituent elements of the UK that voted remain—would, as was the case with Denmark, remain in the EU; England and Wales, following Greenland’s example, would leave. Gibraltar is another fraught problem altogether and, with 95.9% of the votes cast in the referendum for remain, it might also fall into such a category.
“Such an arrangement would require agreement within the context of a post-Brexit UK-EU relationship for the free movement of people to extend beyond the border of the EU into but not across the entire territory of a non-member state. This would be unprecedented, but it would not be unprecedented for special or bespoke integration and cooperation arrangements to be put in place for particular regions or territories of non-member states. Svalbard enjoys special status within the context of Norway’s participation in the EEA. The EU has also granted some restricted concessions to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad which is situated between two EU member states (Lithuania and Poland)”.
Special status might mean a hard border with Wales, Scotland and England, but at least these would be at ports and airports, which are in any event already monitored and sometimes policed. Travellers now present passports or driving licences to board aircraft, for example, so would similar arrangements for the Liverpool ferry be so much of a problem? If these kind of checks were on arrival in Great Britain, would unionists see that as a de facto border between GB and Northern Ireland for the sake of free movement within Ireland and object? Alternatively, would the Irish be prepared to increase controls at their ports and airports, with any extra security presumably paid for by Britain, rather like we do in Calais? I wonder.
Creative, lateral solutions will certainly be needed, but a solution there has to be, with give and take on all sides. The free movement of people, goods and services on the island of Ireland is critical to continued momentum and deepening of the peace process. Cross-border trade and tourism have increased on the back of the peace process, as have business activity and investment. Today, crossing the border between Strabane and Lifford, Derry/Londonderry and Letterkenny, or Newry and Dundalk, is just as simple as crossing the border between Wales and England. In fact, it is easier in the case of south Wales because there is no Severn Bridge-type toll. I do not really mind how an open border is achieved, but it must be, which is what this amendment insists on.
Ours is not a wrecking amendment. It does not obstruct Brexit. It is not tying the Government’s negotiating hand. All it is doing is insisting that, as Article 50 is triggered, it is only on the basis that the Government negotiate to secure what they already say they want—an open border in line with the Good Friday agreement. I trust that we never have to confront the stark choice between delivering on the Brexit referendum and deepening hard-won stability and peace on the island of Ireland.
My Lords, I have always been a fervent European. It is an emotional thing as much as an intellectual one. In my own family there are people from outside of the UK. My wife and I make our home not just in Northern Ireland but also in continental Europe. As a former vice-president of the European Liberal Democrat Party and someone always committed to Europe, it is part of me politically; and intellectually, the principles behind the European project have been a driving force in my own way of understanding a better way of doing politics, particularly, of course, in my own part of the world in Northern Ireland.
The border was not the cause of our problems; it reflected problems that were there before but it also exacerbated them. The way that the European project worked for many years provided us with inspiration and a model to change relationships within Northern Ireland, between north and south, and between Britain and Ireland. However, for me, sadly, it was neither entirely a shock nor a surprise when the referendum went the way it did. For some years, as some noble Lords will know, I had been warning that, unless those with influence in Brussels and those of us who are pro-European influenced our colleagues in Europe to change the way that the European project was developing, we would find those opposed to the European Union increasing in number and in fervour, and it would not be good for the project—indeed, it would be destined for disaster if there was no change. I said so in your Lordships’ House on more than one occasion but there was not a preparedness to listen.
For me, the European project was essentially a peace project. It was not about the euro or the single market, and it was not about providing a space at the top table of global affairs for Presidents and Prime Ministers of small European countries. It was a peace project to try to make sure that Germany and France, in particular, and the rest of Europe did not go to war again, but now it has become the focus of division within Europe.
Those of us who are pro-European should have been looking for a long time at why things were going wrong. If a couple divorce after 40 or more years and the one who leaves does not do so in order to go to another partner, the one who is left needs to ask themselves some serious questions about the motivation for the divorce after such a long time. The answer is that the European Union was not developed on liberal principles of freedom, flexibility, organic growth and development, and sensitivity to differences of identity and culture right across Europe, particularly between northern and southern Europe. Instead, it was centralising and focused on itself and on the interests, concerns, preoccupations and beliefs of the elite, with the result that many ordinary people found themselves becoming disenchanted. This is a disaster. We know what happens when Europe becomes divided, but divided it has become, and our job now is to try to find a way of bringing it together.
Before turning to Her Majesty’s Government, I want to refer to our colleagues in Brussels. It is not a one-sided business—relationships require movement from both sides. Immediately after the referendum, Mr Juncker demanded that Britain implement Article 50 straightaway, saying that it was a requirement. It was not a requirement but it was an extremely unhelpful intervention because it was precisely the impression of Brussels talking down to everybody that had produced the problems.
Therefore, through the medium of this intervention in your Lordships’ House I need to say to our friends in Brussels and across the European Union, “Understand that relationships are a two-way affair. You have to be prepared to be flexible too if there is to be change for the better”. It may be too late to do other than have a relationship where the United Kingdom is outside the European Union, and it may be almost too late for some of the other countries, because this is not just a question of Britain. Many other countries are asking themselves these questions and have deeply dissatisfied populations, and this year in particular is likely to see developments of a thoroughly untoward order.
When it comes to the border in Ireland, I hope that people in Brussels understand that it is in their interests to start being flexible over it and not simply to say, “Well, take it or leave it. If you want to do Brexit, here are the consequences”. Rather, they should say, “First, this is a relationship. Secondly, we are a peace project, and we are not about disrupting a peace project that was painfully put together in Ireland. And, thirdly, if there was ever trouble again in Ireland, it would be trouble within the European Union, even if Northern Ireland isn’t part of it, because the trouble would be north and south of the border, as it was before”. But, of course, the amendment is particularly addressed to Her Majesty’s Government. I appreciated the fact that the Prime Minister, as one of her first initiatives, contacted the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, and expressed her appreciation of his positive regard and relationship. I know that, despite the difficulties he is in, he or any successor would be able to have useful and positive contact with the Prime Minister. However, it is not a question just of what we do and say, it is a question of our impulses.
I remember in 2013 when the then Crime and Courts Bill was being debated, one of the first things I did when I realised that problems were emerging in Northern Ireland over the question of whether there would be a legislative consent Motion in the Assembly was to meet the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, who was responsible for the Bill in your Lordships’ House, and to say to him: “Has the right honourable Theresa May”—who at that stage was Home Secretary—“had a consultation with the Minister for Justice in the Republic of Ireland? Because the NCA, which is going to be created by this Bill, has border security as one of its fundamental requirements. That is one of the things it is about. The only land border we have in the United Kingdom is with the Republic of Ireland. We have a British-Irish Council. We have a whole series of international agreements. We have meetings of Ministers in every context. Has the Home Secretary consulted the Minister for Justice in the Republic of Ireland about this question?”. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, is a very honest and open man, not given to dissembling. He was clear: it had not even entered their minds to have such a conversation. It had not even entered their minds. It was not nasty, it was not malevolent, it was not a snub or a dismissal; it just had not even entered their minds.
My fear is that now she is Prime Minister, Theresa May is bringing to the office of the Prime Minister many of the attitudes, the people and the approaches of the Home Office. If that is the case in relationships with Ireland, north and south, it will create problems for her and for all of us. So my appeal is to understand that being Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is not just about being Prime Minister of England and a few add-on bits. It is about Scotland; it is about Wales; it is about Northern Ireland; and it is about many parts of England that do not necessarily feel entirely at home with the approaches that are taken here in London. That will entail a stretching of imagination and political creativity, it will mean engaging with people and it will not be entirely easy, but it is absolutely necessary if we are to create the kind of environment we need within this United Kingdom and in our other relationships, of which I hope there will be many, not just in the EU but outside the EU. Indeed, goodness knows what kind of EU, if any kind of EU, will still exist by the time we come to March 2019. We have no idea. The world is changing dramatically before our eyes. However, there are some things that we know do cause trouble, even if we are not sure what things cause good to happen.
One of the things that will cause trouble is if people in the nationalist and republican community feel that the progress that was made in relationships, in understanding and in sensitivity are being rubbished because there is no longer the threat of violence. That is why—although I have not put my name to it, and I have some questions about the detailed drafting—I have great sympathy with the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, which reflects something that was said by the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny. That is that there needs to be an appreciation in the engagement with Brussels that if, as is the case under the Good Friday agreement, the people of Northern Ireland give their consent and show their wish to leave the United Kingdom—not something I expect in my lifetime at all—it would effectively mean that they would then become part of an Ireland which, in total, would be part of the European Union, if the European Union still existed in the same way.
It does not seem to me that this is in any way in contravention of the Good Friday agreement or any of the other agreements. It is certainly not talking about promoting a united Ireland; it is entirely different from the situation in Scotland, because Scotland would be leaving to be a separate country and then apply, whereas Northern Ireland would become part of a country that was already part of the European Union, albeit an expanded one. It does not affect other things, but it may well be one of those things that can give sufficient comfort to people in the Republic and in the nationalist community to enable us to negotiate in the way that we desperately need to. It is not about us proposing solutions but rather about insisting on the maintenance of relationships that can get us through the very difficult period that stands ahead.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord. His description of the difficulties that he saw arising within the European Union and the way in which the European Union has not been governed very intelligently by the people in Brussels was seriously meant and I hope that everyone will reflect on it. But I hope he will forgive me if I go back to the amendment in front of us. It is unnecessary. The amendment asks the Prime Minister,
“to support the maintenance of the open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland”.
The Prime Minister does that now. It is in the White Paper, so the amendment is unnecessary for that reason. That is a technical answer to the amendment, but I will move on to a general discussion of the common travel area.
As was mentioned in the debate, the common travel area has existed since 1923. From the mid-1920s onwards, tariff differences existed because tariffs were charged on the Irish border—and those continued right up until our entry into the European Union. So going back to having tariffs is not a new thing for us. Having to have regard to the movement of persons is not, again, a new thing. Noble Lords may not be fully aware that the impact of the common travel area on the free movement of people is not general. It applies only to citizens of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. It does not apply to other citizens.
I remember hearing in a news bulletin several months ago that the Irish police had intercepted a car that had just crossed over the unmarked border. Police stopped the vehicle in order to remove from it half a dozen persons who were travelling to work within the Republic of Ireland but had no right to do so. So that is an example of the movement of persons being monitored. How effective that monitoring is is another matter—and whether that monitoring can be done in a more effective way, again, is open. So there should not be any insuperable difference on the question of the free movement of persons, provided that there is serious co-operation between the British and Irish Governments. Without knowing the detail, my understanding is that very active discussion is going on at the moment between the British and Irish Governments about how that could be handled.
If there is a serious problem, it comes with the issue of tariffs. The tariffs that were charged from the mid-1920s to the 1970s were enough to stimulate smuggling. It was a local cottage industry, particularly in South Armagh. If significant tariffs come back, it will create, as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, mentioned, another line of activity for the boys down there who will profit from it. They might complain about it but they will certainly enjoy the profit and might not be too keen if someone took the profit away. So one has to be aware that there is more than one side to this.
There will be difficulties if there are serious tariffs, but the difficulties will exist mainly for the Irish Government rather than for ourselves. In the paper mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, Mr Lux talked about installations on the Irish side of the border. That is where they will be, because under EU law there is an obligation on countries that have part of the EU’s external border to have installations on that border. So if installations exist they will certainly exist south of the border. Whether they exist north of the border I am not sure; that is a matter for our Government to consider. However, the difficulties are going to be there.
The difficulty for the Irish Government is not just to do with the installations but with trade. Although the Irish have tried to develop their trade in other ways, their largest market is the United Kingdom. A tariff between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom would have very serious implications for them. Incidentally, their second largest market is the United States. Almost all their trade is done with Anglophone countries; they have very little trade with the rest of the European Union.
That actually points to a solution. When we joined the European Union in 1972 the Republic of Ireland joined on the same day; and it did so because of the economic factors I have mentioned. Those factors are still there. The Republic of Ireland is going to have to think very seriously, in a couple of years, about where their future prosperity will lie. At the moment the Irish Government are probably trying to do what they can to educate people in Brussels about the problems that they will face and about the desirability of having tariff-free access. That is also the objective of our Government. They, too, want tariff-free access, and if they achieve that there is no problem—although we should bear in mind what my noble friend Lord Lawson said in last week’s debate: that as things stand, it does not look as though there is much chance of getting agreement on the absence of tariffs. If we do not get that, the Irish Government will have a problem. We would of course want to be sympathetic and do what we can to mitigate matters; but at the same time that is not something that we need as a major element in this debate.
The amendment talks about,
“the open border … as set out under the provisions of the Belfast Agreement”.
Look at the agreement: what provisions? I do not see any. The common travel area was part of the background at the time that we were discussing this, but to say that this is something mandated by or based on the agreement is not correct. It is just a way of hyping up the argument, in the same way that some people suggest that the current peace might be threatened by what is happening here. That is the equivalent of shroud-waving and is not something that we should be too concerned about.
My Lords, when the Minister replies to this debate he has a choice. He can focus on the amendment and explain why it is unnecessary—which he can probably do fairly easily. If he does that, but does no more than that, the Government will be losing a very important opportunity, which is to reply to the remarkable speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and seek to reassure the inhabitants of Ireland, north and south, about the very real concerns that have been expressed by my noble friend Lord Alderdice and the noble Lords, Lord Hain and Lord Trimble, among others.
I am not Irish, although there are times when I wish that I were; but I have lived in Ireland as a privileged guest of the nation for 44 years. I am a member of the Bar of Northern Ireland and of the Republic. I have been frequently to the north, as well as living in the Republic. I say to the Minister—if he does not know it already—that the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, are not debating points; they are very real. As the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, said, Ireland joined the European Community when we did. I think that the Irish were always more European than we were; they saw John Bull’s island as between them and Europe and saw their destiny in Europe—and Ireland has benefited enormously from its membership of the European Union, as have we.
The troubles mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, are acute and I am concerned that, whatever happens with the amendment, which I regard as trivial compared with these issues, both in the debate on Second Reading and in the White Paper the Government have shown a disregard for the seriousness of the issues affecting Ireland as a whole. I urge the Minister, if not today then as soon as he possibly can, to make sure that full reassurance is given to the people of Ireland, north and south, about the concerns that have been expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Hain. That is far more important than the fate of this amendment.
My Lords, I declare two interests as the last surviving member of the Whitelaw commission which led to the Sunningdale agreement in the 1970s and as a long-standing fan of the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, who in his assessment of the situation in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland speaks for nearly all of us. The only questions for us today are what this has to do with the Bill before us and why this amendment is necessary now. If, as the noble Lord, Lord Lester, has just suggested, we are asking for reassurances, I think that we can give them. As my noble friend Lord Trimble has said, the common travel area has been in place since 1923. The trade interests of the Republic of Ireland with the United Kingdom are overwhelming and growing very fast, not only in goods and agriculture but obviously in services as well. It seems to have been largely overlooked that the services element in international trade is rising much faster than the goods element, leading to more and more of the earnings of both the whole of the United Kingdom and the Republic being expressed through digital and data transformation. Indeed, McKinsey has said that it represents more than half the total earnings of international trade. The whole pattern of trade has changed radically in the past 10 to 15 years with digitalisation and it should come into every assessment of the new relationship.
The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, is right to say that the problem lies with the European Union. Will it be able, first, to accept the common travel area—it must because it was there long before the European Economic Community was formed—and will it accept that concessions are needed, or bilateral arrangements of the kind that can perfectly well be organised now between the Republic and the United Kingdom, of which Northern Ireland is a part? In the low-tariff world we are moving into, indeed a zero-tariff world more generally with 80% of all industrial goods not covered by tariffs—people talk as though tariffs are a wall, but they are not—I think that we can be assured that a practical solution is possible. I imagine that it has already been discussed by Ministers and many officials in Dublin, Belfast and London.
I am absolutely sure that various elements of gluing the situation together can develop, with one that I cannot resist adding being that Dublin is showing an enormous interest in association with the Commonwealth. One of the most lively branches of the Royal Commonwealth Society—I declare an interest as its president—is in Dublin. It is attracting a great deal of interest because the Republic sees more and more that its future lies in its relations with the rest of the British Isles while working within the reforming European system, which is going to be difficult because the EU is going through vast political, economic and social changes. So I see very little problem—I do not say that there is no problem because the noble Lord, Lord Hain, speaks with authority—and believe that it can be resolved through good will on all sides. I see that good will in place and there is absolutely no necessity for bringing this issue into the Bill before us.
My Lords, from our perspective here, Northern Ireland is the forgotten part of the UK. It rarely gets a mention in this House and there is little media coverage in the London-based press. I am worried about Northern Ireland, and two or three years of answering for the Government on Northern Ireland issues taught me that politics in Northern Ireland is not as solved as people in England often assume it to be. I am worried about Northern Ireland because it is clearly a difficult time, with the breakdown of power-sharing and the imminent election. Clearly there are difficulties in personal relations that have not always existed in recent years.
The political parties here seem to have abandoned the position of carefully balanced neutrality on Northern Ireland politics. Theresa May relies on DUP support in the House of Commons and the Labour leader’s office has members who are openly sympathetic to Sinn Féin. That situation has not existed in recent years; it used to be more balanced than that. UK political credibility in Northern Ireland is at a low ebb. To be honest, it is at an even lower ebb in the Republic, where the Brexit vote has already done damage and will continue to do more economic damage.
The big conundrum—I added my name to the amendment because I could not see a way out of it—is that whatever the Prime Minister really wants to happen about the border it seems a pretty insoluble problem. That was pointed out very effectively in this House’s EU Committee’s report. Symbols are important in Ireland. The powerful symbolism of a return to border posts would be hugely damaging. In contrast, the current open border is a powerful symbol of the peace process. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, that the border may not have been mentioned specifically in the Belfast process, but the whole thing was predicated on the concept of the open border and took it for granted.
Nowadays people more or less ignore the border. They cross it on a daily basis to shop, to go to the pub, to go to university and to visit relatives. They do not notice that it is there. That daily natural integration is a powerful lever for peace. Of course, to maintain an open border there has to be tariff-free trade with the Republic. That is pointed out in the EU Committee’s report.
It has been suggested that there could an electronic system, rather than physical border posts. That would be deeply distrusted: the idea that people are being tracked across the border would not be appealing in Northern Ireland. The third alternative is, as my noble friend suggested, giving Northern Ireland special status in the EU and moving the border so that, essentially, it lies between parts of Northern Ireland and Wales. Clearly, that would have a major adverse effect on trade, and an impact on Wales’s economy. My support for the amendment is based on my concern that none of those three options is anything like ideal.
Today we hear of government plans for a pre-emptive strike against EU citizens living here or planning to do so. This has come despite assurances from the Prime Minister that she wants to continue to welcome EU citizens, but cannot do so until the EU makes a reciprocal agreement. That news surely undermines the idea that we can rely on the assurances the Prime Minister gave about the Northern Ireland-southern Ireland border. If we have no consistency from the Prime Minister on EU citizens, surely we cannot rely on consistency in her assurances on the border.
The amendment would ensure that the island of Ireland is not forgotten and that Northern Ireland is, just for once, not an afterthought. Any deterioration in the peace process would be a very high price to pay for Brexit.
My Lords, I shall speak in general support of the issues raised by this group. I have not put my name to any particular amendment but I feel that the issues raised demand proper debate. This is the first time that I have spoken in any of the Brexit debates in this House. I have a personal interest: my mother came over from Ireland after the war and made this country her home. Due to a long-standing personal commitment, I made the start of the Second Reading debate but was not able to take up my speaking slot. Therefore, before coming to specific issues, I will say a few words about my overall position on the Bill.
I voted remain in the referendum. This did not make me a cheerleader for the EU. I could see its current difficulties and challenges all too clearly. Indeed, anyone involved in negotiations on EU structural funds would have been in no doubt about those challenges. However, on balance, I believed that it was clearly in the interests of this country to remain—if you like, a realistic rather than a reluctant remainer.
The referendum result answered one question: whether this country wished to remain in the EU. However, as others have said, it left a whole lot of other questions unanswered. Should we remain in the single market? How can we best secure the future of the United Kingdom, something I feel very passionately about? What should our approach be to EU and EEA citizens? Those are just three examples of questions that we should be debating in these amendments. To want to debate these issues is not the same as wanting to block or delay the Bill. Reviewing, scrutinising and proposing amendments to legislation is, after all, what we are here to do.
Much has been said about the ardent remainers, if I can call them that, being in denial of the referendum result. I have no doubt that there are some—maybe even some in the Chamber—who fit that description. However, my biggest concern is the ardent leavers, who seem to be in denial of the enormous risks that a badly handled Brexit will have for our economic, social and political interests or, indeed, how much we are going to have to give up in order to secure Brexit on the terms currently envisaged. We cannot simply hope for the best and leave these issues to the outcome of the negotiations. The likely result of that approach is that we will be left with Hobson’s choice: vote for a deal that we are deeply unhappy about or face being bundled out of the EU without an agreement. It is much better to discuss, debate and, where necessary, vote on the issues now.
Turning to the amendments in this group, the Government’s Brexit White Paper sets out 12 principles, one of which is:
“Protecting our strong historic ties with Ireland and maintaining the Common Travel Area”.
It rightly highlights the extensive movement of goods, services and people across the border and says that the Government will work with the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive to find “a practical solution”. What is much less clear in the plan, however, is how this principle will be reconciled with the other principles in the plan and, if they cannot be reconciled, which principle will take precedence.
Paragraph 4.4 of the White Paper says:
“When the UK leaves the EU we aim to have as seamless and frictionless a border as possible”.
So there will be a border. Like much of the White Paper, the clear headline principle at the start of the chapter is undermined by the text. The question is not whether we have a border, it is how seamless it is.
As many have said this afternoon, the issues here go well beyond free trade and free movement. The report of the EU Committee made it clear that the implications of Brexit for Ireland were more profound than for any other member state. Indeed, in my own discussions with the Republic of Ireland when I was head of the Civil Service, the prospect of Britain exiting from the EU and the potential consequences was by far their biggest concern. This fear has now become a reality. It seems clear that the harder the Brexit, the harder the border. It will in effect become an external customs border of the EU. While of course there may be some shroud waving, we cannot ignore the comments of former Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who was after all instrumental to the Good Friday agreement, that Brexit might put the peace process in jeopardy. There must surely be no circumstances in which we could contemplate that happening.
Of course, the EU Commission negotiators have an important role here. I recognise that, but in the end this will come down to the choices we make in the negotiations. What negotiating goal finds priority over another? In my view, our commitment to both the letter and spirit of the Good Friday agreement must—I emphasise must—stand above most if not all our other ambitions. I sincerely hope that the Minister will confirm this in his response.
Thank you. About 25 years ago, I was a member of the independent Opsahl Commission on the future of Northern Ireland. Through that, I learned a lot about the economic and social problems faced by Northern Ireland and also became acutely aware of how in the rest of Britain these problems, and Northern Ireland, generally were pretty much ignored other than through the lens of the Troubles. Plus ça change, as the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, already noted.
The noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, quoted from the EU Committee report on UK/Irish relations that the implications of Brexit for Ireland are more profound than they are for any other member state. The report went on to say that the profound issues raised for the island of Ireland are often overlooked on the British side of the Irish Sea. That is why I very much welcome these amendments and believe that there is a role for us to debate them in the context of the Bill. They should not be overlooked by your Lordships’ House. It would be a tragedy if Brexit undermined the Good Friday agreement and the continuing peace process—as many fear it will, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, said earlier.
At Second Reading I spoke about some of the human rights implications of Brexit, which are especially profound for Northern Ireland, as the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission both underlined. I have just had brought to my attention a speech by a member of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission which raises important questions for the Article 50 negotiations. She asked whether human rights and equality could be mainstreamed into European Council guidelines for a withdrawal agreement, pointing out that,
“the EU is founded in its governing Treaties on stated values including equality and human rights”.
She goes on:
“What this could mean in relation to the concrete content of the negotiating guidelines and the withdrawal agreement we don’t know. Questions that have been asked in the European Parliament in relation to the peace process and Brexit have been met with stock answers pending the triggering of Art 50. But it might be important to remember the primordial status of human rights and equality when it comes to questions such as how human rights can be protected for all rights holders in NI, including those holding Irish or dual citizenship under GFA, and what consideration is to be given to provision for cross-border rights in relation to free movement, welfare rights and mobility, etc. Following from Arts 2, 6 and 21, the principles of human rights and equality should be included as core in the negotiating guidelines”.
So this is important for this Bill when we consider it.
She goes on to say that,
“it is vital that the EU-UK withdrawal agreement expressly protects the Good Friday Agreement. The EC treaty itself is a peace agreement which in its origins in the 1957 treaty resolved to ‘strengthen the safeguards of peace’”—
as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said so eloquently earlier. She said that,
“it can’t be overstated that the exit agreement to be concluded between the EU and the UK must not now undermine the peace that has been achieved in Northern Ireland with such difficulty, perseverance and commitment on all sides. The GFA is founded on a golden thread of respect for human rights and equality. The EU’s external action is … a binding commitment ‘to preserve peace and prevent conflicts’ and the withdrawal agreement must honour this”.
Those are very important words and I would welcome the Minister’s observations on these crucial points regarding human rights generally, and the Good Friday agreement in particular.
My Lords, I will raise a point that was not raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, but was very much on my mind as someone who was closely involved in the negotiations over Protocol 36, under which the United Kingdom withdrew from a large number of justice and home affairs provisions, and then opted back into the 35 most important ones. This point was raised both at Second Reading, by my noble friend Lord Blair, and in the debate that we had on the new Select Committee’s report on justice and home affairs.
The relevance for the matter that we are discussing today is very real, because those of us who took evidence on that matter know perfectly well that the underpinning of the Belfast agreement, the open border and everything else depends on the strengthening of law enforcement co-operation that has taken place in recent years under EU legislation. The European arrest warrant, the exchange of criminal record information, Europol: this great raft of things underpins, and above all has helped to achieve, the depoliticisation of these law enforcement issues between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
All those bits of EU legislation are now at risk. There is no doubt about that. The Prime Minister herself, who, after all, is well aware of the problems in this area and negotiated very effectively in the case of Protocol 36, knows it extremely well. However, she has said that no deal is better than a bad deal. No deal means that we go over the cliff, as far as all this law enforcement legislation is concerned. I would therefore like to hear from the Minister, when he replies to this amendment—which I am speaking in favour of—just how the Government intend to avoid that situation. They need a better story to tell than they have had hitherto. Frankly, the story has been thin and threadbare so far: it is a statement of assertions, desires and wishes but of absolutely no sense of direction in how to get there. I hope that the Minister will address this issue, along with all the other ones that other noble Lords, and particularly the noble Lord, Lord Hain, raised. It is an important one and there is no plan B in this case. If we go over the cliff there are no WTO trade rules that we can fall back on: there is just nothing.
My Lords, I wish to associate myself with the amendment so ably and eloquently moved by my noble friend Lord Hain. I intend to raise the problems that beset certain industries in Northern Ireland, particularly the largest economic provider in terms of employment and revenue, the agri-food sector. I declare an interest at this point: I served in the 1970s as a Minister in the Callaghan Administration, in particular for agriculture, which experienced enormous problems—problems galore—as a result of the complexities of the common agricultural policy, which affected the north adversely in relation to the south.
One recognises that the Government, at least on paper, are committed to doing their level best to secure the best possible arrangements for a smooth transition to a cross-border solution between the north and south of Ireland during negotiations, and will work closely with the Republic of Ireland in so doing. However, these could be soft words unless meaningful action is taken. No meaningful indications appear to have emerged from the debates in the other place of any positive proposals of a practical nature. I hope that in the course of our endeavours, the Minister in this House will cover some of the positive suggestions that were made in the other place and will give us an indication of how the Government will address some of the problems that will certainly emerge in the weeks and months ahead—indeed, in the next two years. I intend at a later stage to mention one or two of the problems facing the Ulster Farmers Union.
In the White Paper, the Government stated their intention to have,
“as seamless and frictionless a border as possible”,
between Northern Ireland and the Republic, but it is not clear, certainly not to me, that this means anything that we can pin them down to. Once Northern Ireland and the Republic are no longer both members of the European Union, the question is: is a border inevitable? There are concerns among politicians from both the north and the south that the return of a border, even a light customs border, could bring about bad memories of a troubled past. Northern Ireland is distinctly different from Scotland and Wales in that it faces significant challenges from Brexit. The Irish border is a major factor for Northern Ireland, with its high dependence on the Republic. That has to be seen and understood by our negotiators and Northern Ireland needs to be armed with the necessary ammunition to fight its corner during these almost certainly difficult talks that lie ahead.
Although Northern Ireland has an overall high dependence on the EU, recent figures show that, unlike any other country in the UK, over 50% of Northern Ireland’s exports go to EU countries and almost 40% to the Republic in particular. From that it is clear that if barriers were erected, the situation in both the north and the south would be detrimental. Should trade barriers be erected, without question, the agricultural and related industries will suffer.
My Lords, I was coming to that, but may not put it as well as my noble friend did. It is understandable that farmers in the Irish agri-food sector are concerned that their fears will not be heard during these negotiations. Smaller producers especially are clearly worried, and this is where I come to the point that smaller producers and traders—fisheries, dairy farmers and meat producers, for example—cross the border daily to trade. It is of the utmost importance that we work to maintain existing trade connections between the north and the south during the negotiations before we consider withdrawing from the European Union. In both the south and the north, agriculture and the agri-food industries are highly significant to the economy. It is estimated by the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association that the number of jobs in 2010 in the agriculture and agri-food industries was 92,000, including direct employees, farmers and those in the supply chain. The situation, I suspect, has not changed very much since then.
The North/South Ministerial Council in Dublin and the Irish Government have agreed—as, we hope, will the Northern Ireland Executive—that, following the Brexit negotiations, they will work together to ensure that the important north-south co-operative structures are fully protected. Without setting up any new structures to existing frameworks, the current North/South Ministerial Council should continue to be the forum, although it may have to be strengthened in changing circumstances. The overriding aim must surely be that the sharing of information and co-operation between both sides of the divide are protected, as this will prove essential for the smooth running of Brexit.
Having served, as I said, as a Minister in the Callaghan Government, with my primary responsibility that of agriculture, I recognise that there are particular difficulties in so far as at that time the south had a massive advantage over the north. My throat is playing tricks with me, so with those words I merely say that I agree with this amendment and hope that when the Minister replies, he will recognise some of the important issues facing the agricultural industry in Northern Ireland.
My Lords, I will just make a short intervention. It is many years since I was happily debating, hour after hour, the Northern Ireland police Bill, and it is very heartening to see so many Members of your Lordships’ House show such an interest in Northern Ireland matters. As a recently retired member of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, I warmly support the amendment. I know how much concern there is about the effect Brexit will have on both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The foundations of the peace process are built on an open and accessible island of Ireland. It is welcome that the Government are committed to ensuring a frictionless border between the north and south, but they have not said how this might be achieved. Can the Minister enlighten us? We must have more clarity from Ministers on the practical implications of Brexit for the 35,000 people estimated to cross the border every day. Can the Government guarantee freedom of movement on the island of Ireland? I would like to think that they could.
This was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, but your Lordships also need to know that the Police Service of Northern Ireland is on record stating that the security risks posed to police and border control officers are of great concern. Officers are still acting under severe threat, meaning that an attack from dissidents could happen at any time. There have been recent attempts on the lives of officers in north Belfast and Londonderry/Derry. If police officers were to be deployed to customs posts on a fixed border, as the noble Lord said, they would become sitting targets. What extra measures are the Government taking to ensure these concerns are addressed and that the incredibly brave and dedicated officers and staff of the PSNI will be consulted on any future changes to their functions?
My Lords, I hesitate to intervene on Irish matters but no one has spoken to Amendment 30, which is grouped with these amendments, or explained the thinking behind it. It has extraordinary implications for Scotland. It says that it should be a,
“priority in negotiations … for the Prime Minister to seek terms that would not give rise to any external impediment to the ability of the people of the island of Ireland to exercise the right, on the basis of the consent of the people of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, to bring about a united Ireland, to be treated as a European Union Member State”.
I assume—contrary to his position—that the noble Lord, Lord Hain, accepts the view that if people vote in a referendum that should be taken as the consent of the people. If so, that suggests—as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, pointed out—that it should be part of the Government’s negotiations to secure the right of Northern Ireland, if it voted in a referendum to become part of a united Ireland, to automatically become part of the European Union. If the Government were to embark upon such a negotiation, I would find it difficult to understand why that would not enable the Scottish nationalists to argue that what was good for the goose was good for the gander, or perhaps it is the other way round. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said that it is completely different because this is part of the United Kingdom joining a state that is a member of the European Union, and not the other way round. I very much doubt if Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond would present it that way.
The main point I want to make is that this is a Bill about firing the starting gun for Article 50. There are many issues, and there is great sympathy in the House for the position of Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister has said, in the clearest possible terms, what the Government’s policy is. Frankly, some of these amendments and speeches do not seem to be prepared to take yes for an answer. The idea that we have to amend the Bill in order to hold the Government’s feet to the fire for their policy on something as important as this is pretty extraordinary. We go back to the fundamental point: the President of the Commission, the leader of the Opposition and the then Prime Minister all wanted to implement Article 50 immediately. The Prime Minister is anxious to get on with the negotiations; these issues will have to be considered. The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, said, “We accept that, but we want to know how you are going to do it”. The very worst thing you can do in any negotiation is announce in advance how are you going to negotiate, because then you are committed to that position and the people on the other side will make it very difficult for you, so I worry about Amendment 30 in particular. It illustrates how foolish it would be to amend this Bill—which is after all starting the process. I have no doubt there will be many happy hours for us to discuss those issues of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in the future, and the implications for Scotland, the EEA and everything else. But I venture to suggest that this is not the Bill in which to do so.
My Lords, I remember that at the time of the negotiations leading up to the agreement in Belfast, the EU was there in the forefront being supportive, and indeed EU finance developed cross-border projects and played a significant part in the process.
I want to make two points. First, whatever we think, we know that the Irish Government are deeply concerned about this issue. We are belittling their concerns if we say, “We don’t need to bother about this amendment because it’ll be all right in the end”. We all know that the previous Taoiseach, the present one and many other people are very concerned. We owe it to them at least to show that we are concerned about the situation.
My key point is that I think it would be right to have the amendment in the Bill if for no other reason than that it would send a signal to Brussels. It is all right saying that the Prime Minister will do her best in the negotiations, but I would have thought that in her position she would be much better off if we had the amendment in the Bill; it would strengthen her resolve and she could say, “The British Parliament is so concerned about it that we have put it on the face of the Bill”. That is why we should move forward with the amendment.
My Lords, I notice that the amendment has been signed by virtually a who’s who of people who have had a high profile in Northern Ireland affairs over many years. For that reason, one has to take seriously what has been put before us. The truth, though, is that today we have really been having a Second Reading debate, not a debate on the amendment. I suppose that in the absence of a Speaker to slap us down, we will probably all be tempted on to that turf.
There are a couple of things I want to say at the outset. I have heard absolutely no one, in any political party or any Government, say that they wish to see a hard border. The closest we came to anyone saying we had to have one was the official to whom the noble Lord, Lord Hain, referred. No one wants it. The British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, which a number of us are associated with, is working to ensure that it does not happen. Both our Governments are working to that effect, and Brussels has openly said it has got the message. With that sort of momentum, I believe we will find means.
I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Hain, to the extent that at this stage I would rule out nothing electronic or technical, or indeed any form of technology. We do not need to paint ourselves into a corner; it all may have a part to play. I am quite sure that it already has a part to play in everyday life, in tracking criminals and so on, so we should not rule out what could be a contributing factor to finding what we all want, which is a solution other than concrete and barbed wire. Why should we rule out one possible solution at the very outset?
The House is greatly adorned by many senior legal figures who have demonstrated their robustness and capability in recent months. I am not a lawyer—I am absolving myself of any responsibility in advance—but we have had two recent cases that I wish to refer to. My fundamental disagreement with the amendment is that it is my belief that we are making a mistake in linking the Belfast agreement with triggering Article 50; they are two totally separate things. That is not just me talking. I refer to the two cases against Brexit that were brought to the Belfast High Court last September, one by a well-known victims campaigner and the other by a group of human rights organisations and Stormont politicians, including the leaders of the SDLP, the Greens and the Alliance and a Sinn Fein former Minister. The premise of each case was that taking Northern Ireland out of the EU would breach the Belfast agreement. The High Court heard both cases together and rejected them on every point.
It is worth a quick run-through of those points to demonstrate how comprehensively the breach has been debunked. The plaintiffs claimed that the constitutional establishment in Northern Ireland was being changed without the population’s permission, contrary to the consent principle underpinning the entire peace process. They said that the nine mentions of the EU in the agreement mean that membership is “inextricably woven” into the law enacting it. However, the High Court in Belfast came to the conclusion that references to the EU in the agreement are “incidental”—the judge’s own word. The Northern Ireland Attorney-General, John Larkin, decided to refer some aspects of this to the Supreme Court because, although he felt there was no link, he wanted to make absolutely certain that there was clarity at the highest possible level.
When the Supreme Court produced its decision in the Miller case—a split decision, although there was a substantial majority—it was unanimous on the issue specific to the Northern Ireland case, and said, without any caveat, “This is not a breach”. That is the highest court in the land. When it came to other treaty issues, such as the treaty between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland that deals with the border poll and issues surrounding that which are obviously linked to this group of amendments, it added that nothing about Northern Ireland’s removal from the EU breached any law, any treaty or any part of the constitution.
We were all horrified when the headline “Enemies of the People” appeared before us some months ago and, when the Gina Miller case came to a conclusion, everyone said that we must respect the views of the court and accept that a decision had been made. Here we have the clearest of clear decisions—that there is no breach of any treaty, of any Act or of the constitution as a result of the decision to leave the European Union, whatever we happen to think of that decision. I therefore contend that the amendment is defective, in that it tries to put on the face of the Bill an agreement that is not relevant, when no offence or violence is being done to the constitution of the United Kingdom.
The noble Lord, Lord Hain, said that one possibility was to devolve immigration powers to Stormont. If we did that, I assure noble Lords that people would need a pass to go from County Antrim to County Down. The last thing we need is to devolve immigration powers to Stormont. Stormont cannot agree a budget; it cannot agree anything at present. Sadly, the place has fallen in on itself again. The idea of giving it an immigration power is fanciful, and would be extremely dangerous.
The concept of special status has been mentioned. That term referred to the special category status of prisoners in the Maze prison—or Long Kesh, as it then was—which led to the hunger strike. “Special status”, certainly to a unionist, means something less than being part of the United Kingdom—and that is exactly what it would be. The fact remains that either we are in the United Kingdom or we are not. When we were trying to design the Belfast agreement—I thank my noble friend Lord Trimble for giving me and the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, the opportunity to be part of the team that negotiated it—we found ways, through that agreement, of resolving these very difficult issues.
The problem with leaving the European Union is not breaches of the Belfast agreement; the political problem is leaving the European Union. It may be what is upsetting a lot of nationalists, and a lot of people in Dublin, but it is not relevant to this Bill. There is something I want to say to Ministers about this—something I have raised with them many times, both privately and in this House. When it comes down to it, we need assurances that there are red lines in the forthcoming negotiations, and one of those red lines must be that there will be no internal border within the United Kingdom.
We have been talking about the border with the Republic, and I totally agree about an open free border. I had the privilege of being the Northern Ireland Minister who started up InterTradeIreland and Tourism Ireland—two of the north/south bodies—and I can say that nobody I have come across wishes to see any border, in terms of a physical construction.
However, Ministers must also be aware that the Prime Minister says that she is a unionist Prime Minister who believes in the union and wants to strengthen it. Therefore, can we have an assurance that there will be no internal border within the United Kingdom, whether it be up the middle of the Irish Sea or at ports and airports? If Ministers are telling us that they want an open border with the Republic, they cannot then turn round and say, “You can have an open border with the Republic but you can’t have an open border within the United Kingdom”.
I understand the real political issues behind this amendment. The concern with regard to nationalism is real. I spent many years involved in various types of negotiations—years and years and more years. We are still negotiating. You cannot be ambiguous on these issues, either there is a United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland or there is not. I believe that our colleagues in the European Union get this. I have absolutely no doubt that they will be helpful because they have invested a lot in this. In the time of Jacques Delors a unique funding system was brought in—the Northern Ireland peace funds. Nobody else ever got that. It is still going in its fourth iteration. We are all most grateful for the help we have received. Brussels has invested a lot in this process as it set an example of an attempt to solve an internal problem within the European Union. Unfortunately, some people have been invited into the European Union before some of their constitutional issues have been sorted out. That was done in breach of regulations, but when the euro came along the regulations were also breached. All I ask of Ministers is to give us an assurance and to be clear. The Bill is not the right place for the Belfast agreement. To contaminate that agreement by linking it exclusively to leaving the European Union does it a disservice. We have a unanimous view that we want to resolve our differences without having any borders. We should allow Ministers the opportunity to get on with this process. At the end of the day, we will have an opportunity to pass judgment on what they do. That is the correct role for this Parliament. However, I ask noble Lords to please bear in mind what the High Court in Belfast and the Supreme Court said. Given those two clear and unambiguous decisions, I believe that the amendment would be misplaced in the Bill.
What a depressing afternoon this is. If we in this legislature were trying to get rid of barriers, borders and frontiers between people, what a good day’s work we would be doing, instead of which we are talking about creating new barriers and frontiers between us and the continent, between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and possibly potentially between England and Scotland. Those are all very depressing thoughts.
One of the advantages of Committee is that we can have a debate. It is possible to respond to what other people have said and, if what they suggest is plainly possible, it is obviously very desirable to take it on board. I thought that my noble friend introduced his Amendment 2, which I strongly support, with a brilliant speech. I agree with every word of it except one very important sentence, to which the noble Lord, Lord Empey, referred in a very powerful speech—namely, it is utterly intolerable and inconceivable that we should have an internal border within the United Kingdom. I regard that as an utterly unacceptable solution. We need two sets of red lines in these negotiations. We must have no borders within the United Kingdom and no border between the Republic of Ireland and the Province of Northern Ireland—between the 26 and the six counties. Those two things should be absolutely immovable desiderata and requirements of the British Government in conducting these negotiations. I hope, and believe, that we would have the understanding of Brussels and the rest of the European Union in insisting on those two points.
I was mystified by one of the things that the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, said and quite shocked by another. I was mystified when he said that freedom of movement in Ireland, called the common travel area—it is exactly the same thing—has been in place since 1923, so it would be nothing new if it was somehow modified or constrained. The Irish Free State came into being only in January 1922 when the treaty was ratified, so there was never a border before then. Clearly we were then part of the same country. If there has never been a border since 1923, on that calculation there has been only one year in the course of the last 800 years of Anglo-Irish history in which there has been any restriction on freedom of movement within Ireland. That being the case—I believe it to be the case—it would be profoundly shocking and would have a traumatic effect if we suddenly started to introduce one now. What a very sad thing to do after the last 20 years. The thing that shocked me, though, was when the noble Lord appeared to say that if the Irish Republic was observing its own interests, it should leave the European Union. I remind him that the people of the six counties voted very substantially to remain in the European Union only a few months ago. Surely, in all courtesy, we should leave it to the people of the 26 counties to make their own decision on that matter and not lecture them from the British Parliament—a habit which I am afraid has become too bad a habit over too many centuries.
The matter we are discussing is particularly important because during the Bill’s passage we will debate other matters such as the single market. We have already had a go at that and will come back to it. If we make a big mistake in that regard—we know that we may well make some very big mistakes—we shall be the major sufferers. But in this matter we shall not be the major or the only sufferers; the equal or the substantial sufferers—certainly the equal, perhaps the greater sufferers—will be the people of the island of Ireland. Therefore, we should be particularly concerned to get matters right.
Some people, including probably the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, will not like what I am about to say. However, I remind the House that this country’s and Great Britain’s relations with Ireland over the last 800 years have been just about as hideous as relations between neighbours could ever get. Right from the 12th century, the Anglo-Norman invaders imposed on the Irish exploitation and a form of apartheid-type discrimination. In the Reformation that was followed by persecutions of a different kind. We had the massacres under Queen Elizabeth. We had the massacres under Oliver Cromwell of every man, woman and child in the cities of Drogheda and Wexford.
I knew that some noble Lords on the other side would not like this but they are going to hear it. We had the heartless expropriations of Catholic property by Oliver Cromwell, and again in the 18th century, contrary to the Treaty of Limerick. We had a series of broken promises—four major historic broken promises—the Treaty of Limerick itself, the promise made to Grattan’s Parliament in 1782, the promise made by Pitt in 1800 to introduce Catholic emancipation and the promise made by Asquith to bring in, live up to and carry out the third home rule Bill. All those promises were broken.
Even at that point the British Government did not get it. We did not get the Easter rebellion. We tried to impose conscription on Ireland. Even when Sinn Fein won every seat in the November 1918 elections except, I think, for two in the 26 counties, we still did not get it and, within two months, we had the Anglo-Irish war. We know what happened to that. After the treaty, we neglected Irish matters in this House. We allowed Stormont to get away with an absolutely scandalous programme of deliberate job and housing discrimination—job discrimination even explicitly encouraged by a unionist Prime Minister by the way—and other breaches of civil rights, and, of course we did not get it. We did not intervene after the attack on the civil rights march by Paisley’s thugs at Burntollet bridge. We then had the appalling violence and terrorism by the IRA.
In the last 20 years we have had the brightest moment in Anglo-Irish history that we have had in 800 years, starting with the Belfast agreement. It may have been prepared before the Belfast agreement in the great co-operation that took place between our two countries after we both joined the European Union. I remember Garret FitzGerald, a very great Taoiseach, saying to me once over lunch that that had transformed the position of the Irish and the British. After 800 years in which we had been the patronising imperialists and the Irish had been the petitioners, we were equals, involved in the same programme and the same agenda in the European Union, or the European Community, as it was originally, and we needed each other’s support and votes to get our business done. That was the basis on which a new relationship was created. That has been a great asset and great achievement of the last generation. It is now at risk if we gratuitously decide to impose a border upon the beautiful country and proud people of Ireland. It does not matter whether the border is a mechanical border, a human border, an electronic border, an analogue border or a digital border, it is a border, a frontier. That is the important psychological fact and we cannot get away from it. There is no way you can get away from it. It is completely and utterly out of the question. The Government are quite good at saying that we had the discussion on the previous set of amendments about them dismissing the idea of our remaining in the single market through being a member of the EEA. Why do the Government not—as they should—dismiss the idea altogether of being a party to the end of freedom of movement in the island of Ireland, let alone, of course, within the United Kingdom itself?
My Lords, we should remember Sir John Major and Albert Reynolds and the fact that my noble friend Lord Trimble shared the Nobel prize with John Hume for what they did to create the foundation for a peaceful settlement. No one in this Chamber needs a lecture from my friend the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford, and a rehearsal of Irish history—a very poor rehearsal as my noble friend Lord Trimble interjects.
We have had some very notable speeches in this debate. I pay particular tribute to my noble friend Lord Empey and the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice—
The noble Lord certainly left out Henry VIII and many other things. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, put the thing beautifully in context and gave a very remarkable speech. We should all be grateful to my friend the noble Lord, Lord Hain, for introducing the amendment in the way that he did but I hope he will not push it to a vote. I say that with great respect. He knows I mean that because I had many dealings with him when he was Secretary of State and I had the honour to be the chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in another place. I had members of seven parties on my committee and we remained unanimous throughout, even though we looked at issues such as organised crime, prisons and many others. He knows how closely we worked together as a committee.
What we need today—and I hope we will get it—is an assurance from my noble friend the Minister that the Government truly recognise the importance of the points that have been raised. They recognise that Northern Ireland is not only in many ways the most beautiful part of the United Kingdom but also the most vulnerable. We are not going to strengthen this procedural Bill by hanging this amendment on it. There may well be a time when we return in the context of the negotiations that will follow. There may well be amendments later in this Bill that I will feel I need to support to ask colleagues in the other place to think again, but this is not one of them and I very much hope that my friend the noble Lord, Lord Hain, will withdraw his amendment at the end of the debate.
My Lords, I actually live in Northern Ireland and have lived there for the past nearly 50 years; I have experienced the Troubles personally, having lost a child in a bomb explosion, and having nearly lost a son to a sectarian attack. Article 50 is about taking the United Kingdom out of the European Union—it is not about the Good Friday agreement; it is not about the security of Northern Ireland. To attempt to introduce it in this haphazard and hasty way—with great respect to noble Lords—does not serve the interests of the country. The interests of the security and the economy of the United Kingdom and the security and the economy of the Irish Republic will be best served if these things are dealt with in the course of negotiations, with complete flexibility. We should not, in any way, attempt to fetter the discretion of the Prime Minister. This is not an amendment that would benefit the United Kingdom or any part of it.
My Lords, on behalf of these Benches I shall speak very briefly in favour of Amendment 2. As has been said by other noble Lords, the people of Northern Ireland voted to remain in the European Union and there has been a commitment by all to no return to a hard border. The years of hard-earned peace have become an example to the rest of the world and we should acknowledge that this process has in no small part been aided by UK and Irish membership of the European Union and the equality of status that this has granted at European Council and Council of Ministers meetings. However, as the Government have announced their intention to remove the UK from the customs union, the Northern Irish border with Ireland will de facto become the EU’s external border. Under EU law, a bilateral customs union between Ireland and the United Kingdom is not permissible for Ireland as an EU member state unless special status is granted by the EU. The people of Northern Ireland deserve clarity on how this will work in practice before Article 50 is triggered.
I welcome that President Juncker said last week that the EU does not want a hard border. He said,
“we want land borders being as open as possible”.
There has been concern that there is a lack of awareness in Brussels about the complexities involved in maintaining the Good Friday agreement post Brexit. My greater concern, however, is that there is a lack of awareness of these complexities among many British politicians, most particularly among the hard-line Brexiteers, who all too frequently have a very English focus. There are so many unanswered questions on how all this will work in practice. As the noble Lord, Lord Hain, said, there are 200 crossing points on the border, with 177,000 lorries and 1.85 million cars crossing per month. Since the Good Friday agreement, there are increased shared public services, with school and hospital provision frequently being based on the nearest available services irrespective of the border.
There are unanswered questions, too, about the freedom of movement of people within the EU. How will the promised frictionless Northern Irish border work with the promised curb on the freedom of movement of EU nationals announced in the Daily Telegraph today?
Visiting friends in Northern Ireland last month, I was struck by people’s very real concerns about the future and maintaining the progress made through the Good Friday agreement after Brexit. At the very least, the Government need to give much greater clarity on exactly how they propose to maintain a genuinely open border before they trigger Article 50. The people of Northern Ireland deserve no less.
My Lords, I want to comment briefly on one or two points. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Davies, in his historical analysis of Ireland forgot the Battle of the Boyne. I am amazed. Secondly, he forgot the fact that there used to be no Irish living in Ireland. They invaded the island. The Scotti lived on the island originally. The Irish invaded our island and drove the Scotti out, and they went 20 miles away to a country now called Scotland. That is where it gets its name from—the Scotti who were driven out of the island of Scotia. When the Irish invaded, they changed it to Hibernia. Read Magnus Magnusson’s book on the history of Ireland.
I am the one Member here who lives near the border and I do not want to see a hard border. I want to see the common travel area preserved. I speak as one who was a very active European. I was chairman of the European Youth Campaign in Northern Ireland. I campaigned strongly in the EEC referendum. I then became an MEP for 10 years and, after that, I spent seven years in the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly. Likewise, living near the border, I was very keen on north-south relations at a time when the Dublin Government refused to even recognise that Northern Ireland existed.
When I became chairman of the Young Unionist Council—in the middle of the last century—I said we would meet people in Dublin to see if we could start improving relations. We arranged to have a meeting in Dublin with the central branch of Fine Gael. The Ulster Unionist Party went crackers. They said I would get expelled. We should not do it. How can you talk to somebody who does not even recognise that you exist? We went to Dublin and had our meeting. I looked at the Irish Times three weeks later and what did I see? “Party branch expelled”. I thought, “My goodness”, but it was the central branch of Fine Gael that had been expelled for meeting the unionists. That is life in Ireland.
I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, who was quite right to say that the southern Irish are petrified about the impact of Brexit. I see it every day where I live. Thousands of people now come every day from the Republic to Northern Ireland for the obvious reason. The depreciation of the pound sterling means that the ladies all come up to our border towns to do their weekly shop. Our border towns are now—“exploding” is the wrong word to use—absolutely thriving, and people along the border who think about the economics say what a great thing Brexit is. However, it is worse for the Republic of Ireland. The largest number of its tourists come from England and, because of the 15% depreciation, tourism is now going into decline.
A second point is that meat cannot be exported from the Republic to Britain because, again, meat prices are down by 15%. Farmers are now demonstrating outside supermarkets in the Republic because of the collapse in the prices. Furthermore, mushroom plants are closing down. Hundreds of people have already lost their jobs for the same reason: they cannot export mushrooms.
Of course, a special status is required for someone but not for Northern Ireland. It is offensive to suggest that it should have a special status. It is the Republic that needs it. We must keep the common travel area there, and we must get Brussels to recognise, as the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland has stated, that the Republic will be more seriously damaged than any other nation in the European Union. It will suffer badly. It is suffering already, but what will it be like in two and a half years’ time when the United Kingdom leaves the European Union? The Republic of Ireland needs special status and we should support it in its attempts to get that in Brussels. As one who lives on the border, I say: keep the common travel area.
I was involved in the negotiations on the Belfast agreement and I have an original copy of it here. There is not one mention of the European Union in any of the four articles at the end of the agreement. Of course, human rights are mentioned but that is in relation to the Council of Europe; it has nothing to do with the European Union. I will oppose the amendment.
My Lords, this has been a fascinating debate lasting almost two hours. I am making a guest appearance at this Dispatch Box as the Minister for Political Development who partly chaired the peace process 20 years ago. When I look around this Chamber—I cannot look behind me but they are there—I see a large number of noble Lords who took part in the talks on that agreement.
I do not accept that the amendments in my name are intended to frustrate in any way the passage of the Bill. Because I am sure that the Minister will give us proper undertakings, it is unlikely that I will move them. However, I think that noble Lords would agree that the quality of the debate and the number of people who have spoken indicate the importance of the subject. I do not think that there has been anything more important in my political lifetime than the Northern Ireland peace process, and the second most significant process is what we are debating today: Brexit—and I say that as a remainer. The interrelationship between the two is extremely important. I see today’s debate as a starter—a reminder to the Government that they have to address huge issues with regard to Northern Ireland and Ireland, and in the few minutes available to me I would like to touch on them.
In the debate in the other place some weeks ago, there was a speech by Owen Paterson, whom I regarded as a very committed Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, but I disagreed with him on the following. He said that he wanted to correct the narrative that the European Union played a key role in the Northern Ireland peace process. When I was appointed as the talks Minister, I was also appointed Minister for Europe. That is no coincidence, because Europe played a huge and significant role in the peace process. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, that strands 1, 2 and 3 of the Northern Ireland talks referred to aspects of our membership of the European Union.
I will now comment on the remarks of my noble friend Lord Empey. He said, quite rightly, that it is not the legalities of this issue that matter but what produced the agreement, and it was the politics and the international treaty between the two countries that did that. There was a will on the part of the two countries and, above all, a commitment by all the political parties in Northern Ireland to come to the Good Friday agreement. It was our joint membership of the European Union, as opposed to any legalities or technicalities, that meant that Ministers from both countries were able to meet: the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister, Ministers at Council of Europe meetings, and Members of Parliament through the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly or its equivalent in those days. I remember taking the entire Northern Ireland Assembly to Brussels at the invitation of the European Union so that Members could see how important Europe was to the future of Northern Ireland. The excellent report produced by the House’s European Union Committee on British-Irish relations post Brexit says that joint membership has been a “vital ingredient” in those relations. Of course it has.
Money was important, too. Northern Ireland had Objective 1 status, and that was significant to the people of Northern Ireland. As noble Lords have said, there was also the peace money, which was unique in the whole of Europe. Money was designated by the European Union to help the process of making peace in Northern Ireland. However, it was not simply the money itself; it was how the money was distributed. I remember, as Secretary of State, going around Northern Ireland and talking to the groups which received the money from Europe and had to spend it between them. Unionists, nationalists, Catholics and Protestants met to distribute the money—and that in itself broke down barriers in Northern Ireland.
My noble friend Lord Hain made a very powerful speech. There is no question that over the last 20 years the border has diminished visibly and psychologically. I believe that the lack of a hard border allowed nationalists in Northern Ireland to develop a sense of common identity with their fellow European Union citizens across the border. In the same way, I vividly remember the meetings at Stormont House when there was a reluctance on the part of the unionist parties to accept devolution in Northern Ireland—that is, strand 1. However, as soon as we had in Great Britain as a whole a Parliament in Scotland, an Assembly in Wales and an Assembly in Northern Ireland, it meant that it was easier for the unionist community in Northern Ireland to accept it. We had to make these compromises.
I am reminded, too, by my noble friend Lord Rooker of the milk travelling from Northern Ireland to the Baileys plant. I remember it vividly because I opened the plant many years ago—although I never appreciated the international nature of the milk. Of course, if you think about it, that applies not just to the milk but to the sheep, the cows and the whole of the agricultural industry, which straddles the border and has no match anywhere in the rest of the European Union.
So the issue of the border is hugely significant, and I know that the Government take it seriously. It is an issue that cannot be allowed to drift—it has to be top of the agenda. The brightest minds in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Dublin and in the Northern Ireland Office in Whitehall, not to mention the officials in Brussels, should be engaged in dealing with this very tricky issue.
Amendment 30 stands in my name, although I have no intention of moving it. It concerns what would happen if there were a united Ireland. Incidentally, I am not in any way advocating a united Ireland and I am not not advocating it, either—that shows my neutrality—but what if there were? The principle of consent is so important to the Good Friday agreement, so what if that were to happen in years to come? The Irish Government will undoubtedly raise this issue, so the British Government need to be prepared to react to it. What happens if there is a vote for a united Ireland and Northern Ireland goes into Ireland? What happens to its membership of the European Union? It is not a huge issue, and it is certainly not going to happen for a very long time if it happens at all, but it is an issue.
Noble Lords will also understand, of course, that Northern Ireland’s citizens can, if they so wish, post Brexit, become citizens of the European Union by becoming citizens of the Irish Republic. That is an issue which should be raised—and all this is against the backcloth of an election on Thursday to establish a new Executive and at least three weeks of negotiations—and I am convinced that the issues that have been touched upon in this House will be dealt with there. We should remind ourselves that the people of Northern Ireland voted to stay in the European Union. The people of Northern Ireland voted to accept the Good Friday agreement. The people of the Republic voted for that, too, but the people of the United Kingdom voted to come out of the European Union. This is a tough task and I wish the Government well in it.
My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, to the Front Bench. He played a hugely important role in negotiating the Belfast agreement and he brings huge authority to this debate. I also thank all those who have taken part in the debate on this group of very important amendments relating to Northern Ireland. All the contributions have been thoughtful, sincere and passionate. I pay tribute to the work of the EU Committee and, in particular, its report on Northern Ireland, which has been mentioned by a number of noble Lords. The whole House is very conscious of the political situation in Northern Ireland and the need to provide support to the parties there, with Assembly elections this Thursday and the aim of re-establishing strong and stable devolved government. I am sure that we are all united in this place in our sense of duty to the people of Northern Ireland who support the devolved institutions and want to see the forward momentum of the peace process maintained.
The people of Northern Ireland have seen the benefits that flow from the peace process: a reduction in violence, although it is still far too prevalent; economic and social progress; and the gradual normalisation of everyday life. Around this Chamber, on each side and in every part, are noble Lords who have made significant contributions to the peace process and to the progress Northern Ireland has experienced over the last 20 years or so. I have said many times from this Dispatch Box that we have enjoyed the longest unbroken period of devolved government in Northern Ireland for 45 years, a period that started in 2006 on the watch as Northern Ireland Secretary of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, who opened this debate. In our House and in the other place support for establishing, re-establishing and then maintaining the devolved institutions has been a bipartisan effort. The Government recognise and are grateful for the level of bipartisan support that the parties opposite continue to provide. It is for the Northern Ireland parties to work together to form a functioning Executive, and we all have a role in supporting those efforts. Everyone in this House wants and is working for the same outcome.
The Government are very conscious that as we negotiate the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU and secure our position as an open, successful trading nation, we need to make certain that the unique interests of Northern Ireland are protected and advanced. There can be no doubt about the priority the Government attach to the interests of Northern Ireland and, as the noble Lord, Lord Lester, noted, to providing strong reassurance to the people of Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech and the White Paper set out the 12 principles that will guide our approach to the negotiations. Two of these refer explicitly to the needs of Northern Ireland. The first makes clear that the Government remain fully committed to the Belfast agreement and its successors as part of securing a deal that works for all parts of the United Kingdom and strengthens the union. The second highlights the importance of protecting our strong and historic ties with Ireland and maintaining the common travel area. Nobody wants to see a return to the borders of the past. The border is clearly a vital economic and trade issue. We recognise that the Northern Ireland economy is deeply integrated with that of Ireland, as well as with that of the rest of the United Kingdom. The issue of milk has been raised very vividly on a number of occasions so I will not repeat what was said.
However, this is more than just an economic issue. It is a social and psychological issue as well. For example, it is about families who use hospital services or are signed on with a GP across the border, or about the coaches of Northern Irish rugby supporters travelling to Dublin to watch Ireland play in the Six Nations. It is about the ease of everyday living and how you feel about the place in which you live. The open border for people and businesses has served us well and none of us wants to see the border issue become a renewed source of tension or division between different parts of the community in Northern Ireland. We want to ensure that goods and people can still move freely across the border and the Prime Minister has been crystal clear that the Government want trade across the Irish and Northern Ireland border to remain as frictionless as possible.
Of course, I recognise that this raises practical issues of the sort that the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, and others raised at Second Reading about what specific solutions might be put in place to achieve our desired outcomes. Such questions have been raised again today. As we have said before, and as the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, expressed so succinctly and eloquently, this is a straightforward Bill that gives the Prime Minister the power to start the process of withdrawal; it does not concern the wider negotiating process that will follow or the Bills that will come before this House and the other place on such matters as immigration and customs to give effect to what is agreed. To address the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, we will look to negotiate the best possible deal to secure practical cross-border co-operation on matters of justice and security. However, we start from a position of shared interests and common ground. The relationship between the United Kingdom and Ireland has never been closer or stronger than it is today.
There is a very strong joint commitment from the Irish Government, the Northern Ireland Executive and the UK Government to find a practical solution that recognises the unique circumstances on the land border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and all the social, political and economic implications that flow from them. I believe that the EU will be sensitive to the specific challenges around the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Only last week the President of the European Commission, following a meeting with the Taoiseach, said:
“During the BREXIT negotiations, the EU and Ireland must look to minimise the impact. We don’t want hard borders between Northern Ireland and Ireland”.
I also welcome Guy Verhofstadt’s comments about prioritising,
“the specific needs of Ireland and Northern Ireland”,
and Michel Barnier’s remarks about doing the,
“utmost to uphold the success of the Good Friday Agreement”.
This reflects, I think, an acute appreciation in Brussels and in other European capitals of the important role the European Union has played in helping to ensure and preserve peace in Northern Ireland, a point touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice. I hope that this will continue.
Before I turn specifically to the amendments I want to address a point raised by both the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, on the even-handedness with which the UK Government deal with the political parties in Northern Ireland. Let me be very clear: the Government recognise the importance of establishing good working relationships with political leaders representing both unionist and nationalist traditions. We have always said that we govern in the interests of the whole community in Northern Ireland. In recent years, two very significant cross-party agreements—Stormont House and Fresh Start—have been reached, which demonstrates our ability to work effectively across the community with the major parties in Northern Ireland.
I turn now to the three amendments. Amendment 2 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, would include in the Bill an undertaking by the Prime Minister to support the maintenance of the open border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. No such undertaking is necessary in the Bill, as my noble friends Lord Trimble and Lord Howell have made clear, particularly in light of the strong assurances that I have given and our desire to keep this Bill clean and simple.
The Government’s intentions on this matter are already clear and there is no fundamental difference between us on the outcome that we seek. Maintaining the common travel area and protecting the high level of operational co-operation that underpins it will be an important priority for the UK in the talks ahead. As has already been pointed out, there has been a common travel area between the United Kingdom and Ireland for many years. Indeed, it was formed before either of our two countries were members of the European Union and reflects the historical, social and economic ties between its members.
Similarly, we recognise that Ireland is by far Northern Ireland’s biggest trading partner with goods exported worth £2.1 billion and imports of £1.6 billion in 2015. This underlines the strong mutual self-interest that exists. We will work closely with the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive to find practical solutions to keep cross-border trade as seamless and frictionless as possible.
In finding solutions to the land border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, my noble friend Lord Empey sought reassurance that we will not create an internal border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. I can give my noble friend firm assurance that this Government are clear that we must do nothing that makes any citizens of our country feel strangers in that country. Our guiding principle as we leave the EU will be that no new barriers to living and doing business within our own union are created.
Amendment 10 would exempt provisions derived from the Belfast agreement. The Government’s commitment to the Belfast agreement and the three-stranded approach—which makes clear that the government of Northern Ireland will be determined by consent—is rock solid, including the principles that recognise the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose. The United Kingdom’s departure from the EU will not change that. The institutions, including the North/South Ministerial Council and the six implementation bodies, remain intact. So while the Government do not disagree with the core sentiment lying behind this amendment—namely, unwavering support for the Belfast agreement—there is no need to legislate for it.
Amendment 30 would make it a priority for the Article 50 negotiations not to impede the ability of people on the island of Ireland to exercise the right to bring about a united Ireland and to be treated as a European Union member state. The Belfast agreement makes it clear that the constitutional position of Northern Ireland will be determined by consent. While this Government fully support the union and Northern Ireland’s place within it, Northern Ireland’s constitutional future will always be for the people of Northern Ireland to decide. We will always back the democratic wishes of the people. The majority of people in Northern Ireland continue to support the current political settlement, so the requirements in the Belfast agreement for a border poll are therefore not met.
If a majority of the people of Northern Ireland vote at some point in the future to become part of a united Ireland, the UK Government will honour their commitment in the Belfast agreement to enable that to happen. The amendment is therefore unnecessary and also not appropriate for a short and simple Bill that is designed to initiate the process of withdrawal, not the wider negotiating process that follows.
We must now work closely together to ensure that as the United Kingdom leaves the EU we find shared solutions to the challenges and maximise the opportunities for the United Kingdom and Ireland. We want to build on all the progress that has been made on the island of Ireland, not set it back. The outcome of the referendum will do nothing to undermine the absolute commitment of the United Kingdom Government to the settlement in the Belfast agreement.
As this debate has shown, there are clearly a number of crucial matters for the upcoming negotiation, which are recognised in the Government’s White Paper. But I ask that noble Lords accept the will of the people and the decision of the other place and pass this Bill unamended so that the Government can make a start on these important negotiations.
My Lords, I think that brevity is called for so I will briefly respond to clarify the point made by my noble friend Lord Empey. I did not advocate the devolution of immigration to Northern Ireland; I simply quoted from your Lordships’ European Union Committee, which said that that might be one of the issues on the table. The paradox I see is that everyone is actually agreeing with me, or so they say, except that as the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, pointed out, the harder the Brexit, the harder the border. I hope that the Minister, who responded very ably and encouragingly, will bear that in mind. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, there is no plan B for the border in that respect. The trouble is that if we get this wrong—and it is enormously complex, as all noble Lords have understood—for the United Kingdom it might be perilous, but for Northern Ireland it could be politically lethal. That is the problem. In light of the Minister’s firm assurances and undertakings, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 2 withdrawn.
3: Clause 1, page 1, line 3, at end insert—
“( ) No agreement with the European Union consequent on the use of the power under subsection (1) may be ratified unless—(a) it has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament;(b) the Prime Minister has obtained authority to put it to a national referendum; and(c) it has been approved by such a referendum.”
My Lords, this simple amendment would require the people to ratify in a referendum any agreement reached by the Government pursuant to triggering Article 50, and I thank my co-signatories from across the House who support it.
I set out the arguments for such a confirmatory referendum in my Second Reading speech. Fundamentally, we believe that the people, having initiated the Brexit process, should have the final say. It is clear that the Government’s preferred option is that they should have the final say. Under pressure, and no doubt as a result of votes that we shall have in your Lordships’ House, they will be dragged slowly but inexorably towards giving Parliament a final say on all the options. However, while that is better than the Government simply taking the final decision themselves, it simply will not do.
As we saw with Parliament’s votes in advance of last year’s referendum, the Government’s track record in judging the public mood on this issue is poor. While as a general principle it is accepted that parliamentarians should exercise their own judgment and not simply echo that of public opinion on this issue, Parliament has already said that our membership of the European Union is for the people to decide. Trying to take back power at the end of the process having ceded it at the outset is both devoid of principle and likely to stoke further public dissatisfaction, whichever way the decision goes.
Secondly, and flowing from this, is the fact that in contradistinction to what the Prime Minister asserted in the White Paper, the country is more divided than ever over Brexit. That is largely because those who were in favour of remaining in the EU were relatively passionless in advance of the referendum because they complacently thought that they would win it. They were wrong, of course. Now many of them are angry about the issue for the first time. No small part of that anger is caused by the fact that they believe that many people were decisively influenced in the way that they voted by what they see as a number of misrepresentations, most notably on NHS spending, which were assiduously asserted by the leave side, including of course a number of members of the current Cabinet. They are also angry that, by leaving the single market and customs union, the Government have chosen a particularly harsh form of Brexit. As a result, they believe that the people should have a vote on the final deal, when it will be impossible to conceal the real consequences of leaving the EU—as happened last summer.
At Second Reading, the Minister asked me why such a vote would help to bring the country together. The answer is that such a vote, conducted in the full light of the facts of the deal, would produce a result that could not be questioned, in the same way as last June’s vote, on the basis that the people were misled. I believe that that would apply to the losing side as well as to the victors. At Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Butler, asked why,
“those who base their arguments for Brexit on the will of the people are now opposed to consulting the people on the outcome of the negotiations”.
As he said:
“Do the Government regard the views of the British people on the outcome of the negotiations as irrelevant to our departure?”.—[Official Report, 21/2/17; col. 208.]
In reply, the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, said that the Government opposed a referendum on the terms on the grounds that it would dash the certainty and clarity that we need. I agree that we need that too, but nothing would give greater certainty and clarity than the people having expressed the final view on the deal. The Government’s attitude is that if the views of the people were to change significantly against Brexit over the next 18 months, the Government would still ask Parliament to ratify any deal it reached, or simply crash out of the EU. How could that be justified? They are saying in effect that the people are not allowed to change their mind—an approach that is the antithesis of democracy, which is that the people are regularly asked to express their preferences and do indeed regularly change them. This is from a Government with many members who have very publicly changed their minds from being convinced remainers to being cheerleaders for Brexit.
My Lords, the noble Lord may be coming to this in his speech, but the first requirement of his amendment is that any agreement must be,
“laid before and approved by”,
both Houses of Parliament. I ask him: if one House says, “Yes, we agree with the agreement that has been negotiated”, but the other House says no, what happens next?
My Lords, we will spend a lot more time on Wednesday discussing the role of Parliament. The point I make in my amendment is that Parliament will want to express a view before the vote goes to the people again. We will talk in great detail on Wednesday about how it might do that. That part of the amendment is not its most central part.
Some have argued that if Parliament rejected the Government’s Brexit deal, the will of the people could be tested in a general election. I think that that would be extremely unsatisfactory. We all know that general elections are about many things. For example, any election called by the present Prime Minister with the same leader of the Opposition would not be simply or even primarily about Brexit, but be about who was best fitted to lead the country. We all know the answer to that. If the people are to be consulted, therefore, it must be through another referendum—and the people should certainly be consulted.
The noble Lord was talking about people changing their minds. Given that he campaigned for a real referendum in 2008—in or out of the EU—could he tell us when he then changed his mind to decide that we should not accept the judgment of this last referendum?
My Lords, I am arguing in favour of the principle that, when events change, people change their minds. I do not consider that to be a dishonourable practice. When I look at the Government Front Bench in either this House or another place, I see person after person who apparently had a miraculous change of mind either just before or just after the referendum; I accept that that is sometimes what people do. The noble Lord possibly has never changed his mind, but most people in your Lordships’ House have a greater flexibility of approach, which is to be welcomed. I beg to move.
My Lords, although I oppose this amendment, I can imagine two circumstances in which a second referendum might be justifiable. The first would be after we had actually completed the negotiations, left the EU and then people decided they wanted another referendum. That would seem perfectly justifiable.
The second situation where a second referendum would be well justified would be if the original referendum question had been framed in such a way as to say, “Do you wish the Government to enter into negotiations about leaving the EU, and then to put the result of that referendum to a second referendum later on?”. However, that was not the question on the ballot paper. As we have heard endlessly, the question was whether to remain or leave; it was quite unambiguous. It seems that we are slipping into the habits that the EU itself has with referenda. Mr Juncker on one occasion famously said, “If the people vote the wrong way, we must go on voting until we get the right answer”. I suspect that that is the real motivation behind the amendment. We saw this in the EU with the referendum on Maastricht. After the Danes said no, they had to vote again. We saw it with the treaty of Nice: when Ireland said no, we had to have another vote and that reversed the first one. We saw it most blatantly of all with the European constitution, as proposed, which was rejected in recommendations by both France and Holland. In order to avoid a referendum, that was then translated by a device into the Lisbon treaty. We absolutely should not go down that road.
I think that the question of whether they want us back is a very real one. I wanted to come to that very point. At Second Reading I quoted the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, as having said that he was firmly opposed to a second referendum. He is shaking his head; if he wants to correct me I will gladly be corrected, although I have three other press reports of where he said a second referendum was not desirable and should not take place: one in the Times on 20 September; a report from Asia House of his speech there on 6 September, together with a second report of that speech; and an article in Somerset Life on 24 June—so I have quite a lot. The noble Lord may have been misreported. If he has been misreported once, I apologise to him, but he seems to have been misreported several times.
We look forward to that clarification. If we wanted to, we could quote many other Liberals, not least Mr Vince Cable, who I am sorry is not in this House. He made it clear that he thought that there should be no second referendum:
“The public have voted and I do think it’s seriously disrespectful and politically utterly counterproductive to say: ‘Sorry guys, you’ve got it wrong, we’re going to try again’, I don’t think we can do that”.
My noble friend Lord Cormack made the point that there is also the assumption that the EU definitely wants us to remain in. There is also the assumption behind the amendment that Article 50 is reversible. As I understand the position, this is legally an open question. The Supreme Court did not opine on it because the two parties to the case, Mrs Miller and the Government, agreed that they would not argue about the issue in front of the court, so it did not take a view. I understand that lawyers are divided on the matter, but it is by no means clear that Article 50, once it has been invoked, is reversible.
Regardless of what the legal argument is, politically it seems difficult to believe that Article 50 could be reversed. Would the EU really want to negotiate with a country that is saying, “Well, we will get some terms from you which we will put back to the people, and then we may come back and ask for a better set of terms if they are not satisfactory”? If my noble friend Lord Cormack and I are wrong about this and the EU definitely and 100% wants us to remain in, it will give us the worst possible bargain, knowing that it has to be endorsed by both Parliament and a referendum. The amendment that has been proposed seems to be opportunistic and it does not have any logic to it at all.
My Lords, “the will of the people” is a phrase much bandied around in the wake of the referendum and it has taken on a totemic significance. Anyone who suggests that the country should not now blindly leap off the cliff into the unknown that is hard Brexit risks being accused of trying to defy the will of the people. When the Supreme Court judges examined the Government’s plans to ride roughshod over the principle of the sovereignty of Parliament, they met with a disgraceful headline labelling them “Enemies of the people”. Their determination to stand up for the rule of law rather than the rule of the mob was seen as defying the will of the people.
I do not wish to defy the will of the people. Amendment 3, introduced so persuasively by the noble Lord, Lord Newby, proposes the opposite of defying the will of the people. It is about upholding democracy, not denying it. It simply proposes that once the terms of our withdrawal from the EU are clear, the public should be given the final say on whether to accept them. As I said at Second Reading, I cannot understand why even the most devoted Brexiteers would not wish to give the public the final say on the terms of such a momentous decision unless they feared that the terms might not be acceptable.
The process would demand simply that Parliament should approve the terms by a resolution of both Houses. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, it would be the vote of the Commons that was decisive; we know our place in this Chamber. If there is no deal, however, and the Government simply decide to withdraw from the EU, this too should be the subject of a resolution of both Houses. I will support a later amendment that calls for that procedure. I believe it to be absolutely crucial that, if the Government think that they have secured a good deal for this country, that deal should be put to the public in a referendum.
We are a proudly democratic country. We hold elections and we abide by the results even if the majority is wafer thin. The party with the largest number of MPs gets to govern. But the difference between a general election and the referendum is that a few years down the line the country has a chance to change its mind and to think again. People judge the efforts of those whom they have elected and, if they are not satisfied, they throw them out. A Parliament is not for life. However, when the country is now embarking on one of the most momentous decisions ever, a decision that will affect our children and our children’s children, there seems to be a perverse determination to insist that the people have made their bed and that, no matter how uncomfortable it may be, they are jolly well going to lie in it in perpetuity.
While we are on the subject of being uncomfortable, is my noble friend comfortable with the many press reports following the referendum of her saying that she would use her position in the House of Lords to prevent and reverse the decision taken by the people? Is she comfortable with the idea of unelected Members of this House using procedure to try to frustrate the result of the referendum?
My Lords, I have just said that I have no intention of defying the will of the people; I am giving the people a chance to exercise their will, which some noble Lords may not wish to do. I do not believe that we should not give the people the final say.
When a majority of those voting voted to leave the EU, they had different visions of what that would entail. In answer to my noble friend Lord Lamont, I do not think that the original referendum was, with the benefit of hindsight, drafted as well as it might have been, because I think that people were voting for different things. Some might have favoured an arrangement that continued to give us strong trading links with Europe while others might have voted with a view that we could remain very close to the single market. Some might have hoped that our students would be able to continue their education throughout Europe while others, particularly those in the financial services sector, would almost certainly have been hoping that what they were voting for was an arrangement that would allow their products to be passported into Europe so that they could continue doing business as they do now. That looks increasingly unlikely to happen, with dire consequences for our Exchequer. The one thing on which most voters would surely have agreed is, as others have suggested in this debate, that they were not voting to get poorer.
The most logical solution is that, once the terms of departure are clear, the public should be able to weigh them up and decide whether they want them. Do those who oppose such a suggestion not believe that the British electorate are capable of examining a deal and judging it on its merits? To take that view certainly would be to show contempt for the electorate and I do not. I am not a fan of government by referenda, but nevertheless once one has embarked on that route, it seems that only a referendum can complete the process. This is about listening to the will of the people, not defying it.
My Lords, I had not intended to speak but I need to, because so far no one has addressed the specific terms of the amendment that is before the Committee. There is no element of sarcasm in this when I say that that is uncharacteristic of the noble Lord, Lord Newby. I asked him a specific question about his amendment. Also uncharacteristically, the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, has made a speech that is not based on the terms of the amendment. So let me remind the Committee briefly of what the amendment states. Three conditions are set out:
“No agreement with the European Union … may be ratified unless … it has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament”.
I do not know what meaning that has other than that it has to be approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament, which the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, said is not a problem because we always defer to the lower House. If that is the case, it needs to be in the amendment.
Perhaps the noble Lord would be good enough to look at Amendment 32 tabled in my name, which will be debated on Wednesday. He will see that this point is addressed in the proposed new clause by using the phrase “both Houses”. I take the point that the noble Lord is making with regard to “each House”, but does he agree that if the phrase “both Houses” is substituted, the point is made?
I am a long way from reaching Amendment 32, but I shall certainly look at it in good time. Before we get to any question of consulting the people on an agreement, which was the thrust of the comments of both the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, and the noble Lord, Lord Newby, it has to clear the first hurdle of being passed, or I should say approved, by both Houses of Parliament. We need to know what happens if one House says yes and the other no, because it occurs to me that there is a considerable possibility that the House of Commons, with a Conservative majority, might well, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, agree to approve the Prime Minister’s recommendation. There is also a considerable possibility that this House, not being so bound by recommendations of Prime Ministers of whichever party, will decide that it does not agree with the recommendation made by the Prime Minister and the Government. That is the question: what happens if one says yes and the other no?
That is the first hurdle that would have to be cleared before there can be a referendum, but there is another. New paragraph (b) says,
“the Prime Minister has obtained authority to put it to a national referendum”.
That would require a Bill and an Act of Parliament. That is the second hurdle that would have to be cleared by the House of Commons and the House of Lords before we could reach the third stage, which is the referendum itself—new paragraph (c) provides that it should have been,
“approved by such a referendum”.
I say to those who have spoken so far that unless there are rather better answers to the question, particularly about the two Houses—
No—the amendment’s flaw is: are we seriously going to attempt to send an amendment to the other place that requires the accession of some 15 to 20 Conservative Members of Parliament to vote with the rest of the Opposition to keep it in the Bill? That is the only audience we have. It is not ourselves or the people; it is the 20 Tories in the other place who would be prepared to vote for what we send. They are not going to vote for this, so why are we going to try to send it there?
After the best part of 40 years over which my noble friend and I have been in Parliament, we do not disagree on much. I am delighted to see that we clearly do not disagree on this amendment either. In the absence of any satisfactory answers to the questions I have put, I hope that the House will decide against the amendment, should it be put to a vote.
My Lords, I intervene briefly in opposition to the amendment. In fact, referring to an amendment coming down the track that I hope will be discussed on Wednesday, I have tabled a new clause that would enable Parliament to direct a referendum. The amendment that we are discussing would require Parliament to hold a referendum. That seems to be fundamentally different in kind. If two years down the track the public mood has changed after the negotiations, I for one believe that the public’s opinion should be tested in a referendum, which Parliament would then decide. Alternatively, if in two years’ time Parliament decides not to approve agreed terms, I fancy that Parliament would decide that its decision had to be underwritten by a referendum.
That is different in kind to this amendment, which would require Parliament to direct a referendum, whether there is a change in opinion or not. That seems fundamentally undesirable, because we know that referenda are profoundly divisive mechanisms. They are the policy of last resort. If there is not a perceptible change in public opinion, or if Parliament is not minded to vote down the agreed terms, I see no need to require the holding of a referendum. This is a mandatory amendment; I am against it for that rather narrow reason.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Newby, is one of the most distinguished Members of this House. I gently say to him that I do not think that I have heard him defend an argument in such threadbare circumstances. We have sometimes been lectured on the fact that we have a representative parliamentary democracy. Now we seem to have developed referendumitis. What about the implications of this proposal for Scotland? What would it do to the Scottish nationalist argument? We said that we were having a referendum for a generation. This would open the door to the argument, “If they can do it for Europe, they can do it for us”. That is the second time that that has been mentioned today.
The ball was dropped, if dropped it was, when the referendum Bill came to this House. That was the opportunity to put in a back-up clause to say that we would put it to the test at the end. Speaking for those of us who have had referenda—in our case, the border poll in the 1970s, on the Good Friday agreement in 1998 and the potential for another one—if we are going to do this on an ad hoc basis to suit a party management situation, or a bright idea someone happened to come up with, we will destabilise the whole constitution of the United Kingdom. I caution Members on this. The time to fix this was when we started it. We should have put it in the Bill. If I recall, this House was silent when it came to that question in the Bill. That was the opportunity to do it. The question asked was amended by the Electoral Commission, if I recall correctly, which produced the clarity in the question. There was no caveat or qualification.
If we send Ministers to Brussels to negotiate with Michel Barnier and so on—
Further to the point that the noble Lord is making, I remember spending long hours discussing the referendum Bill in this place. One of the things that we particularly discussed was the need to make sure that this was a decisive result that was accepted by the losing side as well as the winning side. Those of us who then went into the campaign with all sorts of disadvantages because of the Government’s ability to spend and so on were none the less just about content that, if we lost, we would be able to accept the result. The other side appears not to have come to that conclusion.
I am grateful to my noble friend. Perhaps I should rephrase what I said: we were silent on amending the legislation to provide for a second referendum. Therefore, the Electoral Commission changed the wording, which was accepted to get the clarity that we need.
I fear that if we go down the road of trying to send Ministers to Brussels against the backdrop of a number of these amendments, we would not be sending Ministers with whom Brussels will negotiate. We are sending a second 11: we are sending delegates, not Ministers. As someone who has been in a prolonged negotiation, I know that it requires a stretch on the part of both parties. If you were sitting in Brussels and were minded to try to reach an agreement with our Ministers, why would you stretch yourself outside the four freedoms or take a big leap if you thought, first, that you were not dealing with people who could make agreements with you and, secondly, that you would be shot down because there were people in this Parliament and in this country who could undermine you after you had made the effort to reach an agreement? There are a number of amendments along these lines. We need to think carefully of the mechanics and atmosphere around the negotiating table.
On the territory about which the noble Lord is talking, I cannot understand, if negotiations have gone on for two years or more and we have finally agreed all the thousands of things that need to be agreed, how we could possibly then put it to a vote. The whole process of negotiating the deal with the EU will not work if we have a vote at the end.
One way of dealing with it would have been to make it clear that we were going to put things to a vote at the end. But now we are in a position of risking getting any kind of meaningful negotiation from Brussels because we would be sending people there who are incapable of making an agreement. We understand that it has to be approved by Parliament. Let us not forget that the European Parliament has to approve it—anyone who has had experience over there will know that that will not be a pleasant experience. I caution the noble Lord, although I understand what he is trying to say.
I cannot attribute the motivation. The noble Lord has his view. I am simply saying that if we are going to send people to Brussels to do a good deal for us—and whether they can, I do not know—the one thing we cannot do is saw their legs off before they go; otherwise we will get absolutely nothing.
I am not opposed to the concept, of course. We have already said that it is going to be ratified by Parliament. I make the point that if these amendments are inserted—and there are others on the Marshalled List to be dealt with at a later sitting—we are going to send a team of people to negotiate on our behalf. Clearly people in Brussels will say, “These people do not have the juice to do a deal so why would I take a political risk as a Brussels negotiator to stretch out towards them”—which is what is going to be needed on both sides—“because they know that they have no chance of getting a deal at the end of the day?”.
My Lords, we have already seen this afternoon in our very serious debate about the implications of the present situation—let us put it neutrally—for Northern Ireland that the referendum was, in fact, about a matter of the greatest constitutional importance and about the integrity of the United Kingdom, a great worry to any of us who come from Northern Ireland. However, although I agree with my noble friend Lord Empey that we should not tie the hands of negotiators, that a referendum at the end is a bad idea and that one constitutional error cannot be remedied by another constitutional error, nevertheless something needs to be said about the possibilities of no deal or of a bad deal. Those are two realistically possible outcomes. I think that at this stage it should be possible for the Government to say a bit about their plans in the event of either contingency.
My Lords, I have added my name to the amendment. I thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, and the noble Lord, Lord Newby, set out the case pretty well. I do not want to go over that ground again about a second referendum. However, I am a strong believer in the sentiment that those who giveth can also taketh away. It seems that that is an underlying principle: if the people have spoken but they are given new information, they can change their views at the end of the process.
I will say a bit about why I put my name on this amendment because the reason is a theme that will keep coming up on some of the other amendments. It will certainly come up on Amendment 8, which is in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Oates. Do we actually trust the Government to conduct these negotiations unsupervised after what we have seen of their behaviour so far? We are entitled to be fairly sceptical. We also have no reason to believe, if I may say so, that in Whitehall—and I speak as an old Whitehall warrior—there is this crack team of negotiators who we are going to send across the English Channel and who are going to do a fantastic job without any involvement in Parliament. We have no reason to believe that they will come up with a solution at the end of this process and we will all sit here and nod very sagely and say, “Fantastic. You have hit every particular button”. The world, on the whole, does not work that way.
We all have views about how to conduct negotiations. Many noble Lords have had a go at conducting such negotiations, and we will all have our own approach. Sometimes I have actually thought it quite useful in negotiations not to have too much flexibility—that I have got a mission that I want to deliver. It is quite good to be able to shelter behind that kind of instruction about the way in which I conduct the negotiations. As a former senior civil servant, I certainly did not want a lot of Ministers telling me to go out there and do my best. I would like to have a bit of guidance. I would have thought the same applies to Ministers. I have been a Minister and wanted to know what the Government and public were likely to accept while I did those negotiations. Therefore, I see nothing wrong in principle with the approaches in the amendment.
The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, knows as well as I do—he has been a Chief Whip—that it is often the case in Committee that we put down an amendment that may be technically a bit defective. We are trying to have a debate about a principle or an issue and we often withdraw them and come back at a later stage in the Bill with a rectified amendment that meets the concerns expressed. That does not mean it is wrong in principle to put these issues before the House and see what people’s views are. I support the amendment. We should think very seriously, as we discuss further amendments to the Bill, about whether we really believe that it is safe to send the Government into these negotiations without any requirements about the involvement of Parliament with that process.
My Lords, the noble Lord has made the central case for the amendment: do noble Lords trust the Government and the way that they have used the vote on the Brexit referendum or not? Frankly, we do not, for very good reasons that I shall seek to explain in a moment. That is not to say that we challenge the fundamental decision made in that referendum. Since I have been substantially misquoted on many occasions, let me say what I said on the night of the referendum, because government Ministers have been frequently using this as though somehow or other we had behaved in a way inconsistent with these words:
“I will forgive no-one who does not respect the sovereign voice of the British people once it has spoken. Whether it is a majority of 1% or 20%, when the British people have spoken, you do what they command. Either you believe in democracy or you don’t”.
Those are my words and I stand by them because we do believe in democracy on these Benches. We accept the sovereign voice of the British people.
Noble Lords may laugh but that is the fundamental question: do we challenge the “yes” or “no” outcome of that referendum? No, we do not, and this amendment does not in any way. We accept the decision that has been taken, and the decision is that we should leave. We are naturally bitter and sad about that, but whatever our personal feelings the judgment of the British people has spoken. However, to say we leave is not the same as the British people providing a mandate unto the solution that the Government choose in order to leave. The Government have actually taken what they claim to be a mandate to leave—which we concede the Government have, of course—and turned it into a mandate for the most brutal form of leaving possible.
I ask noble Lords to look back to the conduct of that referendum, in which many of us took part. I had a number of interesting debates with the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, and very good they were too. On every single occasion during that referendum, we asked those who proposed Brexit to say what kind of Brexit. Did it mean leaving the single market? Did it mean a complete ban on immigration? Never were we given an answer. I have Mr Hannan, a well-known lion on the Brexit debate, on the record many times: there is nothing about this that says we must leave the single market. If I recall, in the meeting that I had with the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth—I do not think I am wrong—he too said that it was not necessary to leave the single market.
As I recall, the conclusion that I and the audience reached—but we probably cannot go over this now—was that the noble Lord would leave but it was not necessary not to continue with access to the single market. However, that is what the Government have now said. We accept that the Government have a mandate to leave the European Union, but what mandate do they have to leave the single market or the customs union? None. The Conservative Party manifesto at the last general election committed the party, as a manifesto promise, to continue to stay in the single market. They have taken the British people’s votes—
Would the noble Lord please correct what he said about the Conservative manifesto saying we would stay in the single market? That was in the context of the negotiation that the Prime Minister promised to undertake, and was on the assumption that, as he wanted, people would say “yes” to remain. If the referendum went the other way, it was made perfectly clear that the single market would no longer encompass Britain.
The noble Lord could have been much quicker if he said, “Yes but we just changed our minds”—which is exactly what the Government have now done. The Government have a mandate to leave but they have no mandate whatever for this brutal form of leaving that will damage this country. By the way, it is not us that has been undemocratic but the Government. They have taken the British people’s vote and hijacked it for their anti-European prejudices. That is why now they need a referendum on the outcome—not a second referendum on “in or out” but a referendum on the deal. Noble Lords and the House will know the enormous difference between the hard Brexit that the Government propose, with no access to the single market and no membership of the customs union, and a Brexit maintaining access to the single market. The difference between these two options is huge for the people of this country, for our influence in Europe and the wider world, and for jobs, industry and our economy. Maybe the Government have got it right in their judgment—their guesswork—that the British people are content to leave the single market, but let them test that. They have no mandate from the referendum outcome whatever for that solution.
Surely the most brutal form of leaving would be to leave with no deal at all. The problem with this amendment is that it does not say, “We should have another referendum on whether we stay or leave”. It says, “We should have a referendum on whether we accept the terms of the deal”. If we say we do not accept those terms, that does not mean we stay in the European Union. Article 50 is very clear about that. Be careful what you wish for.
I am grateful that the noble Lord led me on to that because I was coming to it next. The Government say that this is the deal they will do. It will be the hardest possible deal with no access to the single market and huge damage done to our industry, jobs and influence. If they cannot get that, the alternative is to tow this country out into the middle of the Atlantic as some kind of mid-Atlantic Singapore: a total free market with no regulations at all. The Foreign Secretary has been very clear about that outcome. The difference between these two things is basically asking the people of this country and our Parliament to either say “yes” or jump over a cliff. That is not a reasonable option to put. When the High Court said that Parliament should have a say, it meant a real say, not an option between “take it” or “leave it”. That is not the kind of solution that will produce the best outcome for this country. Our proposition is simple. We accept the case that has been made and the judgment of the British people that we must leave. We do not accept that the Government have a mandate for a brutal form of Brexit that will damage our country’s influence and economy. They have no mandate whatever to take this country out of the single market. If they want to test that proposition, let them do so before a court of the British people.
My Lords, if we can get back to the amendment—I thought for a moment we had segued into the next debate—it is on a second referendum or ratification that I think initially sounded quite attractive to a number of noble Lords. However, when you actually look at the amendment it is flawed.
First, there is the point made about the two parts of the amendment. Paragraph (a), which says that it must be,
“laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament”,
fails to recognise the primacy of the other place. That is not how we have handled this Bill or other issues. On that point, our later amendment on a meaningful vote is a better way to judge parliamentary opinion and for Parliament to deal with this issue.
Demands for a second referendum started even before the polls closed on the first one. An online parliamentary petition called for a second referendum should the first have less than a 60% vote for either remain or leave on a 75% turnout threshold. That set a high bar and it received around 4 million signatures. We do not require that level of support for Governments; the last time we had a turnout of higher than 75% was back in 1992, nearly 25 years ago. This amendment does not seek such conditions. I agree that it would be strange to set new and different conditions for a second referendum from the first one but the point has been made previously in debates that for such a major constitutional issue to be decided by a simple majority has caused concern.
National referendums are rare in the UK. As we know, there have been three UK-wide ones. In 1975, Harold Wilson called a referendum on remaining in or leaving the European Economic Community. In 2011, during the coalition Government, we had a referendum on whether to change first past the post to the AV voting system. Then we had the EU referendum in 2016. I must confess that I am naturally cautious about politicians demanding a national referendum on an issue. If I was a cynic—of course, I am not—I would suggest that we do that rarely on a point of principle but more often because we think it will endorse a position we take and give us the result we want. However, I feel differently when there is public demand for a referendum. I accept that it is not always easy to judge that. Certain petitions and polls are not satisfactory. Yet it becomes clear over time and the polls for the EU referendum were evidenced by the turnout.
Let us look at the public support for these referendums. In the EEC referendum in 1975, 64% voted. That was probably depressed by most people thinking that it was clear the UK would remain. Some 72% voted in the referendum in 2016. Yet when we had the referendum on the voting system, for which there was no real public demand as it was politician-led, it motivated fewer than half our fellow citizens, with a turnout of just 42%. My fear now is that, with no significant public demand for a second referendum at this time, this is being seen as a campaign to challenge the result of the first referendum. That in itself creates a mood of opposition and hostility from the public.
The noble Lord, Lord Newby, reinforced that view in his speech, but in the The House magazine he said it was “implausible” not to grant a second referendum if public opinion shifts in favour of the EU. What if it shifts away and more people are opposed to the EU? Is that still grounds for a second referendum? Not according to his article. Indeed, the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, spoke of having a second referendum so people could express a change of mind. That is not solely a reason to have one.
As the previous debate illustrated clearly, the coming months of negotiations will be complicated and complex. We are pressing the Government to ensure that Parliament is kept fully engaged and informed throughout the whole process, and that Parliament has the opportunity for a real, meaningful final say on the exit arrangements or deals. The noble Lord, Lord Newby, made a good point on this when he said that the Government did not want to engage with Parliament through a vote and had to be persuaded to do so by a court judgment. However, Parliament will now have to make its judgment and the MPs who do so will be accountable to their constituents. That is what parliamentary sovereignty means: taking responsibility.
I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Newby, that his logic is flawed because he and others from his party feel no need to respect the result of the referendum. The noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, just refuted this but I find that hard to accept. I do not, as the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, said, call the result the will of the people. I am not sure that referendums express that. However, there is a clear result. The noble Lord’s party said that there is no need to respect that result and voted against it in the House of Commons. It is now calling for a second referendum. Is that to be the same, to be seen as advisory, or do we just accept what a second referendum says? I find it hard to see the circumstances in which a second referendum could deal with all of the detail that would be required on the terms of an exit deal and not just be a rerun on the principle of continuing the process to leave or staying in. That is, in effect, the same as the first one.
The final judgment on the exit deal has to be very measured. It is going to involve forensic detail and it cannot just be an appeal to the emotions without hard, actual facts. In the first referendum, we saw different sides campaigning; they lobbied around the principle of staying in or leaving. I am on record as saying that I was deeply unimpressed with both the remain and leave campaigns. I have not yet been convinced that the approach of a referendum works well when dealing with the detail of negotiations over a period of two years. We have to have some faith in our Members of Parliament and in your Lordships’ House to make a serious, factual judgment on the benefits or otherwise of a final deal. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Warner, who asked whether we trusted the Government. I have been clear that I do not trust the Government enough to wave them off for two years and come back, and that is why we have later amendments about parliamentary engagement and votes. However, there is no impediment: if, as time and negotiations progress, there is genuine evidence of a widespread public demand for a second referendum, that should be listened to, but at this stage, our priority has to be that Parliament has the final say.
My Lords, the House will be delighted to hear that I intend to speak briefly on this amendment, as I get the sense that many of your Lordships’ minds have already been made up on this issue. I am going to explain why the Government believe that this approach would be wrong in principle and wrong in practice. A number of your Lordships have already made a number of good points, which I will not repeat.
I begin by taking a step back to consider people’s trust in politics today. It is at a somewhat low ebb. For many people, there is a sense that too many politicians say one thing and then do another. There is a sense that Parliament is divorced from day-to-day life, and this frustration and disillusionment with mainstream parties encourage them to look to others to represent their views. This is the backcloth to the debate on this Bill and this amendment.
Let us not forget the democratic path that has brought us here. The Conservative Party promised to hold a referendum and respect the outcome. This Parliament gave people the choice of whether to leave or to remain in the European Union: a choice without caveat or condition. It was a choice that the people exercised, having been told by the Government in the leaflet sent to every household in the land:
“The Government will implement what you decide”.
The majority voted to leave, not to have a second referendum and not to think again. The people have spoken and this Bill delivers on their wish.
My first question to your Lordships is: would it help build trust in politics if we, the unelected Chamber, were to tell the people, “We did not like your first answer; please try harder”? I think not: quite the reverse. When Scotland voted against independence, what was the response from any politicians? I shall quote one:
“You have to abide by the outcome ... I don’t think re-opening old wounds would be good for Scotland”.
Those were the words of Mr Nick Clegg. Whatever the cynical machinations of the Scottish Nationalists today, I believe that what Mr Clegg said was true then as regards Scotland and is true today as regards Europe. We promised a referendum, not a “neverendum”. The government leaflet said the referendum was a once-in-a-generation decision, not a twice-in-five-years decision. We cannot keep asking the question until we get the answer that some want.
The Minister is making the case against a question that we did not ask, which is, “Shall we have another referendum on in or out?”. We accept that that is not going to happen. We accept that the Government have a mandate for Brexit. Will he tell us what mandate they now have for leaving the single market?
My Lords, I am sorry to say that the noble Lord is just making my point for me. We had a referendum in which people were asked very explicitly whether they wanted to leave or remain in the EU. The leaflet that I have here said it very clearly, and many people in this House and outside it—on both sides of the argument—made the case that a vote to leave was a vote to leave the single market. That was the choice, people were aware of it and that was the decision that they made. We are going to come on to this in the next hour or so.
Furthermore, many people on both sides of the argument, leave and remain, are now coming together to make a success of our exit from the EU and to forge a new place for our nation in the world. Why would we want to open up all those old divisions again by holding a second referendum, as this very debate has just shown? Well before last June, a number of politicians argued—
When the Minister talks about the advisory referendum which was giving an opinion, that was the result that we had to respect at the time. Of course, there are comparisons with other European countries; in the process of the European constitution and subsequent Lisbon treaty, it was very interesting that in France, Denmark and the Republic of Ireland, there was always under the compulsory written constitutions a “no” vote in that first referendum. Each one was reversed by their Governments because they knew it was a vote about the unpopularity of internal politics and nothing to do with Europe.
I hear what the noble Lord is saying, but I am sorry to say that that boat, and all this argument, sailed when we passed the referendum Bill. That is just simply the fact.
Well before last June, a number of politicians argued that a referendum on our membership of the EU was needed precisely because Europe was poisoning the body politic. One politician said some years ago that it was,
“time we pulled out the thorn and healed the wound, time for a debate politicians have been too cowardly to hold for 30 years ... Let’s trust the people with the real question: in or out”.
Again, these were the words of Mr Nick Clegg back in 2008. I agree with the Nick Clegg of 2008. Now that we have had that referendum, I would argue that another would put that thorn back into British politics, and rub salt in the wound.
Since this is an occasion for quotations, I remind him that John Maynard Keynes said:
“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”.
Is it the Government’s position that if, after these negotiations, they decide that no deal is better than a poor deal, the Government will not put that to the people of the United Kingdom?
My Lords, the Government’s position is very clear. We are absolutely going to stand by the instruction given to us by the British people to leave the European Union. That was the decision and that is the Government’s policy, and that is what it will remain.
Is not the real reason people are calling for a second referendum that one side lost and they do not like it? Then, might it not be the case that somebody loses another referendum and we would have to have a third one? Indeed, we might even have to have a fourth referendum to decide which referendum was the real thing.