House of Lords
Monday 14 January 2019
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of St Albans.
Death of a Member: Viscount Slim
Retirement of a Member: Lord Mogg
My Lords, I notify the House of the retirement with effect from today of the noble Lord, Lord Mogg, pursuant to Section 1 of the House of Lords Reform Act 2014. On behalf of the House, I should like to thank the noble Lord for his much-valued service to the House.
My Lords, I declare my farming interests as set out in the register and my membership of the National Farmers’ Union. Defra Ministers and officials are engaging fully with representatives from the UK’s farming unions. Farming organisations stress the importance of: vibrant domestic food production; safeguarding our world-leading animal welfare standards; opportunities for exports; and ensuring that the UK takes the necessary steps to secure a deal with the EU. The Government share those priorities.
My Lords, I also declare my interest as a fully paid-up member of the Farmers Union of Wales. Do the Government accept that a no-deal Brexit would be a disaster for Welsh hill farmers, 90% of whose lamb exports go to European Union markets, which would be killed by tariff barriers? Does the Government’s no-deal Brexit emergency package include provision for intervention buying of lamb at a fair price in the event of a post-Brexit market failure or will the hill farmers, along with their lambs, be slaughtered on the altar of a no-deal Brexit?
My Lords, I repeat that the draft Brexit withdrawal agreement will ensure there are no hard barriers on the day we leave the European Union. I agree with all the farming unions. That is what the Government are working on: to get a deal that ensures frictionless and tariff-less trade. If it were to come to no deal, clearly there would have to be discussions about how these matters could be managed. But there is no doubt about it: a no-deal scenario will cause turbulence in the short term for food producers and for farmers.
My Lords, there are of course other priorities and issues for both the Government and the farming unions. I agree that it is important that there is access to labour. Such matters are being considered across government; we recognise their importance not only for the farm labour force but for vets and others. The advance of agritech will in the longer term make a significant difference to the way in which we all farm.
My Lords, does my noble friend acknowledge that the Secretary of State’s speech at the Oxford conference, where he recognised the real problems that would be caused by no deal, caused considerable comfort in farming circles? Is not the logical consequence of this that the Secretary of State makes it abundantly plain that he will be no part of any Government that would accept no deal?
My Lords, my right honourable friend made a number of very important observations about the future of farming at the Oxford Farming Conference, not only in the long term but in the short term because of Brexit. In his words, he agrees that the deal before the other place is not perfect, but let us not put perfection in the way of the good. That is why he actively supports the deal.
My Lords, despite the government statement on the level of farm support to 2020—and 2022—this has been a period of unparalleled anxiety for the members of the farmers, union that I served as a young man, as its legal adviser in Wales. This House’s Delegated Powers Committee delivered a hammer blow in October 2017, criticising the Agriculture Bill for transferring European powers to Ministers, bypassing the devolved Administrations. Specifically, when do the Government intend to carry out their undertaking to respond within the agreed period to the committee’s report?
My Lords, that is an interesting observation from the noble and learned Lord, because I saw Lesley Griffiths from the Welsh Government in passing only this morning. There is a very important continuing dialogue with all the devolved Administrations—agriculture is devolved, of course—and that is why, when the Agriculture Bill comes to your Lordships’ House, it will have elements which relate to Wales, and indeed Northern Ireland, alone. I will take away what he said, because my understanding is that there is very close collaboration, which is essential, between the UK Government and all devolved Administrations.
My Lords, my noble friend raises an important element: we want to enhance the environment. Clearly we must deal with the use of plastic better, whether in industry, agriculture or our own use, and have recyclable, reusable objects. I should also say that, as announced in the Clean Air Strategy this morning, we need to collaborate with farmers to improve the ammonia situation as well.
My Lords, despite the words of the Secretary of State at the Oxford conference, no deal is now a very real prospect. How do the Government propose to ensure that the Secretary of State, despite his words, will be able to make all the necessary arrangements to protect both farmers and food supplies?
Of course, that is precisely why there has been a border delivery group working across Whitehall since March 2017. It is working with the port and other transport operators to ensure, as a priority, that we have the materials we need, including medicines and so forth, but also a free flow of traffic. It was interesting that the manager of the Port of Calais referred to the fact that it is putting much more effort and many more people into ensuring this free flow of goods, which is of course at the back of why we want a deal.
My Lords, does the Minister understand why it is a priority for the farmers’ unions that there should be a guarantee that future food imports in the UK will have the same animal welfare and environmental standards as those which currently apply? If he agrees with that priority, will he undertake to put forward an amendment to the Agriculture Bill to make that commitment a legal requirement?
My Lords, having declared my farming interests, of course I believe that it is important that farmers produce food of the highest standard for home and abroad, and that this should never be compromised. We will not water down our standards on animal welfare in pursuit of trade agreements, and that is precisely why we have transposed the EU Council directives on, for instance, hormone-treated beef and chlorine-washed chicken into the statute book. When we leave the EU, that will be the law.
Yemen: Humanitarian Situation
My Lords, the humanitarian situation in Yemen remains the worst in the world. It is imperative that the parties act in good faith to implement the Stockholm agreements and UN Security Council Resolution 2451. Any military escalation must be avoided, and Hodeidah and Saleef ports and onward supply routes must be kept open. Alongside our diplomatic efforts to end the conflict, we continue to respond to the humanitarian crisis financially, through our £170 million in aid this year.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. The Iranian-backed Houthi drone attacks killed top military personnel last week, and Saudi-led coalition airstrikes supported Mansur Hadi’s Government in Hodeidah and Taiz. As he has mentioned, the ceasefire talks have not resulted in anything. Eighty-five thousand children have been starved to death, and 80% of the population are in need of aid. Ten million people are about to starve in Yemen. Will the UK diplomats tabling a Security Council resolution—this week, we hope—warn both Iran and Saudi Arabia not to have their proxy war, which is killing children and innocent civilians, in Yemen?
The noble Lord is right to focus on the humanitarian situation. It is the worst in the world—a crisis. Ten million are one step away from famine, and there are massive cholera outbreaks. It is a dreadful situation. The drone attacks, and breaches he has referred to, continue to exercise concern. The UN redeployment mission there is headed by General Cammaert, who is experienced in these areas. He is working with the Government of Yemen and the Houthi forces to try to ensure that, initially in Hodeidah, there is peace and it holds, as that is where most of the supplies come through. It remains an immensely fragile situation, and the UK, as penholder at the UN Security Council on Yemen, will continue to do everything it can to support the peace efforts.
Does my noble friend recall that back in October the UN co-ordinator said that between 12 million and 13 million people would starve in Yemen? Since then, we have had the Stockholm agreement; can he update us on where that has got to? Has the airport in Sanaa been opened? Is there evidence that the Houthis have been manipulating the aid provided? Will the Hodeidah ceasefire hold, or is it breaking down? Are there other plans to reconvene that Stockholm agreement if the present one begins to be pulled apart?
Stockholm is a process, not an event, so it needs to be ongoing. The situation in Hodeidah remains fragile, but we believe there is still a commitment from all parties to keep it open. Yemen is in this predicament because it relies so heavily on imports of food and fuel to serve its population, through the Red Sea ports. The latest figures we have for December show that 81% of food and 89% of fuel managed to get through. That is a reason for cautious hope, but it remains fragile, and the consequences of this not holding are well stated.
The way to do that is by seizing on every element of hope. Hope was represented in the outcome of Stockholm. That was then consolidated into a UN Security Council resolution that was not blocked by other P5 members. We have international agreement. There is reason for hope. We must put all efforts behind trying to secure it.
My Lords, as well as the huge famine—I congratulate Her Majesty’s Government on what they are doing to respond to it—we are also seeing unfold before our eyes a huge medical crisis, with possibly the largest cholera epidemic in recorded history. Will the Minister update us on what plans and action are being taken with our partners to bring in medical help urgently to try to address this unparalleled, Dickensian level of preventable disease?
The right reverend Prelate is absolutely right that this is the largest cholera epidemic. Again, one small, cautious reason for hope is that, from its peak, that outbreak has begun to reduce due to heroic and selfless actions by humanitarian workers on the ground and by organisations such as the World Health Organization and UNICEF, funded in part by the United Kingdom.
My Lords, the drone strike last week at the Al Anad air base showed the need to try to broaden the ceasefire agreement to cover the whole of the country, but this would require a resumption of the talks between the Yemeni Government and the Houthis. Does the Minister think that the likelihood of that happening has gone up since the US’s announcement in the last few hours that it will support the political process? Secondly, can the Minister assure me that the grain in the mills in and around Hodeidah will not be lying there unused much longer but get out to those starving families across the country?
Yes, I can give that assurance. That is what we want to see. The Red Sea mills were a crucial part of why we wanted the ceasefire to start. We are at small beginnings. The situation is catastrophic, but there is a glimmer of hope. We must all work towards it.
My Lords, we remain deeply concerned at hatred directed against British Muslims and others because of their faith or heritage. This is utterly unacceptable and does not reflect the values of our country. We know that some have suggested that establishing a definition of Islamophobia could strengthen efforts to confront bigotry and division. Any such approach would need to be considered carefully to ensure that this would have the positive effect intended.
The formal definition of anti-Semitism is carefully but narrowly drawn and has helped to focus minds and resources on this pernicious hatred. How will my noble friend ensure that a formal definition of Islamophobia, if introduced, has a similar impact but is narrowly and carefully drawn so as to avoid creating a wider threat to free speech?
My Lords, it would be useful for my noble friend to look at the debate we had before Christmas, on 20 December, on this issue. I will certainly provide her with the link. It illustrated some of the difficulties that exist. It took some time to establish the definition for anti-Semitism. As I said, we would need to proceed with great care. In the interim, there is clearly an issue of hatred and bigotry directed against Muslims that we must confront.
My Lords, we have not yet heard from the Cross Benches.
My Lords, there is no common statistical basis whatsoever suggesting that members of any one faith suffer more discrimination than others. Emotive words like Islamophobia are simply unhelpful pleas for special consideration. Does the Minister agree that the Government have a basic responsibility to ignore all special pleading and ensure that all faiths and beliefs are equally protected?
My Lords, I would first say to the noble Lord—who contributed to the debate on this issue on 20 December—that of course all faiths, heritages and races should be protected, and indeed are protected. I would also gently say to him that the statistics show numerically that there are far more attacks and bigotry in relation to the Muslim community than any other.
My Lords, the Minister has acknowledged that hate crimes against Muslims have risen dramatically. The Government’s own figures show a rise of 40%, almost equal to that of anti-Semitism. Will the Government accept that it is becoming increasingly normalised? We have commentators and columnists who think it is perfectly proper to argue that racism and hate speech against Muslims are acceptable and, in fact, should be normalised. Will the Government carefully consider the definition from and work done by the APPG on British Muslims, after consulting 800 community organisations, 80 academics and more than 60 parliamentarians, on offering that protection, and send out a strong signal that they intend to offer some protection? It is not special pleading; it is about reducing hate crime in the same way as for British Jews.
My Lords, I share the ambition to ensure that the incidence of hate crime comes down. There is evidence of better reporting; that is one reason, although not the only reason, why the statistics show an increase. It is worth mentioning that. It is important to confront this wherever we look. The noble Baroness will be aware that we recently renewed the hate crime action plan, which is now going forward to 2020. I very much value the work done by the APPG and by others on this issue. Of course the Government will look at this in the round, as we will the other evidence and the very valuable debate we had just before Christmas.
My Lords, will the noble Lord go further and join me in congratulating the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims on producing this report and its definition of Islamophobia? It makes clear that Islamophobia is rooted in racism—racism that targets Muslimness or perceived Muslimness. Its report and definition have been endorsed by British Muslims for Secular Democracy, the Muslim Women’s Network UK, the Muslim Council of Great Britain and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, said, by more than 800 other organisations. Will he commit to working inside government to get a definition adopted without delay?
My Lords, I say to the noble Lord, who I do not think was present at the debate in question, that there are split views on this issue. It is not quite as straightforward as he suggests. Of course we want to work with the APPG and others, and we are certainly committed to any way of confronting and bringing down bigotry and hatred. But I want to make sure that we get this right, and that means not rushing it. I appreciate that the noble Lord will be part of that endeavour and look forward to his support in that.
My Lords, I say to the Minister, with due respect, that there was not such division as he suggests. However, as he may be aware, those of us who have spoken in the debate since the Islamophobia debate on 20 December have received some unsavoury intimidation. Does he agree that any definition that seeks to protect a community must be rooted in that community? Does he therefore agree that any attempts to undermine the community’s agency is in itself a part of that problem? To the House, I say that those of us who have worked tremendously hard over years and decades will not tolerate any division between us while we fight Islamophobia, other prejudices and anti-Semitism.
My Lords, first, if the noble Baroness goes back to that debate, she will find that there were certainly Muslim contributors who had different views. I am not saying that they did not want to confront Muslim hatred and Islamophobia—they did—but there are certainly different approaches that we would have to look at. I share her view about making sure that, in a shared endeavour, we bring down anti-Muslim hatred and Islamophobia and confront them both.
My Lords, on the overall question of definitions, sometimes it is much easier to do things when we handle them as concepts. In the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, we struggled with the question of racism, particularly when it is found in institutions, so we ended up saying: “The concept that we apply to this case of institutional racism is this”. That is much easier than a definition because a definition can restrict what you want to say. Is it not better to learn from what the Stephen Lawrence inquiry did? We in that inquiry also struggled with the question of homophobic incidents in many other places. In the end, we adopted the word “concept” as opposed to a definition, because a definition is always contingent on who speaks and who does what. May I advise that it might be worth while visiting the way in which the Stephen Lawrence inquiry handled the question of institutional racism?
My Lords, the most reverend Primate is right and I take his advice on this very seriously. There is obviously major work to be done here and I will certainly revisit issues relating to the Stephen Lawrence inquiry and how we learned from what came forward there. It is vital that we get this right; I am sure we all share in that ambition. It is about making sure that we do it, not about rushing to judgment and coming to a set conclusion without looking at the evidence. I am keen to see the evidence and to act on it.
Immigration: Removal Centres
My Lords, unpublished management information shows that the longest-serving person currently detained has been held for three years and that the longest period of detention since 2014 is six years and eight months. That individual was released in October 2017. In each case the detainees were foreign national offenders convicted of very serious offences, including serious violence and serious sexual offending. I am confident that our reforms will prevent such long periods of detention being necessary, while not lessening our determination to remove foreign national offenders.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that only we and the Republic of Ireland have no maximum timeframe for detention? Does she also accept what the United Nations action group on arbitrary detention stated:
“Lack of knowledge about the end date of detention is seen as one of the most stressful aspects of immigration detention, in particular for stateless persons and migrants who cannot be removed for legal or practical reasons”?
Is this not only indefinite detention but indefinite hopelessness? Should not we in the United Kingdom agree with the remainder of Europe, apart from Ireland, that we will put an end to it so that everybody will know exactly what the prospects are for their release?
My Lords, the law does not allow indefinite detention. It is our view that a fixed, arbitrary time limit on detention would actually serve only to encourage individuals to frustrate the removal procedures in order to reach a point at which they would have to be released.
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, for that rush of enthusiasm. I visited Dungavel detention centre in south Lanarkshire when it was a prison and as prisons go, it was not such a bad place. Since it became a detention centre, however, it has changed considerably. It is surrounded by barbed wire and looks much more like a prison for serious offenders than a place to house people who could be vulnerable and could be there without knowing how long they are to be detained. Why has it been necessary to make conditions worse for asylum seekers than they were for prisoners?
I refute the point that conditions for asylum seekers are worse than for prisoners. The detention estate has reduced by some 40% in recent years, so we are holding far fewer people in detention, and 95% of individuals who are asked to leave the country because they are not here legally do not actually find themselves in the detention estate.
My Lords, can the Minister say whether the welcome progress made in reducing the numbers of families in immigration removal centres during the coalition Government has been sustained? How many such families are still detained? Would she care to write to me on this point?
My Lords, once again the Minister insists that there is no indefinite detention in law. The dictionary definition of “indefinite” is “without fixed or specified limit”. Can she tell us what the fixed or specified limit is in law on general detention?
The other definition of indefinite is “unlimited” and I cannot find any examples of someone who has found themselves in detention for an unlimited period. For the reasons I outlined to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, we do not want to put an arbitrary time limit on detention.
My Lords, Stonewall and the UK Lesbian & Gay Immigration Group brought out a report called No Safe Refuge, which shows that those claiming asylum based on their sexual identity or gender identity who are put in detention suffer from prejudice, physical and sometimes sexual abuse. What is the Minister doing to ensure that this does not happen? Will she follow best practice from across the world that uses non-detention approaches for such vulnerable people?
Of course, that was something that Stephen Shaw recommended, and an R35 assessment is made before someone goes into the detention estate. I read that report, although unfortunately it was not attributed; I spoke to LGBT organisations about it and we worked through some of the issues. Also, as the noble Lord will know, we have worked with LGBT organisations extensively, including Stonewall, to ensure that conditions and training within the detention estate are sensitive to LGBT people who find themselves in detention.
Brexit: Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration
Motion to Take Note (3rd Day)
Moved on Wednesday 9 January by
That this House, for the purposes of section 13(1)(c) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, takes note of the negotiated withdrawal agreement laid before the House on Monday 26 November 2018 with the title Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community and the framework for the future relationship laid before the House on Monday 26 November 2018 with the title Political Declaration setting out the framework for the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom.
Relevant document: 24th Report from the European Union Committee
My Lords, before we commence the adjourned debate, I observe that we have a lot of business to get through today, and I respectfully remind contributors from the Back Benches that the advisory time limit is six minutes. With the greatest of gentleness, I point out that when the clock shows “6”, this has a certain significance: it means time is up.
My Lords, as we embark on the third day of our deliberations, and the House of Commons approaches its penultimate day, I think there is not a single Member of your Lordships’ House who would not agree with the Prime Minister’s comment today that we are in uncharted waters. I would take that analogy further and say that the ship of state is at the moment adrift in a dangerous sea, with storm clouds building and with some dangerous rocks around.
If I talk about dangerous rocks, I refer noble Lords to today’s copy of the Times: just look at the stories of the world in which we live. We have President Trump threatening to devastate the Turkish economy if they invade the Kurds. We have the al-Qaeda affiliate that has now occupied or is moving on Idlib and taking over that province, so that threat has reappeared on the scene. We have the continuing drama of the Sunni-Shia conflict and the conflict in Yemen, which so tragically continues, and the continuing drama involving Mr John Bolton, who is reported in the Times today to be considering that the United States might bomb Iran, in retaliation for an attack that it thinks was carried out on US facilities in Iraq.
At the same time, closer to home we have the rise of the far right. We have the AfD party in Germany, which I see has already decided to adopt the policy of abolishing the European Parliament and is considering whether to launch in its election campaign, for the upcoming European elections, a policy of Dexit—which I suppose stands for Deutschland exit and Germany leaving the European Union.
The instability all around could not be greater. It has coincided with the shutdown of the American Government. Many of your Lordships will have received an email today, as I did, to say that the US minister counselor in the US embassy is unable to come to the House today because, while the shutdown goes on, she is not now allowed to interact with public meetings. Presumably, the great diplomatic scale and force of the United States around the world at the moment is pretty well paralysed.
To top it all, we also have reports from a new activity, of which I had never heard, called Redfish, which appears to be a Russian-sponsored invasion of social media. Using the ignorance of those people taking part in it, Redfish promotes damaging videos and YouTube presentations that are watched by anything up to a quarter of a million people. It is, presumably, a re-creation of what actually happened in the US presidential election and also, I dare to suggest, in our own referendum campaign—namely, of Russian interference and trying to achieve their own policy objectives in that way.
At the same time, we move against an unchanging background of mass migration of people and the threat of climate change, which raise enormous challenges. Against such a background, it seems to me that it is a matter of urgency for this country no longer to be lost and uncertain and failing to give the leadership that we should to our own people and to our country. We need to come together to resolve Brexit.
Everybody will know that I am a remainer. I believe that the outcome of the referendum was a tragedy, but I do not believe that it is possible to go back now. Europe has moved on. We wanted a larger, but looser, Europe. It is not looser; it is enlarged, but it has continued to try and run in the same centralised way as before. There is more majority voting. We would be stuck with the freedom of movement, and I believe that, if we did try to go back, we would be under pressure to join the euro and Schengen as well.
I look across the Chamber and pay tribute to the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition. She made a very good opening speech and managed to criticise everything that we are trying to do. We know that the Motion that she has tabled says that the Opposition are against no deal and against this deal. We wait to hear what they are in favour of—because there is of course a complete silence. That was cleverly and accurately identified by Mr Andrew Marr in the programme with Mr Jeremy Corbyn yesterday. Mr Corbyn was calling for an election, and Mr Marr immediately said, “Well, if you have an election, what are you putting in your manifesto about the issues over Brexit?”—to which there was a deadly silence.
There is plenty to criticise in the proposed deal. Anybody can find difficulties and issues that do not entirely meet the objective. However, overall, the main objectives have been met. When we discussed this in the days before, in the debate that was truncated, it was the worry about the permanency of the backstop that seemed to concern most people. There have been improvements on that, and perhaps we will hear a further Statement later today that will help to clarify that.
I want to make one point, in advance of my noble friend leaping to her feet. It is simply this. The best speech I have heard in these debates was made by the most reverend Primate, whom I am delighted to see in his place. He said that we have a moral responsibility. Of course it is right that the other place has to take the decision, but we have a moral responsibility to advise—and this time we want to go forward as a country. Too much anger and too much hatred have developed over this. We need to resolve this matter now. We need to respect the majority decision, but we need respect for the minority as well. I hope that those on the Benches opposite will see that the opportunity to come together, agree a deal and go forward is in the national interest. I hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, will pick up that opportunity.
My Lords, I do not think that is for me to do, but no doubt my noble friend Lady Hayter will comment on what the noble Lord has said. He knows that I have huge respect for him. I want to touch on the legal issues, I am afraid, as I did when I spoke on 5 December.
The principal point I made then was that the so-called temporary arrangements could not be relied upon to be temporary under the wording of the withdrawal agreement and political declaration. No amount of aspiration that the Northern Ireland backstop would be temporary could achieve that without an actual change to the legally binding language of the withdrawal agreement, and the only way of changing the effect of the legally binding withdrawal agreement was by another legally binding agreement or amendment. Despite the Prime Minister’s pilgrimages to Brussels, no such legally binding agreement, or amendment to the withdrawal agreement, has come about. Further warm words of aspiration will not change the position.
As I said then, noble Lords may be prepared none the less to rely on those expressions of hope and take the risk that in the end it will all be all right. I also said that for myself I did not believe that comfort could be taken from legal arguments—for example, about the best endeavours obligation and the arbitration arrangements. I need not elaborate further on those arguments, which are set out in the speech I made. Nothing has changed, in my view.
There is, I suspect, a new argument to be advanced by the Government that reliance can be placed on Articles 60 or 62 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. As to Article 60, under which a treaty could be terminated for “material breach”, precisely the same problem arises from proving a breach of the general good faith obligation, particularly when that obligation is qualified—a point I did not make before—by the following words:
“and in full respect of their respective legal orders”.
Nobody has explained quite what that means, but to me it would mean that, so far as the United Kingdom is concerned, the respective legal order of the United Kingdom is that Parliament’s will must be followed, and in the European Union it is not much different so far as the European Parliament is concerned. That seems to be an additional reason why it would not be possible to say that good faith had not been followed in the negotiations.
As to Article 62, under which a treaty might be abrogated by,
“a fundamental change of circumstances”,
it is clear that the entry into force of the backstop can hardly be described as a fundamental change of circumstances, as it is expressly foreseen and envisaged in the withdrawal agreement. That is not what “fundamental change of circumstances” means. That is very clear.
Today we have seen the letter from the two Presidents—President Juncker and President Tusk—and the letter from the Prime Minister. I do not see them changing the legal situation on the backstop; nor, I see from the Attorney-General’s letter, does he. He says in paragraph 2 that,
“they do not alter the fundamental meanings of its provisions as I advised them to be on 13 November 2018”.
Your Lordships will have seen that very clearly.
The letter from the Presidents does repeat warm words. It also repeats—this is most important—the legally correct statement that if the backstop is triggered it would apply,
“unless and until it is superseded by a subsequent agreement”.
Those are really important words. They mirror precisely what is said in the withdrawal agreement, in particular the final sentence of paragraph 4 of Article 1, and much reliance was placed on that, rightly, by the Attorney-General in the letter that the House has seen. That is the fundamental point. The position is that, unless and until a subsequent agreement takes place, the backstop will continue to exist. It may be that a political agreement can be reached. That is not the point that I am dealing with.
It is clear, of course, that the EU was pressed to give Mrs May something, but this is the best it has produced, and it says more by what it does not say than by what it actually says. Only a new agreement at the end of the discussion on the political declaration will bring the backstop to an end. That is what I wanted to say about the events that have taken place since we last debated this issue.
I want also to mention briefly the other legal topic, which has been touched on in previous speeches to some extent, which is in relation to issues of justice and security. On security and criminal justice, reference has been made already, for example by my noble friend Lord Browne of Ladyton.
But so far as civil justice is concerned—and commercial matters—there is much less. As the House has already been told, there is nothing in the political declaration that calls for co-operation in that field. Nor will it be a solution, in the critically important area of enforcement and recognition of judgments, to rely on the Lugano treaty. I could explain the detail of that but, essentially, there were difficulties in and problems with the original Brussels convention, including the rather charmingly named Italian torpedo—not a form of sandwich, as many may think—it gave rise to. That was fixed, but not in the Lugano treaty.
Finally, I refer to the absence of any real provision in relation to legal services. I declare an interest as a practising lawyer and a member of a firm that practises across boundaries. The arrangements that there are in relation to legal services in future are far from satisfactory.
My Lords, soon after the referendum, a number of my colleagues from across the House and the other place and I received a courteous and timely invitation to a lecture at the Norwegian embassy. Delivered by a young professor, it was about the lessons learned by Norway in negotiating with the European Union as a third party. The professor talked about around eight principles, but I remember this one best: he said very clearly that European Union member states were never unified on what they discussed and agreed among themselves, but when it came to dealing with third parties, there was always total unity, which never changed. Among many others, that seems a lesson that the Government should have learned during the past two years of negotiations.
A key lesson is that 16,141,241 people voted to remain but were written out of history and out of any interest from the Government almost immediately. Today, that is still the rhetoric of the Government. They have done absolutely nothing over the past two years to bring this country together. It required a private citizen and the Supreme Court, not Parliament, to get us all involved in the Article 50 process. We saw highly questionable ministerial appointments to the Foreign Office and DExEU, both individuals having now resigned and given up on the course on the way through. We know that when we used Article 50 to serve notice to the European Council, we had no plan whatever, just a number of red lines written down, which very much restricted future negotiations. We agreed immediately the schedule of proceedings for the agenda during that Article 50 period, which we are still in; without question, that put us at an immediate disadvantage. We still hear loose language, the most recent example of which described EU citizens of this country as “queue-jumpers”; I find that inexcusable and disgraceful. We have had two years of an elite EU team, as seen on the world stage, versus a shambles of amateurs. That is how this is seen across the globe. It gives me great grief as a proud European citizen of this country.
I want to get on to the question of where we go from here if this agreement is successful. We hear a great deal from industry about certainty. My unshakeable view is that, as we move into a transitional period—if we do so—there will be even greater uncertainty. We originally had 21 months, which the Government agreed with no question whatever, even though there is no chance of an agreement on that timescale—it could be 33 or 45 months under the withdrawal agreement. Let us remember: the Korean agreement took eight years; the Canadian agreement took eight years; the Japanese agreement started in 2013 and has still not been implemented; the United States deal could not be agreed. Only Greenland’s withdrawal from the EEC was agreed in a period of some three years, and was far less complex than anything we are going to enter into.
It will be complex because our agreements will include, I hope, services, security, data and a number of other areas not included in many of these deals. We also have a whole host of other issues that will be brought up by EU member states when we are a third country—not least by Spain on Gibraltar, which we have been warned about. There will be further issues around the Irish border and fisheries, which interests me particularly. It is certain that our fishermen and that industry will be sold out, as the European Union has made it quite clear that it will not agree trade terms of any sort—on fisheries and elsewhere—unless access and quota arrangements are maintained.
It is also clear that there will be the same red lines from the European Union on the single market and the four freedoms. We are certain that those issues will still be there. We also have to reach agreement with some 36 legislative Assemblies, not least the European Parliament, which will take considerable time.
This agreement seems to me not one that provides certainty to industry or to the political community, but one that provides another period of uncertainty where we do not know where we are going and where we cannot agree deals elsewhere in the globe until we know our relationship with Europe. What we do know is that there will be very few trade deals done until we resolve our relationship with Europe, that there will be no freedom of movement for British citizens within Europe, and that this country will be impoverished.
My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and I agree with much of what he said. This is obviously a crucial moment for the outcome of this negotiation. It matters a lot to this country, and it matters a lot to this House. The delay in December was neither justified nor wise, compressing as it did a significant number of consequential decisions into a short space of time. But, alas, procrastination has marked the Government’s handling of this negotiation from beginning to end.
It is not for this House to determine the outcome. That is for the other place. But it is necessary that we should express a view—we should have our say. Merely taking note of a deeply flawed and deficient deal which the Government propose to this House would be hardly fitting.
The Prime Minister tells us that this is the best deal we will get. She may be right, within the parameters of those infamous red lines, which she imposed without any authority from the Cabinet, from Parliament or from the 2016 referendum. If you exclude continued membership of the customs union and single market from the outset, and you continue to demonise the European Court of Justice, that is what you get—and a pretty poor thing it is. Moreover, you get the backstop. I have now had two letters on that from the Leader of the House, for which I am most grateful, which seek to reply to my question as to whether anything that has been said since the Prime Minister reached agreement on the deal has actually caused the Attorney-General’s advice—that we cannot exit from the backstop unilaterally—to be varied.
The key phrases are now set out in the exchange of letters and the Attorney-General’s advice. The Juncker-Tusk letter says that,
“we are not in a position to agree to anything that changes or is inconsistent with the Withdrawal Agreement”.
The Attorney-General says that they—that is, all the things that have happened since December,
“do not alter the fundamental meanings of”,
the withdrawal agreement provisions,
“as I advised them to be on 13 November”.
That is pretty clear, you would think: it is a rather long way of saying that nothing has changed, but that is what it is.
The idea that exiting without any deal at all should be an even faintly acceptable outcome can surely not survive a reading of the economic analysis provided by the Government, the Bank of England and the NIESR. Finally, the Government have realised—as they did not when they first started to trot out the irresponsible slogan, “No deal is better than a bad deal”—that it is pretty disastrous. It must therefore be right for both Houses to state their categorical rejection of that outcome. It would be right, too, for the Government to state now that they will honour and act on such a rejection, and not play around with the false oxymoron of a “managed no-deal exit”.
The hard fact is that, if you look through the copious documentation we have now received, you will see not a single area of policy where what is now on offer can be said with any confidence to be better than what we have as a member. For prosperity, security and our global influence, we are clearly better off as a member. In most areas, the outcome is clearly negative. Can anyone seriously doubt that we will be less influential in Washington and Brussels, or in Beijing and Delhi, or that we will find ourselves with a much lower trepidation index—the measurement that determines whether other countries hesitate to kick you on the shins or to decline your representations? That is why I will not hesitate to vote for the Motion in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, which is a clear but respectful message to the other place.
What happens if the other place votes tomorrow to reject the deal? The case for then submitting it to the electorate is, in my view, compelling. I have no liking for referendums, but it was the Prime Minister of the day, David Cameron, who forced that decision on us when he decided to play Russian roulette with one of our major national assets. I do not believe we can escape that trap without another public vote, particularly now that so much more is known about the consequences of leaving than was known in 2016.
Will such a vote be divisive? Of course it will. However, I believe that the outcome of such a vote, whichever way it goes, will be more likely to achieve closure than the agonisingly protracted negotiating agenda set out in the Prime Minister’s deal.
Like others, I return to the scene of the accident to discuss this deal. I do not think that I imagined hearing the Secretary of State for International Trade on the radio this morning say that it was the “least damaging” way of leaving the European Union. I thought that it was a pretty spectacular example of how to pay a compliment.
I will make two points about assurances and two points about threats. I have no difficulty accepting that the backstop is temporary—or that “temporary” is a word in every known European language. I am sure that we can find ever so many examples of the President of the Commission and the President of the Council smothering the word “temporary” in warm milk and honey. That is not really the point. The point was made with pellucid clarity during our aborted debate before Christmas, when my noble friend Lord Howard pointed out that under Article 50 we have the unfettered ability to leave the European Union, but we cannot leave the backstop without the agreement of 27 members of the European Union.
The second assurance touches on that. We are told that we should not worry about the future because everything is taken care of in the political declaration. However, the political declaration is a bucket list. If you look up “bucket list” on the internet, the first thing you get is “abseiling down a waterfall”. At least that is not in it, but everything else we could conceivably want is put into that bucket list—with no guarantee that any of it will be deliverable.
The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, made a remarkable speech before Christmas about the future of research and science if we leave the European Union under any terms, even with the backstop. There are no guarantees about what will happen to our research community and to universities in the future. That is why all the university leaders have written to us expressing their grave concern about what is happening.
I turn to the threats. The first threat, which has been touched on already, is the suggestion that if we do not accept this less than perfect—I think that is the polite way of putting it—deal to leave, it will be no deal. It will be what the Leader of the House of Commons called—as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, this is a somewhat oxymoronic concept—a “managed no deal”. It will be managed presumably with all the competence we showed in dealing with the change in railway timetables last year; with all the competence, panache and swagger we showed in dealing with a drone at Gatwick; and with the competence we showed last week in managing a traffic jam in Kent—now there is a big thing to do.
I am sure that most members of the Cabinet agree with the Secretary of State for trade and industry, who said that it would be damaging to this country—and I cannot believe that the Prime Minister, too, does not believe that it would be damaging to us. So why on earth are they flirting with it as a way of trying to press us all into doing something which most of us think would be extremely unwise and would keep the debate about the European Union going indefinitely—because that is what the political declaration is all about?
The other threat is the idea that unless we vote for the Prime Minister’s proposal, or leave without it, the country will be divided for the foreseeable future. What the hell do we think the country is at the moment? I have never known it so divided. This is partly because of decisions taken to try to manage members of a part of the Conservative Party, my party, who have for years, with commendable fortitude—although I think they are wrong—worked away to get us out of the European Union. We could deal with the idea that if we vote for this deal on April Fools’ Day people will sit around on the village green singing “Kumbaya” and holding hands—or perhaps, in the presence of the right reverend Prelates, “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah”—but the idea that this will end the debate is for the birds. I am afraid that this argument will pollute British politics and British society for a long time to come.
As I said, I recognise the fortitude, determination and intellectual honesty of some of my noble friends who have pursued this over the years. They have, to borrow from Iain Macleod, schemed their schemes and dreamed their dreams. But now we wake up to this terrible shambles—never glad, confident morning again. The trouble about civil wars—even civil wars in political parties—is that they do one hell of a lot of collateral damage: in this case not just to the Conservative Party but to the country. I feel passionately that in the days ahead we should do what we can to limit the amount of collateral damage. Even though we cannot do it completely and even though we recognise that there will be an impact on British politics for the foreseeable future, we should at least try to do it in a way that does not make this country poorer or less influential in the world, and in a way which will enable us to look our kids and their children in the eye in the years ahead.
My Lords, leaving the European Community after more than half a century of membership is clearly an enormous and testing task and, as noble Lords have already indicated, the Government are scarcely showing themselves up to it. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord King, who indicated that we do this in the context of an international situation in which there are many shocks so that we are bound to find it difficult to make progress on certain aspects of international relations. Getting new trade treaties in this context is fraught with real problems. We all recognise that many international powers are talking rather more about protective tariffs than about opening up fresh opportunities for trade with the UK and economies like it. The challenge of coming through this process with any degree of success is enormous.
As a Treasury spokesman for my party in normal circumstances, I intend in this debate to concentrate on economic issues. At the end of the day, our fellow citizens look to Parliament and the Government to provide a context in which they can work successfully, earn what they are entitled to earn and get rewards from the economy. The great danger is that the Government are pursuing a strategy which puts that in doubt. I recognise that economic forecasting is much disparaged in many quarters, but we cannot discount the significance of so many sources of serious economic analysis which demolish the case for no deal. It should never have been on the agenda. The Government have a bounden duty to make sure that we do not leave the European Community with no deal. Sources that identify just what that would mean include the Governor of the Bank of England, who said that if there is no deal the country will suffer as much in the next decade as it has in the period since the great global financial collapse.
The search for no deal is the Prime Minister truckling to the small group of die-hard right-wingers in the Conservative Party who see some vista of great achievement the moment we are free from Europe. They turned their position in the rigid red lines which made it so difficult for the Prime Minister to achieve any reasonable deal with Europe. We may be the fifth-largest economy in the world, but we have considerable programmes at home at present. We can ill afford putting at risk some of our outstanding existing opportunities. I point out the obvious issue: we have played quite a considerable leadership role in the service industries in Europe, as we would expect, given our expertise and the significance of the service industries to our economy, but there is nothing in the proposals which are emerging under the Government’s scheme for any progress in that area.
It is quite clear that we have to think in very different terms. My party will emphasise that we intend to present proposals, when we have the opportunity, to participate in a permanent and comprehensive customs union with a British say in future trade deals and we will deliver a strong relationship with the single market to guarantee that the UK does not fall behind the EU in rights for workers and consumers and in the protection of the environment. We want a deal that puts jobs and the economic position first, and we trust that this House will support our amendment today against a background where we hope the other place will support progressive positions tomorrow.
My Lords, I cherish my European citizenship and regret its loss when or if—dare I say it?—Brexit becomes law. I identified myself as a British patriot and a European when I went to Berlin and other war-torn cities on the continent with little more than £5 in my pocket at the age of 17. I stayed with social democrat families who welcomed me into their homes. Europe is part of my DNA; it transcends treaties and bureaucracy.
For a time, I sat in the European Parliament, but preferred Westminster. This is not the first time that the Tory party has torn itself apart on this issue. As Speaker of the Commons, I watched the Tory party tear itself apart during the Maastricht debates. I feared the worst when David Cameron allied his party with the far right in Strasbourg and even more so when he caved in to his right-wingers and media pressure by calling the 2016 referendum. He thought he would win but has said since that he did not mind losing. I did mind.
Theresa May, whose tenacity commands respect, has been struggling to keep her party together ever since. Her Government stumble from one expediency to another, unimpeded by a dithering leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition whose only consistency is evasion. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, was right the other day when she related the current drift and national crisis to the period of 1940, but there is a major difference. At that time, the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition gave leadership. He carried his parliamentary party with him and people in the country knew of his commitment and supported it—that is the difference.
I am not a devotee of referenda. I rather enjoy general elections, but general elections are not single-issue events—they cover a host of issues. A general election is not the way to settle the European question. After two years, we are now more aware of the minuses and pluses and the people must determine this single issue. I urge Back-Benchers in the Commons to reject the pretences of Ministers who say—I quote Dr Fox, the International Trade Secretary—that a second referendum would put us in,
“unprecedented territory with unknown consequences”.
We have been wandering in the wilderness since Mrs May lost her majority in the election. I wonder how high Dr Fox was flying when he dreamed that one up. In my book, if a democracy cannot be allowed to change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy.
When the Minister winds up, will he say what the Government are afraid of in refusing a people’s vote? In answering that question, will he please explain to young people who have reached adulthood why they do not have the right to be heard on an issue that our generation has manifestly bodged? Brexit will shape these youngsters’ futures for the next 50 years—not ours. I have no children or grandchildren; my quality of life will not be affected. I am all right, Jack. But what about the Jacks and Jills out there? Are they to be stripped of their rights on the whim of those who peddled rubbish in the referendum and are afraid to be challenged in another?
I was a government Whip when Harold Wilson was Prime Minister. He said that anyone who claimed that membership of the European Community was a black and white issue was either a charlatan or a simpleton. I leave your Lordships to adjudicate on that one. Which brings me to Mr Boris Johnson: his campaign bus did not proclaim, “Say yes to no deal”. We were promised an easy ride with a cash bonus thrown in. The question on the ballot paper did not ask us to choose between a hard or soft Brexit, a Canadian or a Norway-plus deal, or a deal that would separate Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom.
Nobody dreamed that we would be frantically preparing for worst-case scenarios. We are now paying the price for a referendum that was dominated by falsehoods. Brexiteers promised the world but ignored the social and political realities festering in our own country. Now, Parliament is convulsed, Whitehall is pulverised and Downing Street has become a drop-in for chilled wine and persuasive chats, while industry and business are alarmed and our friends and allies are bewildered. Who can possibly blame them?
In yesterday’s Sunday Express, Mrs May said:
“Some of you put your trust in the political process for the first time in decades. We cannot—and must not—let you down”.
But voters were let down—all of them. Both sides failed to focus on the issues that mattered most to them. Look at the Electoral Commission report. It said that many voters were unclear about the consequences of victory for either side and did not know the answers to questions they expected to be at the heart of the campaign. Both the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition should heed that report and listen to the voice of a young generation, who have a right to be part of the decisions affecting their future.
Many years ago, a debate took place in the Commons that changed the course of the war. Back-Benchers played a pivotal role then and I hope will do so tomorrow. My message is: Back-Benchers arise and forget your party allegiance. The national interest demands it.
My Lords, I am honoured to speak after the noble Baroness—honoured and a little daunted. This is the first time I have spoken on this issue. I therefore want to say something about my context of Lincoln and then consider what a Bishop might usefully add to this debate.
As your Lordships know, Lincolnshire is one of the parts of the United Kingdom that voted most emphatically in favour of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, with 66% voting to leave. I have thought hard about why that should be the case. There are the obvious reasons—the tip of the iceberg, if you like. Nationally, these would be described in terms of sovereignty and immigration. We who live and work in rural Lincolnshire are prisoners of our geography. The countryside comprises a series of sparsely populated settlements, disconnected from each other, where you learn to fend for yourself.
However, we are also heavily influenced by our history, in which, over the centuries, external forces have sought to take control of our land and laws, sometimes against our best interests. Over the centuries, people have come to demand money with menaces, to conquer, to trade, to work and, in more recent years, to seek refuge and a better life for their families. Sometimes the people of Lincolnshire have fought back; occasionally we have even grumbled; but most of the time, as a generous people, we have gone with the flow of all this and adapted.
But then there is the part of the iceberg under the water. There has been an international rise in populism playing on fear, with its accompanying narrative of the purity of what it means, in our case, to be British or English. There is also a naive view of democracy as plebiscite: “the people have spoken”. You do not need to be a polling expert to understand that people vote in elections and referendums for a variety of reasons—some noble, some flawed. The questions in the lanes of Lincolnshire—I was in a fen village near Holbeach last Sunday—appear to be: “Why is it taking ‘them in London’ so long to sort this out?”, and, from some more nuanced people, “Why can’t we explore some kind of compromise to get this done?”
I have heard almost all the speeches in this debate and am grateful for their differing perspectives. I have heard quite a lot of rhetorical certainty when we really know that the situation is extraordinarily complicated and confusing. Over the years the Church has learned and is learning, sometimes quite painfully, to manage diversity and difference, and it does so by recognising the compromised nature of our institution. I hope that the most reverend Primates in front of me will forgive me if I say that this side of heaven, the Church is not perfect.
One former Member of your Lordships’ House who knew Lincolnshire well, Michael Ramsey, the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury, began his ministry there. Ramsey was a brave and challenging thinker and spoke out clearly against injustice, including homophobia and apartheid, but in those early years in Lincolnshire he counselled the Church of England to understand itself more carefully as a compromised body. He wrote that the Church of England’s,
“credentials are its incompleteness, with tension and travail in its soul. It is clumsy and untidy; it baffles neatness and logic ... for it is sent not to commend itself as ‘the best type of Christianity’ but by its very brokenness to point to the universal Church wherein all have died”.
The Church of England has always had to manage difference and diversity, and still needs to do so. Whatever happens over the next few days, weeks and months—and no one knows what will happen—I suggest that, as a nation, we need to recognise that we are profoundly divided and need to manage diversity better, with respect and humility. The regret Motion as worded presents problems for those Members of your Lordships’ House who might agree with the sentiments about a no-deal Brexit but are less inclined to dismiss the Government’s withdrawal agreement in the absence of any worked-through alternative. For that reason, your Lordships should not be surprised if they see Members of this Bench voting in either Lobby or choosing to abstain.
The people of the United Kingdom, just like Bishops in the House of Lords, are a mixed bunch. We are in this together and we need to remember and practise the art of listening and compromise to become, over time, the best nation we can be.
My Lords, I first draw attention to my interests as set out in the register, in particular as chairman of the British Insurance Brokers’ Association.
It is no secret that I greatly regret the result of the referendum. In common with the Prime Minister, however, I believe it is right that we respect that result. I recall what one of my political colleagues in Bristol, the late Tony Benn, wrote in an open letter to his constituents in January 1975, which was reproduced in the Spectator:
“We should all accept the verdict of the British people, whatever it is; and I shall certainly do so”.
Having found himself comprehensively on the losing side, he was as good as his word even though his views on Europe never changed. I now find myself in an equivalent position. I want to follow up the words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln, particularly in his appeal for respect and humility. We must all, however, be increasingly conscious of the real and present danger of a “no deal” or “cliff edge” Brexit on 29 March.
It is possible, perhaps even probable, that the withdrawal agreement and the accompanying political declaration will not be accepted this week. We may not relish that outcome but we must be ready for it. In the space of a week, the House of Commons has effectively indicated on two separate occasions that, in the event of the agreement not gaining majority support, a so-called no-deal Brexit would not be an acceptable outcome. That is why I believe we must now move into the transition or implementation period, in particular seeking to ensure that our financial services sector—which I would argue is the jewel in our economic crown—will continue to enjoy, at the very least, the kind of access to EU markets that it currently enjoys.
One of the most inspirational memories of my lifetime has been the people’s uprising that brought down the Berlin Wall. Even as we leave the institutions of the European Union, let us not—please—get back into the business of building walls. We know where that leads and it is not to freedom.
There is a method, clearly set out in Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, for a nation state to leave the European Union, and it has been followed. This country signed that treaty in good faith and, as is our habit, we have behaved honourably as we sought to disengage ourselves from it. That required us to negotiate with our EU partners, again in good faith, then to come to an agreement that would maintain both trade and good will. That is precisely what the Prime Minister has achieved.
The agreement may not be perfect, but no agreement ever was, is or will be. We hear a great deal of assertion about what the people voted for in June 2016. The fact of the matter is that the proposal on the ballot paper in the referendum was for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union—no more, no less. The leave campaign did not present a detailed manifesto and there was no menu of choices: soft Brexit, hard Brexit or no deal. The agreement secured between Her Majesty’s Government and the European Union is wholly consistent with the referendum result.
The general election in 2017 saw both major parties, the Conservative Party and the Labour Party, committed to respecting the referendum result. Both increased their share of the vote substantially; between them, they received over 80% of the total votes cast. None the less, there is a full spectrum of opinion, both here and among the wider electorate, and we must take great care not to exacerbate social and political divisions at this difficult time. In the vile treatment of Anna Soubry and others, we see the consequence of overheated and hyperbolic rhetoric. As the right reverend Prelate said, this is a time for calm reflection, not hysteria, and certainly not antagonism.
The Prime Minister seeks to build a consensus and move on. I believe we should wholeheartedly support her in that. If Parliament rejects the agreement, we are heading into uncharted waters, as my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater reminded us so eloquently at the start of today’s debate. Brexiteers risk losing Brexit. Remainers risk losing everything. This is no time to be playing with fire. In the great British tradition, let us compromise, come together and move on.
My Lords, we have seen a very long and extended debate. There are lots of things I wanted to cover, but will now not do so, as they have been so eloquently dealt with by previous speakers. I have continued to take an interest in the challenge of Brexit and the Northern Ireland peace process, and it is not the backstop that I object to in the withdrawal agreement. I supported the Government agreeing to the backstop in the agreement they initially made in November 2017, so I do not object to it now.
In many parts of the country, including the area I regard as home—the north-east of England—the Brexit vote was driven by a sense of loss: loss of industrial jobs, opportunity, prospects and prosperity. We have to appreciate that sense of loss, and do so with leadership that offers some answers and ways forward, rather than simply encouraging people to find something or someone to blame.
The referendum was not exactly this country’s finest hour. Once the vote had taken place, it was clearly a choice between a complete break, with all the consequences of a hard border between the north and south of Ireland, and huge economic and industrial disruption, or a rule-taking Brexit, in which we left legally speaking, but still obeyed most of the rules and had to make financial contributions. It was, in the words of one of my colleagues in the Commons,
“a choice between a Brexit that raised the question of what is the price, and a Brexit that raised the question of what is the point”.—[Official Report, Commons, 9/1/19; col. 456.]
We cannot have all of the current advantages of EU membership at the same time as the freedoms promised by the leave campaign. That the Government have never been honest with the British people is at the heart of the chaos and disillusionment we face today. This debate seems to have been going on, and has been going on, for more than my political life. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, mentioned being in the Whips’ Office in Harold Wilson’s time. My father was in the Whips’ Office with her, and I was hearing all those arguments at home. As always, the chaos and disillusionment are not because of putting the national interest first; they have far more to do with the internal politics of the Conservative Party. We know that whatever happens, there is now to be a long period of debate and negotiation in front of us. If the Prime Minister wins, the political declaration demonstrates that long, tortuous process.
In these circumstances, I wanted to speak about something I raised with the then Secretary of State, David Davis. He was not able to deal with it, saying he did not understand, and would see me about it. I perfectly understand he was too busy, but I then asked Parliamentary Questions. I was interested in how the Government were going to engage with the British public about the issues that matter to them when they voted, and how they wanted the Government to move forward. If we have learned anything in the past few months, I hope it is that democracy is changing. Those of us involved in democratic institutions have a particular responsibility to work on renewing how people participate in democracy and express their views. Voting, on its own, in general elections or referenda, is no longer enough.
Brexit is the most significant decision of this generation. It is also one of the most complex set of decisions I have experienced. This is a prime opportunity for us to develop more deliberative democracy. I have become convinced that we need a second referendum, for reasons others have mentioned, but also because we have not effectively involved the public in the considerations about Brexit. The Constitution Unit at UCL held a citizens’ assembly in 2017 over two weekends, first identifying the issues, and then looking at those issues and potential ways forward. All the participants talked of how much they got out of the process, their learning, and how useful it was. I hoped the Government would learn from this, and indeed from other countries that effectively use deliberative democracy in the consideration of difficult issues. Who would have thought that the Republic of Ireland would agree gay marriage and abortion legislation in referenda? It did it through a deliberative process.
The Government have been so inwardly focused that they have missed ways of moving Brexit forward in a way that includes those people who voted in the referendum. The public are fed up. They continue to feel they are irrelevant in the debate, and that they will pay the price of this deal. Let us be honest: they have been let down, and we cannot guarantee their prosperity in the future with this deal. Let us stop the threats and intimidation, and recognise that things are so different from what people were promised during the referendum, or indeed during the preparations for Article 50. We now need to involve the public in the issues and ways forward in a deliberative way, through such exercises as citizens’ assemblies. The Irish used them to construct the question. Maybe we have to have the courage to involve people in this way in setting the question for a new referendum. Contrary to what many say, I believe that if we do that we might just begin to restore faith in democracy.
My Lords, democracy did not start and finish on 23 June 2016. For those who say we must at all costs respect the result of the referendum, does that mean that whatever the deal, whatever Prime Minister Theresa May or some other Prime Minister might come up with, we have to go through with it, however unpopular that agreement is to both the remainers and those who support Brexit—and, indeed, however misleading, manipulative and incorrect the claims of the leave campaign? Does it mean that one referendum binds us for evermore on an issue? Do we not have a parliamentary, representative democracy? Do our MPs not count? This Government, in this 21st-century UK democracy, say that only one vote counted—in June 2016. A new referendum on a new issue—the acceptability of the EU deal currently offered by the Government—is now said to be anti-democratic and a betrayal as it does not respect the decision taken in the summer of 2016.
I am a Liberal Democrat, and it has to be said that we often encourage referendums. But I tell your Lordships this: I do not have any great enthusiasm for referendums. I never have had. That has been emphasised by my position as a Scottish Liberal Democrat. Generally, I would support them only to give authority—the authority of the people of this country—to a major constitutional change that the Government of the day want to implement. I do not much like them being used to test the waters when a Government or party are unclear or divided. I do not like their consequences when the result is desperately close: 51.9% to 48.1% is desperately close and has left a nation very divided. With the Scottish referendum on independence, 55.3% versus 44.7% felt very divisive and very close.
In the current circumstances, a second referendum, a people’s vote, a new referendum on a different question on the detail of the deal, is entirely legitimate. Remember that Theresa May was once a campaigner to remain. On 25 April 2016 she said:
“In essence, the question the country has to answer … whether to Leave or Remain—is about how we maximise Britain’s security, prosperity and influence in the world, and how we maximise our sovereignty: that is, the control we have over our own affairs in future”.
She went on to answer her question by saying that the case for remaining was the stronger. She referred in her speech to how Europe stumbled towards war in the last century. She talked about a hard-headed analysis and confirmed that, on security, trade and the economy, we should stay in the EU. So before she lapsed into the language and rhetoric of “Brexit means Brexit” and “no deal is better than a bad deal”, she was very clear that our “destiny”—again I use her word, not mine—was better inside the EU. Those are strong words, and very different words from those we hear today.
What happens next? There are no strict rules on any of this, and certainly no written rules. It seems that the UK desperately needs those written rules now more than ever, but there is no written constitution in this country. So where from here? I still hold the memories and bear some of the scars of the Scottish referendum. As I mentioned, it was never the outpouring of democracy that some, especially in the SNP, like to suggest. It was divisive and damaging.
If it had gone the other way, I say this: I am totally convinced that some of the unionists opposite me today, who—whether as Brexiteers or government supporters—strongly oppose a new referendum on the EU issue, if there had a been a yes vote on independence would have been strongly supporting a second referendum on the detail of that independence vote, to try to keep Scotland inside the UK, highlighting the divisive, damaging consequences of a disastrous deal. Such is politics in times of turmoil.
What Theresa May could have done before Christmas, when she realised she was going to be defeated in Parliament, was surely call a second vote, a new referendum. A win-win situation for her, you would have thought. Either the Prime Minister would get the backing for her deal from the people of Great Britain, or we remain in the EU—the position which she supported and perhaps somewhere deep down still does support. Her alternative is ploughing on. Is that better? Why does she do it? Is it better for the Conservative Party? Is it better for the Government? Is it better for the people of this country, better for our future? We shall see—but I see no sign of it being better.
“Accept the deal”, she says. And if we do not trust her—and it seems clear that we do not, either in this place or in the other place—we are no longer at the kicking the can down the road stage of all this, are we? It seems that we go closer and closer to the edge of the cliff and, unless Parliament intervenes, we might all together go over the edge of that cliff. This is high-noon, high-wire madness. It is not good government, it is a derogation of duty. It is done because the Prime Minister has lost sight of her duty to act in the best interests of the nation, and instead is desperately trying to hold together something, I know not what: her Ministers, her party, maybe in her own mind our country. Already over 100 of her MPs believe that she is not the best person to lead her own party, far less our country. It is highly possible that with a new referendum she would win support—
I will draw my remarks to a close. I do not believe that a new referendum, whatever the question, would support a hard Brexit—so the result would either be the Prime Minister’s deal, or remain, which the Prime Minister campaigned for. Would that be such a terrible result for her and for this country? Should we not build consensus in this country for a way forward that unites, not frightens and divides?
My Lords, ever since the referendum on leaving or staying within the EU, the United Kingdom has had a tortuous time, irrespective of what position you take in relation to that particular vote. Much of the debate has rotated around Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic border. I speak as one who in the first 16 years of my life lived within walking distance of that border, and today I reside about a 15-minute car drive from it. I know other Peers from Northern Ireland could say similar, so we are well acquainted with the border in every respect. It is in our DNA.
I suspect it will not come as a massive surprise to anyone in this House that I and my party, namely the Democratic Unionist Party, are opposed to the Prime Minister’s proposals for withdrawal from the European Union. It is patently clear that Northern Ireland is to be treated differently from other regions of the United Kingdom. From the beginning of the negotiations we have set one red line for the Government: that there could be no new border in the Irish Sea, thus undermining the economic and constitutional position or integrity of the United Kingdom.
Northern Ireland trades more with the rest of the UK than we do with the Republic of Ireland, the rest of the European Union and the rest of the world combined. The latest figures for total sales by Northern Ireland companies make interesting reading. Within Northern Ireland, they were £45.2 billion; to GB, they were £11.3 billion; and to the Republic of Ireland, they were £3.9 billion. These figures speak for themselves.
The DUP secured the inclusion of paragraph 50 in the joint report published in December 2017. The paragraph states that the UK,
“will ensure that no new regulatory barriers develop between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, unless, consistent with”,
the 1998 Belfast agreement,
“the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly agree that distinct arrangements are appropriate for Northern Ireland. In all circumstances, the United Kingdom will continue to ensure the same unfettered access for Northern Ireland’s businesses to the whole of the United Kingdom internal market”.
Some of the architects of the Belfast agreement—I was not one of them—tell me that the present proposals drive a horse and coach through it; at the same time, the Government say that their design is to protect that very same agreement. It is abundantly clear what the EU’s intentions have been since the publication of its legal interpretation of the joint report. It sought to sever and divide the internal UK market. At the time the legal interpretation was published, the Prime Minister was clear that such an interpretation was totally unacceptable. We agreed entirely with those objections; our position has not changed.
The publication of the Attorney-General’s advice demonstrated why there was such reluctance to publish it. The advice was devastating in its contents. It said that the backstop will come into force on the conclusion of the transition period,
“while negotiations are continuing for an agreement that supersedes it and ‘unless and until’ that ‘subsequent agreement’ is applicable”.
Northern Ireland would remain inside the EU’s customs union. The Commission and the European Court of Justice would continue to have jurisdiction over Northern Ireland’s compliance with those rules. Therefore, goods passing from GB to Northern Ireland would be subject to a declaration process. Northern Ireland remaining in the EU single market would mean that, for regulatory purposes, Great Britain is essentially treated as a third country by Northern Ireland for goods passing from Great Britain into Northern Ireland. The backstop would continue indefinitely and cannot be exited by the UK. The Attorney-General’s words were clear. He said that,
“despite statements in the Protocol that it is not intended to be permanent, and the clear intention of the parties that it should be replaced by alternative, permanent arrangements, in international law the Protocol would endure indefinitely until a superseding agreement took its place, in whole or in part, as set out therein”.
We are told much about the backstop. Allegedly, nobody wants it; why is it there, then? Furthermore, who is going to construct the apparatus on the border? Nobody wants that—Europe does not, the UK does not and no one in Northern Ireland wants it, so who is going to construct it? We await with interest.
The belligerent attitude of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland has proven to be downright unhelpful. The Irish Independent reported in an article of 20 July 2018 that Leo Varadkar had ordered the Revenue Commissioners to stop preparing contingency plans for the return of a hard border under Brexit. He told revenue officials to stop investigating technological Brexit solutions. The article said:
“The work had begun under former Taoiseach Enda Kenny and ex-foreign affairs minister Charlie Flanagan”.
Again, there is proof that the Republic of Ireland’s Prime Minister has been and continues to be obstructionist in every way that he can. Instead of working in the best interests of the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, he is more content to meddle and make things as difficult as he possibly can.
My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Hunt, I propose to confine my remarks to the subject of the referendum and what should happen now. I do not much like them, but I believe that a referendum can be a valid instrument of democracy, used rarely and with care, for really big issues on which the nation is divided. The Independent Commission on Referendums recently suggested that only issues of sovereignty and constitutional change should be covered and I agree. Referendums are always dangerous, however, because the Government of the day forfeit control. As we have seen, once triggered, they can move in unexpected directions with unpredictable results.
It is vital to recognise that referendum democracy and parliamentary democracy are different animals. They do not sit easily together. They have different blood groups, and to inject a referendum into our parliamentary processes, especially on complex and protracted matters of uncertain outcome, is indeed hazardous. Once embarked upon, it needs to be carried through with respect and consistency and, above all, it must be honoured. I recall that the Welsh referendum, not mentioned so far today, was passed with a majority of 0.3%, but getting a result is part of the main point of a referendum.
At the outset, the Brexit referendum had the almost unanimous support of the political parties. They agreed on the unconditional nature of the question asked and undertook to support and implement the outcome—promises ratified in the subsequent general election. Since then, many in Parliament, of all parties, have resiled from that commitment, and that is the cause of our present difficulties. Negotiations with an ill-disposed EU, hard enough to pursue with the backing of a united Parliament, have been sabotaged and frustrated by Parliament itself. We are gridlocked and self-indulgent, and it is not a proud day for parliamentary democracy. Parliament is now defying its own electorate. Worse than that, we are invalidating the referendum as a credible instrument of democracy for the future.
Of course, in the delivery of day-to-day decisions such as we take in this place, with our general debates and our legislative processes, changes of mind form a natural part of the continuum of politics, but a referendum is different. It is, as we all know, a one-off decision-making process, in which Parliament abrogates its responsibility in favour of the electorate to answer a specific, clear question. For us then to ignore that answer is, to put it mildly, unworthy. We have no right to put our widely varied interpretations on what the electorate really meant. To suggest instead that we should hold a second referendum, before the outcome of the first has been delivered, is to add insult to injury. “Wrong answer”, as they say in Europe, “Try again”. That has never been our kind of politics. As the SNP once so helpfully reminded us, a referendum is generational in nature. They are not buses. If you miss one you cannot say, “Don’t worry, there’ll be another along in a minute”.
Why hold another referendum now? I heard an MP say on television the other day that the electorate should be asked again “now that they know what Brexit looks like”. But we do not know what Brexit looks like. The deal as it stands could yet be changed in further negotiations, and anyway it has never been clearly explained to the electorate. It is changing day by day, as a blizzard of further amendments and other wizard wheezes are churned out in another place. What really matters is what the terms of our future relationship with the EU will be, about which we know nothing at all, except that the negotiations will be a nightmare. What would the question be? I have not yet seen or heard a single suggestion of a question that would be clear, balanced and unconditional, as the last one was. What would it settle? I do not believe it would settle anything, except to leave a legacy of bitterness. A second referendum cannot just wipe out what has already been decided. Why, then, is it proposed by so many? I see it as a subterfuge, one that dresses up as a virtue what is really an escape route through which its promoters are trying to wriggle out of the promises they made in 2016.
I voted remain in the referendum, and I respect the opinions expressed by others on this and other issues, but I believe that fulfilling the pledges we made then is a debt to the electorate that we must pay. That has a greater chance of closure than to leave an open wound. I see this as a matter of principle, and one that goes wider than Brexit. Our purpose now should be to honour the outcome of the referendum. That is not just the right thing to do; it is also, I venture, the moral thing to do. We should prepare now, urgently, to leave the EU, as the law provides, on 29 March—with or without a deal. Only then can the nation start to come together and our parliamentary democracy restore its self-respect.
My Lords, I want first to focus on what may appear a parochial issue: the role of this House in the next few weeks. If the Government lose tomorrow, we are on course to crash out of the EU without a deal within three months. Yet, as a Parliament, we have nowhere near set up the legislative framework or regulatory order that will be needed for British business, agriculture or society as a whole to operate at home and abroad. When will the Government set out clearly their proposed sequencing and timetable for the scrutiny both of primary legislation required prior to Brexit and the large number of statutory instruments that we require to pass by the time we leave? That is a question that Ministers in various different contexts have dodged frequently over the last few weeks. Without this, we will, frankly, be in legal chaos. In primary legislation, we have at last restarted the Trade Bill, which is inadequate and incomplete. Yet we have not seen the Bills on migration. This House has not yet had sight of the Agriculture Bill. We need an environment Bill and the Fisheries Bill. On top of that, we have several hundred statutory instruments to pass to make sense of Brexit—if, indeed, we leave on 29 March. Only about 10% of those statutory instruments have been passed so far.
All that must be done within the next 10 weeks. That is a nigh-impossible task. I ask the Government: how are they going to manage it? When will they tell the rest of the House how we are going to manage it? Or do they have a different plan? Do they intend, perhaps, to recognise at last the folly of putting 29 March in primary legislation in the withdrawal Act? Alternatively, are they proposing to deal with it by emergency regulation and emergency legislation? In other words, do they intend to operate in the next few weeks government by decree? Does it mean that taking back control means, in effect, that we subject ourselves to a system of Napoleonic edict by the current Government? The role of this House and the other place, in looking at that legislation, is vital in order that we have a climate and legal structure in which to operate.
When the referendum result came through, like others, I was deeply saddened. But I did not immediately think that this must be overturned. Instead, both personally and as chair of one of your Lordships’ EU sub-committees, I focused on the options available to us for a new relationship with Europe, particularly in relation to trade. Just over two years ago, my committee produced a report looking at the various options: the Norway option, which would be the least disruptive; a customs union; a free trade agreement; a comprehensive association agreement; and, indeed, dropping out on WTO terms. The fact is that, nearly two and a half years later, all those options are still open to us. We do not know which form of trade arrangement we shall make with our leading trade partner. We are no further forward.
This is the result of a combination of incompetent negotiation and bad timing. We triggered Article 50 too early, without having a plan. We accepted the EU’s sequencing, so that there were issues in the withdrawal treaty, such as the Northern Ireland situation, which should not have been in the withdrawal treaty and are now holding up any agreement. In other words, we have spent two and a half years hung up on the wrong issues. There is no clarity to answer the questions the majority of the population and of businesses are asking. What will be the system of trade? What will be our human rights? What will be our system of security post Brexit?
The two major parties are split on this issue. The House of Commons is in gridlock and acting like a school playground. The country is much more bitterly divided now than it was during the referendum. Accusations and counteraccusations of betrayal will arise however we now deal with this issue. But the reality is that the political class, which includes all of us, has let the population down. We have comprehensively failed, in the two and a half years since the referendum, to point the way forward. The only conclusion I can draw from that is that we need to return the issue to the people—not as a subterfuge or a way to get out of earlier decisions, but as a way to face the future with the support of our population.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. He and I have worked closely together in the past and I hugely respect his views, even if I disagree with his final comments. We have listened to some highly intelligent, wise and thoughtful contributions, and it is an honour to be a part of this important debate at this point in our history.
Before I comment on the options facing the other House tomorrow, I will endorse what others have already stated: the mood of the public is growing increasingly impatient with the endless, repetitive debate on this topic and the media’s constant, often unhelpful, analysis, particularly that of the BBC. It is dominating every conversation. It is a complete distraction. It is delaying progress, not just on Bills in this House, as we have heard, but in every sphere of life, including investment by the business community. In my view, any further procrastination could lead to significant unrest. Most people I speak to are bored with the topic. They just want a decision; they want to move on. We and Members of the other House need to pay attention to the current mood of the people.
I have been considering the options if the Prime Minister’s deal is rejected tomorrow: Parliament takes control; we have another referendum; we crash out without a deal; or there is a vote of no confidence, which might result in a general election. I am not even going to consider the last option. It would be a complete humiliation and a disaster.
Let us suppose that the PM loses tomorrow and Parliament takes control to decide on the terms of the deal. I have the utmost respect for my good friend the right honourable Hilary Benn, but do we really believe, with the shambolic state the parties are in, that Parliament is capable of negotiating a better deal? As we have heard, the Conservatives are engaged in open warfare, Labour in covert warfare; the SNP is navel-gazing; and the DUP is discredited. I have not thought about the Lib Dems. Besides, this would result in having to delay Article 50 and would add significantly to the current uncertainty. What would be achieved? The only possible alternative would be a customs union arrangement, a variation on Norway or Canada. That would involve permanently accepting EU rules and trading terms over which we had little or no influence—the very issues of concern about the backstop.
So why not have a second referendum? That is the last thing we need, in my view. The country is divided, fractured and tense. As others have stated, we have had two years of uncertainty. This is of particular concern to the business community. To perpetuate this state of affairs would be irresponsible and achieve nothing.
How often have we heard the statement that the people did not know what they were voting for the first time round? They knew exactly what they were voting for. They were fed up with the loss of sovereignty, being controlled by the ECJ and the impact of migration. They may not have fully understood the consequences of leaving but they made a decision. We need to honour it. The second statement I often hear—we have heard it today—is that it was not a conclusive vote: 52 to 48. Most of us expected it to be much closer and were shocked when we woke up on 24 June to discover a 4% margin. In Switzerland, which holds referendums and where we have friends, such a margin would be conclusive.
We do not need another referendum, even on the terms of the deal. The same political arguments would be made and voters would be even more confused. In any case, what would it achieve? Would we reverse the decision and cancel Article 50? The reality is that we have been half-hearted about our EU membership for a long time, playing hokey-cokey. Most of us were very comfortable with our membership of the Common Market but the Maastricht and Lisbon treaties, with their desire to integrate fully, were a step too far for most of the British people. If another referendum were to take place, it would have to be on the basis that a vote to stay would involve embracing fully the European Union and its centralisation policies on economic and monetary union, the single currency and the authority of the ECJ and the Commission, surrendering our sovereignty in the process. We are not going to do that. We cannot have a second referendum to stay in on our current terms now. Dissatisfaction with the current arrangement led to this mess. We sent David Cameron off on his bike and he failed. The people have spoken and we need to move on. Another referendum would create even more confusion, division and delay.
So why not just crash out? For my constituency base, the farming community, it would be turmoil, particularly for the livestock sector. Those responsible for managing the pasture lands of our country, who produce milk, beef and lamb, are dependent on EU markets. Some 40% of our sheepmeat, the highest of any commodity, and 36% of our beef crosses the channel. That is an essential counterbalance to the power of supermarkets here in our home market. I was at a farmers’ meeting near my home last week. They are concerned about three things: the loss of direct support, which we will debate when the Agriculture Bill eventually comes to this House; the rise in the popularity of veganism, which they see as a real threat; and the risk of a collapse in markets as a result of no deal. Many businesses might not survive that triple whammy without serious government intervention and support. I am delighted that Michael Gove, the Defra Secretary, feels the same way. There is nothing appealing about another decade of austerity, which I believe would follow.
I too voted to remain but if noble Lords accept my premise that a second vote would just prolong the agony and create further confusion, that leaving with no deal would lead to financial turmoil and that reversing the decision would not resolve our deep-seated suspicions about the EU, the only question that remains is whether the deal is good enough. It was never going to be possible to negotiate a perfect deal. The only possible solution to the thankless task the Prime Minister inherited is that both sides of the opinion—those who want to remain and those who want to crash out—are equally disappointed. Remarkably, I think that the Prime Minister has achieved that objective. I hope and pray that the Commons will have the common sense to endorse the deal tomorrow. To reject it will perpetuate the current uncertainty and achieve nothing, in my view. As other noble Lords have said, we need to move on, look forward and negotiate with pace to avoid the backstop.
My Lords, I declare my European interests as detailed in the register and my membership of the European Parliament for 10 years in the 1980s. I must start by stating clearly that if I were a Member of the other place, I would vote tomorrow for the withdrawal agreement negotiated by the Government. I was due to speak in this debate in December when we were adjourned. It was, I think, a mistake by the Government not to put the deal to a vote then, and, as a result, we have lost five weeks. But the arguments for supporting the deal remain unchanged.
I voted in the referendum to remain but, with great sadness, I have long since had to accept the result. We must recognise, however, that the economy has already suffered. We have not had the investment or growth that we should have had in the past two and a half years. But both major political parties are committed to honouring the referendum result, and we are leaving. The Government have had the unenviable duty of carrying out the narrowly expressed majority view of the British people to leave the institutional structures of the European Union while minimising the damage to the economy and to the finances of the country.
From the beginning of this process, it has been widely recognised that a transition period will be absolutely essential for all the multiple adjustments which our citizens and businesses must make. If there is no withdrawal agreement, there is no transition period, and all but the ultras recognise that to leave without a deal would be extremely damaging to this country’s interests.
There have been many excellent speeches in this House and in the other place urging a cross-party approach to this matter. This is not a moment to indulge in party-political tactics. Whatever our views on remaining or not in the EU, whatever our party, whatever our previous positions on particular parts of the agreement, we must all now accept that our Government have negotiated a withdrawal agreement which allows us to leave on 29 March in an orderly fashion and with a transition period until the end of 2020 extendable for up to two years.
Of course, the withdrawal agreement contains the now infamous backstop. But it is not widely understood that the backstop is in fact rather advantageous to this country. We have access to the single market; we leave the common agricultural and fisheries policies; we end free movement of people; we make no financial contributions. Surely it is beyond doubt that the EU will not allow us to remain in this privileged position a week or a month longer than absolutely necessary. It is most unlikely that we will ever get into the backstop anyway.
What is so often forgotten in much comment in the press and elsewhere is that a Canada-plus, a Norway-plus or a Common Market II all need a withdrawal agreement before we can even begin the serious negotiation. The European Commission has said, and repeated today, that it wishes to start the process of the talks on the future relationship as soon as possible after the agreement is passed by the other place. So it is clearly in the national interest to agree this deal and move swiftly to the real and much more difficult negotiation on the future.
It is dispiriting to hear so many Members of both Houses criticising the deal. Some are motivated by actually preferring no deal. Some are motivated by wanting a second referendum. I do not support either of those outcomes. If the deal is rejected tomorrow by the other place, it will, I think, become inevitable that we will need to seek a three-month extension to the Article 50 deadline, and a rejection will almost certainly increase support for a second referendum in the country.
Too much of this debate is driven by ideology and not by common sense. This is a moment when we must be pragmatic. We must agree an orderly departure. We must negotiate a very close future economic relationship with our neighbours and most important markets. This House has been most effective in the past when it devises cross-party agreements. As a House, we must be clear that we cannot allow the country to leave the EU without a deal. If, or when, the other place agrees the withdrawal agreement—which in the end it surely must—I hope that cross-party groups or committees from both Houses will make serious recommendations on the best future relationship with Europe.
In the meantime, I urge the Members of the other place tomorrow to abandon their hopes for no deal, for a general election or for a second referendum, and to support this country’s Government at this most difficult time.
My Lords, it looks like Brexit is effectively over, thanks to the mature good sense of the British people and the British Parliament. The question now is: what next?
First, we need to end Brexit democratically. If the Prime Minister has any qualities of leadership, she will call a referendum rather than wait for one to be forced upon her by the House of Commons.
Secondly, we need urgently a plan to rebuild Britain and to tackle the social crisis that led to Brexit. There must be a real end to austerity: we need to build houses, improve the NHS and train our young people, especially those who do not go to university. We need a federal constitution for the United Kingdom and a new settlement for England, which is currently run like a colony from Whitehall.
Thirdly, we must rebuild Britain’s place in Europe. We need to lead, not leave. We must stop, once and for all, being half in and half out, and fulfil the vision of our country’s greatest leader, Winston Churchill, who saved Europe and inspired the European Union—a free union of free peoples that has successfully promoted the peace and prosperity of Europe for two generations, and which we are taking for granted at our peril.
I was recently in Dublin discussing the consequences for Ireland of Brexit. On the wall of the General Post Office, scene of the bloody 1916 Easter Rising against Britain, are these words of Seamus Heaney:
“History says, don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme”.
Today, we have a once in a lifetime moment to do the right thing for our country.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and I will attempt to imitate his brevity. I spoke in this debate before Christmas and simply want to ask the Government a question and to make one comment.
Why do the Government not, even at this late stage, make an agreement with the EU 27 simply about the status of EU citizens here, which would be reflected for UK citizens in the EU? As the Minister knows, several countries have come up with their agreements: Italy, France, the Netherlands and Germany. It would be a small, easy step for the Government to take and would show that they were compassionate and humane. The Minister may shake his head, but there is simply no will on the part of the Government to address this. They could have done so early on and got it out of the way. I look forward to hearing in the Minister’s reply the Government’s reason for not doing so.
My comment is that I am very tired of hearing what a divided country this is and that that is why we cannot have another referendum. The country is divided mainly along generational lines. I am sure that the House is as aware as I am of the figures for those who voted. Of 18 to 24 year-olds, 61% overall, and 80% of young women in that age group, voted to remain. Why does this generational divide matter? Because those young people have their whole economic future before them. The old people who voted leave do not: they are picking up their pensions. In my view and, I would hope, that of most parents and grandparents here, young people have a greater right to express their views on this issue. In fact, I would not have given a vote to the over 65s at all—and I declare myself as being in this group. Our future is as grandparents, and that is it. So we owe young people a second referendum. The country is in a total mess and the least we can do is enable them to have their voices heard.
My Lords, I do not want to add to the volume of speculation about what will happen tomorrow or a day or two after. The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, expressed clearly my position on what should happen: the withdrawal agreement, or an amended successor to it, should be made subject to a vote of confidence, and if the Government lose it there should be a general election. That is the clean and British way but whether it will happen is in the hands of the gods at the moment.
I hope to add value today as an academic, and in this no doubt Utopian quest I should like to make three quick points. First, it is wrong and misleading to describe people’s behaviour in ways that they would not themselves recognise. We should not label the leave vote as the vote of the left-behinds or the ill-educated. These phrases have a certain descriptive accuracy and draw attention to the damaging legacy of austerity and insecurity, as well as to faults in the education system. However, it is wrong to say that 17.4 million people voted to leave the EU because of these things. That is not only condescending but to deprive voters of agency. No one will tell you, “I voted to leave because I was left behind or badly educated”, but they will give a reason, and unless these reasons are taken seriously and not just seen as the effects of a cause, we seriously misconstrue human behaviour and risk drawing wrong conclusions on policy.
Secondly, it is absurd to explain the referendum result by saying the leavers were misinformed. No doubt they may have been on financial matters, but this explanation leaves out the whole history of our relationship with the EU. That we are likely to be the first country to leave cannot be separated from our lateness in joining, our motives in joining and the persistently low levels of support for the European Union, as revealed by the Eurobarometer, and particularly for its political implications.
In today’s FT Wolfgang Münchau writes that he is,
“constantly amazed by the inability”—
of the remainers—
“to make a positive case”.
The explanation lies in their inherently economistic view of the EU—it is a matter of benefits and costs. Very rarely has there been enthusiasm for Europe as a cause.
Finally, a bit of political economy may help. The single market was a Thatcherite initiative of 1985. The Maastricht treaty, which set up a single currency—from which, of course, we opted out—followed in 1992. The simultaneous deepening of economic integration and the widening of the economic union to include 28 countries without a parallel strengthening of the political institutions was a fundamental mistake. Free trade in goods is one thing; free trade in capital, financial services and labour and a single currency require a degree of political integration—in short, a European Government—which some aspired to but which has never been realistic. The economic cart should never have been allowed to run so far ahead of the political horse.
Why was it done? The political reasons have been well rehearsed; I want to emphasise the faulty economic logic. Widening and deepening came at the height of faith in the free market and mistrust of government. Completion of the market, economists preached, would maximise efficiency. The only macro policy needed was an inflation target, whose achievement could be reliably left to an independent central bank. There was no need for a European Government, just the appropriate legal and regulatory framework. This delusion has been the cause of most of the EU’s trouble.
The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, who is not in his place, would say that that is why we must push for a European federation now, to which I would reply that we are not ready for one and neither are most members of the European Union. The German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble recognised this when he proposed a multi-speed Europe in 1994. His argument was that different member states had varying appetites for integration and that a core Europe consisting of Germany, France and the Benelux countries should federate, leaving others in a looser union to catch up with the core if and when they were ready for it. We would have been saved a huge amount of trouble had that proposition been acted on.
I voted remain because I wanted Britain to push constructively not for a federal Europe, but for a multi-speed Europe. I still think this is the only way the EU can be made to work and the only way we could have worked with it, but our voters were asked to decide on the basis of what was, not what might have been or what might be. We should respect their decision, and for the time being, at least, we must watch the European Union’s struggle for coherence from the sidelines.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky. As always, I listened with intense interest to his contribution. I say today with great sadness but with absolute conviction that the agreement so painstakingly negotiated by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister stems from dreadfully flawed advice and is nothing short of catastrophic. I am on record in your Lordships’ House as recognising the pain felt by many of your Lordships following the referendum result and, in consequence, I always hoped that a compromise that reflected the narrow win by leave was achievable, but today we are asked to take note of an agreement that, to my mind, is worse by magnitudes than anything I could have imagined.
Whatever redeeming features may be embedded in this agreement, and I accept that there are some, I touch today on two aspects that, for me, are quite impossible to accept. Under this deal, we would need to match all and any trade concessions offered by the EU to third countries. However, the obligation of those third countries to reciprocate would apply only to the EU 27 and not to Britain. Put another way, our home market would be at the disposal of EU trade negotiators to use exclusively for the benefit of the remaining EU 27. I wonder how a country such as ours could even contemplate such political and economic suicide.
No one, I think, quarrels with the notion that the first duty of the state is the defence of its citizens. Here I rely on the authority of others in concluding that the withdrawal agreement degrades, perhaps fatally, our ability to discharge that duty, through undermining our place at the heart of NATO and the functioning of the vital Five Eyes alliance. This alarming threat has led Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, to join forces with the former Chief of the Defence Staff, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, to raise this issue in the starkest terms.
It is surely beyond argument that the UK is legally and morally entitled to withdraw from a European project that keeps evolving in a direction in which British voters do not wish to go. I think the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, touched on this. That direction is constantly rehearsed by the functionaries of the EU, who make no secret of their federalist ambitions. The same applies to some, but not all, of the political leaders. Remain-minded people here are entirely silent on the implications of this country becoming part of a federal EU. Either they are too craven to admit to wanting such an outcome or they cherish the hope that somehow it will not happen. I find neither position deserves respect. The late Richard Crossman said:
“The amount of enthusiasm for federal union in any country is a measure of its defeatism and of its feeling of inability to measure up to its own problems”.—[Official Report, Commons, 26/6/1950; col. 2039.]
Many noble Lords are given to adorning all discussion on a clean break from the EU on WTO terms with the words “unthinkable”, “crashing out”, “disastrous”, “chaos” and more of the same. I wonder whether they paused over the Christmas break to read a wide assortment of contributions from highly capable entrepreneurs and industrialists who take a different and opposite view. Only last week, my remaining noble friend Lord Finkelstein was politely corrected by the hugely distinguished Mr Shanker Singham and others who really understand international trade. Outstandingly successful British manufacturers such as Sir James Dyson or my noble friend Lord Bamford confirm how little we have to fear from a clean break. I respectfully suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake—I do not know if he is in his place—is wrong to imply that only people of means are relaxed about a clean break. I could point to scores of small entrepreneurs who share my view.
I predict, I hope wrongly, that when the noble Baronesses, Lady Ludford and Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, wind up—neither of them, I think, would claim to have even passing personal experience of trade or national security—they will ignore or repudiate the advice of those whose long and distinguished careers confer on them unparalleled authority.
For most of my adult life, I have chaired a diverse SME family business and my personal interests are detailed in the register. I have traded in some 50 countries in the world. Although my preference would be for a deal such as Canada-plus-plus-plus, I harbour no fears about the future under WTO terms—139 other countries manage it without extravagant distress. Do I pretend to know what is in store for my family business outside the EU? Of course I do not; no one does. Do I think everything will be better? Possibly not, but of this I am perfectly certain: it will get worse if we stay shackled to a sclerotic and moribund EU.
The point is that we are up for it and ready to seize the opportunities the future brings. The referendum result was a rebellion against a cast of unaccountable EU officials, whom power has corrupted and who visit pain, misery and financial hardship on the most vulnerable throughout the EU. What is there to like about this construct, over which there already hangs a sense of decay and morbidity? With or without a deal, this ghastly saga must end now so that we can begin once again to build bridges, revive old friendships and look once more to the world outside, where real growth resides.
My Lords, in February 2016, almost three years ago, Britain was at the top table of the world, a truly global economy and the fastest-growing economy in the western world. Prime Minister David Cameron had been in office for six years, he had built up a reputation and relationships globally and he had standing and respect. Look where we are today: our growth rates have dropped sharply—we have the lowest forecast growth rate for the next five years of less than 2%. Where is David Cameron now—the man who disappeared with his tail between his legs the day after the referendum?
UKIP had a major role to play in the referendum. People forget that, in the 2015 general election, UKIP polled 12%. Look at where it is today, with one discredited leader after another over the last three years. The party has basically shown its true colours, with Tommy Robinson now an official adviser. As for Nigel Farage, that snake-oil salesman, what is he doing now? He is captain of his old school Dulwich College’s old boys’ golf society.
The two previous nationwide referendums, to remain in the European Community in 1975 and to stay in the current voting system in 2011, were won by approximately two-thirds, or 67%. Now, the country is being held to ransom by this big figure of 17.4 million—a figure thrown at us by Brexit supporters every day—the largest turnout in history. We have to implement and execute the will of the people. Let us keep this in perspective: 17.4 million makes up just 37% of the voting population. Now the whole country is being held to ransom by the tyranny of the 52% majority. What about the 16.1 million, the 48%, who wanted to remain? Are they to be completely ignored as if their will does not count? Is it a question of who won and who lost?
The argument against a second referendum is that it would divide the country. The country is already completely divided, Parliament is divided and both major political parties are divided. How much more divided can we get? The other reason we are given is that Parliament voted for the referendum to take place. I have kicked myself so many times that Parliament did not take the referendum Act seriously. Then we are told that both major parties included implementing the referendum in their 2017 election manifestos—the Liberal Democrats did not. Now there are threats, including from former Cabinet Ministers, that if we overturn the result of the referendum we will undermine the whole of our democracy and there will be no trust in politicians or Parliament ever again.
The whole country is being held to ransom by something that took place two and a half years ago. Since when does democracy bind us to a point in time? Democracy is dynamic. Democracy is about changing your mind when the facts change or if new information emerges that you did not know before. Look at how much has changed in two and a half years. We did not know until a year ago how difficult it was going to be to negotiate Brexit. Since the election in 2017, it took a year and half to agree three items from the 585-page withdrawal agreement.
During the referendum, hardly any mention was made of Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland backstop has become the Achilles heel of Brexit and the biggest issue in the Prime Minister’s deal. It is a circle that cannot be squared: if we want to preserve the precious Good Friday agreement and preserve peace; and if we want to preserve the union by not having Northern Ireland treated separately from the rest of the United Kingdom. We are stuck with this backstop. Brexit is threatening our precious United Kingdom.
Brexit has also threatened our constitution—the balance of powers between our Executive, our Parliament and the judiciary. All those elements have been stretched to their limits. Today, we do not have a Government of the people, by the people, for the people; we have a Government who have set their own red lines—leaving the customs union and the single market and no more Court of Justice. It is a Government who have tried to bypass Parliament at every stage. They tried to implement Article 50 without Parliament. It took Gina Miller and my noble friend Lord Pannick to go to the Supreme Court to win that case. The Government tried to stop Parliament having a meaningful vote, and the Commons had to fight to get it. They also tried to bypass Parliament by not releasing the legal advice, but they were eventually forced to do so and had to admit that the UK cannot unilaterally leave the backstop.
Accepting the Prime Minister’s deal would be the worst of all worlds. We could be tied to the customs union and EU regulations—to infinity and beyond—without a say at the table. However, it is also a blindfold Brexit, with a 26-page wish-list declaration—a list of best efforts. Already, even before the start of the two-year transition period, the subject of Spain and Gibraltar has been brought up, and our fishing rights are already being talked about. My noble friend Lord Kerr said that it has been a wasted one and three-quarter years where the cart has been put before the horse. The framework has not been built, and we are left with a blindfold Brexit. Norway/EEA/EFTA/European Community version 2 would be the least worst option.
Around the world, people are saying, like Professor Michael Porter of the Harvard Business School:
“There is little doubt that the United Kingdom’s separation from Europe will reduce its competitiveness for the foreseeable future”.
The argument that we can go global on trade by leaving the European Union is nonsense. We are already global, with 50% of our trade being with the European Union. Another 20% of our trade, including with Japan, is done through the European Union. The EU has far bigger clout in negotiating free trade deals than we do, and we should dream on when we talk about doing a free trade deal with India. It has only nine free trade deals around the world and not one is with a western country, let alone one with a hostile immigration policy.
We have benefited from being in the EU. We have had our cake and eaten it too. We have not been in the euro or in Schengen. Every analysis shows that by remaining in the European Union we would be far better off economically and in every respect—for example, in having access to people, with our 4% unemployment rate and labour shortage.
If we are putting our nation first, why are we forcing ourselves to implement Brexit, when we know that it will be worse for our country and the world says it will be worse for our country? People are much more informed than they were. We now know the reality of the ideological, utopian, crash-out-on-WTO-rules world of the Brexiteers, let alone the false promises made during the referendum. The polls consistently show that the people want a say and would vote to remain. You can fool all the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all the people all of the time.
The European Court has said that we can unilaterally withdraw from Article 50. That would be the fairest, most democratic thing to do, particularly for our youth, over 2 million of whom were not old enough to vote two years ago. The vast majority want to remain, including two of my children. We cannot deprive them of their future. It would be the fairest and most democratic thing to do, and the youth will turn out. This time it will be a vote not of 17.4 million but of more than 20 million. We need to take back control and I want my country back.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria. I would like to support this withdrawal agreement and political declaration, and I would like to support our brave, determined and dedicated Prime Minister, who has worked so hard to try to deliver the promises of the leave campaign, but in all good conscience I am afraid that I cannot do so.
I have agonised over this and respect colleagues who are so frightened by the outrageous threats of no deal that they will support the proposals, despite believing that they will damage our country, but I am convinced that this would not be in the national interest. It is truly alarming to witness the peddling of fantasies and misrepresentation of reality that have permeated our political discourse. I will support the Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and that will be consistent with every vote that I have registered in the whole Brexit debate.
The red lines of leaving the customs union, single market and ECJ jurisdiction are totally incompatible with the Good Friday agreement unless we impose a border in the Irish Sea that disunites our United Kingdom. That is what the backstop is about. Ending free movement and being able to agree new trade deals outwith the EU are incompatible with protecting our integrated supply chains, manufacturing jobs and services sector. These are real-world realities not explained to the country at the time of the referendum or the previous election.
We are here today because 17.4 million British people —37% of the 2016 voter base—voted to leave the EU. Parliament was apparently instructed by this advisory referendum to obey its result come what may. We are asked to believe that the instructions given to Parliament by these 17.4 million citizens, out of a population of 67 million, on the basis of promises that cannot and will not be delivered, justify depriving 50 million fellow countrymen of their EU rights and citizenship. Working in pensions, I have seen many examples of mis-selling in my lifetime but never have I seen the scale of deliberate deception that has come to light in connection with the 2016 referendum.
If you make a decision to buy a pension on the basis of a false prospectus, you have the right to change your mind or to be compensated. Yet those who are shown to have been wrong on all the claims they have made about Brexit so far are allowed to peddle more myths today, such as that leaving with no deal is perfectly okay. It is not okay. It is just another Brexit falsehood. Yes, Parliament has a duty to honour the will of the British people, but how many of those 17.4 million would have voted for the negotiated terms if they had known what Brexit would truly entail? We do not know.
We are told the 2016 referendum was the biggest exercise in democracy this country has ever seen. I cannot agree with that. Actually, it was a masterly display of political spin and mendacity. Leaving aside the financial irregularities, fraudulent use of large companies’ logos implying they supported leave, and false claims that Turkey and even Iraq and Syria would soon join the EU, voters were also misled into believing the EU was the cause of our country’s problems and that leaving would make us wealthier, improve our free trade and provide all the benefits of membership without the burdens or costs.
Many people were encouraged to vote for the first time in their lives in 2016; we are told that failing to obey their instructions would be a betrayal of democracy. Really? Any voter who believes that our democracy is about ordering MPs to do what people demanded on a past date, regardless of changed circumstances or negative consequences, is surely misrepresenting democracy. Voters who believed the campaign promises and then find out they were deceived are hardly going to have faith in our democracy. I believe our representative parliamentary democracy is far more threatened by ploughing ahead on the basis of this agreement or no deal at all.
Yes, we must respect the referendum, but we have honoured the result. Anyone who disputes that has not been paying attention for the last two years. We have triggered Article 50, passed legislation to permit withdrawal and negotiated for over 1,000 hours to find ways to achieve an exit from the EU that will satisfy the British people. But the outcome is nothing like the promises they voted for. All the focus is on the 17.4 million leave voters, not the 16.1 million remainers or 13.5 million non-voters. Given the deliberate misrepresentation, outright deception and false promises, coupled with the flawed remain campaign, can Members of Parliament, hand on heart, know whether this withdrawal agreement or no deal reflect the wishes of the majority now?
How many believed leaving would make the country richer? The Government’s own figures show that even the withdrawal agreement will not do so, never mind no deal. How many were just protesting against the establishment and trying to make their voices heard because they are dissatisfied with the Government and feel left behind? Which of the problems facing our country, which leavers may have been complaining about, will Brexit and this withdrawal agreement solve? Will they solve lack of infrastructure investment, the housing crisis, education standards, the need to improve productivity or the social care crisis? EU membership has not stopped us addressing all these burning problems but leaving would make them all worse.
There is so much Alice-in-Wonderland thinking permeating this debate. Sovereignty, self-determination and freedom do not require isolating ourselves and withdrawing from international partnerships, which help bridge differences. Indeed, I fear that history may well conclude that never has so much harm been caused to so many by so few, and that we sacrificed their tomorrow for our today.
My Lords, despite everything, our final Brexit destination remains a mystery—and, faced with a mystery, I am happy to take the suggestion made on Thursday to take the advice of that master of mystery, Sherlock Holmes:
“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”.
So let us try it. In the House of Commons there is a significant majority against the Brexit deal on offer. It looks like an impossible objective. Since the EU refuses to substantially alter the deal, it will remain an impossibility. It is impossible, geographically and physically, to wish away the land border across Ireland between the UK and the EU. In Parliament, there is also a significant parliamentary majority against no deal—another impossibility. Canada-plus has died a death and it is impossible to see how the PM could accept a Norway-style deal, which would encompass the free movement which she has sworn to oppose, and would leave us with no voice, no vote and no veto over EU decisions that would crucially affect us. When we have dismissed or ruled out all the impossibles, the only sensible course of action is to put the issue back to the people. If, as the Government say, the deal before us really is the best and only Brexit deal possible, the people should be asked whether this Brexit deal is acceptable to them—or whether, given all that we now know, they wish to remain in the EU.
I say “all that we now know” because it will be obvious to all noble Lords that the consequences of the 2016 referendum were known to very few at the time of that decision. Over the past few months alone, a vast amount of legal, economic and constitutional information has been released to Parliament. Why? Because parliamentarians rightly insisted that they would not be capable of making a meaningful and informed decision in the absence of that information. Yet none of this information was made available to the public at the time when they were asked to make a decision. Of course, it may have made no difference—but the only way to find out is to ask them.
I have heard the arguments against having a reconsultation. It will be obvious to this House that I have never accepted them, any more than I would accept an argument against frequent general elections. One of these was of course announced by the now Prime Minister, and the period between that general election and the previous one was shorter than the period we have had since the referendum. I have been strengthened in my view by the Prime Minister, who in her speech today adduced the closely fought and closely decided Welsh referendum as evidence of the principle that you cannot oppose a referendum decision. She said that proved how a referendum had to be accepted by everyone in Parliament—except that it was not.
Following the Welsh referendum, the Conservative Party argued vehemently against the creation of the Assembly. Among the hundreds of MPs voting against the then Labour Government and the Government of Wales Bill in 1997 was the fresh-faced, newly elected MP for Maidenhead, Theresa May. Indeed, as late as 2005, the Conservative Party manifesto promised a second referendum on the Welsh Assembly—a people’s vote, if you will—which now seems to be wrong on principle. That was on whether to scrap the Assembly—which is all a bit awkward for those arguing on principle, as the noble Lord, Lord Lang, did today, that you can never have a reconsultation on a referendum.
I do not know what the final vote in a referendum might be—but whatever the result, it would not be sufficient without addressing the underlying perceptions which helped drive the result of the initial referendum. Austerity has been mentioned today, but I want to mention a word people are reticent about mentioning—immigration—and in particular the perception that, whatever the benefits of free movement, it contributes to a misuse of the benefits system by those arriving, and the deterioration of people’s access to public services. The tragedy is that both of these could be quite easily addressed by the Government.
First, it is perfectly possible, even under existing EU regulations, to ensure that those who come here have to take gainful employment within a reasonable time, or leave. In short: no job, no stay. Secondly, we need a more proportionate distribution of public funds directed towards areas of high immigrant populations, to offset the increased demand for public services that comes in the wake of high immigration.
Whatever the result of a people’s vote, it should be made clear that both these measures will be implemented. If MPs cannot agree, let the people decide. A people’s vote, with policies to address people’s concerns, offers the only potential way out of the terrible mess in which the country finds itself.
My Lords, in the two and a half years since the referendum, debate has continued on the relative merits of possible withdrawal options. That we are still debating these derives from the huge complexity of Brexit, driven in part by the triggering of Article 50 too early, and the Prime Minister’s decision to define unhelpful red lines equally early.
People did not vote in the referendum to become poorer. Nor can it be concluded that because a majority voted to leave the EU, those voting to do so wanted a hard Brexit or no deal. They were repeatedly told that they could have a soft Brexit, and many voted for just that. The result of that referendum was that advice was given to Parliament to negotiate a withdrawal. That advice was for Parliament, not just the Executive. It is, therefore, within the right of MPs to take greater control of the process. They were, after all, elected in 2017, a year after the referendum was held—so they do have that right.
Just before the Christmas Recess, the Government published their immigration White Paper. This is the much-delayed White Paper which was supposedly going to explain how the Government plan to bring down net immigration to the low levels promised by the Prime Minister in response to the referendum result. Yet, as the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, pointed out in this Chamber at the time,
“far from reducing immigration, it is very likely that it will actually increase net migration, and might increase it considerably”.—[Official Report, 19/12/18; col. 1867.]
It seems that reality has dawned on the Government. The need for immigration to this country simply reflects the economic reality of the world we live in. Immigration has driven much of UK growth in recent years, and through that, growth in tax revenues for public spending. We cannot have a strong, entrepreneurial economy, should Brexit go ahead, without immigration and large numbers of international students in our universities.
Then there is the construction industry. The Federation of Master Builders has said that the Government will fail to deliver their commitment to building 300,000 homes per year unless the White Paper is substantially rewritten. While I am at one with those who say that we must invest far more in the training of British workers, rather than simply relying on a labour force from outside the UK, I also acknowledge the economic reality that retirements within the construction industry are significantly outstripping the number of new apprenticeships. If we are to build the homes the country so urgently needs we have to have the labour force to do it.
I will comment briefly on the impact of a no-deal Brexit on the north-east of England, where I live. At the end of November, the Government admitted that the north-east of England will be poorer because of Brexit. With no deal, the economy would be 10% smaller than it would have been. With the deal proposed, growth would be 2% lower. But, for me, the critical issue remains as it was in 2016, relating to the future willingness of overseas investors to invest their money in regions of England—or, indeed, across the whole of the UK—when we are outside the single market. When overseas investors can invest outside the UK to stay inside the single market, why would they choose to be inside the United Kingdom? I have come to the conclusion that a no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic. We know what the Japanese Government’s advice has been in recent days. We know of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders’ warnings in recent weeks.
Then there are the universities. Universities in the north-east of England attract large numbers of EU students, yet the number of EU students registering now seems to be declining across the United Kingdom. Then there is the impact on world-leading research in our universities, often the result of collaboration and partnership across the EU. We must not lose access to this funding. It helps regional economies, as does the £400 million that the north-east of England is receiving in the current period from EU structural funding, for which there are no guarantees of continuation after 2020. Given that 57% of north-east trade goes to the EU compared with only 40% nationally, and given that 140,000 north-east jobs are reliant on EU trade, it matters to the region that we stay in the single market and the customs union—the frictionless trading structure we were promised and need.
The World Bank has warned that no deal would be a risk to economies across the world. The Bank of England has warned that no deal would lead to the worst crash in the UK since the 1930s. Should we believe gung-ho Brexiters who believe that leaving the EU will be easy, or should we listen to the director-general of the CBI, who said in Bristol last week:
“Make no mistake, no-deal cannot be ‘managed’”?
I choose the advice of the CBI.
We might find this week that the House of Commons has no majority for any of the options in front of it. I conclude that that means we should seek to extend Article 50 as a matter of urgency and that we will need a people’s vote, because parliamentary gridlock will have to be overcome.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. I have spent about 25 years of my life involved one way or another with the UK’s membership of and participation in the European Union. I have always believed that Europe is better off with the European Union than without it—think just of 1870, 1914 and 1940—and that both the European Union and the United Kingdom have benefited hugely from our membership. That is why I voted to remain.
The EU is, of course, imperfect. Relations within it are often fraught, as now, with immensely difficult issues of migration, the eurozone and the politics of its eastern European members. But all that has always seemed a reason why we should have the confidence to use our influence to help mould the European Union, as I believe we have over the years under successive Prime Ministers since Margaret Thatcher, so that it reflects and promotes our own interests. But we are where we are, or as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said on the day after the referendum, “We are where we are but no one has the faintest idea where that is”, which is, alas, truer now than ever.
The present draft withdrawal agreement is imperfect, but it is not likely to be changed. The political declaration on the UK’s future relationship with the EU was never going to be much more than an annotated agenda for future negotiations, which will be long drawn-out, difficult and held with a new Commission, a new European Parliament and leaders of member states whose attention will be elsewhere. This is not an attractive prospect.
Even less attractive is leaving without a deal, which is surely far too risky to contemplate, as many have argued cogently and, in my view, rightly in this debate. The debate and vote that matters is in the House of Commons tomorrow. If the Commons cannot agree on the Prime Minister’s proposed agreement and cannot agree on another course either, I agree strongly with the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, that the right course would be to postpone the 29 March departure date to give the Government and the European Union more time. If that is not possible, the best option would be to have another referendum, although I do not say that with any huge enthusiasm.
Finally, I will say a word about Ireland in the light of recent visits as part of your Lordships’ European Union Committee to Dublin, Belfast, Derry/Londonderry and the border. Paragraph 11 of the Government’s recent paper on Ireland says:
“Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK with a land border with an EU Member State, and the free and unfettered movement of goods and people across that border is vital to the lives and livelihoods of the people on both sides of the border”.
I agree entirely, and I applaud the Prime Minister’s determination to ensure that that unfettered movement continues. I hope that her ambition will not in any way be whittled away. I applaud too the Prime Minister’s continuing commitment to the Good Friday/Belfast agreement, which has, over 20 years, led progressively to what those of us in the rest of the United Kingdom would regard as a normal life. But what worries me greatly in this ghastly Brexit saga is the deteriorating relationship between London and Dublin. I would be very grateful if the Minister, in replying to the debate, gave an absolute assurance that a continuing, constructive and close relationship with the Irish Government remains as important now and for the future, whatever it holds, as it has for the last 20 years.
My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Jay. I put him in the mandarin class in your Lordships’ House—the number of your Lordships who seem to have been particularly traumatised by the decision of the British people to leave the EU. The mandarin class, of course, are people who have decided to spend a career in politics but not actually seek election. This gives them rather a different view about democratic votes from those of us who have. When I put this point to the noble Lord, Lord Butler, before Christmas he said that he thought the people should have the opportunity to vote again. On that basis, we could take a general election and produce all the same ridiculous arguments that people have been fed duff information and were too ignorant to understand the issues at stake, and therefore that general election should be held again. We trifle at our peril with democracy if we start saying that a referendum of this size—it was, let us face it, a very large turnout—should be overridden by a different decision.
My noble friend Lord Patten and the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, made the point that the country is very divided on this issue. I do not think we should get too excited. We are in the Westminster bubble here. Even if you walk just outside this building, you find people with placards protesting and waving flags. Some are determined that we should stay in the EU and others are grimly determined that we should get out. They stand next door to each other. There is a picture of a man from the remain side kissing a woman from the Brexit side standing outside Parliament.
So how divided are we? I suspect we would be much more divided if a second referendum were held. The decision would be reversed and a very large number of the people who voted to leave the EU would feel that Parliament had betrayed them, and would be given no option but to take to the streets because they could not look to Parliament to look after their interests anymore. When I mentioned this earlier, my noble friend Lord Patten said I was recommending civil disorder. I am not recommending it, but I suspect you might get it because this is a problem. If Parliament does not deliver what it is about to do—and what the people have decided it should do—of course people will look to operate outside Parliament if they do not think their Members of Parliament can represent them properly.
We are now in a ridiculous situation where these negotiations have been incredibly badly handled by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, mentioned sequencing, which is a nice way of saying: why on earth did we allow the EU to make the Irish border item one on the agenda? As the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, has said, nobody in Ireland thinks there should be a border between north and south. He said that the position of the Taoiseach was somewhat ambivalent, but the latest thing I have heard from him is that he does not want a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland either. The Northern Irish do not want it, the southern Irish do not want it, the British do not want it, and even the EU has said it does not want it. I do not quite see who is going to put this hard border in, and cannot understand why we have spent so much time talking about it when it is something that would fall out of a free trade deal anyway.
The position we are now in is extraordinary. We have this absurd backstop that has been imposed on us by the EU and, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, said, any guarantees on the backstop that we have been given by the EU are not really worth the paper they are written on. At the end of the day, they want us to stay in the EU, so why should we trust them not to hold us in there?
On a purely party-political point, reference has been made to the fact that the implementation period may go on until 2022. That happens to be when we will hold the next general election. If we are still half in the EU, still trapped in a customs union, what chance does my party have of winning an election, when Nigel Farage will undoubtedly set up another party to campaign against us in marginal seats? He will guarantee our defeat.
Yes, I am sure it will give enormous pleasure to the Liberal Democrats—although I am not sure they will benefit from it—but the fact is, he will. That is one reason why so many in my party in another place think that this deal is absolutely terrible and should be voted down.
That then leaves us with no deal, which is the default option. I am rather grateful that we have explored the possibility of no deal so much, because it is not really half as bad as everybody says. There has, however, been an awful lot of talk about crashing out. I quote my noble friend Lord Lilley, who says that what we will be doing is cashing in. That is the moment at which we will stop paying anything to the EU. We may have obligations, but they will certainly not be as massive as £39 billion. That will help to ease the passage of no deal, and make sure it is not as traumatic as so many people like to make it out to be.
My Lords, I rise to express my strong support for the Motion in the name of my noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon. In doing so, venturing perhaps where angels fear to tread, I will concentrate on its affirmation of the House of Commons’ primacy in determining the matter—and, with that, as my noble friend said in her opening remarks, its right and responsibility to,
“find a way through the current impasse”.—[Official Report, 9/1/19; col. 2228.]
First, on the deal itself, it has been argued that, as it is disliked by almost everyone, this is the result and nature of compromise. Like, I suspect, many of your Lordships, I have voted for the triggering of Article 50 and the withdrawal Act in the expectation that any agreement emerging from the Government’s negotiations would inevitably require significant compromise on all sides, given the multiple contradictions in, particularly, the Government’s original objectives. The breadth of dislike, however, is not itself an indication that it is a good compromise—precisely the opposite. The question is: could there be a better compromise?
Over recent weeks, admiration has also been expressed for the resilience and persistence shown by the Prime Minister in delivering an agreement of any sort while responding to the countless ministerial resignations and challenges to her position. I am sorry to say that my conclusion is that Mrs May is to Prime Ministers what Eddie the Eagle was to Olympic ski jumpers: respected for courage and determination, but a loner who either goes tumbling into a snowdrift or finishes 90 metres behind the other competitors.
It is an extraordinary achievement to have failed so comprehensively to build any form of consensus or co-operation across the parties, particularly when the policy of the Labour Party, succinctly summarised by my noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham, hardly presents a yawning chasm to bridge. Would a permanent customs union be a better compromise than what is envisaged by the Government? Yes, without a doubt. Would the adoption of an EEA, EFTA, Norway-plus-based arrangement be better still? Yes, absolutely—without underestimating the challenge of inspiring the necessary degree of confidence in the country at large that, in particular, their reasonable concerns about immigration can be addressed by the safeguarding measures in the EEA agreement. Strong and specific national measures are also needed, such as a migration impacts fund, which was abolished by the coalition Government at a substantially higher level than the Labour Government set it up for in 2009.
The rising cross-party level of support for Norway-plus in the House of Commons, as well as the support for it from prominent Brexiters such as the noble Lord, Lord Owen, is perhaps a cause for cautious optimism. The Members of the House of Commons will of course come to their own conclusions, with your Lordships’—I hope—friendly counsel. How then, can they,
“find a way through the current impasse”?—[Official Report, 9/1/19; col. 2228.]
Even that professional fantasist Dr Fox is predicting that the Government will lose tomorrow’s vote. The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, suggested on Wednesday that the Government should make the vote one of confidence, as did the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky. Since his long and distinguished career in the House of Commons, the introduction of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act has made that impossible. But he is right: morally, it is a matter of confidence, so I very much hope that my right honourable friend the leader of the Opposition will table an immediate vote of no confidence.
Who knows what the result would be? I am not sure that the confident predictions that Mrs May would survive would necessarily prove correct. Do I believe that a general election would, even with an extension of Article 50, be helpful in resolving the Brexit stalemate? That is far from certain. But under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, a general election is called only if no other Government has been formed within 14 days who have been able to win a positive vote of confidence. Surely that is how the House of Commons can best and most effectively assert control. Not by setting up a parallel phantom Government, but by giving its clear support for a defined period to a Government—whether a formal coalition or a minority one—that can take the existing withdrawal agreement and both modify the political declaration, to customs union or Norway-plus, and introduce a cross-party political process for its subsequent implementation.
I recognise that while it is easy to advocate this from the safety and tranquillity of this House, this is a big ask for the Members of the House of Commons. But if they are unable to seize that sort of opportunity, the alternative would inevitability be a general election, and in all probability a referendum after that.
My Lords, I have listened to many of the speakers during the course of this debate, both in December and last week, and what appears to stand out most clearly is that we are facing an unprecedented challenge. The Cabinet has been divided, Parliament is divided and the people are divided. Despite all the efforts made by our Prime Minister—for whom I have some sympathy, as she was given an impossible task—she has not been able to achieve a withdrawal agreement which has, on the face of it, enough support to get it through this Parliament. This leads me to ask: why are we in this situation?
From the beginning, there have been errors. Initially, the previous Prime Minister and his Government made a serious error in calling the referendum without first fully informing the country about the pros and cons of remaining in or leaving the EU. To avoid the problems we now face, he should have ensured that a condition was in place for the referendum result; for example, a 60% threshold. Then, once the referendum process was under way, many leave campaigners misled the public with gross omissions or distortions of fact. Further, as we all know, once they had won, the main proponents of leave—who had promised the earth, including that we will take control of immigration and our borders, and put £350 million into the NHS every week—did not take their promises forward. Perhaps the biggest error was not to have formed a cross-party consensus for the kind of withdrawal agreement and future relationship that Parliament could support before sending our negotiators to Brussels.
We are now in a serious situation and our leaders must recognise that this is a national crisis. The economy is at risk, which means that people’s livelihoods are at risk. It is time for straightforward common sense to prevail. Members of Parliament must put aside any differences and not pursue their own political agendas. Instead, they must act in the national interest alone. Those saying that the Prime Minister’s deal is not a good deal have offered no better alternative and are being unfair to those doing their best to meet this challenge. As it stands at this juncture, with no time left to negotiate a new withdrawal agreement to replace the current one on offer, and with the reality that, as my noble and learned friend Lord Hope emphasised last week, on 29 March the EU treaties will cease to apply to the United Kingdom, the only realistic options are either to accept the Prime Minister’s deal or to quickly extend Article 50 to gain more time.
The Prime Minister’s deal may not be perfect but, given where we are at this point, I think we should accept it and deliver certainty and clarity for citizens, businesses, employers and employees. I echo what my noble and learned friend Lord Hope said—that the current deal is not the end of the story; it is only an agreement for the withdrawal and implementation period, not our final future agreement with the EU. That agreement will be dealt with in the two years after 29 March, but only if we have a withdrawal agreement in place on that date, which I sincerely hope will happen. I urge my colleagues to do the right thing for the country.
My Lords, the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU said at the weekend:
“For the sake of our democracy, we cannot let slip the prize of Brexit”.
I agree, which is why, tomorrow, I hope MPs will disown this democracy-eroding deal.
This deal is not in the national interest. The only thing national about the farcical situation of abject surrender that we are in is that it is a national disgrace. What is wrong with us that we should talk ourselves down so much? Barack Obama won two terms as President with the inspirational campaign cry, “Yes, we can”, while here in Britain, all that our establishment seems inclined to shout is, “No, we can’t!” What sort of message is that to send to the bullies of Brussels or, indeed, the people? How the Eurocrats must delight in our defeatism—a defeatism shrouded in doublespeak which should fool no one. Under this deal we are not leaving. Some may dream of the headline “We’ve sealed the deal”, but the only thing this deal would seal is the fate of our democracy.
The obvious appeal, to some, of the radical Italian parties led by their deputy Prime Ministers and the violent French “yellow vests” protest movement is surely symptomatic of a deepening and dangerous disaffection with democracy. Is there not a lesson to be learned from the democratic disarray in Italy, France and now Germany, where, unbelievably, as my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater told us, we are witnessing a neo-Nazi renaissance with the breakaway of an even more extreme splinter of the far-right AfD? The tectonic plates are shifting on mainland Europe because more and more voters doubt the ability, even the desire, of their political elites to honour their word and to implement policy commitments, on the very basis of which the people entrusted them with power. Yet our political elite—our establishment—behaves as if this simple, obvious rule somehow does not apply to them.
The Secretary of State for Exiting the EU argues that this deal delivers on Brexit. I beg to differ. This deal fails to deliver on Brexit, for reasons rehearsed ad nauseam in both this House and the other place. To quote his immediate predecessor, Dominic Raab, this deal would keep us locked into swathes of EU laws without any democratic say, threaten the integrity of the UK and prevent us from pursuing an independent trade policy. It suffocates the opportunities that Brexit offers. It does all that and more because, should it ever become a binding international treaty, I fear it would also mark the end for our democracy. Our democracy’s very viability and its durability depend on people’s trust being honoured. So Mr Raab’s successor as Secretary of State is surely absolutely right to say that the stakes could not be higher. And the Prime Minister knows that because she refers to,
“a catastrophic and unforgivable breach of trust in our democracy”,
if the UK remains in the EU. That is exactly so. As the journalist Janet Daley wrote in early December, ultimately,
“pernicious mistrust will be … corrosive to faith in democracy”.
I wonder if the battle has become so intense that we have lost sight of what we all want more than anything else—surely that is a stronger democracy, to enhance rather than diminish government’s accountability to the people. So I agree with my noble friend Lord Cavendish of Furness that we need to be open to the option of a clean break on WTO terms. As someone who has had more than 50 breaks, I think I can claim to speak with some authority when I say that a clean break is better than an awkward break. A clean break would not only bring accountability home and strengthen democracy, it would also heal our divisions, far better than this deal, a second referendum or a Norway-style deal, all of which would only perpetuate Brexit and thus prolong the agony, possibly indefinitely. Of course, exiting on WTO terms would not be the end; it would be the means to an end—a negotiated deal on better terms.
In conclusion, we should surely be saying to Brussels, “Yes, we can”, instead of supporting this defeatist deal which would do incalculable harm to our democracy. That is why I urge colleagues in the other place to disown this deal tomorrow, show that they respect the people’s vote of 2016 and strengthen democracy.
Leaving the European Union
My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place. The Statement is as follows:
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on the further assurances and clarifications we have received from the European Union on the Northern Ireland protocol.
As a proud unionist, I share the concerns of Members who want to ensure that in leaving the European Union we do not undermine the strength of our own union in the UK. That is why, when the EU tried to insist on a protocol that would carve out Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK’s customs territory, I said no. I secured instead a UK-wide temporary customs arrangement, avoiding both a hard border on the island of Ireland and a customs border down the Irish Sea. I also negotiated substantial commitments in the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration to do everything possible to prevent the backstop ever being needed and to ensure that, if it were, it would be a temporary arrangement. But listening to the debate before Christmas, it was clear that we needed to go further, so I returned to Brussels to faithfully and firmly reflect the concerns of this House.
The conclusions of December’s Council went further in addressing our concerns. They included reaffirming the EU’s determination to work speedily to establish, by 31 December 2020, alternative arrangements so that the backstop will not need to be triggered. They underlined that if the backstop were nevertheless to be triggered, it would indeed apply temporarily. They committed that, in such an event, the EU would use its best endeavours to continue to negotiate and conclude as soon as possible a subsequent agreement that would replace the backstop. And they gave a new assurance that negotiations on the future relationship could start immediately after the UK’s withdrawal.
Since the Council, and throughout the Christmas and new year period, I have spoken to a number of European leaders, and there have been further discussions with the EU to seek further assurances alongside the Council conclusions. Today, I have published the outcome of these further discussions, with an exchange of letters between the UK Government and the Presidents of the European Commission and European Council. The letter from President Tusk confirms what I said in the House before Christmas: namely, that the assurances in the European Council conclusions have legal standing in the EU.
My right honourable and learned friend the Attorney-General has also written to me today confirming that, in the light of the joint response from the Presidents of the European Council and the Commission, these conclusions,
‘would have legal force in international law’,
and setting out his opinion, ‘reinforced’ by today’s letter,
‘that the balance of risks favours the conclusion that it is unlikely that the EU will wish to rely on the implementation of the backstop provisions’.
Further, he writes that it is therefore his judgment that,
‘the current draft Withdrawal Agreement now represents the only politically practicable and available means of securing our exit from the European Union’.
I know that some Members would ideally like a unilateral exit mechanism or a hard time limit to the backstop. I explained this to the EU and tested these points in negotiations, but the EU would not agree to this because it fears that such a provision could allow the UK to leave the backstop at any time without any other arrangements in place and require a hard border to be erected between Northern Ireland and Ireland. I have been very clear with the EU that this is not something we would ever countenance—the UK is steadfast in its commitment to the Belfast agreement and would never allow a return to a hard border—but it is not enough simply to say this. Both sides also need to take steps to avoid a hard border when the UK is outside the EU. Failing to do so would place businesses on the island of Ireland in an impossible position, having to choose between costly new checks and procedures that would disrupt their supply chains or breaking the law.
So we have the backstop as a last resort, but both the Taoiseach and I have consistently said that the best way to avoid a hard border is through the future relationship—that is the sustainable solution—and that neither of us wants to use the backstop. So, since the Council, we have been looking at commitments that would ensure we get our future relationship or alternative arrangements in place by the end of the implementation period, so that there will be no need to enter the backstop and no need for any fear that there will be a hard border. That is why, in the first of the further assurances that it has provided today, the EU has committed to begin exploratory talks on the detailed legal provisions of the future relationship as soon as this Parliament has approved the deal and the withdrawal agreement has been signed. The EU has been explicit that this can happen immediately after this House votes through the agreement.
If this House approves the deal tomorrow, it would give us almost two years to complete the next phase of the negotiations, and of course we would have the option to extend the implementation period, if further time were needed, for either one or two years. It is my absolute conviction that we can turn the political declaration into legal text in that time, avoiding the need for the backstop altogether.
These letters also make clear that these talks should give,
‘particular urgency to discussion of ideas, including the use of all available facilitative arrangements and technologies, for replacing the backstop with permanent arrangements’,
and, furthermore, that those arrangements,
‘are not required to replicate’—
the backstop ‘provisions in any respect’. So, contrary to the fears of some honourable Members, the EU will not simply insist that the backstop is the only way to avoid a hard border. It has agreed to discuss technological solutions and any alternative means of delivering on this objective, and to get on with this as a priority in the next phase of negotiations.
Secondly, the EU has now committed to a fast-track process to bring our future trade deal into force once it has been agreed. If there is any delay in ratification, the Commission has now said it will recommend provisionally applying the relevant parts of the agreement, so that we would not need to enter the backstop. Such a provisional application process saved four years on the EU-Korea deal and could prevent any delays in ratification by other member state parliaments from delaying our deal coming into force.
Thirdly, the EU has provided absolute clarity on the explicit linkage between the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration, and made that link clear in the way the documents are presented. I know that some colleagues are worried about an imbalance between the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration, because the EU cannot reach a legal agreement with us on the future relationship until we are a third country, but the link between them means the commitments of one cannot be banked without the commitments of the other. The EU has been clear that they come as a package. Bad faith by either side in negotiating the legal instruments that will deliver the future relationship laid out in the political declaration would be a breach of their legal obligations under the withdrawal agreement.
Fourthly, the exchange of letters confirms that the UK can unilaterally deliver all of the commitments that we made last week to safeguard the interests of the people and businesses of Northern Ireland and their position in our precious union, for it gives clear answers to address some questions that have been raised since the deal was reached—that the deal means no change to the arrangements that underpin north-south co-operation in the Belfast agreement; that Stormont will have a lock on any new laws the EU proposes should be added to the backstop; and that the UK can give a restored Northern Ireland Executive a seat at the table on the joint committee overseeing the deal.
President Juncker says explicitly in his letter that the backstop,
‘would represent a suboptimal trading arrangement for both sides’.
We have spoken at length about why we want to avoid the backstop, but it is not in the EU’s interests either, for this backstop gives the UK tariff-free access to the EU’s market, and it does so with no free movement of people, no financial contribution, no requirement to follow most of the level playing field rules and no need to allow EU boats any access to our waters for fishing. Furthermore, under these arrangements, UK authorities in Northern Ireland would clear goods for release into the EU single market with no further checks or controls. That is unprecedented and means the EU relying on the UK for the functioning of its own market, so the EU will not want this backstop to come into force—and the exchange of letters today makes clear that if it did, the EU would do all it could to bring it to an end as quickly as possible.
Nevertheless, I fully understand that these new assurances still will not go as far as some would like. I recognise that some Members wanted to see changes to the withdrawal agreement, a unilateral exit mechanism from the backstop, an end date or rejecting the backstop altogether, although it should be said that that would have risked other EU member states attempting to row back on the significant wins we have already achieved, such as on control over our waters or on the sovereignty of Gibraltar. But the simple truth is this: the EU was not prepared to agree to this, and rejecting the backstop altogether means no deal. Whatever version of the future relationship you might want to see—from Norway to Canada, to any number of variations—all of them would require a withdrawal agreement and any withdrawal agreement would contain a backstop. That is not going to change, however the House votes tomorrow. To those who think we should reject this deal in favour of no deal because we cannot get every assurance we want, I ask: what would a no-deal Brexit do to strengthen the hand of those campaigning for Scottish independence—or, indeed, those demanding a border poll in Northern Ireland? Surely that is the real threat to our union.
With just 74 days until 29 March, the consequences of voting against this deal tomorrow are becoming ever clearer. With no deal, we would have no implementation period, no security partnership, no guarantees for UK citizens overseas, and no certainty for businesses and workers such as those I met in Stoke this morning. We would see changes to everyday life in Northern Ireland that would put the future of our union at risk. And if, rather than leaving with no deal, this House blocked Brexit, that would be a subversion of our democracy, saying to the people we were elected to serve that we were unwilling to do what they had instructed.
So I say to Members on all sides of this House—whatever you may have previously concluded—over these next 24 hours, give this deal a second look. No, it is not perfect. And yes, it is a compromise. But when the history books are written, people will look at the decision of this House tomorrow and ask: did we deliver on the country’s vote to leave the European Union? Did we safeguard our economy, our security and our union? Or did we let the British people down? I say we should deliver for the British people and get on with building a brighter future for our country by backing this deal tomorrow. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Leader for repeating the Statement. The Prime Minister so often tells us that nothing has changed. As the clock continues to run down to 29 March, it is worth reminding ourselves that, while Mrs May’s red lines have not shifted—with tragically predictable results—plenty of other things have. We were told that there would be no “running commentary” on the Brexit talks, as that would undermine the national interest, yet a prime ministerial EU statement has become an almost weekly event. We were told that “Brexit means Brexit”, but, even now, the Government still have not got an agreed definition. And we were told that,
“no deal is better than a bad deal”,
yet the Prime Minister has warned MPs that voting against her deal, as we heard just now, risks the UK crashing out without a deal—which, she finally acknowledges, “would cause significant disruption”. We know that it would be catastrophic.
However, there is one area where nothing has changed. As the Leader said, today we were given the opportunity to read an exchange of letters between the Prime Minister, President Juncker and President Tusk. What did we find out? First, that the backstop is still a backstop; and, secondly, that documents continue to have the legal status they have always had. The Prime Minister promised to obtain legally binding changes to the deal, in order to address the concerns of her Back-Benchers and the DUP. The advice of her Attorney-General shows that she has failed. He confirms that, though the December Council conclusions have legal standing,
“they do not alter the fundamental meanings of”,
the provisions of the Northern Ireland protocol. He is clear that today’s letter from the EU is only useful in terms of making a “political”—a political, not a legal—
“judgment as to the likelihood of the backstop coming into force”.
I have two questions for the Leader of the House. Does she accept, as it says in the letter, that the backstop remains,
“unless and until it is superseded by a subsequent agreement”?
Does she agree that that comment, in the letter from Tusk and Juncker, is accurate? Secondly, more than a month has now passed since the first meaningful vote was pulled. Does the Leader of the House really believe that it has been worth the wait?
My Lords, I would like to thank the Leader for repeating the Statement. I was happy to have the Statement repeated, on the basis that it might contain something new—which speakers in our debate might wish to take into account in their subsequent speeches. However, it is now obvious that the Prime Minister’s Statement says nothing new of substance whatsoever and therefore I do not intend to delay the debate further by commenting on it. I hope that, on that basis, other noble Lords will curb their enthusiasm for asking questions, so that we can get back to the debate as soon as possible.
I thank the noble Baroness and noble Lord for their brief comments. I shall attempt to keep my comments brief, too. I will quote a couple of elements of the Attorney General’s advice, as the noble Baroness did. The Attorney-General says in his letter today:
“I agree that in the light of this response, the Council’s conclusions of 13 December 2018 would have legal force in international law and thus be relevant and cognisable in the interpretation of the Withdrawal Agreement”.
He says also that, in his judgment,
“the current draft Withdrawal Agreement now represents the only politically practicable”,
but also the only,
“available means of securing our exit from the European Union”.
The letter also makes clear that there are alternatives to the backstop that can be considered. Therefore, progress has been made and there have been further reassurances from the EU. As the Statement makes very clear, the Prime Minister is well aware that those may not satisfy everyone, but progress has been made.
My Lords, if the House of Commons rejects the deal tomorrow, as seems very probable, would my noble friend agree that any consequential outcome other than crashing out without a deal—which seems to be an outcome that has no parliamentary majority—will require more time? In those circumstances, would she agree that, in the event of the deal being rejected tomorrow by the House of Commons, urgent steps will be taken to persuade the European 27 to extend the exit date—or, if that is not possible, to revoke Article 50?
We have been clear that it is not our policy to withdraw or revoke Article 50. However, the Prime Minister has been very clear that we are focusing on winning the vote tomorrow. Our intention has always been to respond quickly and provide certainty on the way forward in the event that tomorrow’s vote does not pass, both in terms of setting out our next steps and any subsequent vote, and that is what we will do.
My Lords, the Prime Minister says:
“With no deal we would have no implementation period, no security partnership, no guarantees for UK citizens overseas, and no certainty for businesses and workers”.
In those circumstances, why does she not rule out no deal?
The noble Lord will be aware that in the current situation no deal is the default position if a deal is not agreed. We are having a vote tomorrow, with a good deal on the table for a strong relationship between the UK and the EU. It is the only deal the EU says is on the table. That is why the Prime Minister and all colleagues are working hard to make sure that the deal passes. We do not want no deal. There is a deal on the table. I urge MPs to vote for it.
My Lords, is my noble friend aware—she probably is not—that this morning I visited an exhibition which contained a book that included Dante’s “Map of Hell”, and that it bore a strong resemblance to the present state of the other place? Does she not agree that in the period of paralysis that seems to exist in the other place, the real emphasis needs to be on showing that the withdrawal agreement is only a step-by-step part of a very long process? It took us 45 years to become entangled with the European Union, and it is bound to take us years to fully disentangle ourselves without doing immense damage to our economy. So will she advise her friends to put more emphasis on the fact that this is a journey? It is a beginning, there are many difficulties and opportunities ahead, and it is step by step. Those who think that we can with one leap be free are showing that they are long on opinion but very short on experience.
As I have said, I am not going to prejudge what will happen in the House of Commons tomorrow. I am not in a position to do so. We will be working hard to win the vote so that we can deliver on the result of the referendum and implement a strong partnership between the EU and the UK going forward, and a withdrawal agreement that will ensure a smooth exit from the EU.
My Lords, I do not often agree with the leader of the Lib Dems in this House, but I have to say that the Statement is hardly worth commenting on. Nothing has changed. Despite letters of reassurance from the European Union, there are no legally binding assurances, as the Prime Minister talked about and promised in December. In fact, nothing has changed. We have often said as a party that we want a balanced and fair approach to leaving the European Union. Unfortunately in this situation, we have also said continually that we will not support anything that separates Northern Ireland from the rest of this United Kingdom. That has been our message continually, both in this House and to the Prime Minister. So as far as we as a party in this House are concerned, nothing has changed.
I am sorry that that is the view of the noble Lord. The exchange of letters does set out four key assurances. We believe that progress has been made. I repeat, as we have repeated constantly over the past few months, that neither the UK nor the EU wants the backstop to happen. It is an insurance policy. We and the EU have been very clear that there are alternatives to the backstop, and the House of Commons will be given a chance to discuss those if we do not have our future relationship in place—which we are all working hard to do and which the EU has committed again in these letters to work towards.
The Leader of the House has suggested that the biggest threat to the unity of the United Kingdom would be to have a second referendum. Will she reflect on the fact that actually the biggest threat to the United Kingdom would be if the Government were to create the circumstances in which those who wished to break up the United Kingdom were better placed to win such a referendum, particularly if the Government followed a course of action that was opposed by the people of Scotland and the people of Northern Ireland? Does she recall that there is a thing called unintended consequences? However much the Government wish—as we in this House wish—to retain the unity of the United Kingdom, they are in grave danger of creating circumstances in which, if a referendum is held in other parts of the UK, that unity may be put under threat.
The noble Lord is right—which is exactly why the Prime Minister has been working constantly and hard to get a deal on the table that both preserves the unity of the UK and allows us a strong relationship with the EU. That is the deal that is on the table. We are now asking MPs to vote for that deal so that we can move forward and start focusing on the strong future relationship with the EU that we want so that we can develop that partnership.
My Lords, on the subject of the threat to the United Kingdom, does my noble friend recall that the party with the biggest percentage of its supporters voting for Brexit was the Scottish National Party? The threat to the United Kingdom comes from this deal, which purports to allow one part of the United Kingdom to be treated differently by Brussels from the rest. My noble friend talks about the need for the backstop and for this deal because of the need to avoid a hard border. The Irish Government have said that they do not want a hard border and would never implement one; the Commission has said that it does not want a hard border and would never implement one; and the Government have said that they do not want a hard border and would never implement one. So who exactly is going to implement this hard border?
I thank my noble friend. As the Statement makes clear, the backstop is an insurance policy. None of us has an intention to use it and so we have found other mechanisms. If we do not get the future relationship in place by the end of December 2020, which is what we all want, the EU has made it very clear that we need an insurance policy to make sure that what we all agree that we do not want—a hard border—cannot and does not happen. My noble friend will understand that on 30 March Brexit will create a wholly new situation, which is that for the first time the Northern Ireland/Ireland border will become an external frontier of the EU’s single market and customs union. This poses significant challenges which we are attempting to address.
My Lords, in expressing the hope that the other place will endorse the Prime Minister’s deal, I revert to the point made by my noble friend Lord Hailsham. If the House of Commons does not approve this deal tomorrow, it will be utterly impossible to deliver on a March deadline.
My Lords, if my noble friend Lord Hailsham is right and the House of Commons votes down the deal tomorrow, the default position is no deal. Does my noble friend accept that no deal is much more damaging to the EU than it is to us and, in addition, that we would not pay it £39 billion? Does she not expect really quite major concessions from the EU at the last minute—the 11th hour—possibly way into March?
I can only reiterate what I have said to noble Lords on many occasions. We believe that this is a good deal. We want MPs to vote for that deal. That is what we will continue to work towards. If the vote is lost tomorrow, we will return with our next steps.
My Lords, the backstop fundamentally undermines Northern Ireland’s position in the United Kingdom and runs contrary to the principles of consent contained in the Belfast agreement. When the Prime Minister delayed the vote in December, she said that she was going to get legally binding assurances. Does the Leader of the House agree that this letter is certainly not legally binding?
My Lords, on that point, is it not clear that the Attorney-General’s letter is a political letter? It is about the political risk—it says that the balance of political risk is in this way. But, on the legality of the backstop, the Leader did not refer to the fact that the Attorney-General wrote in his letter that,
“they do not alter the fundamental meanings of its provisions as I advised them to be on 13 November 2018”.
In other words, what has been obtained has no legal effect.
Will the Leader of the House confirm the veracity of what my noble friend Lord Howard said in our debate before Christmas: namely, that we have an unfettered right to leave the European Union under Article 50 but that we need the agreement of the other member states to leave the backstop?
As we have made very clear, neither the EU nor the UK wants the backstop. We do not want to go into it. The letter reiterates once again other mechanisms such as looking at facilitative technology and extending the implementation period. Other options may be available. Parliament will be given the right to discuss and vote on the option it wants if we need it—but we are committed to implementing the future relationship by the end of December 2020 so that none of those situations comes to pass. We will focus on that.
My Lords, the Statement uses the term “temporary” a great deal. Noble Lords will be aware that income tax was introduced as a temporary measure in 1799—and I still live in hope. Returning to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, neither we nor the Irish want a hard border, and apparently the European Union does not want one, either—so who will erect this hard border if the Prime Minister’s tireless efforts do not bear fruit tomorrow? I want to know in which direction to point my tanks. Nobody wants an Irish border.
The noble Lord is right that absolutely nobody wants a hard border in Ireland, but the EU has been consistently clear in discussions that it wants an insurance policy. We have been consistently clear that we want to abide by the Good Friday/Belfast agreement. As we have said, the backstop is an insurance policy that none of us wishes to use. As has been stated by the EU and ourselves, we will use our best endeavours and work in good faith to make sure that that does not happen.
My Lords, I welcome the Statement read by the Leader of the House. My question is simple: I know that there is another 24 hours to go, but what steps do the Government intend to give the other place? At the moment, the EU sees us as part of it. The difficulty of negotiating from within is that we cannot give anything away until we have left. The EU has a very legalistic view of what it is to be a member. What will the Government do to explain that this creates a difficulty?
Furthermore, what assurances will the Government give to create better trust between our four nations and the European Union? At the moment, as I heard in the debate, it sounds as though we have not taken on board the fact that this is purely about getting out, beginning negotiations and setting the parameters of the future conversation. What will the Government do to get it across that this is not ultimately about the final deal?
That is absolutely correct. Until now, we have been talking largely about the withdrawal agreement and the divorce settlement. In the letter published today, one assurance is that the EU has committed to beginning discussions straightaway on a fast-track process to bring our future trade deal into force once it has been agreed. It has also made an explicit link between the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration, which sets out the parameters of our future relationship. So if the vote is won tomorrow, we can move on to the next stage—which, frankly, is what the British people want us to do.
As we have said, we are working hard to get the deal through for that exact reason. No deal would create issues in Ireland, which is why we have been working so hard to ensure that we can move forward. Tomorrow, the Prime Minister will make the case in the Commons once again for people to support the deal so that we can move on to the future relationship and the strong partnership we want between the UK and the EU.
My Lords, can the Minister help the House by describing the implications of the most favoured nation provisions of the World Trade Organization—of which both we and the European Union are members—which do not permit us to not charge tariffs on any border with a country with which we are not in a free trade or customs union relationship at the time? If she explained that, it would answer quite a lot of the questions that have been asked.
We do believe that we can do better than trading under WTO rules, which would mean tariffs and quotas on British goods going to the EU. For instance, trading on WTO rules would mean a 10% tariff on cars we sold to the EU and average tariffs of more than 35% on dairy products. That is why we are focused on achieving a broader, deeper and stronger economic partnership with the EU—a result flowing from the political declaration if the deal is passed tomorrow.
My Lords, a hard border is defined as a situation where the conditions for going one way are different from the conditions for going the other way. That can happen without anybody wanting it if they wish to have different conditions. Therefore, the point of this is to ensure that future arrangements at the Irish border will be such that the conditions are the same whether you are going from north to south or from south to north.
No. As we have said, both the EU and the UK have made it clear that other alternatives are on the table, such as an extension of the implementation period or technological developments. We have both committed to getting our future relationship agreed by the end of December 2020, which will mean that neither the backstop nor any of the other options will be needed. The EU and the UK have both made it clear that they want to avoid a backstop, which is why we have other options on the table. We need to get the withdrawal agreement agreed so that we can move forward and look towards our future relationship. We want to look to the future, not backwards.
My Lords, the Leader told the House that nobody wants the backstop, but the EU is demanding that the backstop be put in place as an insurance policy. Surely then the EU’s purpose is to hold the backstop as a threat over the head of the United Kingdom to ensure compliance with EU demands in further negotiations.
I do not agree. The backstop we have negotiated gives the UK tariff-free access to the EU market without the free movement of people, without financial contributions, without having to follow most of the level playing-field rules and without allowing the EU to have access to our waters. That is not something that the EU wants.
My Lords, have the Government read the paper published yesterday by Economists for Free Trade entitled “No deal is the best deal for Britain”? If not, will they do so and answer it publicly? Clearly, the scare stories that have been put around about what will happen if there is no deal are complete nonsense, to put it mildly.
Brexit: Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration
Motion to Take Note (Continued) (3rd Day)
My Lords, I hope that the rest of the House found the previous half hour as life-affirming and helpful as I did. If so, if there is a mass exit to the bar, noble Lords have my complete endorsement and understanding.
I had the privilege of speaking on the second day of the last iteration of this debate, so I shall try to be brief. At the conclusion of my contribution, the speaker from the Government Back Benches who followed me suggested that my observations proved,
“he is not a politician. His view of politics is highly idealistic”.—[Official Report, 6/12/18; col. 1196.]
As a Cross-Bencher who first entered your Lordships’ House in 1982, I am inclined to take that as more of a compliment than a rebuke.
We are in uncharted waters. On the Cross Benches, we are privileged to have colleagues who possess an extraordinary array of talent, experience, intellect and knowledge of government, law and international affairs. Whether they are inclined towards leave, remain or any shade in between, they are more concerned and worried about our current state of uncertainty and national embarrassment than at any point in their collective memories.
Our dilemma was outlined in painful clarity by our ex-ambassador to the EU, Sir Ivan Rogers, in his speech at Liverpool University last month. I commend it to all of your Lordships with a taste for the kind of enervating entertainment offered by my noble friend Lord Lisvane to his maiden aunts. It is like a bucket of powerful paint stripper being applied to a canvas by a highly skilled diplomatic artist. What is depicted on the canvas is nearer to a Francis Bacon triptych than to “The Monarch of the Glen”. Sir Ivan depicts our fundamental misreading of how the EU operates and the weakness of our negotiating approach. He also inflicts richly deserved pain on so many of us:
“Both fervent leavers and fervent remainers as well as No 10 seem to me now to seek to delegitimise a priori every version of the world they don’t support”.
Where do we go from here, assuming, as seems very likely, that tomorrow’s vote in another place rejects the Prime Minister’s deal? Do we relinquish what vestiges of control we still possess, and accept the glorious defeat offered by departing without any deal at all? I have been doing my homework on the speakers in the two days of the debate last week; of the 19 Conservative Peers who spoke, 50% are in favour of no deal, and only 24% are in favour of the deal on offer. We live in strange times. Or do we—and I refer primarily to our elected representatives in the other place—wrest back control from the embarrassingly inept hands of Her Majesty’s Government and from their unworthy challenger, the equally inept and opaque Labour leadership?
Last Wednesday evening, my inner masochist turned on the television, and I found myself listening—much to my surprise—to a voice of sanity. It came from a fellow Cross-Bencher and an ex-Archbishop of Canterbury —my noble and right reverend friend Lord Williams of Oystermouth. Apart from being reminded that he possesses a set of eyebrows rivalled on the Cross Benches only by my noble friend Lord Lisvane, I was struck by the way he listened and thought carefully before any of his responses to a series of difficult questions about our current impasse. He gave no soundbites, no pre-rehearsed mantras, no entrenched and intractable points of view, just thoughtful, sensitively phrased and carefully considered responses that acknowledge the difficult decisions that we face.
I find myself agreeing with his reluctant but carefully thought through conclusion—that we should follow the advice of my noble friend Lord Armstrong of Ilminster last Thursday, and revoke and withdraw Article 50. We must acknowledge that swallowing our pride and admitting our failure to have defined, negotiated and then enacted a departure from the EU which is acceptable to a majority of our elected representatives requires us to return to the drawing board. No deal will not do. Extending Article 50 will not do. It will simply create yet another deadline, and allow us once again to kick the can temporarily down the road. No more.
Last month I reminded your Lordships of the surreal but uncomfortably pertinent Monty Python scene in which the characters debate their dislike of Rome—for which read the EU—while having to acknowledge a longer and longer list of the many benefits it has brought. Today I am reminded—with apologies to Scottish, Welsh and Irish noble Lords—of the agonised words of the character played by John Cleese in the film “A Fish Called Wanda”:
“Do you have any idea what it's like being English? Being so correct all the time, being so stifled by this dread of … doing the wrong thing … we're all terrified of embarrassment”.
We have embarrassed ourselves—and our many friends abroad—enough. Let us stop the clock, recover our mental faculties, nurse our emotional dissonance and seek a way forward that does not preclude any eventual outcome, and which prioritises understanding and acting quickly to remedy the deep economic and social divisions which the last two and a half years have laid bare. Let us cease and desist, and face up to our failures and responsibilities.
I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool. I declare my interests as having practised European law in Brussels, having advised MEPs in the European Parliament and having been elected as an MEP for 10 years. I also served 18 years as a Member of Parliament, for five years of which I chaired the EFRA Committee.
Let us consider what people voted for in the referendum. Put most simply, they wanted to remain in the common market but not in a political union. They wanted to reduce immigration, and to take back control. Not all immigration is bad. We need to differentiate the needs for the economy, and to recognise the needs of health, social care, food, farming and the hospitality industry. We need to recognise that backbreaking work such as fruit picking, vegetable growing and that of the horticultural industry will no longer be done by students and people already living in this country. We need access to a reliable source of skilled and unskilled labour for farmers, who will otherwise be held back by the lack of access to a workforce.
Let us also look at what our trading relations will be post Brexit with both the EU and third countries. Trading in agricultural produce has huge implications for food and farming. We must legislate for the same high standards of health, welfare and hygiene on leaving the European Union as we currently enjoy. We must recognise the implications of chlorine-rinsed chicken and hormone-produced beef from the US, as well as substandard foods from Brazil and Argentina, which may negatively affect both consumers and home producers alike. There will be an enhanced role for the Food Standards Agency post Brexit, as it will have to check all imports from the EU as well as from third countries.
We must be very clear. Leaving with no deal means leaving on the World Trade Organization’s “most favoured nation” rules. We will have to treat all countries the same, so we can show no preferential treatment in exports or imports. However, “most favoured nation” means delivering equal treatment to all countries on the principle of non-discrimination; we cannot simply treat our erstwhile EU partners more favourably than any other trading nations in the circumstances of no deal. What a pity that the ardent proponents of no deal do not explain that in such stark terms, particularly the implications for the Irish border explained so eloquently and simply by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern.
Potential tariffs on livestock could reach 40% on beef and lamb in particular. That is the greatest threat to hill farmers across the four nations of the United Kingdom. These farmers, whom I grew up with and then represented for a number of years, play a key role in feeding the nation and delivering the biodiversity of the countryside. They could never be replaced. The most drastic change we would see on leaving on World Trade Organization terms would be border checks on paperwork and the application of tariffs and non-tariff barriers. Let us consider nomenclatures for a moment: that means we have to identify every item in every individual product. We have to describe it and recognise and state the provenance and its content. Only then can we attach the appropriate tariff to the finished product.
The impact is not just of tariffs but of non-tariff barriers and other regulations, such as paperwork. I remember when the 120 pages that used to be issued in the European Union were replaced by one page with 120 boxes—what had actually changed? These checks could result in delays at borders, which could destroy perishable goods such as foodstuffs.
In considering the options before us today, in my view, the Prime Minister’s deal is preferable to crashing out without a deal, to a second referendum and to a general election, which would probably return a similar result to now, with no overall majority.
In the long term, we should seek the closest possible relationship with the EU that delivers frictionless trade, such as is enjoyed by countries who are members of the EEA and EFTA, leading to access to the single market but with the added benefits of a customs union to be negotiated through a separate protocol. In the short term, if the Prime Minister loses the vote on the deal, I see no alternative but to apply for a short pause in the Article 50 process. The elections to the European Parliament are an issue, but we could apply for observer status for those British MEPs, or at least some of them, currently serving there. They could then oversee the arrangements in the intervening months.
A second referendum holds no attraction for me. Why repeat the exercise when the last one was so divisive and inconclusive, and resulted in the murder of an MP, Jo Cox? The final say has to rest with the House of Commons and the democratically elected representatives of the people. The House of Commons must be allowed to vote on each of the options available; you simply cannot expect the electorate to enter into the minutiae of policy detail. What else would taking back control really mean, other than restoring parliamentary democracy?
My Lords, I want to make three points. First, the reality is that the Prime Minister’s deal is dead. The majority of MPs and probably the majority of your Lordships’ House, from all sides, simply do not support it. In the country, both leavers and remainers are quixotically united in rejecting it. The PM’s deal is definitely dead.
Secondly, there is no real mandate for leaving the European Union: 17 million people voted to leave, 16 million people voted to remain and 13 million people did not vote at all. So the “expressed will of the people”, as the Brexiteers like to call the outcome of the referendum, was the expressed will of only 37% of the electorate, and the polls tell us that these figures are shifting further in the direction of remain, particularly among young people eligible to vote for the first time—the very people who will inherit this mess.
It is not just a numbers game. All the political parties, with the exception of the Liberal Democrats, are radically split on the issue. Today in the House, even the Bishops have confessed—if that is what Bishops are allowed to do—that they are split. The normal machinery of politics simply does not work where Brexit is concerned. In any other walk of life, no sensible leader would attempt something as complex, heroic and contentious as unravelling 50 years of close partnership with no real mandate, no overwhelming support in the country and with their party split and unable to offer support. It simply would not happen.
Thirdly, if the PM’s deal has no support, no deal is even more catastrophic and must be absolutely ruled out. It would be equivalent to the closing moments of the road movie “Thelma & Louise”—one of my favourite films—when the two main characters, cornered by events and the law, drive spectacularly and with huge élan off a cliff. Driving off a cliff never has a good outcome, and let me give your Lordships just one example of the risks of a no-deal Brexit which has not been highlighted completely so far.
Brexit is a pivotal challenge for the environment. Some 80% of our current environment law stems from the EU and a no-deal Brexit would sweep away the current effective systems of enforcement of environmental law, and the existing rights of the public to environmental information, to public participation and to access to justice. With a no-deal Brexit there is a real risk that, as part of a desperate scramble to sign trade deals, the UK would be pressurised into a post-Brexit bonfire of environmental standards. As my noble friend Lord Whitty outlined, the Government have promised a whole framework of primary and secondary legislation for the environment, but none of it can come into place quickly, if at all, under a no-deal Brexit. This is simply one area that I have knowledge of where black holes will open up under no deal. We must avoid a no-deal Brexit at all costs.
I believe that your Lordships’ House must be the voice of sanity. We should vote vigorously against the Prime Minister’s deal and stop a no-deal Brexit. We must not be like Thelma and Louise, heading off a cliff, intoning, “It’s the will of the people”. I would go further than our Front Bench and ask the other place to revoke the Article 50 notification. Some say that resiling from a Brexit that looks highly unpalatable under closer examination, and which has in reality proven politically unachievable, would destroy faith in the political system. But there is no faith in the political system. Many of those who voted to leave did so because they felt politics had not delivered social and economic results for them, and because they had already lost faith in the political system. The time has come for men and women of good will across the parties to abandon this Brexit, which will impact particularly on those who are poorer and less able to cope, and focus on forging a national engagement and agreement to address the real issues of the day: future prosperity, economic and social inequalities, and the safeguarding of peace.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my titular neighbour, the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone.
As someone with no dietary requirements, on any cafe or restaurant menu there is invariably for me more than one right answer. On the Brexit menu before us today, however, there is less than one right answer. Thus I find myself in that same maze that my noble and learned friend Lord Hope of Craighead described in his speech of 5 December, which has been referred to many times in our five days of debate. Other than accepting the deal on offer, I agree with him that there are three ways out of the maze: no deal, go back to the people or seek to renegotiate. Having spent a career assessing risk, I naturally look at each of these three routes through those spectacles.
The EU Select Committee examined the no-deal option in exhaustive detail and published a report in December 2017. Our report was unanimous and concluded that the outlook following a no-deal Brexit was full of risk. I do not have time to develop the point as others have done in our five days of debate, but, to me, this route looks to represent an unacceptably high risk of significant economic damage, particularly for the trade-in-goods part of our economy. In saying that, I accept there is a line of logic that suggests that mini deals would be done in a no-deal situation to ameliorate matters. That can, and does, reduce some risk, and I feel I have taken account of it in reaching my conclusions.
The second way out of the maze is to go back to the people. As a Scot, I am a veteran of two recent referenda. They are deeply divisive of our community and fraught with bad behaviour on the part of the campaigns themselves and their supporters too. In the Scottish referendum, there was much low-level criminal damage, intimidation and dreadful cyberactivity, to finger only some of the unsavoury elements. In the EU referendum, feelings also ran very high, with many families and friendships riven.
In his speech on 5 December, the most reverend Primate talked of the importance of healing, and last week spoke of the need for reconciliation. In both instances the whole House agreed with him. I fear that another referendum stands a substantial chance of seeing considerable unrest and the opening and reopening of many awful wounds—Anna Soubry MP got a personal gypsy’s warning of this, which reached the front page of the Times last week. In any event, I agree with the many noble Lords who have suggested that such a referendum is unlikely to settle the issue permanently.
The third way out of the maze is to seek to renegotiate. At the start of November, the Select Committee visited Brussels for two days, immediately before the announcement of the potential deal. As ever, we met substantially all the various interlocutors whom we had got to know through the process. I had the strong impression that both sides were at their limits and that the appetite for further negotiations was very low. In addition, the apparatus that the EU negotiates through is very clunky. Behind Monsieur Barnier is a committee structure which involves all the EU 27. We sat through a lengthy meeting with that committee’s secretariat and learned through practical examples of the great difficulties and sheer length of time it takes to achieve consensus on even small issues among the EU 27. We are, therefore, out of both negotiating time and negotiating appetite. Accordingly, there is a strong likelihood that an attempt at a substantial renegotiation will make little, if any, significant change and push us towards no deal.
However, during that same Brussels trip I was much encouraged by our lengthy visit to the Canadian embassy. They told us how they were already making small incremental and mutually beneficial changes to their brand new treaty agreed only in 2017. We had a similar report from a very senior Swiss official at an informal meeting in London the following week. Both commented that concluding a treaty was not the end of the matter but the start of a conversation. I fear the backstop less than many because of those two sessions. Thus, at the start of December I felt that the correct route was to accept this pretty unpalatable deal. It represented the lowest risk to the UK, our fellow citizens’ lives and jobs and the 3.5 million EU citizens living among us. But the Prime Minister seems likely to face defeat tomorrow so, accordingly, I will comment briefly on how one might conduct a renegotiation which stood some chance of succeeding.
It seemed to me in early December, and still today, that there would have to be a strong body of agreement among MPs on the ask—and that that ask must be simple. In cricket, or at least junior cricket, the wicket-keeper is covered by the backstop. The backstop is covered by a longstop, the date after which the backstop would fall. I am sure a winning, simple ask might be found in that thought. In this, I am encouraging the Prime Minister to have another go following today’s exchange of letters. I would also say, just out of interest, that most insurance policies that I have ever been involved in have had a cancellation provision.
On a serious point, I would submit to the EU that in a no-deal situation the economy of the island of Ireland would have a very high risk of significant damage; that would itself threaten the Good Friday arrangements; and that, accordingly, such a longstop was thus more consistent with the Good Friday arrangements. Going into any negotiation, however, is still jettisoning the bird in the hand, and from the menu with less than one right answer I think we should take this deal.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow a thoughtful speech from the noble Earl.
The Prime Minister claims there is no alternative to her deal—but there is. It is not mine, not Jeremy Corbyn’s—whatever that is—but Donald Tusk’s Canada-style free trade deal he offered in March and repeated in October. As he said, that is the only deal compatible with leaving the customs union and single market, as promised in the referendum and in the Conservative manifesto. It must cover the whole UK, which means replacing the backstop by a commitment by Ireland, the EU and the UK that we will all retain an invisible Irish border, as we have all pledged to do if there is no withdrawal agreement. Under Article 24 of the WTO, if we agree such a deal in principle we can continue to trade with zero tariffs after 29 March while fleshing out the details.
To get such an agreement we must be ready, and be seen to be ready by the EU, to leave on WTO terms. As Trade and Industry Secretary, I helped negotiate the WTO to provide a safe haven for trade and I also implemented the single market programme. I predicted that both would boost trade—wrongly in the case of the single market, to which our exports have grown by a miserable 18% over 25 years, but rightly for the WTO as our exports to the rest of the world have grown by 72%.
If we leave on WTO terms there would be four obvious pluses. First, far from crashing out, we will be cashing in, as my noble friend Lord Hamilton, predicted I would say, and we will keep £39 billion. Your Lordships’ own committee concluded that:
“Article 50 allows the UK to leave the EU without being liable for outstanding financial obligations”.
To show good faith, we should confidently submit the issue to international arbitration. Secondly, it would end corrosive uncertainty—economic and political—which would continue for over two more years under the PM’s deal. Thirdly, both sides will have to solve the Irish border issue by administrative measures without border posts, as they have promised if there is no deal. Mr Varadkar has said:
“In … a no deal scenario … we won’t be installing a border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and everyone knows that”.
Mr Junker reassured the Irish Parliament that:
“If negotiations fail … the European Union will not impose a border, customs posts or any other kind of infrastructure on the frontier”.
And Britain has said it will not,
“require any infrastructure at the border … under any circumstances”.
We already tackle smuggling of tobacco, alcohol, red diesel and drugs without border checks, so the UK can certainly stop illicit trade in Dyson vacuum cleaners if our regulations deviate from those of the EU. Finally, once we all resolve the Irish border issue administratively, we can take up Tusk’s offer of a free trade deal for the whole UK.
Not one of the noble Lords who has railed against no deal in these debates has addressed these benefits of a WTO Brexit, even to refute them. More remarkable, only two or three noble Lords have spelled out specific concerns about a WTO Brexit. The others simply demonised it with a lexicon of lurid adjectives which were last deployed to warn against leaving the ERM, not joining the euro or the millennium bug.
Let me address the specific concerns that a couple of noble Lords have raised. The first was given by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, opening the debate in December, who said, “Planes will be grounded”. She was apparently unaware that on 13 November the European Union Commission had already promised legislation allowing air carriers from the UK to fly over, to and from the EU provided the UK reciprocated. The Commission also announced that hauliers will continue to get licences, that Airbus can export its wings, that the UK will be swiftly listed as a safe country to allow entry of live animals and animal products from the UK, and more.
The other concrete concern came from the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. While temporal Lords have been demonising a WTO Brexit with odium theologicum, it took a Lord spiritual to bring us down to earth with the request for proof that it would not have a significant negative effect on people in his diocese, such as when Operation Stack has been in force. Of course it is impossible to prove a negative or that Operation Stack will never be necessary regardless of Brexit, as it has been invoked on 211 days over the past 18 years, although without any archiepiscopal moral censure of those responsible.
I can explain why Brexit should not add significantly to such delays. First, HMRC expects roughly the same number of physical checks of vehicles at Dover as at present because its checks are based on risk, notably of smuggling tobacco, drugs and illegal immigrants, none of which will increase because of Brexit. Moreover, HMRC promises to prioritise flow over compliance. That means waving lorries through even if their declarations are incomplete.
The concern in the past has been not about Dover but about Calais. However, the good news, brought to the most reverend Primate’s attention by my noble friend Lord Forsyth, is that the chairman of Calais ports says that they too will have no more checks than at present. They are determined and confident that traffic will flow freely—not to be nice to Britain but to avoid losing trade to Zeebrugge, Rotterdam and Antwerp. They are installing three extra lorry lanes, an inspection post for animals away from the port and a scanner for trains moving at 30 kilometres an hour. Monsieur Puissesseau was indignant that the British Government were—quite unnecessarily in his view—hiring ferries to take trade away from his port to other ports.
Problems one prepares for rarely happen, as we discovered with the millennium bug. The Government are now being rather coy about how advanced their preparations are for leaving on WTO terms because they want to frighten MPs into voting for their deal, but I am confident that if we leave on WTO terms on 29 March events will be far closer to a damp squib than the apocalypse. That may disappoint some fanatical remainers in this House, but they will get over it.
My Lords, in this long-running crisis last week Mr Speaker Bercow made a ruling in the House of Commons which makes an already unpredictable situation even more unpredictable. The long-run consequences of that ruling have yet to play out because I cannot see Parliament giving back the powers it has just gained, and we might well see more cross-party deals if the negotiations on the political declaration continue—as I think they will, and I will say more about that in a moment—over the next few years. This will not be quick.
Before I get on to that, I want to say that, unlike most of my colleagues, I am strongly opposed to another referendum. Another referendum would be a failure, and as a desperation measure it would still probably not solve the problem. I am against another referendum because it would probably produce a very similar result to the one we have already had. This needs to be said very often in this place because the majority of people here voted remain and strongly support it. I voted remain. I think it would have been better if we had stayed in but, as the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, said, it is a profoundly serious mistake to assume that the other side of that argument is a weak argument. There are a lot of people on the Brexit side of the argument who feel passionately that we must be out of the European Union. They do not feel that just because of immigration or bureaucrats or whatever; they feel it because there has been a long-running belief in Britain that we should join an economic market, not a political one.
This goes back to the 1957 treaty of Rome with ever-closer union. The British people did not see a political need for that, but the continental countries did. Why? It was because in the past couple of hundred years all of them without exception had had their borders changed by force and had been defeated and occupied. They see the EU as a peacekeeping mechanism, and they are right. Britain does not see it that way. The last time we had a war on our soil was 380 years ago, and it was a civil war—it worries me to say that perhaps we are running up to another one right now on Brexit. Do not treat the continental countries’ argument as trivial and do not think they will change their view just because the economics of this look bad. For them, the political side is very important. The majority of British people saw themselves joining an economic supermarket not a superstate, and that makes a fundamental difference.
If there were a similar result as before, we would be no better off than we are now. If the result were marginally the other way for remain—this point has already been made, so I need not labour it—there would be more people coming back for yet another referendum. Just look at the SNP’s arguments on this: it always wants another referendum. It would have one a week until it won, and that will happen with both sides of the Brexit argument if we are not careful. That is why I see another referendum as a last resort. It may have to happen if the House of Commons cannot get on top of this and sort out an alternative. I would also be worried about what the question or questions would be and how quickly it could be got through the House of Commons and how quickly it could get the approval of the Electoral Commission, which has to agree to it. At the end of the day, Burke was right. Britain works best with representative democracy. Do not have referendums. One thing that got us into this mess was a referendum when the Prime Minister of the day had not worked out what he would do if he did not get the result that he wanted.
That brings me to the major point I want to make, which is about the political declaration. I see it as the long-term way forward. As many people have said, the political declaration is fairly woolly. Of course it is woolly. It should have been produced about two months after the referendum. Had it been produced just after the referendum, it would have been a negotiated document, and we would be in a rather better position than we are in at the moment. If we can get to a situation where we have a deal with the European Union—and I do not know whether we can and make no predictions about it as the crisis is too serious and unpredictable—then we can use the political declaration to build up that ever-closer relationship which we need. As the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, said in a speech I agreed very largely with, Europe not just is but needs to be travelling at more than one speed so that those who are going for ever-closer union continue to do so.
I would like to see the development of a single state on the European continent, however defined, federal or whatever. It is necessary, not least for defence and foreign policy issues, where it is daft that 450 million well-educated people in the modern economies of Europe cannot stand up to 150 people in the corrupt and despotic regime in Russia without the help of the United States, which will not be there for ever. Although I do not want to see the end of NATO or the EU, bear in mind that what is happening in Europe is long term. We have to be part of it. We cannot be right out of it, but right now we cannot be right in it. Whatever happens in the House of Commons—and it has to decide, not us—we should use the political declaration to move things forward.
Finally, I was delighted to see, in that document and in the agreement, recognition that we need close development between the two Parliaments. That is a proposal I made in this House about two years ago, just after the referendum. If the Minister will stand up and say that we will do that and will get on with it as soon as we have the immediate situation under control, I will buy him a drink.
My Lords, I have spoken before in this House on the economics of Brexit, but in many ways the political arguments are still more important. My father, a refugee from Hitler’s Germany, experienced directly—like so many others of his generation—the consequences of extremism and conflict in Europe. For all its faults, the EU has brought Europe together and made both Europe and the world more secure.
Internationally, our country has already suffered serious reputational damage from our Brexit convolutions. There is now less confidence in the UK as a rational, reliable and serious player standing for enduring values in the world. This was made crystal clear by the distinguished contributors from five major countries in Neil MacGregor’s outstanding Radio 4 programmes “As Others See Us”, and it is the experience of so many of us who work internationally.
Brexit, particularly a no-deal Brexit, will weaken the shared European voice in an increasingly challenging world at a time when international collaboration, democracy and human rights are under increasing threat. I have seen at first hand, in climate negotiations on the 2015 Paris agreement and beyond, how effective the UK within the EU can be on the international stage.
Brexit, particularly a no-deal Brexit, would damage our universities and research because we would lose some of the outstanding staff and students who come to us from the EU. They, and those from outside the EU, see growing hostility to perceived outsiders and worry about the kind of society we may become. Those of us who work in universities are seeing this now. We could lose access to crucial research funding and vital research collaborations. All this would put at risk one of our most precious assets in a competitive world where skills, innovation and research will become ever more important.
We also risk deep damage to other institutions right across British life, including our National Health Service, which relies so much on European staff over the whole range of its activities. The head of the Met has emphasised strongly the risks to our security from no deal.
On the economics, while I am an economics professor at the LSE and president of the Royal Economic Society, I stress that I speak personally, not on behalf of those institutions. I shall focus on the medium term. The markets have spoken: since the referendum in 2016, the exchange rate has been around 15% lower, indicative of a perceived weakening of medium-term prosperity. Business has described no deal as a wrecking ball. Serious economic modelling whether in international institutions such as the IMF and OECD, our own Treasury, the CBI or in research institutions and universities, has indicated medium-term losses—that is 10 to 15 years from now—from a no-deal Brexit of 5% to 8% or more of GDP. Of course, we cannot predict with certainty, but the evidence points overwhelmingly one way.
The losses arise in large measure from the new barriers—both non-tariff and tariff—erected by such a Brexit to our trade and investment with our major partner. The losses from the barriers embedded in the PM’s proposition would also be large, albeit somewhat less. Let us be clear: the losses are likely to be most severe for the poorest people.
Markets, business, economic analysis and, common sense all point the same way. A no-deal Brexit produces great harm in the future and still more harm for decades to come. It cannot be a serious option. The best we can say about the PM’s proposition is that the damage is a bit less.
We are British, of course, and we would, I hope, keep calm and carry on, and make the best of it. But what is the point of self-harm? Some appear to think that the substantial short-term damages from no deal would just be uncomfortable initial steps on the road to some sunny uplands. It is remarkable that hardly any credible analysis is offered for such a story. It is just bluster, embellished by the odd confused number or modelled argument.
For example, we are told that £10 billion or so in saved net EU contributions would cover any costs of a no-deal Brexit. That is nonsense, when potential medium-term costs of 5% plus of GDP could be £100 billion to £150 billion a year or more. We are told, probably correctly, that other markets will grow faster than the EU. However, there is little evidence that trade with those markets would be enhanced by being outside the EU. Indeed, investing in and trading with the UK is much more attractive if we are inside the EU and a gateway to its markets.
A rational, analytical assessment of the evidence leads inexorably to these conclusions: no deal is deeply damaging; the Prime Minister’s proposition would diminish us economically, politically, socially and internationally; both are greatly inferior to what we have within the EU. Given that the people voted in a referendum in 2016, given that we now have, as we did not have then, a specific proposition, and given that we now know so much more, we must, as a matter of responsible, open and informed democracy give the opportunity to the people of the UK to vote on the Government’s deal versus staying in the EU.
My Lords, I shall be brief because I spoke in December. I put my name down in this case to speak if something came up, and a couple of things have come up. The first is a small point: in his opening speech, the Minister answered a lot of points made in December, but I do not think he answered mine. I asked: which of our preparations for leaving on WTO terms need EU co-operation at this stage and is that co-operation forthcoming?
Secondly, I was in the Chamber last Wednesday when the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, said:
“I do not buy the apocalyptic predictions”.—[Official Report, 9/1/19; col. 2270.]
A little before that, the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, said:
“I do not for one moment believe the scaremongers”.—[Official Report, 9/1/19; col. 249.]
I thought, “Hurrah, at last, agreement. People are starting to realise that these scare stories about no deal are hugely exaggerated”. But no, they were talking about different scare stories: those about the risk of delaying Article 50 and holding a second referendum—the uncertainty that would persist; the anger that would erupt; the civil unrest; the delayed business investment, referred to today by the noble Lord, Lord Curry; the risk to democracy itself; and, above all, the risk of a Marxist Government.
The remainers who dominate this Chamber do not believe those scare stories but they believe, magnify and exaggerate every scare story about leaving with no withdrawal agreement and going on to WTO terms. No mad fear about Mars bars and insulin, water and sandwiches is too absurd to repeat. Why this double standard about risks in the future?
In one of the most colourful images used in the debate so far, my friend the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, described people like me as being so insouciant that even if we were told that the four horsemen of the apocalypse had asked for landing rights at Heathrow, we would not be worried. I took the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, aside an hour or so ago and said, “For a man of your erudition, Peter, are you unaware that the four horsemen of the apocalypse are entirely fictional characters?”. They are figments of the imagination of St John the Evangelist, who was having a psychedelic dream at the time, as far as we can tell. I am looking to the Bishops’ Bench for confirmation of what exactly happened. I am blessed. Just as many of the other fears are fictional.
We face a balance of risks and opportunities whichever way we go. I judge the risks to this country of delaying Brexit—the uncertainty, the anger, the disillusionment, the polarisation, the constitutional crisis—to be greater than the risks of leaving with no withdrawal agreement in place and arranging for WTO terms. I do so mainly because we can mitigate the latter risks with preparation, as we are doing. We can listen to people such as Sir Rocco Forte, my noble friend Lord Bamford, the head of HMRC, the chief executive of Calais, as my noble friend Lord Lilley mentioned, whereas we will struggle to mitigate the risks of the other course of action.
I venture to suggest that what most people in this Chamber—the remainers—are really scared about is that no deal might be a damp squib. It might all happen with only minor problems. I think that is really what keeps them awake at night.
My Lords, I have worked in the north-east with the noble Viscount and his father over many decades and it is a pleasure to follow him. However, I fear that on this issue we are on opposite sides of the fence. Maybe, if we get together some time in the future, we will find a way of reconciling our views, but I fear not.
I want to talk a little about the referendum, because the one way of bringing reconciliation after a dispute is for the victor to be generous in attitude to those who have been defeated. I do not think the inflammatory and gross exaggerations about the outcome of the election by some of the Brexiteers have in any way helped to bring about that reconciliation. We have heard a great deal about the mandate from the 17.4 million people in the country who voted in favour of Brexit. We have heard very little about the 16.1 million who voted to stay. That amounts to 34.7% of the electorate.
I remember in the other place, back in 1979, we had great debates over the referendum on Scottish devolution. George Cunningham proposed an amendment that there should be a threshold of 40% of the electorate voting in favour of the legislation for it to go through. Of course, it did not reach the 40%—a very modest threshold—needed for that legislation to go ahead. In my experience, most clubs, institutions, businesses and all types of organisation have a threshold above 50% if they want to change the constitution or make an amendment. It is not 50% plus one, it is anything up to 75%, or two-thirds, before the vote becomes legitimate.
The language that people, including the Prime Minister, have used—talking about catastrophic betrayal and people being let down, with Members of Parliament saying that they have been instructed by this referendum when it has been so close and that they have been ordered what to do—really has not helped. Do MPs not have minds or judgment? Are they just going to accept the outcome of such a narrowly based referendum? If there is to be reconciliation, I hope some Brexiteers will start paying attention to the 16 million who voted to remain and seek to reconcile the differences between the people. The 40% threshold would, in effect, have ruled out the result of this referendum and I believe that we should move towards another vote on this deal.
Other dangerous myths and distortions have been introduced into this whole debate and we have heard some of them in the contributions in this House. The whole business of Project Fear and attacks on experts is deeply damaging to our political debate. I was very interested to see in last week’s Sunday Times that David Smith, the economics editor, had analysed different forecasts from the experts. Almost at the top of the list came the Office for Budget Responsibility, which got 10 out of 10 on all the points that it had forecast for 2018. Second on the list came the much maligned—from the Brexit side—CBI, which got nine out of 10. Just out of interest, who came bottom on the list? It was one Patrick Minford, of the Liverpool Research Group and founder member of Economists for Free Trade, who got three out of 10 for his forecasts for 2018 and had a similar result in 2017. Many things have been said but this attack on policy by evidence-based activity is deeply damaging to British politics and government, and I hope the attacks on experts will cease.
Another issue—which I regard as largely mythological —is covered by Clare Foges in today’s Times. She talks about the left behind and refutes the suggestion that they voted in protest against the metropolitan elite. It is very amusing that the metropolitan elite making this accusation have been educated at Eton, Dulwich College and other such places, yet they have the brass face to attack Members of the other House and this place for being elitist.
The fact is that over decades Governments of all parties have poured in money through development corporations. The noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, has probably done more than any other person in this country to try to help the areas hit by industrial change and the wind-down of the old industries, not just in Liverpool but everywhere in the country. It is simply not true to suggest that people have voted against the EU just because of 30, 40 or 50 years of decline in those areas; the issue is much more sophisticated and subtle than that. A great deal has been done and they should not be described as the left behind.
The noble Lords, Lord Skidelsky and Lord Soley, referred to the powerful arguments that Brexiteers have mounted. Some of us, including me and many on these Benches, take the view that this is not just about the cost of customs. We have an internationalist view of the world, in which we believe that co-operation between countries is the best way to solve the problems facing us, and such co-operation is needed now probably more than it ever has been. That being the case, we believe in co-operating with others through institutions such as the EU. That is the basis of our commitment to the EU. It is not to do with the price of exports and the market; it is about people working together.
My Lords, I believe that in 2016 the people of the United Kingdom gave a clear instruction to their elected representatives that the UK was to leave the EU. Under that democratic mandate, our Government entered into negotiations with Europe, seeking an honourable settlement that would action the will of the people. However, we know that since that time there have been those who have sought to deliberately thwart the will of the electorate—much to the delight of those in Europe, who have for years reaped the benefit of the billions that have flowed from the British Exchequer.
A few weeks ago, we anticipated that we had arrived at decision time regarding Brexit, but in the middle of our previous debate the Prime Minister pulled the vote, knowing that Parliament would not accept her deeply flawed deal. From the beginning, the DUP’s position has been consistently stated, publically and privately. When we entered into the confidence and supply arrangement with the Government, it was known that the DUP desired a sensible exit from the EU that strengthened the union and benefited all parts of the United Kingdom. Our genuine endeavours have always been to secure a workable withdrawal agreement with the European Union that would provide security and stability for all—but we made it abundantly clear that we would not agree to a new border in the Irish Sea that would undermine the integrity of the United Kingdom and threaten our precious union. Indeed, that was the position of the Prime Minister as well at the time.
We insisted that no new regulatory barriers would develop between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK and that Northern Ireland business must enjoy the same unfettered access to the whole of the UK internal market. Although the Prime Minister and her negotiating team were aware of those demands, the Government allowed themselves to be pushed around by Dublin and the rest of Europe, and they are presenting a withdrawal agreement that would place a regulatory border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, contrary to the explicit pledges given by our Prime Minister.
The backstop arrangement that the EU has demanded leaves the entire UK trapped until the EU decides to release it. It is claimed that the backstop is necessary to prevent the erection of a so-called—fictional, we now find—hard border. However, in reality, the notion of a hard border was only a negotiating ploy on the part of the EU to secure its aims in the negotiations, encouraged and at the behest of the Irish Republic.
Now we are being inundated with letters and assurances that Europe hopes will help the Prime Minister get her flawed deal over the line. If passed by Parliament, the withdrawal agreement becomes a legally binding international treaty. Therefore, only changes to the legally binding treaty can deliver the assurances that any true unionist could accept. From our experiences with successive Governments, we know only too well that letters of comfort or promises are often meaningless, because in effect an international treaty supersedes and overrides any contrary domestic legal provision. Sadly, promises and assurances can be swept away at the whim of any Prime Minister to suit the political survival of the Government in office at the time. So I make it clear: the Democratic Unionist Party will not support an internationally legally binding withdrawal agreement that does not protect the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom.
The DUP has been challenged that we do not represent the views of the electorate of Northern Ireland. Let me face this. We are often reminded that 56% of the electorate in Northern Ireland voted remain and that 44% voted to leave—but let us scrutinise those figures. In actual fact, of that 56%, we find that 88% of all nationalists, many of whom have for years worked for the destruction of the United Kingdom, voted to remain, while 66% of unionists voted in the referendum to leave the EU.
Of course, the question asked was whether the UK as a whole should remain in or leave the EU, but in this agreement Northern Ireland is to be economically and constitutionally separated from the rest of the United Kingdom and trapped within the EU while the rest of the UK has the possibility of leaving. No unionist worthy of the name could accept such a proposal, and certainly my colleagues in the DUP will, without apology, vote against it.
On 9 January the Government published so-called assurances, but paragraph 44 says:
“This paper has focused particularly on the role that the Northern Ireland institutions will play in any scenario in which the backstop would take effect”.
They do not seem to get it. We reject the backstop. Those assurances merely allow for consultation, and that consultation with the Northern Ireland Assembly will have no ultimate bearing on the decision taken by Parliament because paragraph 17 says Parliament will have a decisive role in the decision.
After the letters come the threats. The Secretary of State raised the threat of a possible border poll and the UK Government’s commitment to peace funding after 2020 now seems tied, by Karen Bradley, to ratification of the withdrawal agreement. The resorting of the Secretary of State to such scaremongering and threats is to be deplored and proves only how threadbare are the arguments in favour of the Prime Minister and her deal. Instead of the cast-iron guarantees previously promised when the vote was delayed in December, we have the wheels of Project Fear furiously turning.
The mandate from the electorate was clear: the UK leaves the EU. Leave means leave. We do not need a dictionary to help us to understand what that means. Let us honour our moral obligation and leave on 29 March. We joined the EEC together and, as one, we should leave the EU together.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for enabling this debate and for his careful consideration of all the contributions from both sides of this House. We know that emotions run deep and that, with divisions in every party clearly manifesting themselves, this has ceased to be a party-aligned issue, but I hope to add my voice to those who are conscious of the enormity of this historic moment.
Some have argued that the future holds nothing but economic ruin, some fear an economic flatlining or stagnation, and others still believe in the sunlit uplands of global trade if only we could get to the other side of Brexit. The reality, if we are honest, is that none of us has walked this way before and no one really knows what will happen when we leave the European Union. But most of us know this is a path we need to walk in some way, shape or form and that all our debates are focused on finding the best way possible that delivers continued social and economic prosperity for a nation with such a remarkable history.
The vote to leave the European Union was a bold, surprising and unequivocal statement by millions of people who wanted to change the political, economic, and social status quo. It was a moment in time, as far as they were concerned, a rational choice, when those who had not felt heard by the establishment, or by many of us even in this Chamber, expressed their desire to take back control: control of their wages, public services and borders and of this nation’s sovereignty. I am afraid that I have to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Wrigglesworth.
The events of 23 June 2016 should have kick-started a national debate aimed at understanding and reconciling the deep divides surfaced by the referendum in our nation. How can it be that two halves of the UK see the same country so completely differently? This should have mattered to us. What can actually be done about it? This should have been our overwhelming focus and priority. Instead the debate that was kick-started has tragically driven divisions even deeper and left many feeling that the establishment has continued not to hear them.
For many, the debates we have here about all that could be lost hold little or no sway. As far as they are concerned, much has already been lost. It is important that we take time to hear and understand these perspectives and that our withdrawal agreement honours their concerns—about their wages, the security of their homes and access to public services. This was not a minority group; it was 52% of those who voted and we have to hear their concerns. The withdrawal agreement needs to be right for the whole country: honouring the concerns of those who voted leave and those who voted remain, and delivering a strong foundation for economic and social prosperity for future generations. The Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement addresses a number of the structural and economic issues raised by the vote. For these reasons it achieves some of the Brexit objectives, so I will support it, although I suspect that a final step may still be needed if it is to pass in the other place.
But there are issues that the withdrawal agreement cannot and does not address; there is a deeper malaise to be treated, deeply linked to job insecurity, and access to housing, education and healthcare. If we are truly to change how people’s lives feel to them at present, while leaving the EU is a critical first step, the vote must also trigger wider reform, a better and clearer vision of social justice and significantly greater social cohesion. These issues should be as strongly and as passionately debated by Members of this House as any withdrawal agreement.
In light of the Brexit vote, we have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to reshape public policy so that it genuinely helps those who feel they have little stake in society, and to respond directly to the concerns that surfaced in the referendum. In years to come the EU referendum will be seen as a turning point in Britain’s long history. Depending on what we do next, it could simply be remembered as the moment we finally agree a withdrawal agreement and progress towards exiting the European Union: a moment of political process, a technical adjustment to the UK’s relationship with Europe. If that is the case, we will have failed. Instead, we must listen with compassion and humility to those who desperately wish for another way. As political leaders, our duty is to provide the wisdom and courage required to move towards a new settlement for Britain, not to keep alive old and current divides; there is then the hope of prosperity and social justice for all, and of a United Kingdom.
My Lords, we are living through a political crisis without equal in our post-war history. Labour’s Front Bench in the Commons has to play a decisive role in the outcome. Without its support it will be difficult for any option to carry. Yet its present stance comes across as a supine unwillingness to declare its hand. This will be the focus of my remarks.
Jeremy Corbyn wants a general election but for weeks we have been waiting for the Motion of no confidence. For him, such an election would be as much about issues of class and inequality as it would be about Brexit. He aims to unite working people on a mandate to negotiate a “jobs-first” withdrawal. If his effort to force an election fails, he would still prefer a negotiated Brexit to a people’s vote. A Labour Government could of course abandon the red lines that have so unnecessarily and counterproductively constrained the Prime Minister. Listening to Sir Keir Starmer, with his unequivocal commitment to a customs union and full participation in the single market, might suggest that such a decisive shift would be entirely realistic. However, Mr Corbyn and those closest to him in his office favour a more qualified policy. In their customs union, Britain and the EU would have an equal say on future trade deals. For them, the single market avoids border barriers, except that they want to break free of the competition and the state aid rules which are fundamental to the whole concept of a level playing field.
There would be no willingness in Brussels to entertain what for the EU would be an extraordinary set of propositions: to give a non-member state a veto over the Union’s autonomous trade policy and to license Britain to act as a competitor rogue state. In practice there will be three and a half alternatives to no deal after tomorrow’s Commons vote. The half-choice is full membership of the customs union; it is only a half-choice, for without alignment of single market regulations there will need to be a hard border in Northern lreland. The WTO rules will require that. The customs union therefore requires a Northern Ireland backstop of some kind to be permanent. Norway, or Common Market 2.0 as Nick Boles now calls it, is highly problematic. It requires a level of trust on the EU’s part that Britain has squandered in the last two years. The EU fears that Britain would not behave responsibly like Norway but, as a much larger competitor outside the EU, would constantly push against the limits and loopholes of the EEA rule book. Domestically, for how long could a great nation such as ours live happily as a rule-taker?
The third possibility is that, without decisive progress towards a comprehensive alternative, Mrs May’s deal staggers on, on life support, in the hope that someday, sufficient Labour Back-Benchers from strongly leave constituencies, in fear and fright of no deal, will eventually back her deal as the only option available. This would be a disaster for my party. Whole swathes of progressive opinion would never forgive us for the betrayal of their European commitment. To avoid this, Labour must move decisively to back a people’s vote. Some argue that Labour cannot be seen to betray Labour supporters who voted leave. Frankly, it is the leadership of the leave campaign that has betrayed those voters, with its extravagant promises and lies. Support for remain has strengthened significantly among 2017 Labour voters since the referendum.
In my view—I am sorry to say this—the obstacle to a shift in Labour policy is a different one. The leadership group around Mr Corbyn has an outdated view of the EU as an instrument of global capitalism and United States imperialism. Their political economy is stuck in a 1970s ambition for “socialism in one country”. Unfortunately, I was alive then. It did not work then and it certainly will not work half a century later.
The EU has many faults and needs much reform. But uniquely in the world, and however imperfectly, it offers a means of structured co-operation between countries that can be used to promote progressive values: to promote human rights and democracy; to work for peace; to advance economic justice for poorer nations; to tackle climate change; to not just manage migration but address the injustices that drive its fundamental causes; to ensure that big corporations pay their fair share of taxes; to bring the digital monopolists to heel; and to prevent a race to the bottom in workers’ rights and consumer and environmental standards, which is crucial.
There is a way forward. Labour must back a people’s vote now and must listen to the overwhelming view of Labour members and supporters. We must gain the courage to come out for remain.
My Lords, as ever, it is a pleasure to follow my Cumbrian neighbour and friend, the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, even though I do not imagine he would necessarily describe me as progressive.
The first time I heard the phrase “Brexit means Brexit”, I thought it was a snappy, purposive soundbite, but I have now come to the conclusion that it is probably at the heart of our nation’s present discontent. As others have said, the politics of the referendum nearly three years ago was about the kind of United Kingdom we wanted for the next generation, or possibly even longer. Those who wanted change went through the portal called Brexit, and beyond was the brave new world. Not merely were there two main campaigning organisations, with rather different emphases, there were in fact at least two somewhat hallucinogenic visions of Shangri-La on offer, and they are mutually incompatible. As we can see now, the real question facing this country is: do we want to remain in the European solar system, if I can put it that way, or do we wish to board starship “Enterprise” for a different galaxy? These are mutually incompatible destinations and they cannot be triangulated, because the best way to bring about one interferes with effectively delivering the other.
As long as Brexit was not precisely and properly defined, the Government and supporters of leave could more or less coalesce. However, it is now clear that different members of the Government, like voters in general, have fundamentally different views of what they were voting for. Because of this internal contradiction, there can be no agreement on which of the outcomes the referendum delivered. That is the crisis of now. The reality is that the Brexit of the referendum is an impossibility, in exactly the same way as William Pitt the Elder, Earl of Chatham, explained to your Lordships about 250 years ago, telling us, rightly, that it was impossible to conquer America. Since it is an impossibility, it cannot be mandated or brought into being, and so the Government cannot deliver it. Let us be clear: that is not the Government’s fault. The Prime Minister has clearly striven mightily, albeit changing her own personal picture of Brexit as she goes, but what is on offer in her negotiated deal is not the Brexit of the referendum; it is a changeling.
Based on my own experience and expertise—I draw attention to my entry in the register—I am sure she is right that her deal is better than no deal. However, I do not think either deal is good enough, or delivers the referendum; as I said, this is an impossibility. Each will be a precursor to years and years of acrimonious wrangling. I do not think anybody wants that, but we need to be clear that that is the likely eventuality. Furthermore, I cannot see either of these two options delivering an especially deep or special relationship.
The problem is that those who voted remain feel cheated by the shenanigans and cheating that surrounded the referendum, and those who voted leave are worried they will be cheated out of the outcome, either by remainers or by advocates of a version of Brexit incompatible with their own. It is a terrible mess. Just as politics is the art of the possible, so Brexit has become the crisis of the impossible. It is not a question of taking back control; it is a matter of getting it under control. If nobody else can do it, Parliament— that is to say, the other place and your Lordships’ House together—must do it, because we cannot go on like this.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow my good friend the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood. I would like to begin by drawing attention to my entries in the register and reminding Members, if they needed reminding, that I am a strong advocate of remaining fully involved in the EU.
During this debate, a number of people have said that this is a great turning point, as though this has never happened before. I will start with some history, and draw attention to the fact that it has happened before. In the early 1930s, we had the Peace Ballot. That destroyed politics in Britain, right up to the Second World War. It shaped our attitude to the League of Nations; it made us cowards in the Rhineland; it distorted our policy in Abyssinia, which led Italy into its adventures there; and, overall, it was a disaster, compounded by regular voting against the Defence Estimates by the Labour Party and a failure of the Conservative Party to face up to its international duties. We face doing that again. This Government are in danger of being complicit in an act of monumental moral cowardice, which is where we are today.
There was never a possibility that we would get away without paying our bills. The £39 billion, which is being talked about as though it were some donation, is in fact the sum total of the liabilities we have contracted by sitting round the table in Brussels over many years. It contains all of the decisions that we have been complicit in taking. We cannot get away without paying it, unless we want to be international debt welchers, who will be taken through every court in Europe. We would also be distrusted by any international civil servants, because they will say that if we can abandon our contribution to the European Union, we could abandon it to the UN, UNESCO or any one of the international bodies we belong to. We would become international pariahs, and that is not on.
It was also inevitable that the final deal would be fashioned in such a way that no other country would be tempted to follow us. For the EU 27, the terms had to be substantially bad enough for others to decide not to leave. Allied to this, it has enabled a few outstanding grudges to be sorted out. Britain has blocked European defence for years, and now Germany and France can go ahead. We have been excluded from projects such as Galileo, and as the able former Minister, Sam Gyimah, said, we have “no voice, no vote, no veto”. We are told we will be consulted to the degree necessary. We might be, but our voice will only count if it suits the people who are listening to it. We will not be in the room. We will not have the voice, the vote or the veto. We will be outside the room.
On the practical details, when we, as Conservative Members, met Gavin Barwell, he drew attention to the non-regression clause on workers’ rights. When I challenged him, he said, “Oh, no, I am sorry, it isn’t enforceable”. I want to ask the Minister not to reply tonight, because it is too complex for his time in summing up, but to place in the Library a letter detailing what he intends to do about protecting employment rights within that non-regression commitment, particularly those covering paid holidays, rights for part-time workers, time off for working mothers and fathers, equal pay for women and limits on working hours, including a commitment to maintain the protection afforded by the working time directive. The noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, wrote me many letters when I was a Euro MP, asking me not to endorse the working time directive. I feel I am entitled to ask this Government whether they will endorse the working time directive.
If I could finish, and possibly upset a few more people on the way, I would counsel the Government not to do the politics of fear. It is not playing in the galleries. I live in Cambridge, and over the Christmas holiday I talked to many people. Their general reaction was, “We heard all this before. You said this in the run-up to the referendum, and nothing happened, so come off it, Richard, get real”. The argument for Europe is not about the price of carrots; it is about the future of this country as a player on the world stage and as a country which gives leadership and example by the values it believes in and projects. The amount of money we send to Brussels, which people carry on about, is frankly the price of a packet of peanuts compared to what we can do to make this world a better place. Please, stop the Brussels bashing and start realising where our future can lie. And do not make the mistake of the 1930s again.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow such a strong speech in favour of remaining. It is also a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, who—to my disconcertion—has made my speech, almost verbatim in some respects, because what I wanted to offer the House was the thought that the task which the Prime Minister undertook two and a half years ago was probably impossible. She could not deliver it, but she has done the best she could. It is not a deal which protects the interests of this country well enough. The price is too high. In the first half of my speech on 5 December I said that I could not recommend to my children or grandchildren a deal which left this country economically poorer, politically weaker and, arguably, less safe in the world. Nothing that I have heard in our three days of debate has changed that view. However, I want to add a point about the divisiveness of the debate.
We have been told that if we have a people’s vote—a second referendum—it might unleash strong passions, and that we should not do so because it is undemocratic. On the undemocratic point, I long for George Orwell’s comments on a criticism of asking the people what they think as being undemocratic. It is doublespeak of a kind which is quite hard to understand.
On the division, we have to recognise that the problem lies in a lack of clarity of thought about what Brexit was meant to achieve. I am not a politician, but it seems to me that the Brexit campaign, by vagueness, managed to unite some very disparate, different groups. For many years I worked for Ministers of different Governments, and in both the Labour and Conservative parties, there has been a strong streak of deep, visceral dislike of Europe. For one-third of my career I worked for Ministers who felt strongly against the Union, even though they were in Governments who supported it. I recall being told by Tony Benn, for whom I worked for four years, that I was a member of the politico-military establishment and that the EU was part of a global capitalist plot. He did not put it quite like that, but that was the essence of what he meant. I can also remember Mrs Thatcher passionately telling her Cabinet that the British people consented to join the Common Market but never consented to join a political union. The roots of Brexit in the Conservative and Labour parties, although they are strange bedfellows, are very deep.
Political movements succeed only when they resonate with the dreams, unhappiness, disappointments or ambitions and desires of the public. What did Brexit resonate with? Through its vagueness, it resonated with all sorts of different groups who wanted someone to blame and who had been encouraged, perhaps by an anti-European press—fairly or unfairly, usually unfairly—to blame Brussels. Those groups were disappointed, perhaps by austerity or the financial crisis. We should remember that financial crises ripple through the decades that follow them and have political effects 10 years later. It also fed into the north/south divide, resentment at not sharing in the prosperity which Europe has generated, and an unhappiness about the speed at which immigrants were coming to this country. Those are all very different grievances, and you cannot find one deal that meets all those problems and needs.
So, where are we now, on the eve of a big political crisis? We have only 10 weeks until the leave date. There are not many options left to be established on such a big issue in 10 weeks. The essence of where we are was summed up by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, when he said:
“When you’re in a hole, stop digging”.—[Official Report, 10/1/19; col. 2341.]
We need to stop for a moment; we need clear thought. Unless you know where you want to get to, you are not going to be able to get there. Unless you can agree your destination your path will be confused and muddled. It is a political process that can be solved only in the Commons. If the Commons accepts the deal before it, that settles it. We all have to accept that. If the Commons disagrees with the deal, it then has to consider no deal. For reasons I will not go over, that is far too risky and unacceptable. We cannot gamble with the fate of this country.
The question then is: are there any other options? Time is very short to explore that. The need for an extension of the deadline is almost inescapable. The question then becomes whether we have a referendum. If people say that it is too divisive to have a referendum, all I would say is that whatever we do, whether we remain or leave, our relationship with Europe will be divisive. It will go on only until we have clarity about the destination we want to reach and what sort of country we want to be. It might go on until we are all exhausted, or until a younger generation takes over. The young are the solution to the problem we are in. I believe the future will sort itself out only when they have the chance to take command. If we leave, I will simply drink a toast to the young, under whose leadership, in 30 or 40 years’ time, we will almost certainly apply to rejoin the Union. Until then, I shall vote for the noble Baroness’s Motion.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure and privilege to follow my Cambridge colleagues, my noble friend Lord Balfe and the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Dinton. As my noble friend said, when one is in Cambridge one gets a different view of the British people’s attitude. I think that what we learn from talking to people in Cambridge is that the more the diversity and migration to this country for economic purposes that there is, the more we have benefited from it. When I look at my area, I am reinforced in my reasons for voting remain in the referendum. In passing, I should draw attention to my interests in the register.
More than 20 years ago I managed the European Parliament elections for the Conservative Party. We fought the campaign, which we won, as my noble friend Lord Callanan might recall—he was one of the successful candidates—on the basis of “In Europe, not run by Europe”. I do not think my view has ever changed. It is reflected in some of the contributions to the debate. The British people want to be in the common market, which is exactly what Margaret said and what my noble friend Lord Tebbit used to tell me time and again when I worked for him: we voted for a common market and we would like to have one. We did not vote for a political union and we do not want one.
The issue is how we can give the British people what they voted for in the referendum. My successor in Cambridgeshire will probably vote against the withdrawal agreement tomorrow. She does so in pursuit of a second referendum. To do that and to reject a solution that the Government have derived to the question of what our objective through Brexit is on the grounds that we did not like the result of the referendum—which I certainly did not—is morally bankrupt. We have to start by trying honestly to achieve the result the British people voted for in the referendum.
You can say that the agreement is not quite right, which I think the Labour Party is doing. The Labour Party might be politically motivated—it is for it to say or to deny—by the idea that if you pull the pillars down in the temple maybe the resulting disaster enables a general election or a referendum and the Labour Party will not be blamed for the catastrophe that follows. The Labour Party should take responsibility too. It was elected to this Parliament on the basis that it would implement the result of the referendum.
I want to emphasise this in the couple of minutes available to me: there is a difference between the Government and the Labour Front Bench that might point to where one needs to go in the event that the withdrawal agreement as proposed is not accepted tomorrow, which is into a permanent customs union. I remind the House that, during the passage of the withdrawal Act, the largest majority against the Government’s position was in pursuit of a customs union. The fact that that is the Labour Party’s one evident policy raises the question of whether the response tomorrow will not be, “It must be remain versus no deal”, but may be, “Perhaps we can adapt the withdrawal agreement further” and create what is, in effect, a customs union—a single customs territory—obviating the need for a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to a large extent, and, frankly, creating the possibility of a common market in goods while making sure that we do not become rule takers on services, which is the principal objection to any kind of EEA/Norway solution. We will predominantly be a services economy in future. That will allow us to undertake independent trade policy relating to services, investment, and the regulations and rules that are the meat and drink of modern trade negotiations. It is not about tariffs, but those rules and regulations.
I urge those in the other place looking at what I think of as the meaningful debate—even if we do not get the meaningful vote—to read and think about what we have said. They might reflect that, whatever their personal views, they have a responsibility as parties and as members of parties to deliver on the Brexit referendum; and, in the Conservative Party, to support the Prime Minister. That is one thing that has happened since the debate in December, which I did not have a chance to take part in: the Prime Minister has secured a further mandate from her own Members of Parliament to take forward her position. We should do that.
The day after the referendum, friends of ours from central European countries sent an email, not to us but to our children. Their children are a bit younger than ours. They said, “We are really sorry this has happened, but we want you to know that, whatever happens in the future, you are Europeans and you are our friends. We want your children to know that for the future, too”. We should absolutely put that at the forefront of our thinking. We are Europeans, we are friends, and it is on that basis that we should conduct our negotiations and, I hope, bring them to a successful conclusion.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. I see the latest exchange of letters between the EU and the Prime Minister, and the advice from the Attorney-General as just window dressing—aspirational, but having very little meaning. I compare it to a vision of Neville Chamberlain coming back from meeting Hitler, saying, “Peace in our time”. It was peace in our time, but it just delayed things for a bit longer. This is what we have now—just delaying things for a few more years. Today and on other days we have discussed endlessly the question of Northern Ireland and southern Ireland and where the frontier is. If we have a different single market and customs union between us here and the Republic, we will have a frontier somewhere. It may be in the Irish Sea; it may be between Northern Ireland and the south. But it will be somewhere, unless we somehow integrate. We should be told, if we are not having a hard border, what are we going to have? It is pretty fundamental.
What did the public actually vote for in the referendum? To leave the EU. It seems that the Prime Minister and her Cabinet have since added several red lines that are very unhelpful to the economy and people’s understanding of what may happen. I do not think it is what the people voted for in the referendum. To give a couple of examples, there is a continuing obsession with immigration, and an inability to separate asylum seekers—enormous numbers, coming in the shape of 20 people in one boat—from the hundreds of thousands who come from other parts of the EU to work here, very hard and very well, most of them sending money home to help wherever they come from. The NHS, agriculture and the hospitality industries spring to mind. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, talked a lot about the agricultural sector. But considering that something like 90% of the workers in slaughterhouses come from Bulgaria, who will replace them? Who will pick our fruit and veg? I think Michael Gove, speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference last week, said that it will be all right because everything will be automated. I am not sure how you pick raspberries with an automatic machine—maybe somebody can—but we need these people. Unless we are going to instruct unemployed people here to do particular jobs, we are lost. I lived in Romania in the communist era in the 1970s, and watched the way local people were forced to do jobs. If they wanted to live somewhere—to have a flat—they had to work. It was not pleasant, because the people who did not work did not have anywhere to live and sat begging in the streets. I suspect that the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, is calling some of us on this side Marxists or communists. I am not one of those, but we should be free to choose what job we have. But we have to encourage people to come here, work, and work hard.
My second example is the single market and the customs union, about which many noble Lords have spoken. Queues will form at frontiers, not just at Dover but in other places and on the island of Ireland. We have all been working on it and have seen what has happened. There will be queues because there are controls, and you cannot do anything about the controls—it is not only about customs and so on, but also about controls such as the phytosanitary ones. Then there is the consequence of big and small companies leaving the UK because they cannot get their goods in and out. We all read about the motor manufacturers, but SMEs are equally important. I have a friend in Cornwall who runs a company with eight employees who has already moved to the Netherlands because he cannot cope with the problems that are likely to happen after Brexit.
Very briefly, and as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Liddle, the third example is competition and state aid, which are very important. I know that maybe the leader of the Labour Party thinks we want to abolish state aid rules so that he can give lots of government grants to his friends, but the Tory party has got there first, giving a £13 million contract to a new ferry service to go from Ramsgate to Ostend without seeking competitive tenders or saying what it is for. We all need the state aid legislation and I hope it will continue.
Where does this lead us? Many noble Lords have spoken about this but Parliament has to honour the wishes of the people in the referendum two and a half years ago. Would Parliament do that five or 10 years ahead? I do not know but surely in a parliamentary democracy it is for the Members of Parliament to make the final decision. It seems that the only solution, if we are to increase our prosperity and retain jobs and business, is for the Members of Parliament to make a decision themselves. Why should they not do that on a free vote? I am sure that those who have been in the House of Commons will tell me that is completely impossible but why should they not? They are quite sensible people—most of them, anyway—and probably much better at making a decision than the general population.
I hope that we will see sense. I will fully support my noble friend’s amendment tonight but let us remember that while we have been in Europe for 40 years for many reasons, the most important thing is to have preserved and retained peace. We must continue to do so.
My Lords, listening to this debate criss-crossing the Chamber, with not all the speeches on one side going one way or the other, has reminded me of a story that Denis Healey used to tell in the 1960s when he was Minister for Defence. A man came to him saying that he had the answer to the Russian submarines patrolling undetected in the North Sea. His solution was to boil the North Sea and, when the water evaporated, the Russian submarines would be left high and dry for all to see. “But how do I boil the sea?”, asked Denis. “Look here, Mr Healey”, said the man, “I have given you the solution. It is up to the Government to work out its implementation”.
After three Brexit Secretaries and the abandonment of numerous red lines, we are left with a compromise which no one defends as anything but the least worst solution. As the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, indicated, what the Prime Minister has been trying to do so valiantly over the last two and a half years is to boil the sea. The mandate which the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, and others have claimed because of the impressive 17.4 million votes ignores the fact that the vote was spread across a wide range of opinions. It goes from Sir John Redwood’s plans for a light-touch, small-state, buccaneering free-trade country to the socialist utopia that those such as Len McCluskey want. It was not a single mandate to achieve a single objective—hence the problem that the Prime Minister now faces.
It is becoming abundantly clear that the Prime Minister’s compromise offers only the prospect of us stumbling out of Europe with jagged edges and a mass of unfinished business, satisfying no one and ensuring—let us have no doubt—that the civil war in the Conservative Party will continue. In the circumstances in which we find ourselves, I do not see it as an outrage to give the people an opportunity to take stock in the light of the realities that have been exposed over the last two and a half years. The great benefit of living in a democracy is that there are mechanisms which enable people to change their mind. This is not the Charge of the Light Brigade, where we follow orders regardless of the knowledge that someone has blundered. Nor are we, like Macbeth,
“in blood Stepp’d … so far … that Returning were as tedious as”,
going back. We are a parliamentary democracy, with all the freedoms and maturity that that term implies. If ever there was a time to take back control, now is the moment.
I will be followed in this debate by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, and I am sure that we will once again be presented with his particularly dystopian view of the European Union. I have been in here for nearly 25 years and I will give him full marks for consistency. What would worry me if I were a Conservative is how, over those nearly 25 years, the views of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, have moved from being those of a rather eccentric voice on the Back Benches to being at the heart of the Conservative argument for where we go next. So let me repeat the view that has motivated me since my student days, reinforced by 50 years of working with and in the European Union. The European Union is the most successful example of multinational co-operation that the world has yet seen. It has set an example to the world of how old enmities can be replaced by fruitful joint endeavours, and it has massively helped to increase Britain’s influence and prosperity.
Recovering from the last two years will be no easy task. It will need Parliament and parliamentarians to regain the confidence to make decisions in the national interest. If, as I hope, that means giving the people the opportunity to have their own meaningful vote, those of us who will be campaigning to remain will have to address the fears that the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, and others drew attention to, which were so successfully exploited in 2016. We will have to renew our commitment to a Europe of peace and prosperity, underpinned by human rights and the rule of law. This is a once in a generation decision which every parliamentarian must take individually. It is the Corn Laws; it is the Norway debate; it is our opportunity to learn the lessons from this ghastly episode and say to the young people who will have to live with the consequences of it, “Here is your European future. The hope lives on, the dream will never die”. I will be voting for the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, when the House divides.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, for his generous comments. I refer students of the Brexit saga to what I said in your Lordships’ House on 30 January, 16 May and 20 November last year, and indeed on many occasions over the past 25 years. The burden of my recent song has been that our politicians and bureaucrats have never done a commercial deal in their lives, so do not understand the strength of our hand in Brussels or how to play it. I have recently come to see that our political media suffers from the same disability, so all three are now joined together in a lengthy cacophony with which our real people are getting very frustrated and angry.
Much of this noise is now directed against the supposed horrors of leaving the EU on 29 March without a deal, but I should have thought that the speech here today from the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, and the paper he published via Global Britain and Labour Leave on 7 January entitled 30 Truths about Leaving on WTO Terms, together with yesterday’s paper from Economists for Free Trade, No Deal is the Best Deal for Britain, should comprehensively close all that nonsense down. If those who, in truth, want to reverse the referendum result do not agree with those papers, perhaps they would publish a rebuttal, point by point, author by author. I look forward to reading it—not very hopefully, because they cannot.
No deal is fine but I come back to a concept which is even cleaner and simpler: the Government should accept that they will never get a deal out of the Commission which respects our referendum result, because the Commission’s main aim in life is to keep its project of European integration afloat, and if we break free and make a success of our restored independence, that aim will be even more damaged than it is already. So we should resile from clauses 2 to 5 of Article 50, cease dealing with the Commission and make a generous offer to the real people of Europe, through the Council of Ministers. Those real people are, after all, our friends, whereas the Commission is not.
We should offer them reciprocal residence for a period to be agreed, our continuing security support from GCHQ and our membership of Five Eyes, and continuing free trade together but under the WTO rather than the Luxembourg court. That offer would be generous because there are some 3.5 million EU citizens living here and only some 1.2 million of our people living there, and because if our offer of continuing free trade is not accepted and we are forced to trade on normal WTO terms, their exporters will pay us some £13.5 billion in new tariffs and our exporters will pay Brussels some £5.5 billion, a profit to us of some £8 billion—those figures were confirmed by Civitas this morning. The WTO would allow us to subsidise any of our exporters hit by the £5.5 billion out of their £8 billion profit. If our offer is accepted, we go on in free trade with our customers in the EU just as we do now: nothing changes and the vastly inflated problem of the Irish border disappears.
Your Lordships will be aware that I have floated the suggestion several times in the last year, but the Government have always replied that they cannot follow it, because “we are a law-abiding nation”—by which they meant that we cannot resile from clauses 2 to 5 of Article 50, because that would be breaking the EU treaty. However, the Luxembourg court has now confirmed that we can indeed resile from Article 50 unilaterally if we want to. That was agreed with me and my advisers. I also received a helpful Written Answer from the Government on 27 November, saying that:
“The UK has unilaterally withdrawn from 52 treaties since 1 January 1988. All of these have been multilateral treaties”.
So why not this one? Of course, if our offer is not accepted by the Council on behalf of its people, we should not pay any money at all to Brussels after 29 March—as indeed we should not under no deal. If it is accepted, we can be generous about that too.
I do not know whether the Government are taking advice from businessmen who know how to do deals and understand the EU, but I fear not. If they did, those businessmen would tell them that the most obvious madness in the Government’s approach to these negotiations has been to allow the Eurocrats to put the question of any leaving payment up front, instead of taking it last. When the Minister replies, will he say whether “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” still applies in this respect?
I will end by underlining the warning from several noble Lords that, if the referendum result is not respected, thanks to the obvious and bewildering incompetence of our political and bureaucratic class, we may sow the seeds of civil unrest. Already, many of our white working class are simmering with anger at the way those in authority have turned a blind eye to the grooming gang scandal. It would be foolish to provoke them further in this sorry matter. The deal is not a deal at all: it is an abject capitulation. If it is voted down in the Commons tomorrow, I invite the Government to at least consider my proposal. If they have not the vision or political will to do that—and I fear that they may not—then let us embrace no deal and the WTO, and go forth into the world with good cheer.