Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of the further discussions with the European Union under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to be opening, yet again, today’s debate. Before I begin, I ask noble Lords for their patience, as, like many Members of the House, I am struggling with rather a troublesome cough.
The Motion before the House asks us to take note of the further discussions with the European Union under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. Those further discussions were set out in detail during a Statement repeated by my noble friend Lady Evans, the Leader of the House, yesterday. Today, both here and in the other place, we will be taking stock of our position and, in the other place, voting to help set the direction going forward.
Following the vote on 29 January and the mandate set by the other place, the Prime Minister and members of the Government, including my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, have been engaging with colleagues on all sides of the House and across Europe to find a way forward that will work for both sides. As my noble friend told the House yesterday, the Prime Minister was in Brussels last week to meet President Juncker, to take stock of the work that has been done by the UK and EU teams so far. The Prime Minister also discussed what legal changes are required to ensure that the backstop is temporary, along with whether there are additions or changes to the political declaration that could be made to secure Parliament’s confidence in this starting point for a strong and ambitious future relationship with the EU.
The Prime Minister has been engaging extensively with EU leaders over the past few weeks, and has now spoken to the leader of every other EU member state to explain personally the UK’s position. We have made good progress in our discussions, and that work continues so that we can leave on 29 March with a deal that commands the support of the other place.
Noble Lords will be pleased to hear that I will not test the patience of the House by restating in full the Statement repeated yesterday by my noble friend the Leader. However, I would like to touch on a couple of the key points made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The UK and the EU have agreed to work on arrangements that will ensure the absence of a hard border in Northern Ireland, with the aim of avoiding the need for the backstop ever to be used, even in a scenario where the future relationship is not enforced by the end of the implementation period. Beyond the backstop, we have been working in other areas so that we can reach a deal that, again, the other place can support. The UK has a proud history of upholding and protecting standards in workers’ rights, environmental protections and health and safety. We are committed to ensuring that leaving the EU will not lead to the diminution of standards in those areas. The Prime Minister set out yesterday how we will bring forward proposals to uphold, and even strengthen, protections in areas such as workers’ rights and health and safety. We will do this engaging with colleagues across parties and with businesses and trade unions.
The Prime Minister has recognised MPs’ concerns that time is running out and Parliament will not be able to make its voice heard on the next steps, as well as concerns over the uncertainty facing businesses. She has set out a clear process that will guarantee that Parliament gets a vote on whether it wants to leave without a deal on 29 March and, if that is rejected, a vote on extending Article 50. The Prime Minister does not want to extend Article 50; she has never wished to do so.
I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. The Prime Minister has made a commitment that there will be a vote by the House of Commons as to whether it wishes to leave without a deal or not, but that is a resolution. The law of the land is that we leave on 29 March, as enshrined in the Act of Parliament. What is the significance of the vote? What will happen as a consequence of the vote if it is, let us say, against leaving with no deal? What would actually happen to alter the law?
As a consequence of that vote, nothing. What will then happen is that the following day the Government will ask the House of Commons whether it wishes to extend the Article 50 process. If the House decides that it wishes to do so for a short, time-limited period, the Government will introduce the necessary legislation—and will of course need to negotiate the relevant extension with the EU, as that is something that we cannot just decide to do unilaterally.
Has the Minister seen today’s statement by the Government of Gibraltar that, from their point of view, the best solution would be immediately to revoke Article 50? That has been suggested by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, and many others. It would be the best thing from the point of view of the UK, it would end uncertainty and it would enable us to get on with our business in an untroubled way. What is the reaction to the request from the Government of Gibraltar? They are literally on the front line in this matter.
The noble Lord will be unsurprised to know that, as usual, I disagree fundamentally with him. The Prime Minister has been clear that we will not be revoking Article 50 because to do so would disavow the results of the referendum. We take the concerns expressed by the Government of Gibraltar seriously, but the whole UK family, including citizens in Gibraltar, will be leaving the EU together.
As I said, the Prime Minister does not wish to extend Article 50 and has never wished to do so; it would simply defer the moment of decision and put off difficult choices. We want to leave with a deal on 29 March. Should MPs vote for an extension to Article 50, it should be time-limited and as short as possible, as I said in response to the earlier question. It remains the case that the best way to rule out no deal is to agree a deal. We do not want a no-deal outcome. The Government’s primary aim is to ensure that the UK leaves the EU on 29 March with a negotiated deal that will honour the result of the referendum. However, as a responsible Government, we continue to plan for all eventualities.
My Lords, on the matter of Gibraltar, if we leave without a deal, what will the consequences be for the people of Gibraltar, and their close economic relationship with Spain?
Many serious consequences will flow from leaving with no deal, but we do not want to leave with no deal. If the noble Lord is so convinced of the need to leave with a deal, perhaps he could talk to his colleagues in the House of Commons and ask them to vote for the deal that is on the table.
The Minister has just said that the Government are planning for all eventualities. If the House of Commons has a vote on 13 March on whether to support no deal, what would the Government’s position be in that eventuality?
Does the noble and learned Lord mean if the House of Commons votes to support no deal?
If the House of Commons has a vote on whether to support no deal or not, what will the position of the Government be?
That is a very good question. I will leave my colleagues, the Whips in the House of Commons, to determine that. I suppose it will depend on what the Motion says and the results at the time.
Yesterday, we published a paper that summarises government activity to prepare for no deal as a contingency plan and provides an assessment of the implications of a no-deal exit for trade and for businesses, given the preparations that have been made. More information for businesses and citizens can be found on the Government’s exit website.
Yesterday, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister set out three clear commitments to the other place that should provide reassurance and clarity about the way forward:
“First, we will hold a second meaningful vote by Tuesday 12 March at the latest. Secondly, if the Government have not won a meaningful vote by Tuesday 12 March, then they will, in addition to their obligations to table a neutral, amendable motion under section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, table a motion to be voted on by Wednesday 13 March, at the latest, asking this House if it supports leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement and a framework for a future relationship on 29 March. So the United Kingdom will only leave without a deal on 29 March if there is explicit consent in this House for that outcome.
Thirdly, if the House, having rejected leaving with the deal negotiated with the EU, then rejects leaving on 29 March without a withdrawal agreement and future framework, the Government will, on 14 March, bring forward a motion on whether Parliament wants to seek a short, limited extension to article 50, and, if the House votes for an extension, seek to agree that extension approved by the House with the EU and bring forward the necessary legislation to change the exit date commensurate with that extension. These commitments all fit the timescale set out in the private Member’s Bill in the name of the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford”.—[Official Report, Commons, 26/2/19; cols. 166-67.]
It seems to me that the crucial words are “short extension”. Can the Minister confirm that there is an imperative in the conclusion of any short extension—a date in June? Should that not be observed, we would be in the indefensible situation of having to fight European elections for a new European Parliament. Can he think of anything more insulting, not just to the 17.4 million people who voted to leave the European Union three years ago but to our democracy, if we were to say to them, “Sorry about that decision you made three years ago. We’re now in the process of electing a brand new European Parliament”? That would not be an economic cliff edge, but a democratic one.
Despite the chuntering from a sedentary position from the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, the noble Lord speaks great sense—as he does on so many things. It would make no sense whatever to have European Parliament elections because we will not be members of the EU going forward and, indeed, the legislation no longer exists on the UK statute book.
While these discussions continue at the European level, work continues domestically to prepare ourselves for all negotiated outcomes. The Government have undertaken extensive work to identify the primary legislation essential to deliver our exit from the EU in different scenarios. The Government are also making good progress on laying statutory instruments to ensure a functioning statute book for exit day. Over 450 statutory instruments have been laid to date, which is over 75% of all SIs required for exit day. Of these, almost half have been sent to the sifting committees of both Houses.
The Government are committed to ensuring that we have a functioning statute book for when we leave the EU, while also ensuring that legislation receives appropriate scrutiny. Once again I place on record my thanks, for their valuable and extensive work, to the committees chaired by the noble Lords, Lord Trefgarne and Lord Cunningham.
I can only reiterate that this Government stand firm on their commitment not to second-guess the result of the 2016 referendum by holding yet another people’s vote. Noble Lords will be well versed in these arguments now but, nevertheless, I will quickly recap.
Could the Minister clarify one point? Was Mr Alberto Costa MP sacked, or did he resign, over his attempt to have EU citizens’ rights in the event of no deal ring-fenced? What is the Government’s view on this amendment—do they support it or not?
The noble Lord is asking me to comment on what happens in the other place. My understanding—it is no more than that; I have not spoken to him—is that Alberto Costa resigned following the long-standing tradition that members of the Government and PPSs do not table amendments to government Motions. I also understand, however, that the Government are accepting the amendment put forward—such is the logic of government.
When we held the referendum, the Government pledged to respect the result, whatever the outcome. We repeated this commitment once the result was delivered, and this Government, as well as the Opposition, were elected on a manifesto maintaining this same commitment: to uphold the result of the 2016 referendum. Even though the Opposition seem to be U-turning on their manifesto commitment, we still stand by ours. Indeed, as the PM said yesterday, it is,
“the very credibility of our democracy”,—[Official Report, Commons, 26/2/19; col. 168.]
that we jeopardise if we break our explicit promises.
I am grateful to the Minister, who is struggling not only with a bad cough but with some very bad arguments; I sympathise greatly. At the beginning of his remarks he emphasised that the Prime Minister had been badgering people endlessly in Brussels, the Middle East and elsewhere, and had spoken to the Heads of Government, or whoever was appropriate, of the 27 other member states. How many of those member states agreed with the Prime Minister’s bizarre arguments, and how many thought them a load of rubbish?
The noble Lord will not be surprised to know that I have not seen read-outs from all those conversations, but I know from speaking to other Europe Ministers at various gatherings that there is considerable sympathy for many of our arguments.
It is imperative that the British people are able to trust in the Government to respect democratic processes and deliver effective outcomes for them. For that reason, it is our firm belief that even to consider holding a second people’s vote would set a damaging precedent for our democracy and the principles that underpin our constitutional order.
Would my noble friend give way?
I thought that might prompt some interventions.
My noble friend will no doubt be aware of the ruling by the Supreme Court following the 2016 referendum. It stated that the,
“legal significance is determined by what Parliament included in the statute authorising it, and that statute simply provided for the referendum to be held without specifying the consequences. The change in the law required to implement the referendum’s outcome must be made in the only way permitted by the UK constitution, namely by legislation”.
Consequently, if Parliament is unable to reach a consensus on any particular deal, is not the logic then that the people should be consulted again?
I am afraid I do not follow my noble friend’s argument. Parliament agreed to respect the outcome of the referendum in tabling the notification of withdrawal Bill.
But the Supreme Court has made it clear that under the British constitution, while Parliament agreed to hold the referendum, it did not agree on the outcome, and that outcome must be agreed by Parliament. If Parliament cannot agree, the people must be consulted.
I am afraid that I do not follow the noble Lord’s logic on this. Parliament did support the outcome of the referendum. The Government made it clear at the time that they would abide by the result and spent £9 million putting a leaflet into every house in the country saying, “It’s your decision—we will respect the outcome”. Parliament then voted for the notification of withdrawal Bill, which gave notification of our intention to leave the European Union. Parliament then confirmed our exit date in the EU withdrawal Bill, passed in the summer. So it is not true that Parliament has not supported the result of the referendum.
I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend again. Has he seen the demonstration—unusually, by people supporting leave—outside the Palace of Westminster today, with placards saying, “Parliament versus the People”? Does the Minister consider, given what he has just said, that this might give resonance to the terrible shame of this country, and indeed to the detriment of its democracy?
I have not seen any particular demonstration; I do not take an awful lot of notice of them. There seem to be people from all sides shouting at all of us as we walk in. I often wonder why they think that it will make a difference if they shout loudly “Stop Brexit” every five minutes—that somehow we are all going to have a flash of inspiration and suddenly change our minds. The wider point, however, is that the votes of 17.4 million people should be respected. It was the largest democratic vote in the history of this country. We said that we would respect the outcome of the referendum, and this Government are committed to doing that, even though many noble Lords are not so committed. Perhaps we have another one here now.
I am grateful to the Minister, as always, but does he not accept that in neither the referendum nor the general election did any party advocate a no-deal leaving of the European Union? In those circumstances, should this not be ruled out—and if it cannot be ruled out by Parliament, should it not, in line with what is being shouted outside, go back to the people?
No, I am afraid that I do not agree with the noble Lord. Neither the two-year time limit set by the notification of withdrawal Act on when the treaty will cease to apply to the UK, nor the exit date placed by Parliament in the EU withdrawal Bill, is dependent on whether we have a deal: they were firm commitments now set in statute at both European and domestic level. Of course we want to leave with a deal, but under domestic legislation we will leave on 29 March unless something changes. I give way.
The Minister will be aware, because he carried the Bill through, that the withdrawal Act has a provision that allows the Government to amend the date and time of leaving simply by regulations—it can be done overnight.
I have to say that many noble Lords have argued strongly against statutory instruments being approved “overnight”, as the noble Lord suggests, in other cases. He is, however, quite correct that there is such a provision. Nevertheless, the original provision is in the legislation. I give way to the noble Lord.
I am very grateful for my noble friend’s generosity in allowing these interruptions. He is manfully explaining all these processes, but he has not yet discussed the most important one: can the Government bring back—not least to the other place—a withdrawal agreement that the other place is likely to accept? Without that, we are in a very unenviable dilemma, and that question goes to the essence of the discussions that we are currently holding in Europe. Can he give the House any update on the possibility of a change to the withdrawal agreement that would allow us, once we have entered the backstop—although we may not—to leave it?
The noble Lord speaks with great experience and wisdom, and he is absolutely correct: the important thing is for us to bring back to Parliament solutions to the backstop that the House of Commons can accept. While I do not want to go into further detail, I can assure him that discussions are continuing as we speak: the Attorney-General was in Brussels yesterday for further talks, which will be continuing at pace as we attempt to get the reassurances that the House of Commons has asked for.
The debate is taking place in the other place today, and I know that contributions made here will be of great interest to MPs and to those outside this House.
It is the way he tells them.
Absolutely true, of course. I look forward with interest to hearing noble Lords’ contributions this afternoon. I do not know who writes this, but that is good. I must pay tribute to the stamina of many noble Lords on the speakers list today who have spoken in many, if not all, of the Brexit debates we have had in the past few months. Yet again, the challenge will be to introduce new points that we have not heard before: I am sure that noble Lords will rise to the occasion. As usual, my noble and learned friend Lord Keen is champing at the bit in his enthusiasm and looking forward to the utmost to responding to the issues raised in his winding-up speech.
I can help the Minister with a new point. Is not one of the serious difficulties that we have entered into an arrangement with Brussels whereby we cannot discuss new relationships until we have left? Yet all the time people are trying to spatchcock new relationships, whether it is the customs union, the single market or other arrangements. Is it not time to consider whether the sequencing is satisfactory? I do not know how one would answer that, but there is a difficulty in the way in which the sequencing has been laid down.
Of course, we can and have discussed the future relationship. There is a whole political declaration devoted to the new relationship, but the legal position is that the EU cannot legally conclude a further, ongoing relationship until we are a third country. If there are no more interventions, I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a good thing that the Minister has a sense of humour. I have to say that he is struggling not just with his throat but with finding anything new to say. That, I understand: some of us are in the same position. More seriously, he is struggling to recognise the seriousness of the state we are in. I think it would be good if the Minister would heed the advice given to him the last time we met that he should stop being,
“the boy who stood on the burning deck”,—[Official Report, 5/2/19; col. 1430.]
and face today’s reality. The reality is that a 29 March departure is simply not going to happen.
What we are witnessing, to the mystification of observers here and abroad, is a wholly divided Government and a Prime Minister who has let down Brexit voters by failing to provide the promised “smooth and orderly” departure to get the very best out of leaving—a Prime Minister who has unnerved the very businesses which have traditionally looked to her party to understand and promote their interests, who has divided her party and Parliament and who, unforgivably, has failed to unite the country after a divisive referendum. She has failed to reach out to remainers to reflect their interests as well as those who voted to leave. We see a Prime Minister who has failed to reach out to the Opposition, engaging not at all until the last few weeks, and even now refusing to move one iota towards our priority for a deal—a Prime Minister who promised the Commons a vote to halt no deal only when she faced defeat in the Lobbies, yet who even then offered only a temporary reprieve, leaving a no-deal threat on the table after 29 March and, as we have just heard, only the promise of a vote, with no indication of whether the Government would whip against a no-deal exclusion. That, to me, means that she is keeping it tight in her armoury. The noble Lord, Lord Callanan, endlessly reminds us that no deal is the legal default position. We say to him that it is not the moral default position.
I fully expect, when some future committee, no doubt chaired by someone in your Lordships’ House, reviews how the Government handled this sorry saga, it will ask the normal tin-opener question written by the secretary to the committee—cui bono? Had we girls been taught Latin at school, I would be able to pose in Latin, instead of having to do so in English, the more important question—not just cui bono, but who pays? I am sure it is not the ERG members.
It will be businesses, consumers and the country. Fitch is putting our AA credit rating on negative watch, due to the potential exit without a transition period. Of course, that signals a possible downgrade. Meanwhile, the UK would lose its current market access to the 60 third countries covered by special arrangements with the EU, Mr Fox having spectacularly failed to roll these over or to prepare all those exciting new ones with a swathe of other countries, as we were promised.
All of us have heard endlessly about the risk to supplies and businesses of no deal—from a shortage of pallets and life-saving medicines to delays, handling costs, legal queries and, of course, tariffs. I discussed tariffs earlier this week with the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, when we were at LBC. I am glad to see him here in his place in case I get this wrong, because I have to say that he slightly shrugged off the tariff problem, saying that a drop in the pound would compensate for it. That is not what it would feel like to consumers.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. What I said was that the drop in the pound would compensate those whose tariffs were around the average of 4%, but that, in aggregate, the tariffs amount to £5.3 billion. The saving we make from leaving is more than £10 billion. We would therefore be in a position to help those who face above-average tariffs and still have money in hand.
So the consumers will pay. Just an extra 5% on tariffs? Are we really going to go round subsidising food?
With respect, the money we save will not come from consumers; it will just no longer be available to the EU to finance its projects. Every year, we pay £10 billion more to the EU than it gives us back. We will no longer do so, and will therefore be in a position to use some of that money to help those industries—particularly farmers and car producers—and ensure that the effect of tariffs, if the EU is foolish enough to continue applying them to us, is offset.
I am talking about the tariffs that we will have to apply to the goods that we import, such as meat and cheese. Those will be paid for by consumers. The Government’s own analysis shows the likelihood of food shortages and increased prices just from the interruption to trade, but a lower pound—whereby people will have less money in their pockets to buy any imported food—means that, in addition to prices going up because of shortages and delays in things arriving here, it will be even more expensive for consumers. The answer to “Who pays?” will be the consumers.
For those wanting to travel, mile-long queues for Eurostar trains, long waits at ferries, green cards for drivers and the loss of health cover will all impact British families. Does this no longer matter to a party traditionally careful of consumer prices and its electorate? The noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, warned last year in your Lordships’ House of the electoral damage to his own much-loved and lived-in party. This continuing drift to no deal must be fuelling his fears. It is certainly fuelling mine, as well as those of the CBI, the IoD and all those affected by the Government’s recklessness.
Since the noble Baroness has mentioned morality, I raise a question with her: does morality lie with no deal? Brussels asked us what we wanted and we said we wanted a change to the border situation—a way out of the backstop—and it said no. It is not this Government who have led us to no deal—it is Brussels. When it comes to moral leadership, I have no idea what the leader of her party in the House of Commons has wanted for the last two years—it is not clear to the average observer. Leaving aside, for a moment, the moral swamp going on there, we have no idea what his position is.
We do. I made it clear yesterday—I am not sure whether the noble Baroness was in her place when I spoke to the House—that no deal is our choice because if we amend the deal on the table, we can get one. It is our choice, not that of the other side.
The costs of no deal, as I said, have been set out. The worries of the CBI, the IoD and of all the others have been made pretty clear to the Government—I am sure they have been if they are making them clear to me—and I wonder sometimes whether Ministers read their own papers. Yesterday, the Government’s own paper predicted that the economy would be between 6% and 9% smaller in the long term in a no-deal scenario compared with today’s arrangements, with the north-east losing out more than anywhere else—I am sure the Minister noticed. I thought that that, at least, would have attracted his attention.
Would the noble Baroness ask the Minister to agree that yesterday’s paper which predicted the 6% to 9% reduction in the economy in the event of no deal noted that that excluded any short-term disruption costs from no deal?
It is a shame that he will not be replying but I am sure that his colleague—judging from that lovely poker face of his—has made a careful note of that and will respond later today.
We know that one bit, at least, of the Government is listening because we know they are preparing to set up a hardship fund—presumably with the money that the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, thinks will be available to pay for all those who will lose out; this seems a funny way of running the economy. Despite all that and the pressures for the hardship fund, the no dealers today have been attacking the grown-ups in their own party as “saboteurs, wreckers and blackmailers”. This, coming from politicians who have blackmailed the Prime Minister by voting against her and who are willing to wreck the economy and sabotage business, all for their own ideological hang-up. This has to stop and it has to stop now.
Will the Minister who will sum up, and who is definitely not an ERG hardliner, push his political masters—or, perhaps, his political mistress—to rule out unequivocally any no-deal departure, with its lack of a transition period and the chaos that goes with that? Will he urge the Prime Minister to change her approach and to find a consensual way forward to unite the Commons and the country, and will he ensure that an extension to Article 50 is requested this week? It is clear we will need it, but requesting it this week, rather than being forced into it, will help to calm nerves and offer some certainty to business. Will he work to see that such an extension is used not for more pretence and tweaking of words, but for a serious reconsideration of how we withdraw from the EU?
My Lords, this is now the 11th debate or Statement on the Government’s withdrawal agreement and political declaration since last December. During the three months in which these debates have taken place, not a single thing has changed. The purgatory continues.
For a number of months, when my colleagues have become exasperated that Jeremy Corbyn appeared to set his face against supporting a referendum on the Brexit deal, I have sought to reassure them by using the analogy of the five year-old schoolboy who does not want to go to school. As he is being dragged to school by his parents, he stamps his foot and says, “I don’t want to go to school! It’s not fair! I’m not going to school!” He knows, of course, that he will have to go to school, but his amour propre will not allow him to admit it. Only when he crosses the school threshold does he stop his wailing and run to join his classmates. Mr Corbyn has now crossed the threshold.
This is a fair analogy of Mr Corbyn’s behaviour, but until yesterday, I did not think that it applied equally to the Prime Minister. Yet this is exactly what she has done with regard to an extension of Article 50. She has said publicly, all along, that 29 March is a sacrosanct departure date. She stamped her foot as late as the weekend to repeat this mantra but she has now proposed giving the Commons a vote to extend Article 50 for an unspecified number of months. She must have known for some time that she was going to have to shift her position but she has done so with the greatest reluctance, and in a manner which will enable her to blame the Commons for the decision which she will have flunked. She should herself be advocating a short extension on the basis of her conviction that her deal will succeed, for without an extension, it is simply impossible to get the necessary legislation through in an orderly manner.
When I debated this with Brexit Minister Chris Heaton-Harris on last Saturday’s “The Week in Westminster” programme, he said that everything would be on the statute book in time, but apparently only by dropping half the primary legislation which we had previously been told was necessary and by implying the use of emergency procedures to get the rest through. Can the Minister tell the House which pieces of legislation the Government believe they will need to pass before 29 March if their deal is approved by the Commons? Specifically, does it include the Agriculture, Fisheries, Trade and immigration Bills? We have repeatedly asked these questions but from the Government, answer comes there none.
Yesterday, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House said in respect of Brexit-related primary legislation that we,
“need to ensure that this House has adequate time to scrutinise it in the usual manner”.—[Official Report, 26/2/19; col. 148.]
Can the Minister explain how we will be able to scrutinise the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Bill in the usual manner? We will not know until 12 March whether the Government’s deal has been approved. If it has, that gives a mere two weeks to take the Bill through all its parliamentary stages. Will the Minister acknowledge that we would have to break our normal rules in considering legislation if we were to get the Bill through in time, and will he apologise to the House on behalf of his noble colleague the Leader for giving such a misleading impression yesterday? Therefore, the Prime Minister refused to contemplate extending Article 50 to give time for her deal, if it is passed, but she has been forced to concede a vote on the extension of Article 50 if, as is highly likely, it does not.
The purpose of any extension, as is clear both from the Cooper-Letwin initiative and the possible rebellion of members of her Cabinet and government more generally, is to ensure that we do not crash out without a deal on 29 March. If anybody had any doubts about why they should avoid no deal, the Government’s damning document of yesterday, Implications for Business and Trade of a No Deal Exit on 29 March 2019, should put them right. The noble Lord, Lord Livingston of Parkhead, summarised the position brilliantly yesterday when he described no deal as,
“not a negotiating card, but an act of wilful self-harm”.—[Official Report, 26/2/19; col. 154.]
There are going to be votes on 12 and 13 March, which are likely to lead to further rejection of the Government’s deal and a rejection of no deal. The following day there will be a vote—which is likely to pass—to ask the Government to request an extension of the Article 50 period. The danger is that everybody then relaxes. That would be a big mistake because the clock will still be ticking—just for slightly longer. The Government will still argue that no deal is on the table.
Can the noble Lord remind me: is that not the ides of March?
I am afraid I did not have the benefit of a classical education, but I know that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen of Elie, will be able to answer the question.
It is the 15th.
Only in your Lordships’ House would the vast majority of people know the answer to that question. I believe the answer is yes.
No, it is the 15th.
Sorry—it is 15 March. I am not sure whether that answer is helpful to the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, or not.
What are the options going forward beyond 14 March if an extension is approved? In reality, there are very few. We know that Labour will be supporting a people’s vote on the Government’s deal versus remain, as a way of breaking the impasse. So will we. We know that a mere extension does nothing to make resolving the backstop issue easier. We would be no clearer about our future relationship with the EU if, by some miracle, the Government were to get their deal through the Commons. As the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, demonstrated last week, the lack of substance in the political declaration condemns us to years of wrangling, during which time investment, business and jobs would leach out of the UK. In these circumstances, what will those Conservative parliamentarians—inside and outside Government—who are fiercely opposed to no deal and believe that remain would be in the country’s best interests, actually do?
We have been watching with fascination as, week after week, a growing chorus of members of the Government has been discussing circumstances in which they might resign and follow the example of Phillip Lee and Sam Gyimah. So far, they have all teetered on the cliff edge. If Ministers remain in post after 13 March, they will, according to the Prime Minister’s Statement yesterday, be still working in support of a Government who are keeping no deal on the table until the end of the extension period. Liam Fox, Chris Grayling, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, and the Leader of your Lordships’ House, might not find that offensive to their beliefs, but many—most—of the Government Front Bench in both Houses would. Yet they seem willing to keep going along with it. Why? What greater good than an aspiration to keep the Tory party in one piece can possibly motivate them? Might I suggest that they heed the statement of Duff Cooper who resigned as First Lord of the Admiralty in October 1938, in opposition to the Government’s appeasement policy? He said:
“I have ruined, perhaps, my political career. But that is a little matter; I have retained something which is to me of great value—I can still walk about the world with my head erect”.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/10/1938; col. 40.]
Kicking the can down the road remains the Prime Minister’s defining attribute, but this is now no longer a credible strategy. Purgatory has its limits. For every parliamentarian, the day of judgment really is now at hand.
My Lords, it has been a habit in these debates to say at the beginning of each that there is nothing new to discuss, but this time there is a great deal to discuss, and I want to share my thoughts on it with your Lordships. In addition, we have had a new joke from the noble Lord, Lord Newby, which is always helpful and familiar.
From inside the Westminster bubble, I can see that things still look very confused, but if one stands aside outside and pauses for a moment, the situation is in fact as clear as daylight. In practice, the great binary choice on offer has shifted from the withdrawal deal or no deal to the withdrawal deal or Article 50 being delayed. The delay may be short and limited or it may be longer; it depends on what goes on in the other place. We have no control over that and no one really knows.
Obviously, the Prime Minister was always going to be reticent, to put it mildly, about what happens if she loses again before 12 March. That is entirely understandable. You do not enter a race announcing what you will do if you fall off at the first big fence; you enter the race to win. But this new situation, where the binary choice has changed, poses an acute dilemma for the European Research Group warriors, who now face an almost impossible choice. With the Prime Minister having nodded towards a short delay, as she did yesterday, the dilemma for the Brexiteers—the harder-line ones—is even deeper. The excellent Mr Nicholas Boles MP pointed this out in the Evening Standard the other night, and he is right, although he did not mention that this will also encourage some of the strongest remainers to oppose Mrs May’s deal in the hope of ending up with no Brexit at all. That is their hope and they are quite open about it.
None the less, it seems to me that the Prime Minister has outfoxed her own rebels, half the media and now the Cooper-Letwin ensemble—we shall see about that this afternoon; it is going on now. Labour’s new-found love of a second referendum—although on precisely what question is not at all clear—deepens the dilemma for the ERG rebels even further. If they vote with the Prime Minister, with or without add-ons to the withdrawal treaty and with or without a backstop softening or any other so-called alternative arrangement, she is over the hump, at least for the moment. If they vote her down, we delay and lurch into another bog land of uncertainty with all sorts of outcomes, of which a second referendum is only one—that would please the Liberal Democrats—and no Brexit is another.
In all this, the group I feel most sorry for—well, not really, but almost—is the ERG warriors, with their marshalled ranks and drawn swords. We were just talking about the Ides of March. My mind went back to Lars Porsena and his glittering Etruscan hordes, who planned to capture Rome but found that things went rather differently when they got to the city gates and the bridge. Instead of taking control, they ended up with those behind shouting “Forward!” and those in the front crying “Back!”
Of course, the absolute diehards in my party will never give in. I read one ill-informed article, alas by a recently joined Member of your Lordships’ House, claiming that they had taken over the Tory party. In reality, they now risk losing everything. If even half the ERG breaks ranks now and just some of the Labour remainers who are waverers support the Prime Minister, she will win this round, contrary to all the predictions of the noble Lord, Lord Newby, and his friends.
This is what I believe will happen. The people worrying about shipping goods here by sea from Tokyo after 29 March need not worry. By April, we will either be on the path to frictionless trade and an admittedly slow journey out of the present customs union to a new form of free trade or still in the European Union. There can now be no crash-out, managed or otherwise. That does not seem to have been absorbed, judging by some of the comments made this afternoon. I am afraid the Brexiteers’ dream has, for the moment, gone up in smoke. My belief is that the Prime Minister, with her deal, the massive agreed treaty with the European Union and all those in this country—the majority, I suggest—wanting to settle matters now and move forward, will win the day. Any further concessions from Brussels may come before 12 March if Brussels is feeling helpful, or afterwards if not. Obviously the negotiators will not reopen the agreed treaty, but they may well agree to a codicil about its interpretation as time goes by. I gather they are now working it—the so-called joint interpretative instrument.
My prayer is that after this unhappy phase we will get on vigorously with building close relations—not just in trade but in security, defence, cybertechnology and even possibly in physical links such as the mooted second channel tunnel—with all our regional European neighbours, all as part of our new, unfolding international policy stretching out to Asia, Africa and the Americas, and to carefully balanced ties with China, where all the growth will be. For this we will need powerful networks and the know-how to nourish and benefit from these networks, the Commonwealth being foremost among them. Old alliances are falling away and new ones are becoming necessary as we enter a new cycle in international history.
This morning your Lordships’ International Relations Committee heard evidence that we were on the verge of a terrifying new arms race and the possible spread of tactical nuclear weapons, and that the limits on nuclear warfare that the world has hung on to since Hiroshima are now slipping away and could leave our cities in smoking ruins. Somehow our Brexit bickering, breakaways and gabbling interviews with excitable MPs all seem rather small in comparison.
Following the noble Lord, I am reminded of how much he has done down the years to encourage our engagement in Asia and Asian investment in this country. I feel very sorry for him, because this must be a sad time for him. If you take just Anglo-Japanese relations, his work down the years was remarkable. We know what the Japanese banks here are doing. We know what Hitachi and now Honda are doing. We know what Toshiba is doing. We know about Sony and Panasonic. When will we hear from the third of the great car companies, Toyota? Actually, we did hear from it. It exports 80% of its UK production to the European Union. Its executive vice-president, Didier Leroy, said that:
“The UK government should … understand that we cannot stay in this kind of fog when we don’t know what will be the output of the negotiation”,
and that any kind of EU import tax would create a huge,
“negative impact in terms of competitiveness”,
for its UK plant. That quote—
“we cannot stay in this kind of fog”—
was from October 2017. It is still in this kind of fog. We have not told it anything, so it is not surprising that it has given up and is backing off. It has given up expecting clarity from us.
I am sure the noble Lord will want to congratulate Toyota on opening in this country a year later—in October last year—a line producing the best-selling car in the world, opened by the Secretary of State. That shows a rather different picture to that he was portraying.
I wait to see what will be the fate of its massive investments in Deeside and in Derbyshire, both of which are very important. I am concerned; I know the company is concerned. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, has worked very hard to secure investment in this country and must be very sad.
The noble Lord, Lord Newby, started with a Churchillian quotation, which put me on my mettle. I was determined to match him. I can just beat him on vintage; mine is a 1936 quotation. Churchill described Chamberlain as,
“decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift”.—[Official Report, Commons, 12/11/1936; col. 1107.]
As we kick the can down the road, somehow it came to mind. It is actually quite unfair to Mrs May; it was probably unfair to Chamberlain too. What is more striking about Mrs May is her messianic, Mosaic mission, and her determination not to listen to anybody else. I am impressed by her belief that she knows all the answers, and does not have to pay attention to any of us.
I think the noble Lord will find that Moses listened. That was one of the issues.
But what he brought down was graven on a tablet of stone, and what Mr Nick Timothy drafted for the Prime Minister in September 2016 was not, in my view, to be taken as graven on a tablet of stone. We know now that the Cabinet was not consulted about it. We knew at the time that the country and this Parliament were not consulted, but these four red lines have determined where we are now.
The European Union has said all along—it said it in the cover note of its first mandate—that if our red lines were to change, then it was happy to look again at its mandate and change it. However, we do not seem to listen to those across the House of Commons who propose something that would break one of the red lines. When Labour talks of customs union, and this House votes for customs union, it is dismissed because it breaches one of the four red lines.
By the logic of the Prophet Timothy, Switzerland, Turkey and Norway are not sovereign states independent of the EU, because in at least one respect each breaches at least one of the four red lines laid down by Mrs May in the party conference speech in September 2016. Yet the Swiss think that they are independent. They do not think they are in the EU, and are commonly regarded as not being in the EU. I do not know why the definition of Brexit that was laid down without consultation in September 2016 has to be accepted as the only definition, and why it is a denial of Brexit, flying in the face of democracy, to argue that there might be a better Brexit than the one defined by Mr Timothy and the Prime Minister in September 2016. That is why I am offended by the “my deal or no deal” choice.
As everyone has been saying and as the document published yesterday proves, no deal is an economic catastrophe for the country, but it cannot be right that the only alternative is the lineal descendant of the tablet brought down by Moses to the party conference in September 2016. There are at least two more options available. One is to try for a better Brexit, which I do not believe the Prime Minister is going to do with the short extension she says that she might be ready to foresee. She is not looking at anything other than the sort of declaration that could be fitted into the political declaration, or might be free-standing, in some way adding emollient words about the backstop. However, the backstop is not the only defect in this dreadful, humiliating package—this humiliating treaty and vacuous declaration.
If we were prepared to contemplate the Swiss approach to free movement of persons, the Turkish approach to a customs union or the Norwegian approach to the single market, or if we were prepared to envisage an EEA-type arrangement, we do not know what new prospects might open up—we have never tried, because No. 10 does not listen. It has never been tested. We have never discovered what the EU means when it says that, if we were to change our red lines, it would change its negotiating position. That makes the “my deal or no deal” position irresponsible.
Others have explained why no deal is extremely bad for our trade. There would be no preferential arrangement with the EU or with any of the countries with which it has preferential deals, which amounts to more than two-thirds of our trade. The non-EU countries I am talking about include some very big ones, such as Japan, South Korea and Turkey. We are told that we have rolled over six agreements, but these are with minnows—not Japan, not South Korea and not Turkey.
Quite apart from the question of our domestic tariff, which the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, spoke about, we have to accept that our export market would be seriously damaged by no deal. Whether it happens in April, May or June, no deal is no better then than it would be on 29 March.
I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord—he said some very nice things about me and I have a lot of very nice things to say about him. However, he has presented me with a puzzle. He keeps talking about this business of “my deal or no deal”. In fact, the Government have now recognised that it is not “my deal or no deal”, but “my deal or postponement”—admittedly, in the words of the Prime Minister, a “short” postponement. We all know perfectly well that an overwhelming majority in the other place supports a delay in Article 50. If the Prime Minister fails on 12 March—I do not think she will—there will be a postponement. The concept of “my deal or no deal” is last week’s story. It is simply out of date, so why is the noble Lord worried about it?
I am worried about it because I do not believe that the Prime Minister intends to use the short delay she says she is prepared to settle for—although she has not said that she would vote for it—to explore the possibilities of a better Brexit. As far as she is concerned, the only deal is that which she brought back in November, possibly titivated slightly in the declaration to try to deal with the objections of some to the backstop. I believe that is all she intends to do. The right thing to do is to have a long enough extension to go back and consult the people. This has turned out so differently from what we were told, and it is absolutely right that we would go back and consult the people.
The point I was trying to make was about trade. I would like to end on a warm and friendly note towards the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, who is in such sparkling form today—I shall try to sparkle back in what is, for me, an unusually friendly way. I congratulate him on his honesty in the last debate, when he put to rest the Legatum Institute theory that the answer to the problem of WTO terms and no preferential trade deals was Article 24. It was extremely straightforward and honest of him to say of Article 24:
“This provision refers to interim agreements. In order to use it, we would need to agree with the EU the shape of the future economic partnership, together with a plan and schedule for getting there. This would then need to be presented to all 164 WTO members and they would be able to scrutinise it, suggest changes and, ultimately, veto it”.—[Official Report, 13/2/19; col. 1935.]
That, I believe, is absolutely correct. I think it was generous and honest of a Minister to put it on record. Article 24 is absolutely no way out in the situation we would be in with no deal. It depends on a deal being struck. It depends on a process going on. It is possible that eight years into future negotiations this is what we might be able to do, although we would, as the Minister rightly said, be dependent on the agreement of 164 parties in GATT. Therefore, even that cannot be assumed.
My Lords, I always rise to speak in this Chamber with some fear and trepidation but never more so than today: not only because of the expertise, passion and conviction in this Chamber but also the jeopardy in which we find ourselves as a nation and a Parliament. My journey through the Brexit process is that for seven years until the referendum year, I was the bishop in Sheffield and south Yorkshire, where some of the communities voted by almost 70% to leave the European Union. I moved shortly afterwards to the diocese of Oxford, where the three counties, by and large, are significantly in favour of remain.
I suspect that historians will look back on this process and focus not so much on the calling of the referendum or even the referendum itself but on the long period of indecision and paralysis that has followed. I spent some time in Canterbury Cathedral some weeks ago and stood on the place where Thomas Becket was murdered. We were reminded in the cathedral of Eliot’s play “Murder in the Cathedral”. In his moment of great peril and jeopardy, Becket is visited by four tempters who, in the play, become his four assassins.
I think four significant temptations have grown in proportion to become dangerous assassins facing Parliament in the coming weeks. The first is to allow our course to be shaped by self-interest and personal ambition. This Brexit debate has been marred from the beginning, it seems, by the narrow calculation of those hoping to gain or retain high office. From the perspective of the country, nothing has undermined trust in our politics more than this untrammelled ambition, which is apparent to all.
Who is the right reverend Prelate accusing of this untrammelled ambition which is apparent to all?
I prefer not to name names.
Even though it is apparent to all?
I do not single out a particular party or a section of a particular party. One of the dangers of our politics at present is that personal ambition is being put before the country and I think we need to draw that period to an end with great urgency, lest our politics and our confidence in democracy be damaged for a very long time. Conversely, nothing will restore trust in our politics more than putting the interests of the nation ahead of personal position.
The second temptation is to allow yourself to be swayed by narrow party interests and the pursuit of or retention of power in the short term. The issues at stake here are much greater than the rise and fall of particular parties or factions. We need our MPs and Peers to act in the greater national interest and for national unity. I would argue that Parliament needs to come together if the nation is to come together and emerge from this long period of division and introspection.
The third temptation is nostalgia—a romantic attachment to the past. It is wrong to imagine that we can reverse the effects of one referendum by another or go back to a time before the Brexit debates began, when all was well, or go back still further to a different age of independence and imagined glory. We cannot. We must deal with the world as it is, not as we would like it to be, and steer our course accordingly; the leadership that we offer will be judged by this measure.
The fourth and final temptation is idealism: in a world of difficult choices and necessary compromise, holding on to an ideal which is no longer tenable, whether it is a particular kind of leaving or remaining or something else. This, it seems to me, is currently the greatest barrier to positive cross-party consensus. A coming together across Parliament is impossible without the willingness to compromise, and one of the encouraging features of recent weeks has been cross-party engagement.
As others have said, there are huge issues facing our world and our country: climate chaos, care for the poorest, increasing equality and opportunity, our changing relationship with technology, and the challenge of social care and health funding. We cannot allow our national attention to be diverted from these issues by prolonging still further a series of adjustments to our relationship with Europe. The nation is looking to its political leaders for a strong, compelling and united vision of the future that enables us to see beyond these debates in a way that brings unity and common purpose.
The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken in this House about the vital importance of reconciliation in these debates and the protection of the poorest in society. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York has written of the need to preserve trust and confidence in our democratic institutions through a time of significant national jeopardy. I hope and pray that, in the midst of these difficult debates, we will be able to turn aside from those four temptations, seek meaningful compromise and act for the common good. I underscore the request to the Minister to lay out for us the ways in which the Government will continue to foster cross-party collaboration and listening, move towards a positive consensus and work to draw Parliament and the country back together.
My Lords, I am sure that we are all grateful to the right reverend Prelate for a challenging and interesting speech. If I remember rightly, the words that TS Eliot used were:
“The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason”.
A number of things have happened since our last debate, and my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford was right to refer to that. As far as the last 24 hours are concerned, two very significant things have happened. First, we have had the publication of a document entitled Implications for Business and Trade of a No Deal Exit on 29 March 2019. Most of your Lordships will have read it. It is brief and to the point, and it is sombre and very worrying. It records, for instance, that we have done a deal with the Faroe Islands but that we still wait to do ones with Andorra and San Marino. It puts into perspective the real problems that still lie ahead.
The other thing that has happened in the last 24 hours is that one of our number has produced something which I am sure will be read far more widely than any of our speeches in this debate. I refer to my noble friend Lord Finkelstein, who is sitting in front of me. If any of your Lordships have not read his piece in today’s Times, I commend it to them most warmly. He illustrates the real problems that have been caused to our nation and to the Conservative Party in particular by the zealots of the ERG.
I want to reflect on perceptions. I was encouraged to do that by two things this morning. First, Carolyn Fairbairn, the director-general of the CBI, gave a very sober interview on the “Today” programme. She appealed to people in all parties to come together to put aside what she called “tribal politics”. Having listened to that programme, I heard a different version of that appeal, when I came in in a taxi. I always like to talk to taxi drivers, and this particular taxi driver was very upset about what is happening to our country. He said, “The trouble is that there are people in Parliament on the far right who don’t really mind if the ship goes down, so long as the captain is British”. I thought that was a very perceptive observation. He went on to say that he felt that the problem with the Prime Minister was that she was giving the impression, the perception—we all know how important perceptions are—that party unity was more important than national unity. I do not believe that the Prime Minister has that in mind for half a second. I believe that she is an intensely patriotic woman, who is indeed seeking to do good for the country. Nevertheless, that is the perception out there among many people, and it is crucial that she puts that right.
As my noble friend Lord Callanan knows, I hope very much that a deal can be agreed. I was a staunch, fervent remainer. As he knows, I accept the result of the referendum, with sadness and disappointment. I do not want a second referendum. I do want us to move on after a deal—as, I inferred, did the right reverend Prelate, my noble friend Lord Howell, and others. But we cannot be held to ransom by an extreme group within our party, which frankly does not put country before party.
They have a different view of things.
They have a very different view, and it is one that is damaging to our nation. If we look at the paper produced by the Treasury yesterday, we cannot really deny it. What I would like, as I have mentioned in your Lordships’ House before, is for the Prime Minister to reach out to all parties. There is one particular and specific way in which she can do that: by having a free vote in the House of Commons, as the late Sir Edward Heath did when we entered the European Economic Community, as it was in those days. That enabled those on the Labour Benches, who were torn between party loyalty and national loyalty, to give the latter preference. It enabled the late Lord Jenkins of Hillhead—Roy Jenkins, as he then was—to lead a significant group of Labour Members into what I considered to be the right Lobby, and so to change the course of history, for nearly 50 years.
I believe that the Prime Minister would be doing a great national service if she took the Whips off, because it would be very difficult for Mr Corbyn to have the Whips on in those circumstances; and it would be very easy for those he attempted to whip to discount the whipping. The right reverend Prelate was right: we really do have to bring our country together. There will inevitably be a period of extension, whatever happens in the other place, to get all the necessary legislation through. There is nothing wrong with that.
I would make another appeal. I have made it in your Lordships’ House before; it fell on deaf ears, but that does not mean that I cannot make it again. In June 2016, after the referendum, I suggested that we should have a Joint Committee of both Houses, with all parties examining the pros and cons. It was sad that red lines were drawn so quickly. It was sad that a certain person was appointed Foreign Secretary so quickly. It was sad that that attempt to bring parliamentarians of both Houses and all parties together was neglected. In the transition period, concentrated and probably fairly brief as it will be, there is no reason why that should not happen and every possible reason why it should. If we are to bring our country together, if we are to heal bitterness and strife, we have to do that, and I very much hope that we will.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my fellow Lincolnshireman, the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. He is a man I have known for many years—decades, really—and I find the two proposals that he has just made rather alluring. They are very characteristic of his continual commitment to finding consensus in our national affairs wherever it is possible to do so. I also thought that his quotation from TS Eliot was the most apt literary quotation that I have heard in the course of these debates—indeed, in all these years that we have been discussing Brexit.
I begin by correcting the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, on a point of constitutional convention. He criticised the Labour Party for resiling from its commitments in the last Labour election manifesto. I have to tell him that we cannot have resiled from those commitments because they disappeared the day we were defeated in the general election. If a party wins an election, it has a contract with the electorate and must fulfil that contract—that is how our democracy works—but if a party is defeated, it has no such obligation, and not only is it free to find other policies if it wishes to do so but, indeed, it is encouraged to do so. Not only constitutional principle but common sense leads in that direction. If the noble Lord thinks about this for a moment, and I hope he might, he will realise that on his approach the Labour Party would still be committed to the nationalisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange, while he and his party would still be committed to opposing Catholic emancipation or the abolition of the Corn Laws, although maybe the noble Lord opposes those things retrospectively. The only reason things move on is that when you are defeated in an election your commitment at that election disappears and you have to think anew. That is a vital part of the process of progress and renewal in a democracy.
Anyone who has been involved in negotiations knows, or ought to know, that your greatest enemy is complacency, self-delusion and a tendency to underestimate the challenges and obstacles you face, to underestimate the strength of the bargaining power of the counterparty with which you are dealing and to overestimate your own. This Government have always believed that, in the immortal words of Mr Gove at the time of the referendum:
“The day after we vote to leave, we hold all the cards”.
They have proceeded on the basis that that was true. They have fundamentally and systematically under- estimated the bargaining strength of the people they were dealing with. They thought that because the EU sells more to us than we do to it, and the Germans sell more than anyone else, the Germans would be running the show and would more or less instruct the Commission to be gentle with us and make whatever concessions were necessary because that would be in the interests of their own firms. The idea that the EU would take a permanent stand on behalf of the Irish, who are rightly defending their right not to have their country divided in half by a hideous permanent border, will not have occurred to them. They will have said, “Oh no. There’s no way that the EU, with 500 million people, will allow a country of 2 million or 3 million to stand in its way”. They were completely wrong on all those points—disastrously wrong. What is more, they were wrong for the wrong reasons, coming back to the TS Eliot quotation given by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack.
I am afraid the British have underestimated the Irish for 800 years. I am sorry that that dreadful tradition still continues in the Tory party of today. The Tory party has never understood the moral force or the genuine idealism behind the European Union, or its genuine commitment to the concept of solidarity. It does not understand those things at all. I suppose this is what Castlereagh called,
“a piece of sublime mysticism and nonsense”.
But it is not mysticism and nonsense; it is a fact that the Tory party should take into account. It will go on making this mistake. The continental countries will not abandon the Irish or ban the backstop. The sooner the Government realise that, the better.
The Government’s capacity for self-delusion does not end there. It goes right across the board and is an extremely worrying facet of the present Administration. It stretches into the economy. I do not want to be seen to be unduly critical of the noble Lord, Lord Bates, first, because I am very fond of him—in common with the rest of the House, I think—and secondly, because he is not in his place today. I regret that, but of course it is totally understandable and that is not a criticism of him either. Nevertheless, he is a government Minister and if he says something before the House, he is accountable for it and it is reasonable for us to continue to say what we need to say on the subject, whether the Minister is present at that moment or not.
I will quote what the noble Lord, Lord Bates, said last week in the debate we had on the same subject. We had been speaking about the economic cost of Brexit, a matter which has naturally come up this afternoon, and on which I want to say something else as well. The noble Lord said:
“What was not given was any potential up side to leaving the European Union”—
he was talking about an economic up side—
“and the ability to have our own trade deals and set our own economic and trade policy. That needs to be factored in, and we remain confident that we have a bright future outside the European Union”.—[Official Report, 20/2/19; col. 2280.]
The Government have now, at last, released their impact assessment of Brexit. It is frightening and appalling. As the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, must know, in the case of his part of the world, the north-east, it predicts that GDP will be 10.5% lower than it otherwise would be, as a result of Brexit. The average decrease throughout the country is between 6.3% and 9%. That is pretty horrific. If you say, “You have not taken the good things and the positive economic return into account,” I have to say: what is the positive economic return? No one has mentioned it. We have had these debates for months and years now, but I am yet to hear about it.
We are now told that we will have trade deals with a lot of countries around the world. However, the day we leave the European Union, we lose 40 trade deals, as we know. Dr Fox said, “Don’t worry, I’ll negotiate the 40 trade deals and have them ready for you by March or April 2019”. What has actually happened? We have five trade deals, I think. In aggregate, they represent about 2% of British exports. Even if he had got all 40 trade deals, it would not have made a penny’s contribution to offset the economic costs of Brexit. It would merely have meant that there would not have been any further costs from losing trade deals. I do not know whether he will get to 40; he is 12.5% of the way there. That is not particularly encouraging.
The big issue is whether we could ever have a trade deal with the United States, which represents 25% of our exports. Does any noble Lord in the House think that is a feasible possibility? That would mean we would have to accept from the United States beef impregnated with antibiotics—a serious and long-term threat to public health. We would have to accept our own beef producers being undercut by incredibly cruel methods of cultivation—such as zero grazing—in the United States. We would also have to accept chlorinated chicken, and so it goes on. Are we going to accept that? I do not think so.
The European Union had discussions with the United States on these features, which broke down, and discussions on the investment guarantee, which might also be a problem. Does any noble Lord believe that the United States would sign a free trade agreement with us, leaving aside agricultural products? No one who knows the United States could possibly believe that for a moment. The enormous influence of the farm states in the Senate is one of the first things that hits you about Congress. It has been the case for a long time. So it is out of the question. We are not going to do it—it is not going to happen. It is fairyland, dreamland.
What about China? Now we are moving a long way down the scale, because we are talking about people who receive a much smaller proportion of our exports, although that proportion could increase rapidly over time. But who, of those who know China, is not aware of the Chinese sensitivity to unequal treaties? Who could imagine suggesting to Mr Xi Jinping an unequal treaty under which we have free trade with China but place quotas on the import of Chinese steel? Do you suppose that any British Government could abolish those quotas and see the end of the steel industry in south Wales and elsewhere? Of course, the Government are committed to not abolishing those steel quotas. So, is there a realistic possibility of a free trade deal with China? No, there is not.
What about India? We know, from the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, during previous discussions on these matters, that Mr Modi—and India generally—has a tradition of not signing free trade agreements with developed countries, which is unlikely to change. Mr Modi has said that the one thing he really wants is more visas. Since a major factor in the result of the referendum was probably immigration, how are we going to turn around and say that now, as a result of that referendum, we are going to give many more visas to India on special terms? That is not likely to happen.
This is rubbish. That is the point: this is total rubbish. We are buying hot air. There is nothing in it at all. There are no countervailing economic benefits from Brexit, no economic gains or economic revenues. Not one has been mentioned in the months of discussion here, and not one exists. None exists outside the fantasies of the Government. It is a very serious matter. I do not know whether the Government have deceived themselves, but they must not be allowed to deceive the British people. Above all, the Government must not be allowed to deceive the British people and, as a result, lead them into a situation in which 10% of their wealth will be destroyed.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Davies. I confess that I do so with a certain amount of envy, because I wish I had the same capacity to speak for 10 minutes without notes and avoid repetition, hesitation or anything of that kind, and to speak, as always, entirely relevantly to the issues that we are discussing.
One of the consequences of this debate is that it has forced me to ask myself if I am a tribalist. I do not think I am, but I certainly believe that the best interests of the people of the United Kingdom rest with remaining in the European Union, and none of the arguments I have heard, right back to the beginning of the campaign for what we may in time come to call the first referendum, has caused me to change my mind in that regard. I make this admission at the outset, so that it is clear precisely which direction I am coming from.
I was interested in the references to the ides of March and Lars Porsena of Clusium. My recollection is that Lars Porsena was not present when Julius Caesar was assassinated, but he was present when Horatius held the bridge. If 14 and 15 March are now so closely allied, I would, if I were the Prime Minister, stay pretty close to my close protection unit—certainly on 15 March.
I go back to the Statement made yesterday by the Prime Minister and repeated here. I have swithered between considering its terms in some respects naive and considering them disingenuous; I am not quite sure which. The Statement, however, assumes that there will be success in obtaining binding legal changes to the agreement that contains the backstop. There is no evidence to justify that. Why should the European Union make any such concession? Noble Lords should ask themselves what would happen if the position were different. Suppose that the European Union had put the backstop in the agreement and that we had agreed to it, and then the EU had come along and said, “Well, actually we want to change the agreement”. What would we be saying here? We would be saying “Pacta sunt servanda”—this is a day for Latin and for a classical education—or, in other words, “You have entered into the agreement and you are bound by it”. It is therefore hardly surprising that there is no rush to offer the changes that the Prime Minister appears to think she is capable of getting.
If the conversations with Mr Tusk to which the Prime Minister referred in the Statement were as constructive as she claimed—if there had been a miraculous breakthrough—we would have heard about it. Being of such significance, it would have been leaked within 10 minutes of the end of the meeting. Exactly the same treatment would be given to the information that the Attorney-General had engineered some legal triumph in Brussels. The truth is that no progress has been reported because there is no progress to report.
I have some sympathy for the Prime Minister, to the extent that, rather like a yacht in heavy weather, she finds herself tacking to one side then the other. According to today’s newspapers, the remainers and soft Brexiteers in the Cabinet were favoured yesterday. As if to balance that, however, the Prime Minister expressly refuses to depart from maintaining the apocalyptic possibility of no deal. She does that because she wants to offer some balance to the fundamentalists. I have not yet read the article by the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, but I shall do so as soon as I am released from my obligations in your Lordships’ House.
The most significant thing that has happened is the publication of the document entitled Implications for Business and Trade. I suggest to the Minister, who referred to the document that was sent to every household in the country, that we send a copy of this document to every household and see what their responses are to the proposal that we should leave no deal on the table.
If this were the United States Congress, I would read the whole document into the record. That, I fear, would make unnecessary demands on the patience of your Lordships. I refer, however, to paragraph 12—to which reference has already been made by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack—which explains how little has been achieved in relation to these so-called trade deals. Furthermore, Article XIV of GATT—to which the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, referred—is eloquently set out in paragraph 14. Later, in paragraph 17, it is stated that:
“Evidence suggests that individual citizens are also not preparing for the effects that they would feel in a no deal scenario”.
Paragraph 18 goes on to say:
“Government judges that the reason for this lack of action is often because a no deal scenario is not seen as a sufficiently credible outcome to take action or outlay expenditure”.
If the public do not think it is a sufficiently credible outcome, why on earth is the Prime Minister determined to stick to it? If ever there were an opportunity to go with public opinion, it is surely there.
The other point I wish to make is that we talk here about Northern Ireland and about the backstop. Noble Lords will see, at paragraph 37, dealing with the question of Northern Ireland:
“Northern Ireland is particularly vulnerable given its high proportion of, and reliance upon, SMEs (75% of all private sector employment) and the number of businesses who trade directly with Ireland (Northern Ireland’s largest international export market)”.
It would be something of an irony, would it not, if Ireland, about which there has been so much discussion in the course of these many debates, were to be the part of the United Kingdom that suffered worst as a result of a no-deal option?
My last reference repeats a question asked of the noble Lord, Lord Callanan. Paragraph 50 consists of three and a half lines under the heading, “British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies”:
“The UK Government continues to work closely with British Overseas Territories, Crown Dependencies, and Gibraltar to prepare for all outcomes, including a no deal scenario. Overseas Territories are likely to experience effects to those parts of their economies with close ties with the EU”.
What are we doing for Gibraltar? What is in the plan for Gibraltar, which is, in many respects, at the mercy of Spain if the United Kingdom withdraws from the European Union? I have not heard any detail about that. If these issues are of such importance to the Government, then surely the Government should have been up front and clear as to precisely what they were offering, and should have considered whether compensation or something else of that kind might be required.
The truth is that anyone who has read that document could no longer, either in conscience or common sense, believe that to leave no deal on the table as some kind of bargaining counter makes any sense whatever. My noble friend Lord Newby beat me to the draw in quoting the noble Lord whose designation is Parkhead. Those who know football in Glasgow will anticipate that at some stage we will get a noble Lord of Ibrox, but perhaps that is a little too frivolous for the occasion. How could anyone who has read that document still hold the notion of a no-deal exit?
On occasion I have accused the Prime Minister of incompetence, and now I fear I accuse her of a lack of responsibility. It is not responsible to take this country down to the wire. If we consider that there have been two and a half years, are we not entitled to ask why that time has been so badly spent that these are still live issues within a few days of the statutory requirement that we leave the European Union? I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, who mentioned the fact that the Prime Minister has managed, whether inadvertently or otherwise, to give the perception that she put the interests of her party above those of the national interest. It is irresponsible of her not to seek to remove that perception at the earliest opportunity.
My last point is, I suppose, rather more personal than I would normally make. I have said already that I do not believe I am a tribalist, but I believe in the European Union and I am afraid to say that nothing that has happened in recent times has caused me to alter that belief. I am told that leaving is a result of the decision of the British public in a referendum, but in the late 1980s and early 1990s—the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, will recall this—the question of capital punishment was a live issue in the Commons. On two occasions, we had votes on whether capital punishment should be restored. I am in no doubt that, had there been a referendum at that time on capital punishment, it would have been carried overwhelmingly in favour. But on both those occasions I voted against capital punishment. I did so because I had successfully prosecuted in capital murder cases where the accused would have been hanged; equally, I had unsuccessfully defended in such cases. I therefore believed that capital punishment was wrong. I believed it was not in the best interests of society or the United Kingdom.
I freely accept that leaving the European Union is of a different order. It is not a precise parallel—parallels are rarely precise—but I have the same strength of feeling that the best interests of this country do not lie in being outside the European Union, and I have the political consequences in mind as much as the economic ones. If I may coin the phrase, “It’s not just the economy, stupid”. We face challenges from Moscow, Beijing and—yes—to some extent, Washington. It is far better to meet these challenges as part of a 28-member Union, which is unique and whose contribution to economic and political stability in Europe has been overwhelming. Why should we give that up?
My Lords, it is a very great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Campbell. Neither he nor I is a tribalist; we have in fact worked together over many years, often in agreement, starting with our joint opposition to the second Iraq war. We are entirely in agreement with the debates on Brexit. It is also a great pleasure to follow two of my neighbours—my noble friend Lord Cormack and my former honourable friend Lord Davies of Stamford. They and I represented Conservative constituencies for many years. We know that there is a serious distinction between the admirable views of the association and the views of the ordinary Conservative voter. They are not the same, and I very much fear that the members of the ERG do not understand that basic fact.
I have expressed my views on a number of occasions, though not recently in formal debate. Therefore, I will confine myself to making three substantive points. First, we should acknowledge that no deal that can be negotiated is better for the United Kingdom than staying in the European Union on existing terms. Because of the negotiating skills of successive Prime Ministers, Britain has achieved the substantial advantage of membership while securing the rebate and also opting out of many policies of which we disapproved. That is a hugely advantageous position. The Prime Minister should have the honesty and the courage to state what probably the majority of Parliament believes—that Brexit is a very serious error. It is a policy which, on its merits, should not be pursued.
I say this not as a Europhile. I am perhaps not as enthusiastic about the European Union as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell. All my instincts are in fact the other way. As a Minister in the Home Office, the DTI, the Foreign Office with my noble friend Lord Garel-Jones, and in agriculture, I attended many euro councils. From that experience, I can identify many defects within the European Union. I do not think that it respects democratic values; I do not believe in ever greater integration. Managing BSE was a profoundly disagreeable experience. However, I am firmly and absolutely convinced that our national interests are best served by remaining within the European Union. Should we leave on any of the terms that are conceivably negotiable, our economic, political, cultural and strategic interests will suffer grave and long-lasting damage—we will enter a period of progressive and relative decline.
When I was in the DTI, I was frequently involved in discussions on inward investment—for example, with the Japanese. In our discussions, we always emphasised that Britain was the gateway to Europe; if you close that gateway, or obstruct the passage, potential overseas investors will simply look elsewhere. In 1962, Dean Acheson said that Britain had lost an empire and had failed to find a role in the world. At that time he was right but, subsequently, we have developed an important role as a leading nation within the European Union—a role which has reinforced, not diminished, our influence on the world stage. We are about to throw all of that away.
I turn to the question of delay. Unless Brexit is delayed, we are due to leave on 29 March. Here, I may have a declarable interest. My family and I have long-standing plans to go abroad on 31 March—that may have been an extremely unwise decision. It is essential that the deadline be extended and it is clear that our European partners would welcome this. There are, of course, short-term reasons for seeking an extension. As the noble Lord, Lord Newby, rightly said, the legislative programme is not, and will not, be ready in time. The problems with the backstop have not been resolved—matters spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Stamford. However, in arguing that we need more time, I am talking about a much longer extension than is generally suggested, particularly by the Prime Minister. I entirely agree with the view of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, on this point.
My reasons for asking for a very long extension relate to the holding of a further referendum. I think that it is increasingly obvious that a further referendum is probably the only acceptable way forward—I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Garel-Jones on this point—but one difficulty lies in determining the question to be put to the electorate. In determining that question, we in fact identify the proper way forward. Clearly, one question should be: should the United Kingdom remain in the European Union on existing terms? That is an essential question, but what about the other questions? I am very cautious about putting the option of leaving the European Union without a deal to the electorate—there is not likely to be a parliamentary majority for such a policy. To impose an obligation on Parliament for which there is no supportive majority is to invite a constitutional crisis of a devastating kind. The question that has to be determined is: what are the other questions? It has to be the negotiated deal, but here lies the problem: what deal?
The deal presently negotiated by the Prime Minister is an interim and transitional deal; it does not and cannot reflect the ultimate arrangements between the European Union and the United Kingdom. It is therefore a very unsatisfactory subject for a referendum. I also acknowledge the arguments of those who say, “Another referendum? How many more?” So if there is to be a further referendum, it should not be on the present and transitional deal but on the final deal, yet to be negotiated, and that may be many years distant.
If that proposition is accepted, much else falls into place. The deadline must be extended well beyond 29 March. Article 50 must be revoked—we are still in time to do that. Then, as full and remaining members of the European Union, we should embark on orderly negotiations to leave the European Union. Once those have crystallised into a concluded agreement, regulating the ultimate arrangements between ourselves and the European Union, that agreement could be put to the country in the further referendum—unless, of course, the electorate is prepared to leave the question to Parliament, which within our constitutional practices would be wholly proper.
I am conscious that what I have suggested will be very unpopular in some quarters. But none of the alternatives are attractive. We are facing the worst peacetime crisis for over 100 years—certainly since the failure of the Home Rule legislation, perhaps before. Now is the time to put what we deem to be the national interest before any party consideration. That is what our predecessors did in May 1940. The Prime Minister fell and a national Government was formed. If the Prime Minister is seen to put nation before party, she may fail, and she may fall. But she will have earned great respect, and history will then judge her generously.
My Lords, in my family, before any departure we have a tradition of doing what we call a “last-minute nervous”—an 11th-hour check that in our preparations to leave, nothing has been overlooked or left behind. In thinking about whether to take part today, I found myself doing that same nervous check: asking whether there could be any issue that we have not properly considered in our take-note debates thus far. Over seven days, according to Hansard, noble Lords have collectively contributed some 280,000 words. The noble Lord, Lord Callanan, is surely right when he suggests there can be nothing we have overlooked. But in searching those 280,000 words, I was astonished to find just 80 covering the specific effects of Brexit on women. It is 99 years, almost to the day, since the first woman spoke for the first time in Parliament and yet over seven days of transcripts, the word “women” appears only 13 times. So I rise again, not wishing to test your Lordships’ patience, but duty-bound to put on the record the potential impact of exiting the EU on women in the UK.
Since joining the EU, as noble Lords will know, there have been substantial gains for gender equality and women’s rights in the UK. Equality between men and women was one of the EU’s founding values, with the principle of equal pay included in the 1957 treaty of Rome. Over the past 45 years, women in the UK have won the right to equal pay, including for work of equal value. We have seen progressive reforms related to part-time workers—the majority of whom are women—parental leave and the gender pay gap. There is now uncapped compensation in discrimination claims and increased protection for pregnant women at work. We have not only seen enhanced employment rights for women; protection for women escaping domestic violence has been strengthened, with European protection orders guaranteeing victims similar protection in all EU member states.
It would not be right to claim that all these advances are solely because of our EU membership; nor would it be right to assume that, on leaving the EU, all this would fall away. Indeed, much of the EU’s equality legislation is already incorporated into domestic law by the Equality Act 2010. Nevertheless, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has raised concerns about the effects of Brexit on women. In doing so, it echoed concerns expressed by the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee in February 2017. Its report concluded that transposing EU law was not enough and that,
“the Government needs to take active steps to embed equality into domestic law and policy”.
In response, the Government said that they,
“share the goal of ensuring there is no erosion of equalities rights and protections at the point of leaving the EU”.
But confidence in that commitment has been undermined by the absence of any references to women in the main body of the withdrawal agreement and by the potential for Henry VIII powers to lead to reductions in protections in future. As the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, noted in this House in March last year,
“the very last thing we should refer to Henry VIII clauses is women’s rights”.—[Official Report, 8/3/18; col. 1227.]
Perhaps the biggest threat to women is dependent on what happens to our economy if—and after—we leave the EU. Any negative impacts of an orderly Brexit, or, in the worst case, of leaving without a deal, will hit women—specifically, the most vulnerable women in our society—hardest. Reductions in public spending have a higher impact on women, as the primary users of public services. Cuts in public sector employment or pay disproportionately affect women because of their greater concentration in this sector. Strains on social care increase pressures on women because they are more likely to care for elderly or disabled family members.
In reviewing the research, it becomes clear that it is not just in the area of hard law that the UK’s equality architecture has been shaped by our relationship with the EU. Equally important is so-called soft law—non-binding measures that serve as tools for promoting gender equality. For example, including gender equality in the evaluation criteria for European research or social funds has created financial incentives for countries to think about gender issues when otherwise they might not have done so. European social funds have played a key role in developing an infrastructure of voluntary organisations providing support to vulnerable women in the UK. Funding streams, such as the Daphne fund, enable research and support aimed at tackling violence against girls and women in the UK. I understand that the Government have committed to honouring this funding until 2020, but it is not clear how these vital services will be supported from this point on.
Membership of the EU has also meant that the UK’s progress on gender equality has been regularly evaluated through the OMC—the open method of co-ordination. The OMC is informed by the systematic collection and analysis of data on, for example, employment and social conditions for women, or underrepresentation of women in political or economic decision-making, or in research and innovation. These international datasets have enabled comparative research on gender issues that provides a valuable evidence base. Of course, this research is EU-funded. Exiting the OMC—if we leave the EU—could mean that the cycle of scrutiny through evaluation, benchmarking and good practice exchange is replaced by a more insular approach to policy design. The challenges to collaborative research in a post-Brexit environment could exacerbate this, with academics and policymakers finding it harder to work across borders and to access shared funding pots.
The Government’s stated commitment to preserving rights and protections for women is, of course, welcome, as were the reassurances of the noble Lord, Lord Henley, in response to questions from the noble Baronesses, Lady Crawley and Lady Gale, in January and March last year. But in the UK’s journey towards gender equality, our membership of the EU has given us something more than just hard and soft laws. Representation at EU level of marginal groups such as women—I find it hard to consider a group that makes up 51% of the country as marginal, but nevertheless—makes them less vulnerable to the ideological preferences of the domestic Government of the day, whatever colour that Government may be. Choosing to pool sovereignty in key areas such as gender equality has enabled the development of initiatives that promote the interests of marginal groups in the national context. I do not see this as giving up control; I see it as providing valuable checks and balances to ensure that certain interests in national policy-making can never be privileged, either consciously or unconsciously, if they have a negative effect on women and their rights.
If nothing else, today I have at least succeeded in adding 1,300 words to the existing 80 on the potential impact of Brexit on women. Your Lordships will note that, throughout, I have not said “will”, I have said “could”. I ask not just the Minister but the formidable women who make up the ministerial team alongside him to play their part in ensuring that “could” is never allowed to become “will”.
Whatever happens next, women’s rights as set out in equality, employment and human rights legislation must be protected. Funding must be made available to maintain vital women’s services, especially for the most vulnerable. The Government must ensure that any economic impact of Brexit does not fall disproportionately on women. This Government and the next must commit to keeping pace with going beyond future EU directives on gender equality. Deal or no deal, leave or remain, we cannot allow ourselves to resile from the steps we have taken over the past 45 years to advance gender equality and enhance the lives of women across the UK.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bull. I congratulate her on finding a relatively unexplored but vital angle on the issue. Although she said “could”, not “will” many times, I note that she also said “must” many times, and I hope that the Minister will take account of that.
It is also a pleasure to speak in this debate, for it is not like other debates on Article 50. For more than two years, we have been told repeatedly that the UK is leaving the EU on 29 March 2019. In the other place, the honourable Member for Wellingborough, who keeps tabs on this sort of thing, calculates that the Prime Minister has issued this declaration 108 times. My noble friend must have come quite close to that total. I was going to ask him if, just this once, he could bring himself to utter the words, “The UK may not be leaving the EU on 29 March 2019”, but I sympathise with his Brexit throat issue, so I wonder whether my noble and learned friend Lord Keen might utter that sentence for the general delectation of the House.
There is, however, no reason for sanguinity. Despite what was said yesterday, the possibility of leaving the EU without a deal remains real—merely potentially postponed. If anyone really believes that leaving without a deal would not be a disaster for our country, they need only to read the document produced yesterday by the Government—not, one might think, a bad day to bury bad news—which has been mentioned several times in the House already. The grim forecasts for the economy in there are eye-popping. It could shrink by 9% on average and 10.5% in the north-east. Between the first quarter of 2008 and that almighty financial crash and the second quarter of 2009, the economy shrank by just 6%. Just think of the many years of austerity it took to finish that. We are talking about a much worse situation and potentially walking right into it of our own volition.
The costs of a no-deal Brexit are literally horrendous. HMRC estimates that the burden on business from customs declarations alone, based on 2016 UK-EU trade in goods, could be around £13 billion a year. I am really sorry that my noble friend Lord Lilley is not in his place to put that £13 billion in context with the £10 billion—it is not really £10 billion—that he feels we might be saving. According to HMRC, that is without,
“accounting for any behavioural change”,
which is HMRC-speak for companies just stopping exporting because it is too much trouble.
Business is simply not ready for no deal. Only 40,000 of the 240,000 businesses that currently export to the EU have even applied for the necessary licences. Apparently HMRC is capable of issuing them at the rate of 11,000 a day, so there is no way they are all going to get their licences for 29 March—and probably not for two months later. Can the Minister tell the House whether he thinks all this trouble is truly worth while. The Government tell us there will need to be import tariffs; of course there will. The document tells us:
“Further details will be announced in due course”.
I wonder whether the Minister could tell us in due course when that might be. The boats are already having to get loaded up with the items to be exported. Indeed, some of those boats have already set off.
We know trade deals have not been signed. The no-deal briefing tells us that certain deals will categorically not be in place for exit day. For some reason, the ones it singles out are,
“Andorra, Japan, Turkey, and San Marino”,
as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, remarked. Quite why Japan and San Marino are viewed in the same way by our Government I cannot imagine. I ask the Minister whether, when these trade deals are put in place, Parliament will have a proper opportunity to scrutinise them. Not all of us may be as terrified of chlorinated chicken as some, but we ought to be able to have parliamentary scrutiny of the trade deals to which we are thinking of signing up.
It is already clear that shop prices are going up, but figures from the ONS only today show that last year the poorest 20% in this country saw their real incomes fall by 1.6%. They are already finding life a real struggle, and as shop prices go up they will find it harder and harder.
As my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, said, this is not just about the economy. There is far more at stake, and many of us believe that the UK is better off from every point of view—not just financial but in terms of culture and security—as part of the EU. That is why I listened with interest to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford and took note of the four elements he saw as the temptations—but I am afraid I cannot agree with him in his call for compromise. I find it absolutely appalling to be asked to take our country into a situation that I believe will make us worse off in every way. I will not refer to Churchill but to GK Chesterton, who said that compromise used to mean that half a loaf was better than no bread. Among modern statesmen, it really seems to me that half a loaf is better than a whole loaf. I want the country to have the whole loaf.
My Lords, I have not addressed this House on Brexit since 31 January 2018, and I doubt whether many other noble Lords who have spoken tonight can say the same. This has partly been a matter of ill health but also, when I look back, I have found that I have nothing to say that I did not say the last time I spoke. I am not as passionately against leaving the EU on the right terms as most noble Lords who have spoken this evening, as the arguments are reasonably finely balanced, but I am totally against leaving without a further referendum. I do not see how a referendum in which the choice was between what exists and a blank piece of paper can bind a future Parliament. If there is a new referendum, it will be between what exists and a deal, whatever that may be. That seems to be a real choice, and it is cracking on immoral to deny that second choice.
My Trappist silence over this last year has not, I am afraid, set an example to the House. I see my great friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, is laughing—her speech today was her 178th contribution in the course of these debates. I single her out because of the magnificence of the speeches she has given. A veritable Niagara of words has spilled out of this House, all of them eloquent, and most of which I agree with. However, I hate to be Eeyore-ish, but what effect have these words had on policy? None; sweet FA; less than Jacob Rees-Mogg has when he passes wind. There is a good reason for this. We as a House have taken the view, I believe rightly, that the will of the elected House must prevail. We have watched in horror, spoken in shock and awe of events down the Corridor, but we have mostly done so feeling that we are powerless to change the course of what is going on. That explains why I am breaking my Trappist silence this evening.
Over the last few months—certainly the last few weeks—the old argument that the non-elected House must give way to the elected House is no longer centre stage. We are now seeing something quite different, which is a battle between the Executive and Parliament. We have had the unedifying situation where the Prime Minister, no less, has decided to ignore the votes cast down there—huge votes against her deal. She goes round, gives it a little dust off, and thinks, “Next time, I’ll try again”. This is no way to run a country, and no way to treat Parliament.
I welcome Mrs May’s forced retreat yesterday. Nothing concentrates the mind like the imminent prospect of defeat, but even after she made these commitments yesterday, there were people in the Commons saying, “We can’t trust her on this. She has wriggled for so long, she’s ignored the Commons for so long; we can’t trust her to observe these”, and they were looking for statutory protections to prevent her doing it. I do not want to go down that road, or for us to be in a situation where we have to intervene. The true power of your Lordships’ House is not what we do; it is what we stop Governments doing because they are fearful of what we could do. We are here, to coin a phrase, as a backstop, and it is fear of the backstop that stops things happening.
I hope a way through can be found from here that avoids constitutional controversy. In noting the right reverend Prelate’s words, and without stirring things up, I would be willing, as a compromise, to allow Mrs May’s deal to go through, provided that she agreed that it would then be put to the people in a referendum, but there are other ways of solving it.
In a nutshell, my point is this. If there is a clash between an unelected House and an elected House, the elected House wins every time. We, as noble Lords, support that. But if the clash is between Parliament and the Executive—Henry VIII re-run, as it were—there is only one right course for us to take: we have to be unequivocally on the side of Parliament, wherever that may lead us.
My Lords, as before, I declare my European and agricultural interests as detailed in the register. I also declare, as I have done before, that if I were a Member of the other place, I would vote for the Prime Minister’s deal, either in its current form or with any amendments she may be able to achieve in the coming days. In this sense, I disagree with those noble Lords who have referred to the inadequacy of the proposed deal. We must keep reminding ourselves that it is only a mechanism to get to a transition period and to the serious negotiation about the future relationship.
This debate is really to take note of the Prime Minister’s Statement yesterday, and it would surely be churlish of us not to welcome that Statement. It changes matters considerably.
In passing, I say this. I am sorry the right reverend Prelate is not in his place. He advised us to resist some temptations to which politicians are so often prone. I very much admired what he said.
The sad truth is that our political system has failed badly in the two and a half years since the referendum. In July 2016, no one could have predicted or imagined that, with only five weeks to go before we leave the EU, the Government of the day have so far been unable to negotiate withdrawal terms that have the support of the House of Commons. Even yesterday, the Prime Minister again delayed a second meaningful vote. But at least she now accepts that the House of Commons must be allowed a vote to block a departure without a deal and to require the Government to seek an extension to Article 50—so obvious to so many Members of this House. This recognition of the seriousness of the situation is to be supported, but how sad that it did not happen weeks or even months ago.
Yesterday evening, the Government published a document on the implications of a no-deal exit, as a number of noble Lords have referred to. Within it, there is much information, most of it not new. It repeats what farmers and businesses have been saying for months:
“For example, the EU would introduce tariffs of around 70% on beef and 45% on lamb exports, and 10% on finished automotive vehicles”.
How serious is that? Surely, only the ultras now deny these predictions. I am quite sure that a majority of both Houses of Parliament agrees that we cannot possibly leave without a deal, that we must have a transition period and that, at this stage, we must also seek to extend Article 50. I still do not support another referendum but it looks as if the tactics of the hard Brexiteers are, in fact, making a referendum more likely. I realise, as the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, just said, that our power in this House to influence these matters is limited but I am sure that we are right to articulate that the mood of the country is not for a no-deal departure. Promoting that concept can only perpetuate the political gridlock from which the escape route may, in the end, become a second referendum.
I think that the wish of the public now is for an orderly withdrawal—a transition period for the multitude of adjustments we have to make and then a long-term trading agreement without tariffs and non-tariff barriers. We must, surely, end up with a close relationship with our nearest neighbours and largest trading partners. We must co-operate on security, on research, in academia and in so many other ways. In the end, in one form or another, we must support the Government’s deal. We undoubtedly need more time. We cannot leave with no deal. I salute the Prime Minister’s eventual recognition of the situation and I hope the House of Commons will, in the next two weeks or before, take the necessary decisions to get us out of this low place of political stagnation.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Duke. He and I were twinned together in proposing an amendment to the EU withdrawal Act on the question of the “tablets of Moses” status of 29 March 2019. I do not expect that the noble and learned Lord who will wind up or his colleague on the Front Bench will admit that they would be in a much more comfortable position today if they had accepted that amendment, but that is a fact and I think it will be borne out within a few weeks.
There has been some shift this week in the course of action to which the Government once appeared to be committed—leaving the EU on 29 March with or without a deal and at any cost. This involved three reckless gambles, not one of which, let alone all three, is likely to be pulled off. Gamble number one is that the EU will blink and concede the changes to the Irish backstop in the withdrawal treaty called for in the Brady amendment which the Government supported and which, I remind noble Lords, involves the “replacement” of the treaty backstop. That is not going to happen, however many lashings of reassurance or clarification are ladled over the treaty, nor will a time limit to the backstop be conceded, nor will an open-sesame key to a unilateral UK exit from it be conceded.
Gamble number two is that the majority of 230 who voted in the Commons in January against the Prime Minister’s November deal—described, I may say, at that time, as the best deal conceivable—will be reversed, transformed by the philosopher’s stone of running down the clock into a vote in favour. That, too, seems unlikely to happen.
Gamble number three is that there is still enough parliamentary time before 29 March either to pass through all the stages and changes in domestic law that will be needed to ratify the deal, if it is approved by the Commons or, alternatively, to prepare the statute book for leaving without a deal. That clearly is simply no longer credible.
This House, on three occasions and with substantial majorities, voted against all three of those gambles, but the Government do not seem to pay much attention to that. They appear to be either unaware of it or impervious to it, and I have never heard a government spokesman actually mention those votes, which is rather sad. However, we do not need to repeat them today: we have said it; it is all in Hansard; it is on the record.
Meanwhile, unlikely as it is that the UK will in fact leave the European Union without a deal either on 29 March or on 30 June, the Government continue to divert billions of tax revenues to the fruitless task of lending credibility to that disastrous option. If press reports of the tariff schedules that we would apply in such an eventuality are to be believed, and they looked pretty convincing to me when I read them this morning, the Government are now also in the process of trying to boost the credibility of leaving without a deal, grievously damaging the jewel in the Brexit crown—an independent trade policy—because they are going to reveal that we, the UK, neither need nor desire to keep the large majority of our present trade protection. What an unrequited gift to those third countries with which we hope to negotiate. Why on earth should they make concessions to us in order to achieve access to our market, which we wish to give them anyway? That is another of the appalling errors that are made as the Government zig-zag around.
I ask the noble and learned Lord just one precise question. It seems that the Government wish to maintain the protection for beef, sheepmeat and dairy products, which we will then apply to trade from our EU partners. Where will those tariffs on EU exports of beef, sheepmeat and dairy products be levied on trade within the island of Ireland? Presumably it will be done on the border but I would like to hear the noble and learned Lord answer that.
It is surely time for all those three gambles to be taken off the table, and the sooner the Government do that, the better, both for them and for the country. Alas, the message from the Government—we have heard it again today from the noble Lord, Lord Callanan—is, as it was the last time we debated it and as it was the time before, “Jam yesterday, jam tomorrow and never jam today”. That message will not suffice next month and it should not even do so today.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. It seems that we are participating in yet another act of that long-running theatrical exercise that has been going on in Parliament for quite some time. Perhaps we could call it “The Brexit Chronicles”. We are not sure yet whether it is a farce, a tragedy, a comedy or some combination of all three—indeed, one could suggest that it encompasses many more aspects of theatre. However, as has been directed by the last act of our play, we are led to believe that somehow the Prime Minister will go back to the EU and get 27 countries to reconsider the withdrawal agreement that she herself agreed, with concessions made on all sides, and tell them to tear up the backstop, which the EU considers essential to protect its external border and one of its smaller nations. The fact that our own Government are willing to play fast and loose with the Irish border is indeed shameful, but that is how it appears.
My noble friend Lord Cormack referred to the excellent article by our noble friend Lord Finkelstein. It seems that the ERG has roundly rejected the only agreement on offer for the orderly—if only for the short term—Brexit that apparently it has always wanted. It has now bullied the Prime Minister into disgracefully refusing to take no deal off the table. The Orwellian arguments being used to keep threatening no deal are almost beyond belief. Indeed, the nationalist obsessions behind these arguments reflect Orwell’s words:
“Nationalism is power-hunger tempered by self-deception”.
The self-deception is on quite an exceptional scale.
I will quote from an article today by my right honourable friend David Davis, who writes that the announcement yesterday,
“sends the wrong message to the EU”.
He says that,
“ruling out No Deal, or extending Article 50 … may harm our negotiating position … because it takes away our leverage in negotiations and is against our national interest”.
So no deal is somehow in our national interest. In any case, the EU has said that the negotiations are over. Even the Prime Minister, in her Statement yesterday, of which we are taking note now, says that these are discussions, not negotiations. As other noble Lords have said, the EU will not reopen the withdrawal agreement. Yet the ERG says that we must not abandon this no-deal charade. That is either dishonest or delusional. I fear that it is the latter, especially as, in the same article, Mr Davis says:
“Above all we all want an orderly exit from the European Union”,
“Conservatism is based on pragmatism and realism”.
He says also that:
“The public has always been ahead of and more relaxed on No Deal than politicians. They are right to be”.
Somehow, therefore, no deal represents an orderly exit from the EU and is the pragmatic and realistic choice. Words almost fail me.
In previous acts of our play we have been told that the purpose of no deal is a necessary fiction of some kind, whose purpose is to threaten or bully the EU into capitulating on the backstop. That is playing Russian roulette with several chambers of the gun loaded. This no-deal threat is not like a normal deal, where you walk away and go back to your village if the other side does not agree to your terms. If we leave with no deal, we will have set fire to many of the homes in our village. It is not like, as some suggest, having an independent nuclear deterrent. We hope never to have to use it. Others also would assume that we will not actually use it, but our enemies cannot be 100% sure. This no-deal threat is not like that. It is about as realistic as threatening to use our nuclear arsenal when the missiles are primarily trained directly on ourselves, or as—as the leader of the Opposition suggested—having our nuclear submarines sailing around without any missiles on them. No deal would be an unmitigated disaster for many parts of our country—not, perhaps, for the individuals who are promoting this idea, but certainly for many innocent people around the nation.
Many noble Lords have referred to the Government’s paper from yesterday. Indeed, my noble friend Baroness Wheatcroft has pointed to one thing that stood out particularly to me, which was the HMRC estimate that the administrative burden on our country’s businesses just from customs declarations on UK-EU goods trade could be around £13 billion a year. I looked up the receipts that the Government get from corporation tax in this country. For the year 2015-16, which is the year to which the £13 billion refers, corporation tax receipts were £43.7 billion. So the impact of a no-deal Brexit, just from customs declarations, would be the equivalent of a 30% increase in corporation tax on British business. Having trumpeted the reduction of corporation tax and tried to attract businesses to the UK, making us the best place to set up a business, the Conservative Party is suddenly suggesting that we contemplate slapping an increase of this nature on our companies, just for a business to be able to carry on doing what it has already been doing freely for years.
The Government have created risk and uncertainty for some of the UK’s largest manufacturing sectors, including automobiles, food and drink, and chemicals. Let us take a couple of examples. Chemical firms with integrated supply chains, whose products cross borders many times, would have to register with the European Chemicals Agency. Currently that is automatic via the EU, but businesses would have to register for 12,000 different registrations if there were no deal and they still wanted to sell into the EU. They would also have to transfer their existing registration to an EU-based entity. Each of those registrations costs £1,500 plus the associated administrative expenses.
For food, the impact of leaving with no deal would be particularly grave. The country is not even remotely ready for a no-deal Brexit. In fact it is probably the small and mundane procedural issues that will cause some of the worst problems. For example, Defra has suddenly realised that we do not have enough pallets to be able to cope with the consequences of no deal. Most pallets that are used by British exporters do not conform to the third-country rules that the EU requires for trade because we have a much more relaxed set of regulations as a member. The UK will apparently not have enough EU-approved pallets for the exports that we require if we leave with no deal in March. Those UK companies that miss out will have to wait for new pallets, which can take weeks to be ready.
Another example is that labels that food and drink companies put on their products will become illegal from 29 March if we leave with no deal. It can take months for new labels to be produced. Any UK company without a presence in the EU would have to take down its websites with a .eu suffix. Here is an example that I find particularly interesting: March/April is a particularly bad time to leave without a deal because it is the very time when we are most reliant on importing fresh fruit and vegetables from the EU. Some 90% of lettuces come from the EU at that time. By May or June there is less reliance on the EU so that would actually be a better time to leave without a deal. That might also help to avoid the worst initial disruption to food supplies, as well as giving more time to prepare for no deal.
This is where I see the situation very differently from my noble friend Lord Howell. I am deeply concerned about how the final act of this Westminster Brexit chronicle may unfold. I am concerned that the possibility of no deal may actually have risen. This could indeed be the final denouement of the saga that we are engaged in. Everyone knows that we are not ready to leave in March with no deal. An extension has to be requested. If it is agreed, the Prime Minister insists that it must be a one-off, it must be short and it must not last beyond June. There will be no renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement, so it is entirely possible that a short delay would be designed just to give us more time to prepare for no deal. In the meantime we will keep threatening no deal and hope that the EU will surrender to our wishes, but if, as most of us in today’s debate agree, the EU will not give us anything better than the withdrawal agreement apart from some slight changes to the political declaration and reassurances on the backstop, what next? We will face the choice between vassalage and suicide. Neither represents the freedom and control that people who voted to leave voted for. The ERG would, it appears, choose the suicidal route, perhaps believing that the gun is not really loaded, or that some deus ex machina will rescue us. Other Members of your Lordships’ House—I entirely understand this—would choose vassalage, at least in the short term, and then hope that the political declaration will deliver some decent terms for us.
However, I believe that Parliament would be betraying our democracy and our country if we refuse to go back to the people and check before taking any of these courses, to make sure that this is what they will support, given that the circumstances are so different from those that people were presented with when they voted in either 2016 or 2017. It is time to respect the British people. We have respected those votes. It is now time to respect the people by asking again for confirmation of whether they wish us to proceed in this way before the final curtain comes down.
My Lords, it is a very great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, who, together with the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, has shown great courage and consistency on this, the greatest question of our times. I think the House owes them a tribute for that.
It is now three months since the Prime Minister reached her withdrawal agreement in Brussels, but we do not seem much further forward. There are very few good options before us. I understand the speech of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, in which he said that we have to vote for this agreement because at least it avoids the calamity of no deal and gives us a transition period in which we can sort out all the problems. I have to say that my main objection to the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement and political declaration is that, despite her constant mantra that the only way to end uncertainty is by voting for her deal, all the deal does is guarantee years and years of uncertainty. We had Ivan Rogers at our Select Committee last week. He thought it would be another five years, if not longer, before we reached what he would call an equilibrium position.
For all the extravagant talk offered by Ministers two years ago, at the start of this process—they said that we would know exactly where we were and that we would have a trade deal by now—none of the key questions about the future relationship between Britain and the European Union has been resolved. In economics, what trade-offs have been faced up to between sovereignty and market access? I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, who first asked about that in the House. What decisions have the Government taken? None. On security, are we determined to align ourselves with the structures of European co-operation, at the same time accepting the legal obligations essential to making those work? On foreign policy and defence, will we stick together with the European partners whose values and interests in this troubled world we most share, or will we drag ourselves off into the foggy mists of some mid-Atlantic anglosphere? The Government have not resolved any of these crucial questions and that is why this deal deserves to fail. All it offers is uncertainty, drift, division and strife for years to come.
There have, however, been a couple of interesting developments in the last week or so. As other noble Lords have pointed out, the first is the Government’s willingness to contemplate some kind of extension of Article 50, at least in theory. In my view, a short extension is not much use, unless the House of Commons has passed the withdrawal agreement and we need that time to carry through the necessary legislation with proper parliamentary scrutiny. In those circumstances, it would be essential, but it is not going to create the conditions in which we can tweak Mrs May’s agreement even more. I do not think Brussels will be prepared to listen again.
The most serious failing of the Prime Minister on this matter is that she appears to have ruled out any possibility of a fundamental rethink of her negotiating position. Although Monsieur Barnier and the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, have said that they would be very interested in further discussing membership of a customs union, single market alignment and all the rest—in fact, they responded rather positively to the letter that the Labour leader sent to the Prime Minister—the Prime Minister has decided this is impossible, so we are not going to get a new approach from her. I think some time ago she decided that her historical role was not that of Robert Peel, but that her main mission in life was to keep the Conservative Party together and in some sort of order. Therefore, I do not think the short extension will do much good. It could be regarded by Brussels simply as giving time for more effective preparation for the consequences of no deal and completing necessary mitigating actions.
The second interesting development is Labour’s commitment to a referendum. I do not often say nice things about my leader, Jeremy Corbyn, but on this occasion I congratulate him on having the good sense to move in this direction. But the whole question of the referendum is not a simple one. Once one has said that one is in favour of a referendum, what would the question on the ballot paper be? I have very clear views. It would be intolerable if the choice offered to the public was between no deal and remain, because no deal is a complete fantasy. At our committee, Ivan Rogers said that if there was no deal, within a week British officials would be on their way to Brussels to negotiate solutions to all the problems we have heard it would create; problems of costs, bureaucracy at the border, EU trade deals we are part of, all sorts of sectoral issues which have been raised in the various SIs that have come before this House. Brussels would say, “Yes, we might discuss this with you, but first you must commit to the £39 billion in the withdrawal agreement that you say you reject and are walking away from”. There is therefore no such thing as no deal: it is a fantasy. I hope that if we do have a referendum and the Bill comes to this House, this House has the courage to say that a no-deal option is not a credible option for us to put to the people.
My final point is that if we are to have a referendum we should not rush into it: we should not try to do it within three months, by the end of June. There is real merit in the idea that is emerging on the continent of a very lengthy Article 50 extension, and we should think about that very carefully. Brussels will not want to deal with Britain during the rest of 2019. It has many other more important things on its plate, including the European Parliament elections, the establishment of a new Commission, and decisions on who the officeholders will be. There will be nobody in Brussels to have a discussion with for most of the remainder of this year. The noble Lord, Lord Callanan—an experienced former MEP—knows that is likely to be the case.
This provides us with an opportunity to try to create a more open and civilised debate than we have had in the past two years about the big questions around what kind of relationship we want with the European Union—questions that have not been properly addressed at all since the referendum, and were certainly not addressed during it. Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, for whom I have great respect, has suggested some ways in which this might be done. I do not know the details of that but I think that this is an opportunity to try to reset the whole Brexit debate, in order to reach a conclusion that is truly in the national interest.
My Lords, I feel rather lonely in this debate. I think that I am fairly well known for being a passionate leaver—a beast in the Brexit herd. Right now, I feel like an isolated wildebeest surrounded by a pride of noble lions, possibly about to be torn limb from limb.
We in Parliament need to lift our heads and see that the mood in the country is one of wanting to get this over the line. People want Parliament to deliver on what 17.4 million voted for, and are profoundly disappointed by the continuous party politicking and thwarting of our departure. It would reflect well on both Houses—and especially on this one, where courtesy is the currency—if the polarising language and behaviour were softened. Currently, anyone who dares to suggest that leaving on WTO terms would not be terminal for our future prosperity is treated with deeply discourteous contempt. Yet that represents a position held by many outside this House, who resent the vitriol that is, by extension, also being poured on them.
If the Prime Minister, who is being attacked from all positions, can be magnanimous, then so can we. Yesterday she acknowledged that:
“For some honourable and right honourable Members, taking the United Kingdom out of the European Union is the culmination of a long and sincerely fought campaign. For others, leaving the EU goes against much that they have stood for and fought for with equal sincerity for just as long. But Parliament gave the choice to the people”.—[Official Report, Commons, 27/2/19; col. 168.]
Yesterday in the other place she also made it clear that there is not just real determination in both the EU and UK Government camps to enable us to leave with a deal, but also tangible work to operationalise the concept of alternative arrangements for the border in Ireland. This would not be taken seriously by both sides if it were really the unicorn some scornfully dismiss it as. Scornful dismissal ignores the fact that MPs coalesced around this as an acceptable plan that would avoid an indefinite Northern Ireland backstop. It also suggests a desire to block Brexit at all costs, as does the push for a second referendum.
Some say we have to give people another vote because no one in the country voted leave in order to be poorer and less secure, or to have fewer choices in the supermarket. I do not know how this can be said with such certainty, especially when there is hard evidence of what people did vote for. Lord Ashcroft’s polling on referendum day, which was in the same ballpark as findings from YouGov and the British Election Study, found that nearly half of leave voters, 49%, said the biggest single reason for wanting to leave the EU was, “the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK”. One-third said the main reason was that leaving, “offered the best chance for the UK to regain control over immigration and its own borders.” Just over one in eight said that remaining would mean having no choice “about how the EU expanded its membership or its powers in the years ahead”. Only 6% said their main reason was that, “when it comes to trade and the economy, the UK would benefit more from being outside the EU than from being part of it”. Yet when the Prime Minister’s Statement was repeated in this House yesterday, in the exchanges that followed much was said about trade and economics, as was said today—
The noble Lord has just read out a long list of the motivations of those who voted leave in June 2016, with percentages for those who were moved by those considerations. Will he say which one the Prime Minister’s deal fulfils?
Will the noble Lord repeat the question?
After he has read out the list of motivations of those who voted to leave, will he say which one, if any—I do not believe there are any—the Prime Minister’s deal actually fulfils?
The issue is sovereignty, which, as I said, was not mentioned yesterday and I do not think it has been mentioned today.
That was the main issue, according to the polling, behind people voting to leave. It was not about trade and the economy, where the UK would benefit more from being outside the EU than from being part of it. When the Prime Minister’s Statement was repeated in the House yesterday, much was said in the exchanges that followed about trade and economics, but no one mentioned the fundamental importance of sovereignty to those who voted leave. Our silence in this area makes us seem very out of touch, so I shall take a little time to spell out why so many wanted to leave the European form of federal government—not, I might add, to leave the continent of Europe itself. I have not heard anyone express an interest in pulling up the drawbridge or stopping the flows of trade which so many forms of business value greatly.
Many noble Lords, perhaps particularly those on the Benches opposite, will be familiar with the erstwhile Viscount Stansgate, Mr Tony Benn, and his five questions for people of power. I must admit, I never thought I would be quoting this particular political giant, but he makes a powerful point. His five questions were,
“what power do you have; where did you get it; in whose interests do you exercise it; to whom are you accountable; and, how can we get rid of you?”.
They will also be aware of his maxim:
“Anyone who cannot answer the last of those questions does not live in a democratic system”.—[Official Report, Commons, 16/11/98; col. 685.]
We cannot get rid of President Juncker, President Tusk, Monsieur Barnier, Herr Selmayr or the European Commission. But, according to the House of Commons Library, the democratic deficit of the European Union is much wider and deeper than this. Its main characteristics are:
“The increased use of qualified majority voting … for the adoption of legislation in the Council; limiting Member States’ powers by removing their veto in the Council of Ministers; expanding the policy areas in which the EU has a role, sometimes excluding any action by Member States (EU ‘exclusive competence’); an increase in executive power and a decrease in national parliamentary control with deeper EU”,
First, is the noble Lord aware that the only areas in which the EU has exclusive competence are trade and competition? Secondly, is he aware that the European Parliament has the power to dismiss the European Commission, which it has in fact done, in a way that I am not aware that our Houses of Parliament have done in recent times?
I thank the noble Lord for his intervention. I am quoting from the House of Commons Library information on democratic deficit. It goes on to say—
I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Is he by any chance aware that the biggest extension of qualified majority voting was conducted under Baroness Thatcher, with a view to establishing the single market? Why does he think it terribly undemocratic that decisions can be taken by a majority, when he has just told us that because 17 million people voted to leave we have to agree with them?
I believe that the system until now has been that each country has a veto, and, as I say, the qualified majority voting would now override that veto. I will carry on about the democratic deficit. The Library document goes on:
“The EU’s executive, the Commission, is unelected; the EP is too weak compared with the Council and Commission”,
and elections to it are not really European elections. Electorates vote on the basis of their support for domestic parties, and turnout is low. It has fallen by 30% since the first elections in 1979. The European Union,
“is too distant from voters”,
“adopts policies that are not supported by a majority of EU citizens; the Court of Justice makes law rather than interpreting it; there is a lack of transparency in the Council’s adoption of legislation and in certain appointments (e.g. EU Commissioners); EU law has primacy over national law and constitutions”.
Unsurprisingly, the latest Eurobarometer survey shows that among the EU 28 countries only 42% tend to trust the EU versus 48% who do not, and the UK lags very far behind—53% of those in the UK do not tend to trust the EU versus 31% who do. This, like so many other things, could be blamed on Brexit, but even back in spring 2015 the United Kingdom had one of the lowest trust ratings of the EU’s institutions across the 28 nations. Only 27% tended to trust the European Commission, compared with the EU 28 average of 40%, and only 29% tended to trust the European Parliament, compared with the EU average of 43%.
National leaders are also painfully aware that the EU is in urgent need of reform. According to Tim Shipman’s book about the road to Brexit, All Out War, Merkel was consulted before David Cameron gave his Bloomberg speech pledging an in/out referendum in the Conservative 2015 election manifesto and she,
“urged him to ‘couch the speech in an argument about Europe having to change’”.
He fell in with this, taking,
“Merkel’s advice on how to pitch his call for reform”,
in that speech, by saying:
“I am not a British isolationist. I don’t just want a better deal for Britain, I want a better deal for Europe too”.
That completely sums up my own position.
As I said at the beginning of my speech, we have to lift our heads and see beyond the current entrenched positions. The painful reality and process of Brexit will or should exert enormous moral pressure on the European Union to reform so that continental citizens are better served—otherwise, we could be the first of many to leave. This is another reason why holding a second referendum would be so damaging. Instead of sending the message that democracy and sovereignty matter, and sowing unchokeable seeds of reform, we would instead be saying that they have to be traded off so that we can stay in thrall to a status quo that really serves only the elites who prop it up. In our own and countless other electorates, there would forever be that recognition that democracy ain’t what it seems to be.
Noble Lords will be pleased to know that I am finishing my speech. As a metals trader for more than half a century—I shall change tone here—I want to finish by saying something about trade. In the financial markets, there is a fear of global stagnation. I read this afternoon about the American factory output being disappointing again. While this has very little to do with our leaving the EU, Brexit could be a can opener for new trade initiatives. By breathing life into a world somewhat obsessed by tariffs, it will potentially end up boosting the global economy by breaking up the rather sedentary three big blocs of the US, China and the EU. The world needs competition to be encouraged and Britain could be an agent for that. So instead of a harbinger of doom, Brexit could be a force for reform, both economically and politically, but we have to get on with delivering it. It is, after all, the will of the people.
My Lords, as the last speaker before the winding up speeches, I should have liked to offer your Lordships a peroration, but could not hope to equal the force or the humanity of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, who have spoken so eloquently, and with whom I agree so completely that the vote to leave the EU was a historic and very sad mistake, significantly compounded by decisions made since.
To go to the other extreme, I offer instead a short endnote—a little dry, perhaps, but I hope of a nature to pique the professional interest of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, and to coax a response out of him when he closes this debate. The three-month extension to be debated on 14 March, if previous votes so require, would fall well short of the minimum 22 weeks that the UCL Constitution Unit and others have suggested would be necessary for a referendum. In practice, and allowing for the time necessary to give effect to the result, this would require an extension at least until the end of the year or, if the advice of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, is followed, deep into the middle of the next decade. The Prime Minister was at pains yesterday to resist the possibility of a long extension on the basis that an initial extension beyond the end of June would require the UK to take part in the European Parliament elections, and that a supplementary extension, entered into after the end of June, would be “extremely difficult” if we had not taken part in them.
I invite the Minister to agree with me that when there is a will, there is a way. Does he agree that this country could take part in the European Parliament elections if we are still a member state at that point? Indeed, that is expressly contemplated by the Council decision of 2018 that establishes the composition of the Parliament, and the Electoral Commission has already set aside a budget for it. Yes, some might find an election in those circumstances a little odd. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, right at the start of this debate, described it as indefensible, but it is democratic. Why should it be any more odd or less defensible than continuing to participate in the other institutions of the European Union—the Council, the Commission and the court—as we shall do for as long we are a member, as provided for in the treaties?
Then the legal service of the European Parliament, in an opinion of 7 September 2017 that received some publicity at the time, confirmed that the European Parliament would be validly constituted, and its legislation valid, even in the event of a failure by the UK to organise elections. That is unsurprising, one might think, since if laws were not valid in those circumstances, any member state could hold the whole EU legislative process hostage by refusing to hold elections. Does the Minister agree with that opinion?
I do not underestimate the difficulties that would have to be surmounted before any further referendum could be held, not least the definition of the franchise, the choice of the question or questions, and the measures that would be needed to prevent the serious malpractice, or worse, that attended the last one. We will know in a couple of weeks whether there is the necessary public or political will to start down that road. But I suggest that the time needed for a referendum will not be denied to us by the electoral law of the EU, and I ask the Minister to confirm that narrow but important point.
My Lords, we have had an unhappy almost three years of the Tory Government supposedly taking back control, restoring parliamentary sovereignty, launching global Britain and respecting the will of the people. They have not achieved any of those things. “What control?”, you might well ask. The Prime Minister is in fact simply muddling through. She trots out the same tired old mantras and slogans which have been emptied of any meaning. There is a leadership vacuum, her Cabinet is totally divided, and her authority and that of her Government have thoroughly dissipated. The whole Tory outfit is dysfunctional.
Incredibly, they want to inflict that dysfunction on the country, continuing to hold, over 66 million people, the threat of a chaotic, catastrophic no deal which would slash GDP, public spending, jobs and security, while creating new red tape, costing businesses £13 billion, and big new hassles for individuals wanting to travel, which are spelled out in some detail in yesterday’s document. There are not enough adjectives, or at least not enough polite ones, to do justice to the lack of responsibility of the Government.
One commentator wrote this week that it was Nick Timothy who,
“persuaded the prime minister to trigger Article 50 so quickly and drew the red lines that defined the UK’s Brexit negotiating position, with his boss apparently unaware of the consequences of being so disastrously boxed in”.
That rings absolutely true, and as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said, alternatives such as the EEA were simply not explored. Has the Prime Minister been admirably determined, ignorantly stubborn or too vain to consult, listen and change course? I tend to the latter conclusion.
Some voters seem to think that no deal means that we stay as we are, in the EU, which seems to account for the high score that no deal gets in polls. But one other factor must be the sheer incredulity that any Government would inflict, or contemplate inflicting, such appalling destruction on their own citizens, let alone a Tory Government who have always asserted their claim to economic competence—I think that was the point made by Nick Boles MP in the Evening Standard the other day.
As for restoring parliamentary sovereignty, we have had three years of Theresa May’s Government trying to boss Parliament around, denying its proper constitutional role, and wasting taxpayers’ money fighting court cases, before kicking and screaming as they had to concede some power over the triggering of Article 50 and the withdrawal process. Even now they are resisting proper parliamentary involvement in trade negotiations. As the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, pointed out, the European Parliament has shown more muscle towards its Executive—the European Commission—than the House of Commons has shown towards its Executive.
A lot of this is the consequence of the excessive power that our defective first past the post voting system gives a British Prime Minister, and whatever happens with Brexit, it will have woken up a lot of people to the fact that the cause of political and constitutional reform is not some dry arcane fancy but a crying need to reflect a diverse population and liberate it from elective dictatorship.
It is now time for Parliament to take control, as I hope it has been doing. The Prime Minister cannot be trusted to put the interests of the country before her own and those of her party. There is a real sense that MPs are finally getting their act together in refusing to let this Government—or indeed the Official Opposition—drive us over a cliff. The Prime Minister has been forced, more or less, to take no deal off the table and to open the prospect of an extension to Article 50, which President Tusk rightly described at the weekend as a “rational solution”. Meanwhile, the leader of the Opposition has been forced, more or less, to concede that a people’s vote is the best way to resolve the impasse.
I very much welcome the prospect that MPs will vote on 14 March to seek an extension. That would be a fitting birthday present for me. As President Macron has said, there needs to be a real purpose to an extension, not more delay and prevarication. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister continues to play tiresome games, such as yesterday when she promised legally binding changes to the backstop. We all know that this does not reflect reality, as my noble friend Lord Campbell of Pittenweem pointed out. The Brady amendment’s purpose of effectively removing the backstop is not going to happen. The Prime Minister insults not only our intelligence but her own, if she thinks we believe that it will.
Similarly, a game of smoke and mirrors is being played about the Government’s position on no deal. The Minister could not tell us how the Government would want their MPs to vote on 13 March, if one takes place. One journalist has—legitimately, in my view—called Mrs May a post-truth Prime Minister, because you never know what to trust in what she says.
Global Britain was always a farcical slogan. We have had more international influence as a leading member of the EU in recent decades than since the height of empire. All that Brexit has achieved is to leave us remarkably friendless. In the UN General Assembly decision to refer the question of sovereignty over Chagos to the International Court of Justice, our EU allies deserted us; whereas, pre-2016, one of the strengths we enjoyed was reliance on their support in multinational fora. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, that Brexit reduces our national sovereignty.
Global Britain seems, in fact, to consist of making gratuitous insults and silly gestures, by pretending to be more powerful than we are, at enormous cost to our economic well-being. In the last couple of weeks alone, members of the Government have, in various ways, upset Japan, China and Bangladesh. Post-Brexit Britain will not have any trade links at this rate. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, unilateral abolition of tariffs deprives us of trade negotiating leverage.
The UK spent decades building a strong relationship with Japan as its principal economic partner in Europe, in the expectation that we would be members of the European Union and offer stable policies, including, crucially, seamless access to the European market—the gateway to Europe, as the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, put it. It was on this basis that Mrs Thatcher wooed companies such as Honda, Nissan and Toyota. The Government have now comprehensively trashed that relationship with the third-biggest economy in the world, while the EU forges ahead with its new free trade agreement with Japan. Japan was very upset—and made its feelings known—to get a letter from Jeremy Hunt and Liam Fox that told it to get a move on with a UK-Japan trade deal—the one we will need if we crash out on 29 March.
China is meant to be a big new trade opportunity, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, emphasised, even though EU membership should not have prevented us expanding trade with it. EU partners manage to have a bigger volume of trade with China—and, indeed, India—than we do, so EU membership is clearly not a constraint. Then along comes the Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, absurdly vowing to send our aircraft carrier to the South China Sea. There are real issues about Chinese encroachment there, but gunboat diplomacy is not going to solve them.
The latest example is Bangladesh. The Home Secretary decided to revoke Shamima Begum’s British citizenship on the assumption that she would be eligible for Bangladeshi citizenship, but apparently without consulting the Bangladeshi authorities about whether they wanted her as a citizen. They said that they did not, and the British Government thereby rendered her stateless and broke international law in enormously careless fashion. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, spoke knowledgeably and wisely about that.
Our relationship with our EU partners has hardly fared better. The disdainful way in which many Brexiters have treated the demands of the Good Friday agreement and the position of the Republic of Ireland has been a disgrace. Some of them have hurled absurd insults at Germany. We have given Spain licence to raise problems over Gibraltar and offended east European countries over the treatment of their citizens. Are we supposed to rely on President Trump—a protectionist keen to sell us chlorinated chicken and unreliable on the US NATO guarantee?
The extent of cross-party co-operation and the breaking down of tribal barriers that we have seen recently is very significant. We have seen the formation of the Independent Group, with defections from both the biggest political parties and the demonstration of muscle from some Ministers and shadow Ministers, all displaying that pluralist politics at last has a chance in this country. If this can happen under first past the post, imagine the possibilities for co-operation and common sense if we change the voting system.
To the Prime Minister, the will of the people worthy of respect has a very narrow definition, meaning only those who voted leave. It was amusing that yesterday, the Government stressed that the opinion of the ICJ on Chagos was non-binding, whereas they have treated the result of a non-binding referendum as holy writ. Those who voted remain have been shunned as citizens of nowhere: in effect, non-persons who can be ignored and belittled.
If the Prime Minister really wants to respect the will of the people, she must put her deal to a vote of the people, with an option to remain. That would show real leadership of a type that we have lacked. That is not to second-guess the 2016 referendum, as the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, claimed in opening. It would be the first opportunity to judge the real nature of Brexit. I am hopeful that such a vote will happen and I will win my £5 bet with the noble Lord.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords for their contributions. I am particularly grateful to noble Lords who have said something new.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, began by referring to the Prime Minister leaving no-deal threats on the table or not taking such a deal off the table. Similar observations were made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, and the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann. The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, contented himself with alluding to a fantasy. Let us be clear. This may help some people’s conscience, but the Prime Minister did not put no deal on the table; nor did she threaten with regard to no deal. This Parliament put no deal front and centre of the issue. This Parliament passed the referendum Bill. I wonder how many people here voted against it. They passed the referendum Bill. Then this Parliament passed the Bill to allow the Article 50 notification to be served. I wonder how many people here voted against that. I see one or two.
Well done, you are entitled to refer to a fantasy; others are not. The consequence of that was that we were leaving consequent on the application of Article 50, which required at the level of international law that a certain notice period should be given.
I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving way. He said that the Prime Minister was not responsible for putting no deal on the table. Did he read the Lancaster House speech, in which she said that no deal was better than a bad deal, and then repeated it several hundred times?
The noble Lord’s observation is utterly irrelevant in this context. Let us be clear as to what the legislation provided. Ultimately, it provided that we would leave the EU on 29 March 2019. This Parliament determined that date—not the Prime Minister, not the Executive. Let us bear that in mind, shall we? It is in that context that you have to look at where we are going.
I come on to some of the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Newby. I am a little concerned for him, because he appeared to proceed on the basis that purgatory has its limits. I am terribly sorry to inform him that, as and when he arrives in purgatory, he may find that it is actually indefinite. He had better proceed with a degree of care in that context. He made an allusion to Mr Corbyn as a “schoolboy”. I do not want to take the allusion too far, but I will refer to one well-known fictional schoolboy called William, who said you cannot have a referendum if you do not know the question. We all know that. The point is that Mr Corbyn may be in favour of a referendum, but we have no idea what question he might or might not have in mind. Other members of his party have advanced questions, of course, but Mr Corbyn himself has not told us what his question is or is going to be. It appears that it is hidden in his allotment at present.
I know Cabinet responsibility has gone a little awry on that side, but we actually still have it. We have made it clear—Keir Starmer, Emily Thornberry and I have made it clear—
What about Corbyn?
On his behalf. We do not wheel him out on every occasion to make these speeches. I can call him in, if you like. We are quite clear what the questions are. It depends what happens down there but, assuming a deal goes through, it would be the deal that goes through against remain.
It is comforting to know that Mr Corbyn has friends. It is also comforting that they can speak for him when he does not speak for himself. It remains interesting that he has yet to express his view as to what the question would be. As I say, at the end of the day you cannot have a referendum without a question.
The noble Lord, Lord Newby, also raised a question about the time for further legislation. Our position remains that, as with the secondary legislation programme, the Government are confident that primary legislation required for exit will be delivered. Business in both Houses is being scheduled accordingly to allow for that. I acknowledge that there will be a need to balance the requirement to pass vital legislation sent to us by the Commons with the need to ensure that this House has adequate time to scrutinise such legislation.
I am very grateful to the Minister for clarifying that. Could he go further and answer my question about whether the Government intend to get through by 29 March the Agriculture Bill, the Fisheries Bill, the immigration Bill and the Trade Bill?
As I indicated, all necessary legislation will be taken through in time for exit day, and that is our intention.
Barking from a sedentary position does not advance matters. I wonder if it might just be noted that it is our intention to take through all necessary legislation required for exit day, and we will deliver the business as required in both Houses. That is what is planned.
Will the Minister define what “necessary legislation” will be?
Yes, of course. Necessary legislation is the legislation necessary to have in place for exit day. I hope that clarifies that point for the noble Lord.
I turn to some of the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, who among other things asked us to contemplate the Swiss approach to free movement. It was a very interesting observation. I ask him to contemplate the Swiss referendum to end free movement and the threats then faced by Switzerland from the EU as a consequence of having had that referendum. It was not the Swiss approach to free movement that succeeded.
I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord, because he is telling us a little Swiss story. Perhaps he would end by explaining how they had a second referendum.
I see no need to do that in the circumstances, but many would regard that as an outrage in the context of the democratic traditions of the cantons of Switzerland.
I appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, is deeply attached to the idea of the EU and would not easily give it up. I think he may be an alumnus of the Glasgow Academy—its motto is “serva fidem”, or “keep the faith”. Certainly, he intends to do so, even in the face of the result of the referendum itself.
Turning to the observations of my noble friend Lord Hailsham, I regret to say that his proposition regarding the revocation of Article 50, for the purposes of contemplating a future and final referendum, is unworkable. The European Court of Justice made it clear in the Wightman decision that Article 50 could be revoked only in circumstances where the relevant member state intended to remain, without qualification, in the EU for the future, and could not be revoked in good faith for other purposes. Therefore, that proposal is not workable.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bull, observed that there might have been some deficit in the references to women’s rights and interests in our extensive debates on this matter. I will not challenge her on that, but I observe that the UK—not just the EU—has sought to lead the way in establishing clear, unequivocal grounds for gender equality and other equality issues. These are values we wish to see maintained after we leave the EU, and they are already enshrined in retained EU law, but we have that in mind.
My noble friend Lady Wheatcroft asked whether future trade deals would be scrutinised by Parliament. There are mechanisms already in place by which international treaties which the Executive propose to enter into may be the subject of scrutiny by Parliament, and they may be considered further in the context of Brexit. That remains the position.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, in his sunny way, referred to leaving on 29 March as a reckless gamble. With respect, it is not, and I share the confidence expressed by my noble friend Lord Howell that the Prime Minister’s deal—the withdrawal agreement—will be approved by the House of Commons when it comes to a vote on 12 March or earlier. Sharing that confidence, I do not consider that we are indulging in what was termed a reckless gamble. He also raised the question of where tariffs on beef and other agricultural products will be levied in Ireland. The answer is that there are many schemes by which that can be dealt with, without the erection of a hard border. As he is aware, various parties are looking at various schemes at present in that context.
Regarding the commitment to a referendum by the Labour Party, the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, observed that it took us to the issue of what the question would be, one which he regards as extremely complex, requiring careful consideration, and which he does not appear to regard as having been resolved by Mr Corbyn’s fellow shadow Cabinet members. That will be an issue.
The noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, asked a series of questions. First, I agree that a three-month extension would not be sufficient to arrange and carry out a second referendum. No one would take issue with that, but then we do not propose a second referendum. Secondly, could we take part in the EU elections if we had a post-June extension? No, because we have already repealed the relevant domestic legislation for the purposes of having that election. Thirdly, the noble Lord’s point that the EU Parliament could sit without the UK having had an election to the European Parliament is correct, because there are circumstances in which the Parliament will sit when one or more member states has declined to carry out the relevant electoral process. Clearly, as he indicated, the EU Parliament could not be held to ransom in those circumstances. The Parliament and its other institutions would continue to function, albeit without the direct representations of UK MEPs in such circumstances.
Finally, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to the debate—
The noble and learned Lord went out of his way, I think, to say that there is no such thing as a no-deal exit. Am I correct?
I did not say that at all.
He might care to have regard to the frontispiece of the document issued yesterday by the Government, which reads:
“Implications for Business and Trade of a No Deal Exit on 29 March 2019”.
Someone in the Government seems to think that there is such a thing as a no-deal exit.
Nobody doubts that there could be a no-deal exit because that is what Parliament has provided for in the event that there is no withdrawal agreement. There is no question of that whatever. However, we remain confident that we will have a withdrawal agreement in place and, accordingly, will not have to face a no-deal Brexit.
Is that it?
I commend the Motion to the House.
House adjourned at 7.36 pm.