Motion to Take Note (Continued)
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard. If only he were just as willing to follow me on one or two of the issues that we discuss, but we always do so in a spirit of dignity and good humour. Long may that be the case when it is so often lacking in these discussions.
Over the weekend, I went to see the Magna Carta in Salisbury. It is one single, magnificent sheet of parchment—not 611 pages, just one—and it got me wondering precisely what our rather dusty barons of Runnymede were about. I suppose at the heart it was the question of who owns Britain. In the eight centuries since Magna Carta the answer has moved steadily, if not always inexorably, in one direction: the people. It is the people who are the ultimate source of our power and authority—except that recently, the people started discovering that they were losing their power. There were things that they could not change, not even through an election. They no longer owned this country. We pretended otherwise, of course. We even gave the people a referendum and promised that they would decide but that was not strictly honest, was it? The noble Lord, Lord Sherbourne, who is sadly not in his seat any more, described that to us so eloquently just a few minutes ago. And so we have created this momentous mess.
For the moment, I would like to focus my remarks on our relations with Ireland and make three points. First, perhaps I am a little naive but I do not actually understand what is meant by a hard border. I know it is absolutely central to everything—the backstop and the whole of Brexit—but what is a hard border? Is it a line on a map or a white line on the road? Is it CCTV cameras or barbed wire? We have spent so long talking about it that there must, I am sure, be a definition. I would be grateful if my noble and learned friend would take pity on my naivety and give us a precise definition of what the Government think a hard border is. I am in a state of heightened expectation.
Secondly, can I be allowed to express my astonishment that no one in this Government seems to have made it their passion to tell the people of Ireland that we understand their concerns—that we embrace them and will not let them down—and that whatever is decided in Brussels it will not be the British who build border posts? The Irish have a special place in our past and in our future. For me, Ireland is more than a friend and neighbour; it is practically family. We have all fought so hard, suffered so long and endured so much to bring our relations out of the pit of despair. So why are not we doing more? It is never too late.
My third point is this. The United Kingdom and Ireland have made so much progress in the last 20 years, yet Brussels seems to be trying to wrench our two nations apart again and to turn fraternity into rivalry by imposing a deal that threatens to divide the United Kingdom itself. Do your Lordships remember how ferociously angry the Germans got when someone suggested that the unification of their country might be a bad idea? That is nothing compared to the fury that would erupt in Germany if they were told that it had to be divided once again. Yet division is precisely what the EU is now advocating for the United Kingdom. Monsieur Barnier was reported in the French current affairs magazine Le Point as saying in 2016:
“I’ll have done my job if, in the end, the deal is so tough on the British that they’d prefer to stay in the EU”.
To me, that sounds like punishment and the imposition of penalties, and it has been a consistent theme of EU policy these past two years.
I have never known a time like this. We have a flat-pack Cabinet that threatens to collapse every time you switch the telly on. I have never known a House of Commons like this: there are MPs who treat the future of this country like feudal lords, the sort we kicked out of this House generations ago; who treat their manifesto promises like discarded Christmas wrapping paper; who walk out of the prison gates and straight back into the House of Commons to vote on the laws that we are going to live under. It is extraordinary. How on earth did we get here?
Nobody in their right mind ever pretended that Brexit would be without its challenges, so I go back to the question posed by our dusty barons of Runnymede. Who is in charge here? Well, perhaps we will find out tomorrow. If it all goes screwy again, however, sources are suggesting that the Prime Minister might resign. That would of course be a personal tragedy.
I am grateful for that point. The barons of Runnymede insisted that we live under the rule of law, which is what we are talking about here, right now. The barons of Runnymede said that there must be change and, over 800 years, there has been a huge amount of change. It has taken a few beheadings of noble Lords, I would submit, but we have got where we are and been admired for the parliamentary democracy that we have built in this country—until now.
I return to the point that the Prime Minister’s future seems in jeopardy and, if she were to resign, it would be a personal tragedy. She has worked so hard but, in the circumstances, perhaps it would be constitutionally understandable. I wonder what a new Prime Minister’s first words from the steps of Downing Street might be; not “Brexit means Brexit”, surely. That one has been a bit overdone. But perhaps he or she might start the long process of restoring people’s trust by turning to them and saying that this is your country, your future; it was your choice. I hope, on their behalf, that we can still find the wisdom to get on and deliver the Brexit they voted for.
My Lords, I invite the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, to take a trip around the external borders of the 27 EU member states and the EEA, and he will see what a hard border is like. They want to know what is coming in, where there is free movement of goods and services, if it is safe, undermining competition or fraud. That is a hard border, and so it is easy to work out what a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland would be like.
I enjoyed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, but I am afraid it is about three years too late. The message was exactly there, but about three years too late. I last spoke in the December debate—the one the Prime Minister ran away from before withdrawing the motion in the Commons—so I look on tomorrow as, in reality, the third time she has asked the Commons to vote on her deal. She asked them in December and they went through a couple of days’ debate, as we did in this House, before she ran away from it. But you cannot ask the same question enough times for the Prime Minister—while denying the British people the chance for a first vote on her deal. That is the reality.
I missed only one speech. I regret it, but there is a crucial meeting to try to save the Labour Party going on in Committee Room 8 upstairs, chaired by Tom Watson, so I had to make my mark in it. I missed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, but nobody has mentioned the 15.8 million who have been dismissed and forgotten. There is a lot of talk about the 17.4 million. I know it is the bigger figure, but 15.8 million people have been given no consideration or shown no concern by the Government since 23 June 2016. There are still arguments about the way that result was achieved.
I accept it is a bad deal and, as I said in December, I have read part of every page of the deal and it is Brexit in name only. It stops a trade deal with the United States of America, which I think is a good thing at present, but we will become rule-takers. There is no question about that. We were told originally that the plan would be to leave knowing what the future relationship with the EU will be. That plan was torn up. The withdrawal agreement is the easy bit, because we are going to have two, three, four or maybe five years of negotiations to try to get a deal with the European Union. It will go on for ever, as far as the public are concerned. They will think it is all over if, this week, some arrangement is made. That is not true. The hard work starts then.
I want to raise one point today, which relates to young people. Their future is most affected by the decision to leave, and they should have a say. The Scottish independence referendum convinced me to support voting at 16. I had opposed it until then, but I would support it now. There should be a people’s vote on the deal and the voting age should be 16. By this summer, the earliest time for a review or vote, it will be three years since the EU referendum. Those too young to vote in 2016 will, even under the current rules, have the opportunity to vote and have their view on record. It will be around 2 million extra young people. I freely accept that the polls, from 2016 to those of today, indicate that an overwhelming majority of young people would vote to remain. Yesterday in the Guardian online, the results of a BMG poll carried out on behalf of some anti-Brexit youth groups showed 74% of those too young to vote in 2016 would back remain. This rises to 87% support among those who said they would definitely take part.
There is no question about that: I have got a lot wiser, because I voted no in 1975. This same poll showed that 55% of young voters would be angry if the UK left the EU without a public vote, compared to 9% who would be happy to leave without a vote.
The point is that I do not have to rely on a media report of a poll. In fact, the only reason I put my name down for today’s debate was that I thought something might have changed. But I also knew, by the middle of last week, that I was going to a sixth-form college on Friday to have a chat about Brexit and to listen. I was at Hereford Sixth Form College with a group of about 100 students. The straw poll at the beginning of our discussion mirrored exactly what that BMG poll said—it was about four or five to one in favour of remain—but after an hour we left the meeting with two key questions that they raised after consideration. They were really concerned whether, if there is another vote, 16 year-olds would be able to vote, “as it is our future”, and whether—because they are citizens of the world—it would be more difficult to address climate change when we are outside the EU. I did not discuss that with them but I can tell noble Lords that we will be outside the emissions trading system and the integrated electricity market, and it will be virtually impossible for the UK to give a lead to anybody on anything if we leave the EU.
We have led on climate change in many ways. We boast about our Bill having been the first to be legislated: I presented its Second Reading in this House. Young people are thinking about their future and that of the planet; the group in Hereford are a credit to today’s young people. In fact, I trust them far more than I do the inadequate political leadership in all our parties, particularly the two main parties, at present.
There is a fine argument to be had about “no taxation without representation”. Many foreigners—a term that I do not normally use—who are resident in this country and paying their taxes have the right to vote in local elections; there are some restrictions about general elections. That is up for debate and I have no problem about that—it is part of our democratic system—but age and the franchise is a different issue. We ask 16 and 17 year-olds to take on a lot of responsibilities these days, and I think they should have the responsibility of voting.
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, I am a member of his noble friend Lord Cunningham’s Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee Sub-Committee B. My noble friend Lord Callanan was kind enough to say some nice words about the committee members in his opening remarks. I hope that that includes the staff, because our ability to perform well and effectively is very much dependent on the backup we get from the staff, who have done a terrific job. When my noble and learned friend comes to reply, I hope he will make it clear that the nice remarks, which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and I are happy to accept, include the staff, who have worked so hard to sort out and make sense of these extremely difficult and complex issues.
So many noble Lords speak this afternoon with great authority and certainty. I fear that I do not have certainty. I am a mild Brexiteer. I do not believe that the day after we leave the European Union the sun will come up shinier and brighter than ever before, nor do I believe that it will not come up at all, or hardly at all. Indeed, in many ways, following the remarks of my noble friend Lord Howard, I think that in almost any combination of outcomes we will find that commercial and other imperatives will drive this country and the European Union to find a way to work together and that for many people, therefore, despite some major changes, life will go on much as before. If that sounds eccentric, even complacent, perhaps I may underline my reputation for eccentricity by going a stage further. Despite all the sound and fury that is being devoted to this topic now, when we come to 2030 or 2035 and look back 10 or 15 years, I think that this will be seen to be a second-order event, because we stand the edge of two huge shifts of the tectonic plates which are going to transform the way this country lives and the way it relates to the rest of the world.
The first of these is the irreversible shift of wealth from the West to the East. In the 1990s the G7, of which this country was a member—the seven most prosperous countries in the world—accounted for about 56% of world output. By 2040, it is estimated that it will account for 22%. We are going to be, whether we are inside or outside the EU, in a very slow part of the stream. That will pose great strains on this country at every level, including our social cohesion. Social scientists will tell you that it is not absolute wealth that is the determinant of happiness; in many cases, it is relative wealth: how I am doing vis-à-vis my neighbour. As people in this country see other countries in the Far East begin to move up alongside us, they will begin to question what this country stands for, the way the system works, our approach and indeed our structures.
The second factor is the impact of the fourth industrial revolution. It is hard for us to estimate just what that is going to do for this country, the way we live and the way we work, over the next 10 or 15 years. The central estimate at the moment is that about 7.5 million jobs in this country will either disappear or be radically changed. My noble friend Lord Ridley, who is not in his place, will say not to worry about that too much, because we will be able to create more jobs: they will be destroyed, as has always been the case in the past. He may be right—indeed I hope he is—but it is a pretty heroic scale of job creation over a very much shorter period than in other industrial revolutions, which have lasted 50, 75 or 100 years. Whether he is right or not, it is going to be a time of great change which will also impose huge strains on our society. So the background to my Brexit position is the key question: does membership of the European Union help or hinder our ability to face up to and resolve these challenges? In short, will economic power, large power blocs, be the key determinant, or will it be the ability to be flexible and speedy in our response? I have concluded that, in fact, flexibility will be by far the most important factor. I fear that the structures and member states of the EU will not be able to react fast enough—a fast reaction will be critical—nor will they be able to forge a common purpose among them.
Against that background, I turn to the proposed transaction—the Prime Minister’s deal. During a lifetime in the City in which I watched and participated in negotiations on the outcome of which hung fame, fortune and reputation, two features predominated. The first was that, as these fierce negotiations drew to a close, both parties would feel dissatisfied and disappointed and that if somehow they had played the cards better, a better outcome could have been achieved. For me, the question is not whether this is a good deal; it was never going to be a good deal. The question is whether it is a good enough deal for us to want to back it. The second feature was that the toughest issues always had to be sorted out at the eleventh hour. The idea that hard issues could be sorted out early in a negotiation is fanciful.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, referred to the old phrase, “the man on the Clapham omnibus”. Perhaps I may introduce a much more vulgar and politically incorrect phrase—“It ain’t over till the fat lady sings”. As we enter March, the fat lady is starting to warm up. That means that, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, said—and as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, did not say—any extension of the Article 50 period would be a great mistake. It is only the pressure of an end date that will force the concessions and agreements that have to be reached to make this deal happen. Otherwise, everybody relaxes and the fat lady goes back to her dressing room and waits for a chance to warm up in a month or two.
In my view the Prime Minister’s proposed deal is good enough, although we must remember, as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has just reminded us, that it is only half a deal. There is another whole chunk still to go in negotiating our future relationship. Of course it would be helpful to get some movement on the backstop, but I feel that the EU is unlikely to want to hold us within its structure if we are paying no subscription. Many of us have felt, and evidence is now emerging, that, given the relatively low volume of trade across the land border, technology will provide an answer.
It may be unfashionable to say this, but I believe that the Prime Minister has played an impossible hand pretty well. Assailed by equal and opposite forces within both the Conservative and Labour parties, she has plodded into the storm enduring unceasing ridicule and criticism. I hope she will get the necessary backing for her transaction so that this country can reorientate itself to the new situation and begin to address not only the big strategic issues I mentioned earlier in my remarks but the many short-term problems that we face.
My Lords, I have hesitated to take part in this debate for two reasons: first, because everything possible has already been said in the many debates we have already had on the subject; and, secondly, because the crucial decisions are, and will continue to be, taken in another place—that is just as it should be.
But we are now 18 days away from the date on which we are due to leave the European Union. If the House of Commons votes by a majority in favour of the deal suggested by the Prime Minister, glossed or modified as it may be, no doubt the deal will be ratified and we shall leave the EU on 29 March. If that deal is rejected by the House of Commons, we shall to all intents and purposes be back where we were on 24 June 2016, with only 18 days, instead of two and three-quarter years, to go until B for Brexit day.
It is nearly 70 years since I joined the civil service. In all that time I do not think that I have ever felt, even at the time of Suez, a stronger sense of shame at the spectacle which we are presenting to an astonished world. As one journal put it, Brexit is breaking British politics. A country once envied for its political stability, steadiness and maturity has descended into a chaos of division and indecision. Both the main parties are deeply divided, as indeed is the nation. The constitutional arrangements which have stood us in good stead for at least a century are being put under severe strain. The principle of collective responsibility, which is an essential condition of effective government, has been abandoned—I devoutly hope only temporarily.
Even if the withdrawal agreement proposed by the Prime Minister is approved tomorrow, the negotiations on the future relationship with the EU will drag on for many months, if not years, and the problems of Brexit will continue to dominate political discussion and the business of government and Parliament. If the withdrawal agreement is again rejected in another place tomorrow, and the House of Commons votes decisively against leaving the EU with no deal, it will be too late for the Prime Minister to kick the can down the road again. We shall have to seek an extension to the Article 50 deadline.
The Prime Minister has spoken of a strictly limited extension of three months, to the end of June. I understand that the elections to the European Parliament may complicate any idea of going beyond that date, but is three months long enough to negotiate a deal which will be acceptable to the European Union and to the House of Commons—something we have failed to do over the last two years? Would that not merely postpone the cliff edge, and leave us with a continuing chaos of division and indecision? Shall we not need a longer period of extension? If need be, perhaps the existing British Members of the European Parliament could be invited to serve in the new parliament until whatever date is fixed for finally leaving the EU.
But I wonder whether the problem is even more profound than that. If the Prime Minister’s deal is rejected tomorrow, the question will be whether there can be any deal for our withdrawal from the EU that is acceptable both to the EU and to the House of Commons as now constituted. If there cannot, any attempt to find such a deal is doomed to failure. If that were so, any extension of the deadline would be unavailing; it would just be prolonging the existing agony.
The one thing for which there appears to be a majority in the House of Commons is that it is not acceptable to leave the EU without a deal. If leaving with no deal is not acceptable and if there is no possibility of finding a deal which would be acceptable to a majority in the House of Commons as presently constituted, the only remaining option is no Brexit. Only in that event would an extension of the Article 50 deadline serve any useful purpose. We should be obliged to revoke the notice of withdrawal from the EU and undertake not to submit a notice to withdraw from the EU during the lifetime of the present Parliament. Of course, no Parliament can commit its successor.
I wonder whether the time has come for a change of direction. We have been negotiating with the European Union on the terms on which we should leave it. Has not the time come for us to negotiate with the European Union on the changes that might enable the Prime Minister to recommend to the British people that we stay despite the mandate of 23 June? We hear much of the 17.4 million people who voted to leave but rather less of the 16-odd million who voted to stay. It would be worth pursuing the possibility of discovering rather more closely what issues inclined 17.4 million people to leave the EU, and then to negotiate with the EU to see what could be done to remedy those issues. It would be a change of direction and of discussion. However, having drained the current discussion almost to the dregs, it would surely be worth looking at something that would enable us to call to the Union for something which would positively allow us to recommend to the British people that we should stay in the European Union. In a sense, that follows the recommendation of the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi, who is no longer in his place, that we should look at that sort of possibility. The Prime Minister would probably want to talk in the first place to the President of the French Republic and the Chancellor of Germany to see what possibilities there were. However, those possibilities are now important and very much worth pursuing.
Finally, the European Union is not perfect. It is recognised that it is in need of reform, and with the EU, reform is an agonisingly slow process. However, the reasons why and the purposes for which it was set up remain valid and vital. In or out of the EU, the UK is part of Europe. Our historic role has been to provide a balance of power in conflicts between the larger continental powers. Surely it is in our interest to take part in a process of reform of the EU, which many people want and see coming. It would be in its interest as well as in our own if we were able to contribute to shaping and directing the process of reform.
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, I have not spoken in the European debates. I had rather hoped that the Attorney-General would provide an opportunity this afternoon to talk about reconciliation and renewal, but instead we have a degree of delay and rancour, and, as my noble friend Lord Bridges put it so well, a general spirit of “I told you so”. However, it is sometimes at the darkest hours such as these that we need to remind ourselves of what is important, so I will try to soldier on with two observations, one hopeful and one fearful, about reconciliation and renewal. The world outside is moving on without us. We have been heavy on observations about the London political beltway and the Brussels negotiation rooms, but I fear that if we do not take this opportunity of taking the deal, we may miss the boat. I will give your Lordships two examples.
On a characteristically positive note, I saw a wonderful glimmer of hope in recent polling figures about attitudes to immigration. Around the world, attitudes to immigration are hardening; that story is told in the huge Ipsos MORI poll, which, although flawed, is about as good a guide as we will get. However, in Britain, the trend is different, which flies completely in the face of what we hear and see. Since 2011, the number of people who think that immigration has a positive impact on the UK has increased in a steady line from a rather depressing 19% to a more impressive 48%, while the number who think it has had a negative effect has fallen dramatically from 64% to 26%. My noble friend Lord Sherbourne rightly reminded us that trust is in a perilous state in the country.
The figures that I talk about are a good cause for hope. The bottom line is that there is a chance that Brexit, despite all the current rancour, might have lanced the boil. There is hope that the public are beginning to see that the politicians are listening to them, and that, at a time when many countries face challenges of populism and intolerance, Britain has somehow addressed some of the issues that people are worried about and will emerge from this process stronger. We need desperately to nurture these positive developments. I fear that if we delay the Brexit vote further, as the noble Lord, Lord Hope, put it so well earlier, it will be a profound breach of trust that would put those green shoots in jeopardy.
My second point is fearful and less optimistic. We are not out of the woods. We face huge divisions, as widely discussed in this debate. I ran a campaign against the British National Party and have kept an eye on the growth of the far right and the far left ever since. I pay tribute to the police and security services for their diligent focus on those groups. It is not an exaggeration to say that we are sitting on a powder keg of popular extremism that could easily convert into violence and disarray. For briefings, I thank the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, Quilliam, HOPE Not Hate and the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence at King’s College London.
One trend stands out from my study of this area: the formal and casual collaboration between extreme groups from Europe and America, which means that the vicious tactics and nasty aspirations of the American alt right, the French gilets jaunes, the Hungarian highwaymen’s army and countless other nasty extremist groups are having an effect on our political culture. We must accept that we in Britain are not immune to political turmoil because of some kind of cultural superiority or political resilience.
My recommendations are these: we must accept that we are living in an extended period of uncertainty around our relationship with Europe, a point well made by a number of Peers. We must accept that populism will be part of our lives, probably for the rest of our lives. Therefore, we need really strong political leadership.
I believe that can start tomorrow with a vote for a deal that is not perfect but is on the table and to accept all the challenges it involves. But political leadership does not end tomorrow. We need to maintain clear advocacy for all that is great in this country, we need political leaders who can articulate a clear vision for our future and we need to make tough choices to get us back on course. I fear that if we do not decide to support the Prime Minister’s deal now, we run the risk of losing the opportunity for reconciliation with which Brexit presents us and letting the extremists feed off the result.
My Lords, today is Commonwealth Day, with a Commonwealth of 53 countries and 2.4 billion people—India makes up more than half of them with 1.25 billion people. A big part of the leave campaign was about global Britain doing more trade with Commonwealth countries. The reality is that 9% of our trade at the moment is with Commonwealth countries, versus 50% with the EU and another 17% through EU trade deals, now including that with Japan which has just been formed, the biggest trade deal in history.
Recently, I taught a negotiating class at the Cambridge Judge Business School, on which I chair the advisory board. It was on negotiations, with Brexit as a case study of how not to do it. As Sun Tzu says, every war is won or lost before it is even started. The starting point of all this was a 52:48 narrow position, whereas the previous two national referenda we had were won by two-thirds majorities—quite conclusive. The next thing is that we rushed into it. Prime Minister David Cameron went to Brussels and came back empty-handed, especially on the emergency brake on migration, which was a big issue at the time. Why has no one spoken—why did he not speak—about the EU regulation in 2004 that allows every EU country to repatriate EU nationals after three months if they cannot show that they can support themselves? Other European countries, including Belgium, use this regulation to control EU migration and have repatriated thousands. We have never done that. Finally the Government acknowledged that to me, but will the noble and learned Lord tell me why it has not been brought to the notice of the public? In 2015-16, immigration was one of people’s biggest fears—the migration crisis, the sad, sad stories that we saw. Today, concerns about immigration are the lowest in more than 15 years.
It is now almost three years since the referendum. The world has changed: we have Trump, trade wars—I could go on. People did not know much about the European Union three years ago; now everyone knows much more. Northern Ireland was barely mentioned in the referendum; now it has become the Achilles heel.
As has been said, we were told that a trade deal with the EU would be so easy to do. In reality, the Government rushed into imposing Article 50, one of their biggest bargaining points, and we have wasted two years on this withdrawal agreement. What is the withdrawal agreement? Agreeing to citizens’ rights between the EU and Britain? We cannot have people used as bargaining chips. To me, it was obvious that we had to sort that out. As for the £39 billion, what is £39 billion in the context of Britain, which has a £2 trillion a year economy in the long run? It is an immaterial figure in the bigger picture. Finally, there is the backstop. That is it. That is all we have done. We were meant to roll over all these EU deals; we are ready to roll over only six of them, including with the Faroe Islands. We have had three Brexit Secretaries.
The biggest difference is that Europe negotiated properly: it negotiated the process first and substance later. What did the Prime Minister do? Set red lines: no more customs union, no more single market, no more ECJ, no more free movement of people. On top of that, the EU had a clear mandate from 27 countries and one negotiator: Michel Barnier. It said very clearly: “You cannot have your cake and eat it too. You cannot have the same terms as you have now”—rightly so—“and you have already had the best of both worlds. You are not in the euro, you are not in Schengen, you measure your roads in miles, you pour your beer in pints. Now you want to opt out and want all the opt-ins”.
The EU has been united throughout this period, whereas we have a Prime Minister without a majority, reliant on the DUP. We have both major political parties, the Government and the Opposition, split. The EU and the world are looking on this great country saying, “Why are you shooting yourself in both feet with both barrels?” The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, with his years of experience, used the term a “sense of shame”.
This deal is a blindfold Brexit. It will be to infinity and beyond. It is the worst of all worlds. It is bad regardless of the backstop; it is the worst of all deals. If it is voted down, as logically it should be unless something miraculous appears overnight, Parliament must then take no deal off the table. No deal is causing uncertainty. The CBI’s chief economist, Rain Newton-Smith, said:
“With Brexit stuck in stalemate, this only means growing damage today and a weaker economy tomorrow. Growth is at a near standstill and investment is evaporating; the economy is undoubtedly slowing down … the spectre of no deal is holding them back from investing in new factories, new overseas markets and new jobs”.
The next thing we as a Parliament must do is seek an extension to Article 50. That would give the Government, the Conservative Party and the Labour Party a chance to compromise on a Norway-style deal. Remember: we had a vote over here during the withdrawal Bill. I was one of the signatories to the amendment when we voted overwhelmingly that the EEA option was the least bad option.
Putting the decision back to the people would be the best option by far. As the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, pointed out, 2 million more youngsters—including my younger son, who will be 18 on 21 March—are now eligible to vote, at least 75% of whom would vote to remain. Sadly, about 1.5 million older voters have left this world since the referendum, most of whom voted to leave. Look at the demographics: 1.5 million versus 2 million. On top of that, the youngsters who did not turn out in June 2016 regret it. How many times have we heard, “Respect the will of the people, the 17.4 million”, in debates? Which 17.4 million? One and a half million of them are not even here. What about the others? Today’s electorate and democracy—the reality of today—matter.
I conclude with a point on the essence of it all. In a recent debate, when the Minister pointed out that the Prime Minister’s deal would leave us 7% better off than no deal, I asked him whether he agreed that the best option for our economy by far would be remaining. Why are we forcing ourselves into this position? In a business, you go to the shareholders, who make a narrow decision and say, “Go and do the deal”. The board of directors and managers then try to do the deal, but if they find the deal so bad that it might destroy the company, do they still implement it? If they go back to the shareholders and say, “Are you sure you want to do this deal? It will destroy our business”, do the shareholders say, “We made the decision. You’ve got to do it”? That is the reality. Why is our country doing this? The British people, the people of this great country, deserve better. We deserve to take back control. Ironically, the best way to do that is to remain in the European Union.
My Lords, we are in a mess. Apart from the effect on our external reputation, as expressed so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, what dismays me as much as anything else is the amount of time we have had to spend on this subject at the expense of other critical subjects, such as sorting out universal credit, skills or apprenticeships.
In economics, there is the concept of opportunity cost. The opportunity cost of Brexit has already been extremely high. Add that to the business cost: I noticed this morning in the Daily Telegraph business section—which has a rather more factual approach than its editorial side—that nearly £1 trillion of assets have been taken out of this country already, largely to Dublin or Luxembourg. Add that to the administrative cost to both businesses and government and the overall cost is very big indeed. Sadly, as has been pointed out, that will continue for several years to come.
We need decisions. Indeed, I am almost in the position of my colleague in the other House, Sir Oliver Letwin, who said that any decision would be welcome at this stage. Of course, that is dangerous; politicians will recognise the moment when some humourless ideologue has been going on for so long on the subject that all reasonable people just want to give in to something they later regret. I hope that we will hang in there and continue with the debate, even if it means more debates such as this one.
In my view, we should support the Prime Minister’s plan. I am with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. It is obviously flawed but it gives us a transition period in which we can look at the situation. Frankly, even the disadvantages of the backstop were exaggerated. There is no incentive for the European Union to keep the backstop going because it would mean that we could stay in the customs union and pay no costs. It is ludicrous to think that it would want it to carry on. It will be in our mutual interest for us to get out of it when it is appropriate to do so.
However, we know the situation. The Prime Minister’s plan may not go forward, in which case there will be no deal—or no overarching deal, as the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, pointed out. That will be disruptive. In the “told you so” section of his speech, my noble—and good—friend Lord Bridges pointed out how little had been done in the time available: so little, so late. We in this Parliament should always remember the truth: the people who are most disrupted are not us or Members of the other place, but the most vulnerable in society—that is, the illest, the poorest and those least able to resist the sort of disruption that is likely with a problem departure from the European Union.
Hard-line Brexiteers say, “Well, we can use WTO terms, no problem”. Very few people use WTO terms, per se. For example, between the European Union and the United States, there are no fewer than 100 sectoral agreements. All of that has to be reproduced in new schedules so it is hardly surprising that Liam Fox, who was so insouciant earlier in his career as International Trade Secretary, is now one of those who are strongest in favour of saying that we must support the Prime Minister’s deal. He knows the score. The fact is that we need that agreement and the trade agreements that will flow from it.
I remind the House that in coming out of the European Union, we will go into a situation where we will have to sell the idea of doing a deal with a country of 65 million people rather than a unit of 500 million people. That will be especially difficult and we do not actually know what our future relationship will be with the 500 million people who remain in the European Union. I suspect that the Prime Minister, who is a very responsible person and deeply conscientious, will be very unlikely to allow a no-deal exit to happen, as Yvette Cooper has said. We are therefore back with the votes this week. A lot has been said about what the opinion polls are going to say, but we do not know enough about what the Commons is thinking as regards the various alternatives. MPs should be given the chance to hold some indicative votes to determine whether there is a solution that commands a majority vote in the House of Commons.
We know broadly what the two alternatives are. One might be called Norway and include a customs union, while the other might be called “clean break Canada” or whatever. Those are the two alternatives. They have been described by the columnist Matthew Parris as either humiliation or ruin. I do not go along with that—Matthew is getting slightly overwrought in his present concerns—but we do have to decide between those two alternatives. There are responsible and sensible arguments both ways, but we should know what is likely to go through the House of Commons. As the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, pointed out, what is the point of going back to the European Union if you do not know what you are going to get through your own Parliament? We cannot make that mistake again. We have to find out what the Commons thinks by some form of indicative vote. If the Government cannot manage, frankly, the Commons will have to, and the sooner the better.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register and I shall begin as the noble Lord, Lord Horam, did, with the proposition with which we can all concur: we are in a mess.
I had planned to make a longer speech but everything has been said. It is just important to underscore the fact that Brexit is both a cause and a symptom of our domestic political problems. We need to bear that in mind in the context of this debate. What has slightly surprised me is the number of speakers who have said that there has been no change. There has been one very important change, and that is that time has moved on. As Dr Johnson put it, the prospect of being hanged on the morrow concentrates the mind.
I think we can all agree that, basically, there are three possible choices before the country. We accept the Prime Minister’s deal, there is no deal, or we seek an extension. For my part, I dislike the Prime Minister’s deal for the reasons spelled out by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. In particular, we in this country have not fully appreciated that there is a great difference between negotiating in a group of 28 where you are all part of the same side as opposed to being one against the other 27. I dislike no deal more than that, which leaves the third option.
As a general political principle, as the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, said, Parliament is sovereign and cannot bind its successors. It therefore seems entirely legitimate that if Parliament does not like either of the two other possibilities, it should see whether it can seek an extension and we shall see what happens. What happens will be revealed to us in general terms by the end of the month. If we cannot get an extension that we wish to proceed with, we do not have to do it.
And then there were two. We are in world unfamiliar to our great country. We are in one of, in Harold Macmillan’s words, “Events, dear boy”. It is a strange irony that a campaign launched under the banner of taking back control should be delivering a political crisis where it is “Events, dear boy” that will determine the outcome.
My Lords, I liked the way my noble friend Lord Sherbourne introduced his speech. He reminded us that the purpose of the referendum was to settle the question of Europe once and for all. All it has done is divide the country more and more over the past two years. I voted to remain because I believed that the case to leave the EU had not been made and that we could do better by staying within the tent and trying to reform the EU from within. I have slightly changed my mind on that.
I hoped when the result of the referendum was announced that we would discuss both the leaving of the EU and the next stage: the trade deal. Certainly, that was what we were led to believe when I was on the EU sub-committee of this House and we took evidence from respected people. They thought that the whole thing would be dealt with together rather than be separated. That separation is causing immense problems. The noble Lords, Lord Rooker and Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, said exactly that: this is a long drawn-out affair. But it is rather like having multiple fractures on one arm. We have one arm and we are about to go into the second arm but, as both noble Lords said, that will take even longer and there will be more multiple fractures. Having spent some time in hospital over the past three years, multiple fractures are ghastly. A clean break is so much easier. It heals more quickly and your body gets better; relationships can be restored.
Inevitably, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, and the noble Lord, Lord Newby, blamed the Prime Minister and the Government for the mess that we are in, but this is a negotiation. I stand back a little from that view and blame both sides. Neither side has come out of the past two years with any credit. When Nelson Mandela came out of prison, he was asked what his red lines were in a negotiation. After 27 years in prison he said that everything was up for negotiation—we are prepared to negotiate on anything and everything. That is not the situation with the EU. The EU is far too legalistic a structure to bend or to adopt that approach.
This leads me on to the point about remaining in the EU that the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, and my noble friend Lord Saatchi mentioned. That is a position I would have liked to adopt, but I now believe that, having gone through this period, if we were to stay in the EU there would be only one choice for the UK: to become part of a fully integrated EU. It is inevitable that, in order to survive, the EU will have to get much closer together, and President Macron is driving that. The legal structure of the EU prevents it treating Britain as an equal partner. So I believe we are now faced with a choice: if we stay we will have to become part of the eurozone and to commit fully to a much more federal Europe. We do not have any provisions in our legislation to have referendums on any treaty change—that was abolished soon after the referendum took place—so there is a stark choice. We would not go back to exactly the same position we were in three years ago.
The situation in the country since the referendum was well encapsulated by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, who said that the country is frustrated, bored and irritated with the process. I believe that is a correct summary. The more I talk to people, the more people have said to me, “Let’s just get on with it, one way or the other”.
That takes me to the three options that confront the other place, possibly in the next three days. I start with the last: the delay; the postponement of Article 50. I firmly believe that would cause only more irritation and frustration. Yes, it has been a mess and we are in a mess, but the extraordinary thing is that I do not think there is any other country that could have gone through what we have gone through in the last two years without people taking to the streets. I believe people will take to the streets if there is a further delay to Brexit. The way this country has behaved will put it under strain and it will break, so to delay Article 50 would be quite wrong.
Let us move on to the no-deal Brexit. I believe the criticism of that has been wildly overblown. Two years ago I firmly believed that a no-deal Brexit would have been a terrible disaster. I do not believe that any more. I do not like it as an option, but it does give us a clean break and a chance to allow businesses to decide what to do. For the past two years, businesses have been waiting for the Government to make a decision. That is why they are not investing or performing as they should. It is perhaps the least good of the two options.
So we come to the Prime Minister’s deal. The latest information I can get from the news is that the Prime Minister is on her way to Strasbourg at the moment. Let us hope she can pull something out of the bag. If she can change her deal—which I do not believe is a very good deal—and get the reassurances, it is the duty of the MPs, who in my view have so far behaved rather badly, to come behind the Prime Minister and say, “Yes, this is a way forward that takes us out of the EU and fulfils the decision of the referendum”. Then we can get on and businesses can build up a new and better Britain.
My Lords, I have a confession to make: I deserted the field of battle in the last two Brexit debates as I felt I had run out of things to say and the indignation to go with them. But I am back for one last rant—or maybe it will not be the last. Who knows? That is surely the point: no one knows what is going on. My next-door neighbour does not know what is going on, as he continually tells me. Honda certainly does not know what is going on. The CBI does not know what is going on and neither, it seems, does our Prime Minister—in the air or on the ground. Never has such uncertainty gripped this country, I believe, in peacetime. Uncertainty is bad enough for the country’s mental health, but the fact that people are starting to lose their jobs and financial security because of it makes the Government seriously negligent in their primary safeguarding responsibilities. If they were a local authority they would be in special measures by now.
We have less than 600 hours to go to a possible no-deal Brexit, and the Government’s own 26 February analysis of no deal—even on the assumption of, as they put it,
“a smooth, orderly transition to WTO rules”—
is the stuff of nightmares, as my noble friend Lady Quin said in her powerful speech. In the long term our economy is predicted to be up to 9% smaller—and exceeding that in areas such as the Midlands and the north-east, with Wales and Scotland also being hit badly.
For Northern Ireland, the news is even worse. The Government’s analysis suggests:
“Overall, the cumulative impact from a ‘no deal’ scenario is expected to be more severe in Northern Ireland than in Great Britain, and to last for longer”.
Of course, we all know what happens in Northern Ireland when the economy tanks. In their analysis, we are told that the Government are to publish shortly—they had better hurry up—further details of their immediate temporary arrangements for trade between Northern Ireland and Ireland in a no-deal scenario. Then comes the menacing sentence:
“The Government would need to work urgently with the Irish Government”—
and here I recall the words of the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs—
“and the EU to find any sustainable longer-term solution”.
That sounds like giving up to me. So, in a no-deal scenario, not only will the economy in the UK go to hell in a handcart but it will send Ireland and the EU that way too.
The Government give us their health warning on all this: despite the steps they are taking to,
“manage the negative effects of no deal, there are a number of areas where the impact on trade, businesses and individuals would be particularly significant”.
So it is bad, but you ain’t seen nothing yet.
What we have seen is the stuffing of no-deal statutory instruments through the parliamentary system, day after day, like Greggs’s new vegan sausage rolls. As vice-president of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, I had a particular interest in the statutory instrument on product safety and metrology we dealt with last Monday. At over 600 pages long and several kilos in weight, I could hardly carry it into the Grand Committee. There had been no public consultation on this massive SI on vital consumer safety, as is the case with so many of them. Then there was the rather brave assertion that its impact on business would be de minimis. How can we be certain about that? What is certain is that fraudsters and rogue traders will find their way through any accidental loosening of these consumer safety regulations as a result of cramming them through in this way.
Noble Lords may ask why, if the Opposition feel so strongly about this, they do not simply back the PM’s deal. We will not. As we see it, this deal is anti-jobs and anti-prosperity, takes us out of the customs union and out of the single market, and, up until the past few days, would see no prospect of future progress in rights for people at work in line with EU minimum standards. If the PM would even now call for an extension of Article 50 and be willing to look again at her red lines, as the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, suggested, many in my party—although not I—would support her. My support would come if she put not only her deal in front of us but the prospect of remaining in the European Union on any ballot paper in a public vote. Noble Lords may say that I can live in hope, and I can.
In conclusion, 8 March was International Women’s Day, and during our debate last week I made a point which I repeat today. It may well be the last International Women’s Day when our country is part of the European Union. That is a dismaying thought for me as a former MEP, as the EU has been the bedrock of women’s and family rights legislation for four decades. While we quite rightly discuss the Irish backstop a great deal in this Chamber, the EU’s historic backstop in the protection of people’s rights at work is a story still to be told. Perhaps I should start writing that story in the uncertain days ahead—I think there are going to be many of them.
My Lords, it has been a genuine privilege to listen to many compelling speeches; I do not say that for the sake of our usual politeness—I have found it really illuminating and I thank those who have spoken before me.
The euphoria that greeted the Conservative unity on the Brady amendment was something to behold, was it not? Now that unity had been achieved on the Conservative Benches, it was going to be easy to get this thing through; all that had to be done was to go to Europe and explain that the Brady amendment had gone through. It reminded me very much of the story of the matchmaker in the shtetl visiting the peasant and saying, “I’ve got a match to propose. I would like to marry your son to the daughter of the tsar”. The peasant said, “But we are peasants, and my son is stupid”. The matchmaker then said, “Never mind that. Do you agree to the match?” The peasant said, “Well, of course”. “Excellent”, said the matchmaker, “I’m half way there”.
To my mind, it is remarkable that, at this late stage, there appears to be little appreciation that there is more than one party to a deal. We have a deal, and of course it is not exactly what we want because there is more than one party to the deal—and because leaving is not a very good idea. Blaming the deal for the intrinsic flaws of Brexit is a transparent strategy.
I understand that, in the other place, it is likely that the deal will be rejected and Parliament will be asked to rule out no deal. One noble friend said to me in the Library, “You can’t negotiate with the EU if you’ve ruled out no deal”. I responded, “We are not just negotiating with the EU; we’re also negotiating with you”. I want my Brexiteer friends to understand fully how strong is the determination that many of us have to stop us leaving with no deal. I have supported leaving because we had a referendum. It was my parliamentary duty to do so, having voted to have that referendum. I never thought it would be a good deal—I did not think that was possible—but leaving with no deal is another thing altogether.
First, there is no mandate for no deal. The Vote Leave website and manifesto say:
“Taking back control is a careful change, not a sudden stop—we will negotiate the terms of a new deal before we start any legal process to leave”.
That is quite clear, and it is still there on the website: there is no mandate for no deal.
Secondly, as far as I am concerned, no deal is morally unacceptable. It is not a way to treat an ally. It is not a way to treat our European friends. It is not a way to treat the citizens of this country who live in other countries and it is not a way to treat European citizens who live in our country. That is not the country I live in. We pay our bills. We keep the law. We do our duty and our word is our bond. We will not leave without a deal while I have to take responsibility for that.
Thirdly, no deal would be a huge economic blow. That is not why I became a Conservative—to pursue ideological plans that damage ordinary people’s incomes and their prospects. I became a Conservative because I believe in bourgeois stability. I said in my maiden speech that my mother had been in Belsen and my father had been in Siberia—and Pinner was nicer. That is basically my politics and I do not follow this ideological idea.
Fourthly—and this is my response to the excellent speech of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness—no deal would not be a clean break. It will not last. We will not end up having no deal. We will have a deal in the end, having first sustained a major economic blow, so no deal is not what has been touted: the end of everything and we can now get on with other things.
Finally, I want to make a broader point that is perhaps slightly more difficult for the majority in this House to accept. This House has fought at all stages for Parliament to take control and, rather to my embarrassment, I have often found myself out of sympathy with that. The greater the control we have taken, the greater the fiasco has become. I have opposed all these measures because it all sounded so fantastic—Parliament should take control; the great history of this country and so on—but actually, it meant that Jacob Rees-Mogg and Jeremy Corbyn should be in charge. That has always struck me as a sub-optimal idea.
Having taken control, the people who wanted it had better be sure that they can produce a majority for something. I have heard a lot of people say that they will vote against the Prime Minister’s deal because they want a second referendum. Do they really think they will achieve that? I have heard a lot of people say that we should reject the Prime Minister’s deal because then we will get a softer Brexit. Are they absolutely certain that they will get this softer Brexit, much of which consists of things that the Opposition whipped against when we had debates on the subject—even though on one occasion they lost? Just saying that you are against no deal does not guarantee that there will be a deal. In my view, the safest way to deliver and do our parliamentary duty is for the House of Commons to support the Prime Minister’s deal, with all its flaws.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Finkelstein never fails to amuse. Less often does he convince me. He says, as so many people do, that no deal will give an economic blow and, like everyone else who says so, does not explain why, but I will come to that later. As I intend to make passing reference to my family business, I start by declaring an interest, which can be found in the register. Before moving to more general matters, I want to raise an important issue on which I would welcome a response from my noble and learned friend the Minister when he winds up. I have given notice of this, although very late in the day.
On 14 January at col. 40, 1 drew your Lordships’ attention to the deeply held concerns of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, former Chief of the Defence Staff, and Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of MI6. They contend that the withdrawal agreement undermines, perhaps fatally, the ability of the British Government to discharge their primary duty: the defence of the realm. They have now joined forces with Professor Gwythian Prins—I hope I have pronounced his name right—emeritus research professor at the LSE, and have addressed the issue by proposing a defence treaty between the UK and EU.
These three highly distinguished men implore Parliament to prioritise national security in these words:
“We commend it to Government and Parliament and urge its immediate adoption as a safe re-statement of long-established tenets that are essential to maintaining the defence of this Realm”.
What consideration are the Government giving to this proposal, having in mind the huge implications that it contains? Given that the party opposite’s leadership has a habit of siding with those who are not always our friends, perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, may wish to comment on the proposed defence treaty and her party’s commitment to keeping this country safe.
It is fair to say that the affection in which I hold my country and its people, far from being corroded by the cynicism that sometimes accompanies growing old, is actually growing warmer. Over six decades or so, I have at intervals been deeply disappointed by the results of those general elections that did not go the way of my choosing. With hindsight, I understand now that the people were always right and, accordingly, I have an ever-increasing respect for and trust in my fellow country men and women.
When the people lend the political class their wisdom, they are owed something in return. I have read and listened to a large number of contributions over the last few months from people from all walks of life who voted to remain in the EU but who not only accept the result but embrace it and seek to explore the opportunities that leaving the EU may present. That such people have experienced disappointment is of course beyond doubt and I pay warm tribute to them for their acceptance of the democratic process. I have been told by several speakers today that the minority never get a look-in, but I have shown my respect to that section repeatedly.
There is a distinctly different cohort who have been referred to, who also voted to leave, who refuse to accept the result, often pretending that they do, and resort to every kind of device to reverse Brexit or at the very least salami-slice it to the point where it becomes Brexit in name only. It is not the beliefs of these “reversers” that are so objectionable; it is their insistence that they are right and that the people are wrong. They are members of a readily identifiable elite who openly conspire to overturn the referendum result by trying to delegitimise the vote using specious arguments essentially denying the mental or moral capacity of ordinary voters to decide important issues. With those who challenge the intellectual or moral capacity of ordinary voters, there is always an underlying assumption that somehow the more educated sections of the population have more wisdom or judgment in making political decisions. It is plainly the case, and history surely shows, that the highly educated are no more gifted with political wisdom or insight than anyone else. I tend to side with William Buckley who said in 1963 that,
“I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand faculty members of Harvard University”.
However, I wonder whether there is not something else at work here: fear among the political class surrounded by things of which they perhaps have incomplete understanding. Here I include some of the mandarin class, having listened to some of that class this afternoon. There are many people, not least in your Lordships’ House, whose intellect I envy and whose achievements I hugely admire, but the regrettable way in which our institutions have evolved has meant that pitifully few of these clever and able people ever get anywhere near the rock face of our nation’s entrepreneurial journey. I look at this speakers’ list and I think I could count on one hand the contributors who have ever built, grown, manufactured, marketed or exported anything.
As I have said before, I do not know what a so-called deal will mean for my family. I suspect there will be problems and that we will not be able to avoid them. It will be no different from the usual surprises that regularly confront those of us who take risks. We intend to be ready for them. I rather take the view that the pain and disruption will never exceed the pain and disruption visited on us at regular intervals by the Labour Party’s paymasters. I am utterly bewildered by the spineless defeatism on the part of a majority of politicians and, of course, most of the media in the face of a clean break. Many speakers say how much they dislike no deal, as did my noble friend Lord Finkelstein, but rather fewer say why.
The people of this country want their stolen sovereignty returned to them. They want to be governed once more by people who are accountable, and they want the issue resolved now. In 2016 the electorate was asked to give a verdict, in 2017 Parliament overwhelmingly endorsed it, and now is the time for Parliament to ensure its delivery. Trust in our political system is at stake. The cost of betrayal will have no limits. The millions who feel betrayed will seek remedies in ways that we have no means of predicting. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, said that he fears an explosion of rage, and so do I.
My Lords, I have not spoken in previous Brexit debates. I do so now to introduce some new and different material into the debate, and because I believe that a key aspect of it is going very badly wrong. Indeed, it could well inflict yet further damage to public confidence in our entire political system.
I refer to the scale of immigration—a matter of real importance to the general public that is not often mentioned in your Lordships’ House. In raising this matter, I speak for some 38 million of our fellow citizens who broadly share my concerns. In doing so, I declare an interest as the chairman, on a voluntary basis, of Migration Watch. It is not in question that control of our borders was a major factor in the outcome of the referendum: nor is there any doubt that immigration remains a major issue and will be a key measure by which the public will judge the outcome of Brexit.
My noble friend Lord Armstrong suggested that we look for issues that could be remedied in order for us to remain a member of the EU, and this must surely be a candidate. I accept that there is some evidence that concern about immigration has fallen away since the referendum. The refugee crisis in Europe is less acute, many assume that Brexit is now in train and will deal with it, there is much less coverage in the press of the issue, and, finally, net EU migration has fallen sharply. The noble Lord, Lord Bethell, drew our attention to an interesting recent poll. It asked whether immigration had been generally negative or positive for the UK. It found that 48% of people said that it had had a positive effect, which was much higher than the 35% at the time of the referendum. That, of course, is very good news, and I welcome it.
However, the real problem is not immigration—none of us has ever said that that was a problem—but the scale of immigration. If you ask about that, you get an entirely different view. A Channel 4 Deltapoll poll conducted last June found that 73% of respondents supported what was then the Government’s commitment to reduce net migration to fewer than 100,000. Given that the population of the UK over the age of 18 is currently 52.4 million, arithmetic will give you the 38 million people to whom I referred earlier. Of course, they do not all vote—it might be a good idea if they did. The poll also indicated support by a majority of Labour and Lib Dem supporters and remain voters as well as a majority of 18 to 24 year-olds, so it is a very widespread view. I might mention that among Conservatives it was 88%.
Unfortunately, this very strong and important public opinion was ignored in the recent White Paper on immigration policy. The effect of the proposals set out in that paper would be to open between 2 million and 5 million UK jobs to worldwide competition, depending on the salary threshold that is decided. Not only that, but the present 4 million jobs already exposed to worldwide competition would be further exposed by the removal of the cap and the labour market test. Our analysis suggests that there will be very little reduction in net migration. Indeed, there could even be an increase back towards, and maybe surpassing, the record level of one-third of a million a year. If so, a British Government would yet again be seriously underestimating the immigration pressures on our country, just as we saw in 1998 and 2004. We could find ourselves sleepwalking into another wave of immigration.
The public may not be well versed in the technicalities, but they are well aware of the pressures of population, and its impact on housing, public services and the nature and scale of our society more generally. To take just one example, between 2001 and 2016, immigration added 1 million to our population every three years. That is the population of Birmingham every three years. These are astonishing figures. They are simply not being paid sufficient attention.
Before I conclude, I will say a word about the so-called Norway solution, which was mentioned by one or two noble Lords. In theory, Norway can take migration safeguard measures unilaterally. However, in practice, the EU-EEA treaty severely limits the scope of the Norwegians to take such action. The measures are permitted only in response to problems of a sectoral or regional nature, they are restricted in scope and duration and the measures have to be reviewed by a joint committee every three months. Most importantly, such action might expose the state in question to retaliatory measures by the EU—and that is a reason that Norwegian officials have given to explain why they have never gone down this road. So if you hear any more about the Norwegian solution, bear in mind that it would have serious implications for one of the most sensitive issues in the whole debate.
To conclude, immigration remains a major public concern. That concern is justified and the public want it tackled. Failure to do so post Brexit, when it was, and is, such a major public concern, would result in further and very serious damage to public confidence in our country’s political system—confidence that is already at an extremely low level.
My Lords, in just over a fortnight, government will become more accountable than it has been for more than 40 years for laws that affect the everyday lives of the British people. Parliament, including this House, will become more powerful in holding government to account, and the voters will know that, when they hire and fire a Government, policies will actually change. There can be no more hiding behind Brussels to justify inertia. There can be no more gold-plating of regulations which other EU member states ignore, to our disadvantage. There will be no more pumping billions of taxpayers’ money into a political project that actively undermines national democracies.
Noble Lords may already have heard that a ComRes poll at the weekend showed that 44% of the British public now favour leaving on WTO terms over this withdrawal agreement, representing a six-point increase since January. So the tide is turning, and yet, like King Canute, many are still in complete denial, determined to do anything they can to thwart the result of the people’s vote of 2016, as my noble friend Lord Howard of Lympne, who is in his place, said in his excellent speech.
The current situation reminds me of when a Labour MP described his party’s 1983 manifesto as the longest suicide note in history. But that was only 39 pages long; this deal runs to almost 600. No wonder some Labour MPs are supporting it. After all, what is there not to like for Labour when you know that the Conservative Party will be saddled with the blame, perhaps for a generation or perhaps even as indefinitely as the backstop? I fear that if my party pushes this deal as it stands through Parliament, we might as well write our own political obituary.
No one can accuse the Prime Minister of not bending over backwards to accommodate Brussels. She may have acted in good faith, but it has most definitely not reciprocated. So I say to my colleagues in the other place: if you believe in poverty of aspiration, and that the UK should reconcile itself to inexorable decline as a vassal state of the EU, please go ahead and vote for this deal; if you believe that the British people are so stupid that they will not realise we are surrendering £39 billion of their hard-earned money just for permission to start the real, interminable negotiations, please go ahead and vote for this deal; and if you believe that the 17.4 million people who voted to leave are somehow going to fall for the farcical claim that it honours the result of the people’s vote of 2016, please go ahead and vote for this deal. But if you have the slightest doubt about any of the above, and if you believe that the British people deserve better than to be fed this foul-tasting fudge, please vote against it, vote against taking no deal off the table, and vote against extending Article 50—which, as my noble friend Lord Caithness said, would lead to people taking to the streets.
My noble friend Lord Cavendish mentioned fear; he was right to do so. The first disabled leader of the free world had something timeless to say about fear. His inaugural address on 4 March 1933 is famous for his assertion that,
“the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance”.
But FDR’s concluding remarks are even more pertinent. He said:
“We do not distrust the future of essential democracy. The people … have not failed. In their need they have registered a mandate that they want direct, vigorous action”.
They have done so again. The people need us to respect the result of the referendum, honour our manifesto promises to leave the EU, the single market and the customs union on 29 March, and bring accountability home, with or without a deal. The future of our democracy depends on it.
My Lords, I am sure there is no one in your Lordships’ House who does not admire the courage of my noble friend Lord Shinkwin; I certainly do. But I have to say that I could not disagree more profoundly with the speech he has just given. I remind him gently that FDR was the man who brought the New Deal to the United States, who understood what people needed and who delivered.
I have taken part in most of these debates, apart from two when I was in hospital, and each has its own flavour. I shall remember from today’s debate two things in particular: the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, who talked of his shame—one of the greatest public servants of the last century talking of his shame—and the witty, scintillating and very profound speech of my noble friend Lord Finkelstein. On the day of our last debate he had written a brilliant article in the Times. I doubt whether as many people will be able to read his speech as read his article, but it was on a par with that.
Along with my noble friend Lord Finkelstein, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and many others who have spoken in this debate, I very much hope that the Prime Minister will carry the day tomorrow in the other place. Of course, her deal is not perfect but, as I have said before, if you leave a club or institution, you cannot expect to retain all the benefits of membership. Her deal is a brave one and I believe she deserves to succeed. Having said that, one has to be realistic. I hope that, as I speak, she is speaking in Brussels or Strasbourg, or wherever she has gone, and will be able to come back tomorrow with something more than a piece of paper. If she does not, I shall still support her deal and I hope that many more in the other place will support it than did so last time, as we approach 11 pm on 29 March.
However, I want to spend a little time on what we need to do if her deal does not carry tomorrow and we have the other two votes: one on no deal and the other on timing. One has to acknowledge, in parenthesis, that if the deal is carried as I would wish, some adjustment of time will almost certainly be needed to get all the consequential and necessary legislation through the two Houses; but let us put that to one side. If, following the failure of her deal—which, again, I hope does not happen—there is a large majority for no deal, then I agree strongly with my noble friend Lord Finkelstein that there will have to be a delay. I hope it will not be inordinately long, but there will have to be a delay.
What we have now to address is what we do if the deal falls during that period of delay. We all have a duty to put country before party, and to seek to come together in both Houses—separately and collectively—to come up with something that does indeed honour the result of the referendum but does not unnecessarily impoverish and endanger our country, our economy or our people. How do we do that? Again, I apologise for repeating a suggestion I have made before but, if Parliament is going to take any sort of control, it must shelve party ideology and preference and come together. I have said before, and I say again, that I believe there would be great wisdom in having a joint Grand Committee of both Houses to examine the various options.
Before that committee met, it would be sensible to have indicative votes so that we know where there is likely to be a chance of capturing a parliamentary majority in the other place; that is where it counts. But we have something that we can contribute to a Joint Committee: there is enormous expertise in your Lordships’ House, and long experience. Of those of us with a largely political background, some of us were there when we went into the European Economic Community on a free vote—the Common Market as it then was. Beyond the political, there are those in your Lordships’ House who have held high diplomatic office in the Civil Service and who have a degree of collective experience and wisdom that can and should be pooled in the interests of the nation.
If we are to recapture a degree of allegiance for our democracy in the nation, we have to act as a national assembly that puts the country’s interests first. I ask my noble friend on the Front Bench who will wind up to comment on this and to say that he will pass on this suggestion to those who have to make decisions. I hope it will not be necessary; I hope the Prime Minister will get her vote tomorrow. However, if she does not, we have to come together with our colleagues in the other place, regardless of our political ideologies and backgrounds, to try to rescue something that honours the result of the referendum, but does not impoverish our nation.
My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, although this tends to throw into sharp relief the inability of many of us to match his enviable skills of extemporary exposition.
Over recent months, I have found much of the Brexit process deeply depressing and disheartening, not least the apparent total disregard paid by the other place to the debates held in your Lordships’ House. It is true of course that under Section 13(1)(b) of the 2018 withdrawal Act only the House of Commons has to approve any deal, although under Section 13(1)(d), an Act of Parliament, and therefore your Lordships’ agreement, is required to implement the withdrawal agreement element of any overall deal. Why, however, does Section 13(1)(c) of that Act require a debate on any deal in your Lordships’ House unless it is thought likely to assist the House of Commons in its consideration of these questions? Does it? Do they read our debates in Hansard? Frankly, and sadly, I question that.
In these debates, time and again, I am struck by the quality of your Lordships’ contributions and the depth of expertise and experience that informs so many of them. I say this in relation to the views expressed on all sides of the debate, not merely those that happen to coincide with my own. When I speak of all sides of the debate, there are basically three approaches urged here: one is to buy into the deal; another is to remain in the EU; and the third is to leave with no “overarching deal”, as the noble Lord, Lord Howard, puts it. That final view—the outcome which he and a number of others who have spoken in this debate plainly prefer—is surely there and we need to have regard to it, frightening though I find it, and strongly opposed to it though I am. Therefore, I question whether the binary question of the further referendum proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Newby, which totally ignores and overlooks it, would be the proper one to put before the country.
I am opposed to any future referendum. I am now converted to the view that we should leave the Union on the terms offered, with no further referendum, on 29 March, or as soon as possible thereafter—an extension of a few weeks may be required to enact the necessary implementing legislation. I have no doubt that a short extension would be granted, for the explicit purpose of implementing a deal. As to the sort of long delay proposed by some—Sir John Major, for example, sought 12 months in his letter in Friday’s Times, and the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, suggested a 21-month extension in his “Thunderer” article in today’s Times, in neither case indicating with any clarity what precise purpose such an extension would be intended and expected to achieve—I am profoundly doubtful about whether the other 27 member states would unanimously agree to that. In any event, for my part, I strongly share the view of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, and several other participants in this debate that we should not request this in the first place.
I said earlier how impressed I had been by the contributions of your Lordships on all sides of the debate, but I should perhaps make one exception to that encomium. There appear to be one or two among your Lordships—it would be invidious to name them—who, to my mind, are labouring under a profound misapprehension on our entitlement to extend the Brexit process to negotiate a fresh and better deal. In our latest Brexit debate on 27 February, one of your Lordships said that we should seek a very long extension, if necessary, for a further referendum. So far so good, though as indicated I personally strongly disagree. The speech then went on in a way that seemed clearly to indicate a total misunderstanding of the legal position. It suggested:
“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”—[Official Report, 27/2/19; col. 267.]
here I paraphrase—could then be the subject of a further referendum, or, if the electorate were to agree, it would be left to Parliament.
The short point is that if Article 50 is revoked, that precludes any possible right to embark on orderly negotiations. We can revoke Article 50, to quote the language of the CJEU, the Luxembourg court, only if that revocation is,
“unequivocal and unconditional, that is to say that the purpose of that revocation is to confirm the EU membership of the Member State”.
Such a revocation would necessarily imply that the United Kingdom is now, after all, intent on remaining a fully committed member of the EU and that we do not simply intend to give a further notification. Abuse of right is an established principle of EU law and it is really difficult to give any more obvious illustration of such an abuse than revoking the Article 50 notice essentially as a device to circumvent the requirement for unanimity of the other 27 for any extension of the two years allowed. There can be no question of the other 27 renewing or continuing negotiations on such a revocation.
I have no wish and indeed no time to weary your Lordships by repeating arguments that I advanced in early debates—although I spared your Lordships in the last one—in favour of accepting this deal but, in common I believe with the great majority of the population of this country and most of those with business interests, I urge the other House to buy into this deal on offer.
My Lords, I think the noble Lord is perhaps testing the patience of the House by his constant interruptions. The noble and learned Lord had indeed sat down. I do not think that it is right that the noble Lord should raise another issue. He is entitled to raise purely points of clarification.
My Lords, I will not enter into that one, but I will declare my interest as a resident for nearly 40 years of Italy and a lover of that great country and its people. That experience has influenced my attitude to what the European Union has now become.
I have not spoken lately on the subject, but my view has not changed. It is simple: the British people were asked by Parliament to decide this question. In the greatest ever exercise of democracy in our history they did so, by a majority of 1.25 million. Parliament then made law for us to leave on 29 March—in 18 days’ time. Those are the facts, that is the expectation—and leave we should.
Again today, those of us who hold that view have been called “wild” or “extreme”. “Extreme” is a favourite adjective of those who do not want Britain to leave the European Union at all. I confess that I am extremely committed to the decision of the British people being respected in full, and not in name only. I am extremely depressed by the obduracy and arrogance of EU negotiators, and by the weakness of our own handling of negotiations. Like the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, I am extremely concerned at the prospect of a humiliating draft agreement that would prolong rule-taking and wrangling for years, perhaps indefinitely. I am extremely distrustful of a Labour leader who promised to take Britain out, then in every Division in either House has whipped the bulk of Labour votes—the votes needed to break Labour’s word to the people. And I have to say that I am extremely dismayed that so many in this oh-so-superior-feeling Parliament have spent recent years plotting, week in, week out, to undermine and dilute the referendum result. Remember that? Leave—17.4 million times leave.
We have a Commons immune from dissolution, which, as my noble friend Lord Dobbs so powerfully said, has forgotten the promises on which it was elected and set itself against the people. In a crisis of Parliament against the people there is, in a democracy, only one party that must bend, or be made to bend, and that is Parliament—better by its own wise judgment before a general election, but, if necessary, after one. However many twists and turns there are in Westminster, on this great question the British people had their say and, in the end, they will have their way. How much better if that were to come on 29 March, as millions expect.
Nine hundred and ninety-one days after the referendum—what the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, earlier called “instant gratification”—many today tell us that they want more time. How much time? Nine days? Ninety days? Nine hundred and ninety-nine days? On what conditions, and to what end? I share the worries of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, about that. But if there is a long delay—for which, for example, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, asked—the chance surely must be taken for Britain, as a continuing member of the European Union, to take part in elections to the European Parliament. Let us see what manner of verdict the British people return at those elections and then judge the case for a second referendum.
We hear a call for trust. I fear that trust was a little dissipated along the road from Lancaster House to the backstop. Trust was certainly corroded by Project Fear’s calculated falsehoods. I think that trust would dissolve if the Cabinet, having lost their deal—although the Prime Minister alone could take that decision—sent a Minister to the Dispatch Box of the Commons to rub the 29 March exit day out of the expectations of the British people.
There is also a call for unity. Unity, such as I never recall in this party or Parliament, was squandered by clinging to the coat-tails of the very institution the British people voted to leave. Lately, unity has been undermined by a new doctrine of Cabinet irresponsibility, when Cabinet Ministers publicly declare opposition to Cabinet policy and are rewarded for it. Trust in politics would be best served if all, from the topmost in the land to the foreshores of Aberdeen and Hastings, returned to the bosom of country and party, where the majority voted not to remain, not to rule-take but to leave.
Every Member of the House of Commons must this week ask themselves, “Do I stand by the promises I gave my electors and let my country leave, as we in Parliament have already voted to do, on 29 March? Or do I continue in the weevil-ridden ship this Parliament has sadly become?”—a ship which it seems a piratical crew is now ready to seize to hoist the 12-starred banner of a second referendum, in which we heard today that leave would not be allowed on the ballot paper. Of course, we must examine whatever piece of paper the Prime Minister brings home this evening—but I, for my part, would respect the people’s call to leave. That must mean voting down the withdrawal agreement as it stands, rejecting the call to disarm Britain by taking a deal on WTO terms off the table and rejecting the call to delay for no certain purpose.
I have no doubt that the noble Baroness who will follow me—a European Unionist to my European—will say that that is irresponsible. But I could never count it irresponsible to do as the people have twice decided, once in a referendum and then in a general election. They still say that people did not know what they were doing when they voted to leave. I think that after 43 years’ experience of living in the EU, they had a pretty good idea of what they were leaving. As for not understanding, I ask: did they vote for more billions to be paid to the EU, to be rule-takers without any say in making the rules and for more influence for Brussels over Britain’s defence? Did they vote for foreign bureaucrats to try to divide our kingdom within itself, for us not to compete to attract business and create jobs and for us to have to beg for permission to leave? Did they vote to be still in 1,000 days later, or did they vote to be out—and out, frankly, long before 29 March?
When it comes to not understanding what people were voting about, I submit that the failure to understand lies not with what the British people said but with those in Parliament who do not want to listen: “There’s none so deaf as those who will not hear”. I hope even now that the Government and Commons will cashier Project Fear, reject delay, have the courage to come out of the EU in the manner that my noble friend Lord Howard of Lympne so powerfully described earlier, and step into that free-trading world that is on offer—and do it just 18 days from now. Further delay would prolong uncertainty and have grave implications for our body politic.
My Lords, I am as bereft of inspiration for novelty of thought as other noble Lords, such as the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, and the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, have expressed themselves to be this evening. In any case, I fully agree with the substance of what many other noble Lords have said, not only my usual suspects, such as my noble friends Lord Newby and Lord Thomas of Gresford, the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Kerr, and my fellow ex-MEPs, the noble Baronesses, Lady Crawley and Lady Quin—including the latter’s much-appreciated warm tribute to Simone Weil—but much of what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, strongly resonated with me, as did almost everything said by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong.
We are in the middle of the theatre of the absurd. The Prime Minister is in Strasbourg negotiating the finer points of the backstop, on the basis, as my noble friend Lord Thomas said, of the reasonableness of the man on the number 87 bus. We heard reference to “Waiting for Godot” from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, and to a combination of “Dad’s Army”, “Blackadder” and Carry on Brexit from the noble Lord, Lord Bridges. Even as a child, I was never a fan of “Through the Looking-Glass” and I do not think that anyone can be a fan of the way that the Prime Minister is behaving now.
This is now not just a Brexit crisis but a constitutional crisis. That this Government have trashed our country’s reputation for good governance and for being stable and orderly is self-evident. We have had Cabinet irresponsibility as well, as the noble Lord, Lord True, said. I agree with him on that—maybe only on that. The UK has been made into a laughing stock for being a dysfunctional and out-of-control basket case. Like the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, I will remember the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, expressing his shame at the situation. The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, pointed out the contrast between this out-of-control situation and the slogan “Take back control”. It is quite ironic.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bridges of Headley, that the responsibility for this situation lies squarely with this Conservative Government and Conservative Party. It does not lie, as the noble Lord, Lord Howard, and latterly the noble Lord, Lord True, suggested, with remainers. It never has and it never will.
Even worse, the UK’s reputation for being a reliable negotiating partner and for acting in good faith has been thrown on the scrapheap, which is ironic given the reproach to the EU over the backstop and its good faith over exiting that mechanism. As my noble friend Lord Newby noted, towards Parliament the Prime Minister has acted through sleight of hand and abuse of process, and even with sharp practice.
Not only that, the UK’s respect for the rule of law and due process has been put seriously in doubt. The noble Lord, Lord Howard, regrets that we are following the Article 50 process of the treaty that we ratified and consented to be bound by. Many noble Lords believe that the Shamima Begum case also raises doubts about the Government’s observance of the rule of law and, one could add, their respect for another Commonwealth country: Bangladesh. These seem strange messages to be sending as the 70th anniversary of the Commonwealth is celebrated.
There are also serious questions about this Government’s real respect for the people and the trust that is necessary for democratic governance. We have heard much about how, if Brexit is not delivered, public trust will be destroyed. Apart from the fact that most of the public are watching in appalled disbelief, if they have not switched off entirely, it is ridiculous to say, as the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, did, that the “democratic imperative is to deliver on the wishes of 17.4 million people who voted to leave”. Apart from the fact that the Brexiters cannot decide precisely what those wishes are, it is typical disregard of the majority of our population, who either voted remain, did not vote at all or have come on to the register since 2016. I share the anger of the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, at the way all these groups have been ignored.
How can a Government who insist that they must deliver Brexit also insist on holding over the people the threat that they may not be able to deliver their food and medicine? The noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, pursued the theme that the EU is punishing us. It is not punishment to be denied, as a non-member, the benefits of membership. You would have thought that fairly simple to understand. On the contrary, it is cakeism to expect to continue to enjoy all the privileges without all the obligations. The noble Lord, Lord Bridges, was right to say there was a lack of honesty about the need to make choices in the trade-off between economic advantages and sovereignty.
I give your Lordships as a prime example of the effrontery of Brexiters refusing to recognise that you cannot have it all the article in today’s Evening Standard by former Minister George Eustice. Free movement has been demonised by the Brexiters. The Prime Minister enthusiastically took up that cause; indeed, she cited it as the top achievement of her withdrawal agreement that free movement would end, ignoring that free movement is enjoyed by many British people. George Eustice is a keen leaver who has just resigned as a Minister to champion a hard no-deal Brexit, but in today’s Standard he writes:
“Think of the waitress who served you coffee today, the cleaners working late tonight, the care worker who will help your grandmother start the day tomorrow or the farm worker who has been out in the rain to put fresh vegetables on your table. Do we value these people and the work they do?”.
Yes, remainers value these people. He concludes that we need a scheme for lower-skilled, not just high-skilled, employment, which is precisely what we have enjoyed for all the years of EU free movement. You really could not make it up.
The Justice Minister Rory Stewart said at the weekend that every alternative to May’s deal is unknown and uncertain. That is not true. We know what we have as a member of the EU. To some extent, we also know what no deal means: huge chaos, cost and extra bureaucracy. The thing we do not know much about is what the future relationship will be, as it is largely a blindfold Brexit. The only honourable thing for the Prime Minister to do now is to put the matter back to the people to choose between her package and the known known we enjoy now. That, of course, needs an extension, which sounds, according to tweets, almost in the bag, with only the length of that extension in question. The Prime Minister thus has a last-minute chance to redeem some of her and her country’s reputation by doing the right thing during that extension.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, says, “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings”. I am not sure whether he is expecting me to break into song to signal that we are near the end of this debate, or whether he was referring to the Prime Minister, who is touching down about now in Strasbourg.
Listening to Ministers—not tonight, but on other occasions—one might think that the lack of an agreement is all the EU’s fault. However, of course, it is we who chose to leave the EU: that is, we as a country, not necessarily as individuals. Mrs May chose her red lines before she understood the task or consulted those who did. Mrs May chose to trigger Article 50 and thus our exit day. It was the Prime Minister who chose our negotiating lead: he resigned. Mrs May chose our second negotiating lead: he resigned. Mrs May chose our third negotiating lead: he could not hack it, so she then sent the Attorney-General over, and now we find that he cannot hack it.
The truth is, of course, that all those faults lie with the Prime Minister. She failed to reach out to the 48% —who, my noble friend Lord Rooker reminded us, are 15.8 million people—who might accept that they lost the referendum but surely still have the right to a Brexit that would be the best possible one for the country. She failed to reach out to the Opposition, even after she lost her majority, to see whether a deal could be honed which could be supported across the Commons. She failed to heed anyone other than the ERG, whose concerns for the countries, regions and interests of the UK have yet to be demonstrated. She negotiated a deal that she cannot even sell to her own Parliament: it was defeated by 230 in the House of Commons and looks set for a similar defeat tomorrow. Is it any wonder that one Cabinet source told the Telegraph:
“I would say there are only two ministers in the Cabinet who still support her”?
We heard earlier that one of these is “Failing Grayling”.
How much better it would have been for the country and, indeed, for her premiership, had the Prime Minister heeded this House, but also the Opposition, and crafted a deal which would see us in a customs union with the EU, solving much of the Northern Ireland border checks issue and, importantly, preserving our supply chains and our manufacturers’ major trading routes. Blinded by those ludicrous red lines, the Prime Minister ignored the one path out of her dilemma. In doing so, she ignored the majority of those who voted in the House of Commons against her deal, seeking to bend only to a minority of those who voted against her: the hard Brexiteers. Of course, they fixated on the backstop because, truth be told, they had never considered the Northern Ireland dimension of Brexit before 23 June 2016. As the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, reminded us earlier, it was the UK which proposed a backstop. The EU agreed to it and now the UK is saying, “Oh, we do not now agree with our own proposal, so please will the 27 change it?”
Throughout this sorry saga, the Prime Minister and her team have shown little respect for the EU, its Parliament, which has to agree the deal, or its key players, who find themselves addressed via a lecture in Grimsby, rather than across the table.
The Government have failed to respect both the EU negotiators and staff who have devoted untold hours to implementing a decision taken by the UK and the 27 rather busy Prime Ministers who keep having to add this to their already demanding agenda. Indeed, it hardly seems conducive to a better outcome for our Foreign Secretary to threaten that relations with the EU will be “poisoned for many years” if Brussels fails to budge in the talks and that,
“future generations, if this ends in acrimony ... will say the EU got this wrong”.
There is no blame to our government; everything is the fault of the EU. Perhaps that is what leads the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, to say that he has never felt a greater sense of shame.
As the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, has made clear, the one way not to leave the EU is without a deal, because of the sudden imposition of WTO tariffs and the ending of existing commercial relationships all built on zero tariffs and shared rules—all without even a transition period for business, importers, exporters and our ports to prepare. As for holidaymakers, perhaps 1.5 million of their passports may not work across the 27 member states because there is not enough time left on them. Their health cover will be lost; there will be queues at Eurostar and ports. This is to say nothing of their not being able to take their pets with them. They will not like that hard crash out as reality bites. Crucially, it would leave our UK citizens living across the 27 countries in a legal limbo, their healthcare, residency, jobs, and even driving licences uncertain. That is all without the opportunity costs mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Horam, and the health, crime, housing and education issues that we are not dealing with because of the attention and money being spent considering no deal.
The noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, warned of a loss of trust if we fail to leave on the 29th of this month. But there will be a much greater loss of trust if we leave in such a way as to damage the very people who voted for Brexit. So where do the Government go from here? It is possible they are going to need a Bill I have just been sent. It is the Bill on how to revoke Article 50—the draftsman was worried that the Government did not have it, so just in case they need it I offer it to the Minister.
If the Prime Minister fails to engage with the Opposition, with those willing to take the country forward on a consensual, constructive route, she risks being written up in history, either as my noble and learned friend Lord Goldsmith described—as Vladimir waiting for Godot, perhaps with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, as the boy, waiting for an impossible majority to arrive—or perhaps, more seriously, as a chapter in the next Christopher Clark version of The Sleepwalkers. This is the book on how the 1914 leaders took Europe to war by simply sleepwalking into it. She may do the same by dozing on the job, so that the UK falls, heedlessly and unnecessarily, into the economic insecurity and diplomatic catastrophe of an unplanned, unwarranted and unnecessary no-deal exit from the near half-century of co-operation, growth and development we have had with our near neighbours in the EU.
It is not for this House to pass judgment on whether the Prime Minister has the confidence of the Commons. But I can say with absolute confidence that the Opposition have little faith in her approach to Brexit, in her deal and in her ability to negotiate an acceptable way forward in the interests of the whole of the UK. Our future is in her hands. I hope that makes others sleep easy, because it does not me.
My Lords, mere words can hardly do justice to my feelings on being invited to close yet another debate on Brexit, particularly so shortly after a debate that covered the same territory and since when, it is acknowledged, so little has changed. If there is one element of this debate that will stand out for me, it is the suggestion from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, that I would still be able to play the boy. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, sought to draw an analogy between the role of my right honourable and learned friend the Attorney-General and that of Godot, but of course it will be obvious to all in this Chamber that my right honourable and learned friend had far greater presence and substance on the EU stage than Godot ever managed in a two-act play.
That continues; the noble and learned Lord asked whether those negotiations have stalled, and the answer is most certainly no. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister is, as some have already discerned from the media, traveling to Strasbourg, where it is proposed she will meet with Mr Juncker at 9 pm Strasbourg time, which is 8 pm our time. That meeting is being held with a purpose, and it is being held because there continues to be dialogue between us and the European Union over the withdrawal agreement. I am sure noble Lords will appreciate that it is not for me at this time to anticipate the outcome of those discussions; nor is it for me to disclose the scope of those discussions at this time. However, it is sufficient perhaps to observe that such discussions will take place, and we look forward to their outcome once it becomes clear.
My noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbots made the clear and well-established point that, in the context of negotiation—which, as my noble friend Lord Finkelstein observed, requires more than one party when you are doing a deal—the tough issues are always sorted out at the 11th hour. Indeed, I have no doubt that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, will recall from his own experience in commercial litigation that, at least in the past, the most intractable and difficult disputes were very often finally resolved at the door of the court. These agreements almost invariably occur at the 11th hour.
In that context, I turn to the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Newby. He enumerated seven, but I respectfully observe that they tend to merge with each other. It is true that the Prime Minister is going to Strasbourg—indeed, she may already be there—and it is certainly true that she is taking with her a willingness to listen and to discuss further the resolution of the issues surrounding the withdrawal agreement. She is proceeding in a mood of optimism, as one would in the context of any such discussion. That will lead on tomorrow to the meaningful vote in the other place. It may be that further news will become available before any Motion is moved tomorrow, but that is the nature of negotiation, and that will be accommodated as and when it is required.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, referred to the issue of delay; I concur with his and other noble Lords’ observations about the dangers of delay in the context of the ongoing process. It may be that there will be an amendable Motion in respect of exit day. However, a statutory instrument would also be required in the event of further changes to the exit date, assuming there was consent from the European Union, because of the definition of that term already contained in the 2018 Act. But it could be done. As for Little Jim, I am beginning to feel some sympathy for his condition. Slow he may have been devoured, but at least it was the end.
The noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, and my noble friend Lord Saatchi suggested that negotiations be carried on with other parties in some other manner but, with great respect, Article 50 provides that we negotiate with the European Union, and the European Union has appointed the Commission to negotiate on its behalf. That is where we stand.
My Lords, will the Minister therefore comment on the Written Answer received from the Government, which states that the United Kingdom has resiled unilaterally from 52 treaties since 1988 and answer why we cannot do that now in the interests of continuing free trade with the people of Europe, the disappearance of the Irish problem and the peace and prosperity in front of us?
There is a very material distinction between being able to resign from a treaty which makes provision for such a move and denunciation of a treaty. We have no intention of denouncing our obligations. We have proceeded under the mechanisms provided for by the Lisbon treaty—namely, Article 50.
The noble Baroness, Lady Quin, alluded to her background and experience in Europe, which I acknowledge, but I notice that we have seen the European Economic Community transmogrify through Maastricht and Lisbon into something quite distinct from that ever anticipated by its founders.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, wondered why the DUP could not see the economic benefits of the backstop. I have no doubt that the DUP can recognise such economic benefit as there may be, but it sees more clearly the constitutional challenges that could be presented. It is that which has caused it concern.
My noble friend Lady Noakes observed that there was really nothing to debate at this stage. It appears to me that noble Lords have raised several issues for debate here, but of course we are left in anticipation of what may occur during the course of negotiations that are still to come.
The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, made it quite clear that, in his mind, all roads lead to Rome—or perhaps not Rome but a second referendum. I acknowledge his desire to go in that direction.
My noble friend the Duke of Wellington made a plea to all parties to compromise, and that is indeed what we seek to do here. He underlined how important it was that we should leave on 29 March with a deal. It is the Prime Minister’s wish that we should leave on that date with a deal.
The noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, in his inimitable fashion, observed that there were no new facts and that it was therefore necessary to deal with fantasy. I respond: it is never necessary to deal with fantasy and I would not intend engage with it at this stage.
The noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, asked about the meaning of a hard border. That is a border that includes any physical infrastructure with related checks and controls. It is not something that anyone desires for the island of Ireland.
The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, in alluding to the proposition that 16 year-olds should have the vote in a second referendum, observed that it was their future. I say, albeit with a degree of optimism, that I also regard it as my future. Therefore, I claim an equal interest in the outcome of the present negotiation, albeit not for necessarily the same length of time.
The noble Lord, Lord Bethell, alluded to the difficulty and dangers that would face us if we were found to breach the trust that has been placed in Parliament as a consequence of the referendum. I say no more of that.
The noble Lords, Lord Horam, Lord Armstrong and Lord Inglewood, referred to the proposition that we find ourselves in a mess. We find ourselves in a very challenging position because we are engaged in a deep and difficult negotiation in which we should expect the EU 27 to represent properly their interests, not ours. I acknowledge that, but I would observe that the darkest hour is often just before the dawn. As dawn rises in Strasbourg, we hope to see the outcome of the further, potentially final, negotiations that will bring the withdrawal agreement before the other place tomorrow.
The noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, alluded to EU minimum standards in the context of workers’ rights. I would point out that the United Kingdom stands well above those minimum standards in many areas, particularly in relation to maternity benefits, paternity benefits and elsewhere. Indeed, it has been reported that we stand second only to Sweden in the standards we maintain, so we are not driven by Europe on such standards. Indeed, I suggest that we drive Europe forward in many instances.
The birth of an idea often involves a degree of kicking and screaming. We arrived there.
The noble Lord, Lord Cavendish of Furness, asked about the claims by Sir Richard Dearlove and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Guthrie, regarding defence and security. We challenge entirely their assertions in this area, which we suggest are neither correct nor well founded. The withdrawal agreement does not threaten the national security of the United Kingdom. It does not place control over aspects of our national security in foreign hands. The withdrawal agreement and political declaration in no way cut across our NATO membership, our bilateral relationships—including with the United States—or our Five Eyes intelligence co-operation. I hope that that will put his mind at rest.
I acknowledge the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, that the control of our borders was a major issue in the referendum. I also note that concern over immigration has lessened in the recent past. That is to be commended but we are conscious of the position.
My noble friend Lord Cormack invited me to comment on his suggestion for a joint Grand Committee. I note his suggestion.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, referred to the observations of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham—I am sorry, the unnamed noble Lord—regarding the proposition to revoke Article 50 so that we could proceed to negotiate a different deal to withdraw. I concur entirely with the noble and learned Lord’s observations regarding the interpretation and application of the judgment in the Whiteman case. It does not appear to me—I believe I said this at the time of the previous debate—that we could proceed with that course of action.
In view of the time, I will conclude. The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, began by saying that I am bereft of inspiration for novel thoughts. For once, we find ourselves in agreement. I am obliged to noble Lords for their contributions to the debate.
House adjourned at 7.58 pm.