That the Bill be now read a second time.
My Lords, I have been present for every speech today. I was sorely tempted to intervene on the odd one or two, but I kept reminding myself that I have to be diplomatic and brief during Second Reading and not upset anybody. I was always under pressure, thinking that, somewhere in this building—or on the estate—lots of meetings would be going on, trying to sort out or ease our clear difficulties with the Bill’s timetable during the day. Of course, this culminated in the welcome Business Statement by the Government Chief Whip, which I was very pleased about, so I will not make some points and I will not take very long.
I am moving the Motion because this is a Private Member’s Bill—it is a Public Bill and has the same status as any other Bill that happens to be led by a private Member—and I was asked if I would kick it off in this House. It is sponsored by Members of Parliament in the Commons from four political parties; it is not a Labour Party exercise, despite the constant refrain from a couple of noble Lords earlier. We are not in a normal situation; nobody is arguing that. The timetable of Brexit is an internal timetable in the UK but there is an external timetable, which we do not control, in the European Union.
Our role is not to rubber-stamp the elected Commons at any time; I make no apology for saying that. We need to consider what is sent to us. We do that—for example, that is why we do not vote on Second Reading—but we also have to consider the context in which it is sent to us. This is not normal. We are considering not Brexit—I am certainly not—but how now, today, the Commons is dealing with the Bill, because the case is not the same as it was one, two, three or four months ago. It has been forced into this situation. I was a Member there for only 27 years; others were there a lot longer. It is clearly now under extreme pressure, which is why this Bill was promoted. The Commons decided to take responsibility and control of the decision on a no-deal Brexit. We have gone past the stage where many members of the public thought no deal meant not leaving. That was the theme for months. When discussions relating to leaving without any arrangement took place, people assumed we would not leave. That is not the case.
For example, this morning we heard our police leaders in the UK warning about using language on Brexit that inflames a sensitive situation, possibly leading to violence. This is the UK today: police leaders warning us about our language on Brexit because it is potentially leading to violent acts. We heard the odd potential threat subliminally during the filibuster earlier today. This is a really serious situation. In my experience—45 years in Westminster—this has never happened before.
We also know that the Cabinet was last week warned by the National Security Adviser about a substantial rise in food prices as a result of leaving without a deal. Coincidentally, it just so happens that this House was due today to debate the evidence that the EU sub-committee reported as long ago as last May about food price rises due to Brexit. There is abundant evidence, which clearly the National Security Adviser has—he probably has better evidence than we have—that this is potentially a serious problem.
Will my noble friend also remind the House that the Cabinet Secretary warned that there would be direct rule in Northern Ireland if there were no deal?
Yes, he did. I have kept away from the debate on Northern Ireland. I had one year there as a direct rule Minister dealing with very much domestic issues. I know the sensitivities of the language used when you are there, what you talk about and how you discuss things with the five political parties. It is pretty serious, but the present situation in Northern Ireland is unacceptable to the people of Northern Ireland, because they have no democratic structures other than local government, which is what they had during all the Troubles. The councillors in Northern Ireland have carried the democratic burden alone for all these years.
When I do the half a dozen sessions for the Peers in Schools programme for the year, I always preface them by saying that we have two Houses of Parliament but they are not equal. That is the central message I leave. The role of the Lords is to scrutinise and sometimes to ask the Commons to think again—that is what happens when we have a defeat of the Government; that is just a message to the Commons—but knowing that the Commons always has the last word. But of course, we are not in normal times. The timescale for what we have facing us next week amounts to a national emergency, which is why the Cabinet received the advice it did last week.
We need to treat the Commons with respect. I watched some of the debate yesterday, particularly towards the close of the evening because I was not certain whether I would be speaking on this subject, if the Bill carried, or, if it failed, on the food debate we were due to have. The Commons, like the country, is split and divided. We should therefore treat it with a degree of respect, not criticise just because it was one vote—a personal comment was made today about one of the individuals who took part in the voting. The nation is divided and the elected House of Parliament is divided; we should take that on board. That is why people welcomed the attempt last Tuesday by the Prime Minister to try to get some kind of consensus. The Commons alone has the legal responsibility on the meaningful vote. Some of them have woken up to the fact that, besides the meaningful vote, every other procedure has to come through this Chamber so that it can be scrutinised and checked. That is why we are doing this Bill today.
It is a simple Bill; I know there is criticism about that. Things that are simple are usually unfair—the poll tax is the example I use—but it is a simple, clear Bill. If Ministers’ words in Hansard could be fully trusted, this Bill would not be needed. I disagreed entirely with the thrust of most of the speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, but her amendment was the one that was actually true in the sense that the Bill is not needed—but it is needed because people do not trust the words of Ministers, even when they are in Hansard. Enough have said repeatedly, “We will not leave without a deal”, but that lack of trust forced the Commons to produce this Bill, which in effect—I am not a lawyer—gives a legal force to that promise. I realise that it is not easy. I was aware early this morning that there were problems with the Bill; there were lots of discussions going on. I was grateful to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and its chair, because I had its report in my hands and read it 20 minutes before the chairman made his speech. It is very helpful but makes it quite clear that there are problems over Clause 2. Along with other matters, these have to be dealt with.
We should debate the Bill—we have a bit more time now—and send it back to the Commons, but it has to be done in line with the timescale it is forced to work to. The European Council is on Wednesday. The Bill requires the Prime Minister, a day after Royal Assent, to make the necessary decisions. It is a bit tight. That is why it must go to the Commons on Monday and get Royal Assent that day, so that on Tuesday the Prime Minister can fulfil the obligation placed on her. It says “must”. I was queried earlier today on what the sanction is if she does not. I spoke to someone who has worked with the Prime Minister for the best part of just over 20 years, day in and day out. He told me she is the most law-abiding person he has ever come across and that even when she is late for a meeting she makes sure the car goes at only 29 miles per hour. She will follow it to the letter. If the Act says she must, she will do it. There is every confidence in that, but it is the timescale that she and we are not fully in control of. We have to do our bit for the UK and the Government so that decisions can be made next Wednesday at the Council about the reason for and the length of an extension to Article 50.
I think the Bill actually helps the Prime Minister at this stage in the process, and we should support it at Second Reading—the House does not throw Bills out at Second Reading, otherwise we could never scrutinise them. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a genuine pleasure to follow the noble Lord. He and I crossed swords many times in the other place, and I always emerged from those exchanges with a great deal of respect and a touch of affection for the noble Lord—but I regret to say that I disagree what he has said to the House this evening. The House of Commons and this House decided to delegate the decision on the future of our relationship with the European Union to the people of our country in a referendum. They did that without qualification. The question on the referendum paper was not, “Do you want to remain in the European Union if we can get satisfactory terms?” or, “Do you want to leave if we can get satisfactory terms?” Rather it was a clear question: leave or remain? The country delivered its verdict without qualification. It said, by a relatively small but clear margin, that it wanted to leave.
Parliament then voted to trigger Article 50 and did so without qualification. Article 50 meant that we would leave the European Union two years after the article was triggered. There was no qualification. It was not a question of our leaving in two years’ time if we could get a reasonable deal; it was that we should leave. That, I believe, is what we should have done last week, but we did not. That was because Members of both Houses of Parliament did not get the answer they wanted. There was a considerable majority in both Houses for us to remain in the European Union. After the result of the referendum, some Members of both Houses who had been in favour of the UK remaining accepted the verdict of the people in good faith. Some accepted it but tried to limit what they saw as the damage. They were reluctant accepters of the verdict of the people. Others—far too many, I fear—have sought to thwart, obstruct and reverse the decision of the people and have never really accepted the result of the referendum.
I believe we should leave the European Union without, if necessary, any overarching agreement. In the end, I was persuaded of the merits of the proposal put by the Prime Minister to Parliament for a third time and I would have reluctantly voted for it. However, the proposal did not achieve the support of Parliament. In those circumstances, I would leave without a deal, which is why in due course I shall vote against this legislation.
I do not want to repeat the points made very eloquently by my noble friend Lord Lilley in his speech today before he was cut off in his prime, but it is the case that we could leave. Preparations have been made on both sides of the channel for us to leave in relatively good order, and that is what I think we should do if the Prime Minister cannot achieve agreement to the terms she has negotiated. The former Governor of the Bank of England has suggested that we should do so with a six-month standstill. After we have left, we should agree with the European Union to trade with each other on the same terms. That is a sensible proposal and I would even go so far as to say that we should give each other 12 months in which to negotiate a satisfactory trading agreement. I have no doubt that if that step were taken, it would be perfectly possible to reach an agreement along those lines.
Given that, I speak against the Bill currently before your Lordships’ House. When the moment comes, I shall vote against it because I think we have to honour the result of the referendum, and the time has come for us to do so.
My Lords, is my noble friend saying that he will vote against Second Reading?
No, of course not. I accept the procedures of this House, but there will come an opportunity for us to vote on the merits of the Bill and at that stage I shall vote against it.
My Lords, I support the Bill and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for taking up the mantle of introducing it in this House. I also thank Members of the other place, the right honourable Yvette Cooper and the right honourable Sir Oliver Letwin. I was distressed to hear the attacks being made by Members on the Benches opposite on Sir Oliver Letwin because, as far as I am concerned, these colleagues of ours in the other place are doing a great public service.
We need this Bill as an insurance policy against a no-deal Brexit. Even though the Prime Minister has said that she intends to seek a longer extension, it is essential to give the House of Commons a role in that process; namely, mandating the Government and ensuring the accountability of the Government to the House of Commons so that it can take proper control of the process, which is what has been wanted by all sides over the past three years. We should not be in a situation where this country slips off the cliff edge of no deal either through intent or by accident. I am afraid that the Prime Minister has blown hot and cold on no deal, so there is an issue as regards the confidence and indeed the trust that we can have that the policy will not flip-flop. We also need to ensure that the Prime Minister goes on pursuing a straight course.
The impact of no deal would be very severe. We have heard that from the CBI, the TUC and from the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Mark Sedwill. We have heard about a 10% increase in food prices, a possible recession, customs delays and bankruptcies among businesses.
My Lords, are these not the same people who warned us, when we voted three years ago, that pandemonium would break out? Further, are not some of them, like the CBI, the same people who said that we must join the euro—and continue to say that as well?
I think that the noble Lord is somewhat out of date. There has been a serious impact on the economy. As a result of the Brexit vote, we have lost around 2.5% of GDP, even though we are still in the EU. We are down by around £600 million a week.
As I was saying, there are already shortages of medicines, and that will get worse. The noble Lord, Lord Lilley, who is not with us now, suggested in a debate we had a couple of weeks ago that I was wrong to draw attention to the problem of people not getting essential medicines. These stories continue to appear, and they are very real. The NHS has not stockpiled everything because some medicines such as short-life isotopes cannot be stockpiled. It is therefore irresponsible to contemplate no deal. There would also be effects on our security and on Northern Ireland—the noble Lord, Lord Hain, has talked about the issues as regards the Northern Ireland border and possible direct rule.
Last night, Mr Mark Francois MP said in the other place that the Bill is a “constitutional outrage”, a phrase which was echoed by some speakers to the amendments to the Business Motion this afternoon. What in my opinion would be a constitutional, political, economic and social outrage would be for a Government, any Government, knowingly to inflict avoidable damage on their own citizens through a catastrophic and damaging crash-out from the European Union; hence the need to make sure we avoid a no-deal situation. This Bill assists in that process.
My Lords, is it not a question of weighing the short-term inconveniences against the long-term picture? The whole point about the long term, given the appalling economic record of the EU, is that our economy is likely to grow much less while we are part of the EU or closely related to it than if it is free.
That is not the consensus of reputable economists, who all say that we will do worse outside the EU. Some of those who say that we will be fine under no deal are not the vulnerable people who will suffer in a crash-out situation. They do not have millions stashed away.
Clause 2 would enable exit day to be changed by the Government subject only to the negative procedure. We agree with the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee that it would be better if the clause was removed from the Bill. We dealt expeditiously with the change from 29 March to 12 April in the statutory instrument, and there is no reason to think that we would not be able to do so again if required. It is a domestic law issue; if we get an extension, it is not a question of whether we are in the EU but a question of necessary housekeeping, and it can be done.
I do not want to go on about a people’s vote, but the noble Lord, Lord Howard, referred to the will of the people. It is time to update our knowledge of the will of the people. Three years on, it is not reasonable or reliable to rely on what a different electorate said in 2016. We hope and expect that the Prime Minister will seek an extension, but she should use that extension to get an update of the verdict of the people.
Will the noble Baroness comment on whether she is satisfied that the drafting of the Bill is watertight and will guarantee that, if it is passed in this way, there will be no way for the Government to escape the implications of their responsibilities under the Bill?
It would take a braver woman than I to say that it is watertight. I do not know whether there is anything behind the noble Lord’s question and that he knows something that I do not, so I will rely on the better legal minds which will follow to answer that question. However, I have no reason to think that the drafting has not been carefully looked at.
My Lords, I had planned to be at the National Theatre tonight, on date night with my wife. We had tickets to see “Follies”. The follies that we have all witnessed in this House today sadly lacked the lyrics and the music of Stephen Sondheim that I will be humming to myself throughout the debate.
I support the Bill, but I am concerned about aspects of its drafting. In particular, your Lordships will have seen that the Bill envisages that, if the Prime Minister is mandated to seek an extension to the Article 50 period and given a specified date, as Clause 1 provides, and if the European Council then says no, that it does not agree to that but makes a counter offer of a different date for the extension, under this Bill the Prime Minister would have no power to agree. She would have to return to the House of Commons—presumably the next day, given the urgency of the matter—and meanwhile the European Council will not be sitting in Brussels waiting for the deliberations of the House of Commons; its members will all have gone home because the European Council meeting ends on Wednesday night.
This is all very unfortunate, because the laudable aim of the proposers of this Bill is to reduce the risk of a no-deal exit. However, there is a risk that, by reason of the drafting, that laudable objective may be damaged by the contents of the Bill, and I am concerned about that. Your Lordships will recollect that Aneurin Bevan told the Labour Party conference in 1957 that it should not send a British Foreign Secretary naked into the conference chamber. My concern is that this Bill will send the Prime Minister into the Brussels meeting overdressed with legal requirements.
For that reason, I shall be tabling, together with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, an amendment to the Bill for consideration in Committee on Monday which will address this problem. It will seek to make clear that this legislation does not affect the Prime Minister’s prerogative powers to seek or agree an extension to the Article 50 period to a date not earlier than 22 May of this year. A statutory instrument would still be required to extend exit day under the 2018 Act, as amended by Clause 2 of the Bill.
I very much hope that, over the weekend and when we debate this matter on Monday, the Government, Opposition and Liberal Democrat Front Benches will give careful consideration to the amendment.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, with his crystal clear legal mind. I shall study his amendment with great interest when it is tabled.
Most people will agree that we have had a miserable afternoon here—although it ended slightly less unhappily than I feared—but the reason for the muddle into which we all seemed to get earlier is quite clear and direct: in the Commons, Parliament has taken control of the business and the Government from the Ministers of the Crown. We know that Parliament is not a Government and that, as my noble friend Lord Strathclyde made clear earlier, when Parliament takes control, things always go badly wrong—they always have, every time in history. When we look in our history books, we find that every time Parliament has tried to take control from the Crown and the Executive, disasters usually follow.
Outside my office at the other end of the Royal Gallery there is a cabinet in which there is a document signed by 59 commissioners taking parliamentary control by virtue of deciding to cut off the head of the Crown Executive—namely, the King—in 1649. That was Parliament taking control. How did that end? Disastrously: it ended with the abolition of Parliament and a sticky end for all 59 commissioners who signed the executive order. It has always been so. It is natural that if we cannot sustain an Executive and the Crown prerogative is taken away by Parliament taking control, they cannot govern, negotiate or make treaties. This is the position we are in today.
Why are we in this position? Because of cascades of errors. All this is not recent. We could all spend hours blaming each other and events going back years and years into the middle of the previous century. These errors created the waves on which we are riding today, rather like corks on a wave. We are being blown along by events and the bad decisions taken by our predecessors years ago. When I was banging on about predecessors the other day, my younger son warned me, “Well, you are one of the predecessors, so you are to blame for where we are now”.
This morning, I was speaking to a French official visiting London. He said, “This is all familiar to us”. Alexis de Tocqueville described exactly what is happening now—admittedly more in relation to America—in saying that as the growth of individualism and the concern for individual liberty grew, so it would become more and more expressive and detached from the body politic, the professional politicians and the political institutions, and that huge gaps would arise. That is not very far from where we are now but, in a sense, the whole atmosphere—the whole situation—has been vastly amplified by the electronic revolution and communications technology which, in the words of Madeleine Albright, have given every individual their own echo chamber. The flood, power and volatility of opinion have changed the business of trying to prevent the gap between the government system and the individual from growing vastly wide—and vastly wide it has grown.
Where are we heading? If this Bill goes ahead, which it probably will, one possibility—the one favoured by Mr Corbyn and his wing of the Labour Party—is a permanent customs union. Another very strong possibility is a long delay. It may be short to start with, but it could be long. Another possibility, which would cheer up many people on the Lib Dem Benches, is no Brexit. That possibility is now there.
As far as a permanent customs union is concerned, ironically, if the much-reviled withdrawal agreement were supported, it would provide a temporary 21-month customs union and, after that, the means to get out of it. I know that that is denied by those who talk about permanent entrapment, the backstop never being resolved and being permanently entangled in a customs union, but the reality is that, funnily enough, the people who are arguing that are also arguing—and I believe they are right—that the hard border issue can be resolved in 21 months perfectly well, so it would never happen or, if it did, it would be only temporary. Anyway, that is another story we have debated endlessly. The point is that, on present trends, the prospect of a permanent customs union is looming over the scene, which would be a lot worse for many people, including me, than the temporary customs union in the withdrawal agreement.
There is another dubiety behind the present situation: democracy, a much-bandied word, is not the same as majoritarianism. The idea that a majority vote determines all and the minority can be completely ignored is not democracy. It is a different trend that led to some disastrous outcomes in the 20th century. Compromise is always necessary in democracies. There are no exceptions. The irony of our present situation is that if this Bill goes forward, and if one of the outcomes I mentioned—no Brexit—were to occur, that would be an extraordinary situation: not on denial of minorities, which some of my noble friends, and certainly my honourable friends in the other place, do not quite grasp when they speak about the will of the people and that sort of thing, but on the way the referendum decided absolutely that Brexit was the outcome when in fact a vast minority’s view needed to be taken into account. If we go ahead with Brexit, it will be the other way round. We will be denying the interests of the majority instead of those of the minority, which would be hugely dangerous. There should be no illusions about that. If that is the outcome, it would be deeply unsettling and dangerous—certainly equivalent to anything the country experienced in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Quite simply, rather than having this Bill—it looks as though we are going to have it all the same—I would much prefer the way out that some of us have argued for all along: all of my party should support a version of the withdrawal agreement. It is called Mrs May’s deal or the Prime Minister’s deal, but it is in fact a worked-out agreement with the European Union that it does not want to reopen. If the EU can adjust it or add codicils to it, that is fine, but rather than the dangers of denying the majority in the future and saying goodbye to Brexit altogether, it would be far better for my party to support the withdrawal agreement. To my mind, it always was and will be the best way forward. That is difficult to face—compromise is always difficult to face—but unless we face it, there are grave dangers ahead for us.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure for me to follow the noble Lord, Lord Howell, who is the chair of the International Relations Committee on which I sit. Even when I do not always agree with him in every respect, I always learn a lot from what he says.
I shall pursue my noble friend Lord Pannick’s theatrical image. Sitting here this afternoon, I had a vague presentiment that there was a similarity to the occasion when President Lincoln was assassinated at the theatre and somebody said to Mrs Lincoln afterwards, “And how did you enjoy the play, Mrs Lincoln?”. I think this afternoon’s events might have produced a pretty large raspberry to that, and I find it pretty shameful that not one of the people who kept us here all afternoon in an absolutely obvious filibuster has found the time to participate in the Second Reading of this Bill. Oh—I am sorry; I did not see the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. I apologise. But one swallow does not a summer make.
There are two swallows.
My noble friend Lady Deech did not move an amendment; nor did the noble Lord, Lord Howell. I am talking about noble Lords who moved amendments. That is what I said, and I think it is rather shameful that none of them, apart from the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, is here.
I will support the Bill. I think that it is both necessary and urgent. I think the reasons for it are the need to send, ahead of the meeting next Wednesday in Brussels, a very clear message to our 27 European Union partners—and they are still our partners. When this Bill becomes an Act, it will send a useful message to them ahead of that meeting. It would have been much better if we could have passed it through all its stages today, but I do not believe that Monday is too late to pass a useful message, and I hope that we will do that in due course.
What is the message that we are passing? First, as other noble Lords who have spoken have said, it is that this House does not share, the other place does not share and the whole British Parliament does not share the view that no deal is better than a bad deal. That appalling mantra, which dominated the negotiations for so many months, even years, is, I think, being laid to rest by this indication—and about time too is all I would say.
The second message we are sending is that both Houses of this Parliament need more time and space to work on a new course for our relationship with the EU in future, whatever that might be. That is a useful message to send. I do not think that we ought to be too specific about how long it will take. It may be that some rather flexible formula can be found in Brussels next Wednesday to cover that, but the idea—
For the sake of the record, would the noble Lord confirm to the House that he is doing all he possibly can to keep our country in the European Union?
I am sorry to say that some of the noble Lord’s friends this afternoon did not even have the courtesy to give way when I tried to speak, so I have no intention of answering his intervention, which is nothing whatever to do with what I have said. I said that we should set a new course in our relationship with the European Union.
The question of the European Parliament elections cannot be completely discounted at this stage, but I do not think that we should allow that complication to be an impediment to a longer extension of the Article 50 period. There is no harm at all to be found in our participating in those elections. Obviously, should we definitively leave after the elections, the result would not be followed through. I would be grateful if the Minister, when he replies to this debate, could confirm reports that I have seen that the Government are in fact making the necessary preparations to hold a vote on 23 May if we are still in the European Union on that date. It would be really helpful to have that point made clearly, because we could then stop fussing too much about it.
I do not think that the issue of a consultation with the electorate will go away. It is not part of this legislation and therefore I will not go into great detail about it. I will say merely that so much has changed and so much is different from what was put to the people in 2016 that it would be little short of shameful if we did not consult them again. Of course, they might give the same answer as they gave before. So be it, if that is their answer—but they ought to be given the opportunity, I hope that in the not too distant future, when there is a clear picture of what Brexit means—not just “Brexit” but what it means in detail—they will have a chance to have their say.
My Lords, I shall be brief in making a point that I regard as fundamental. The length of my speech will be in inverse proportion to the importance of what I wish to convey. I am not concerned here with the principle of Brexit. Debate on whether the United Kingdom leaves or remains within the European Union is toxic and I associate myself with neither side in the debate. Proponents on both sides tend to lack not only balance but self-awareness.
My concern covers a matter touched upon earlier today in discussing the various amendments to the procedure Motion, and that is the constitutional implications of the Bill before us. The Bill is constitutionally novel, and some would argue objectionable, inasmuch as it impinges on the established relationship between Parliament and the Executive. I distinguish what the Bill seeks to achieve from the procedure adopted to achieve it.
The claim that the House of Commons is “taking back control” can be utilised only in respect of procedure. The current precedence of government in the business of the other place, as stipulated by Standing Order, derives from the Balfour reforms of 1902. However, wresting from the Government control of a particular policy, or determining how the Government will act in pursuing a policy, is not a case of taking back control. You cannot take back something that you never had.
Our current constitution is grounded in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The Bill of Rights 1689 established that the Crown could no longer legislate, suspend laws or raise taxation without the assent of Parliament. However, the position of Parliament in relation to the Executive was and remained reactive. Parliamentarians made it clear that they still looked to the monarch to come forward with a policy. Parliament could and can say no to the Government; it could and can amend a Bill brought forward by the Government, but the onus for the measure continues to rest with the Government. They may come back with a fresh policy of their own, or they may choose to withdraw or not continue with a Bill that has been amended in a way of which they disapprove. As I say, the onus continues to rest with government. The status of each—government and Parliament—is clear and distinct and the relationship well understood. Since the emergence of Parliament in the 13th century, Parliament has been a reactive body, responding to demands of the Crown.
This Bill marks a departure from that clearly understood position. It confuses the relationship. That relationship has a clear, principled rationale. It means a clear line of accountability, with a Government accountable to Parliament and, through parliamentary elections, accountable to electors. We are in danger of engaging in an exercise that, like referendums, is strictly speaking irresponsible. With referendums, there is no means by which electors can hold themselves responsible for the outcomes. Similarly, with policy determined by a transient majority of parliamentarians, there is no single coherent body that stands before the electors to be held responsible for the policy.
If we proceed with this Bill—especially Clause 1(1)—we should not do so in a constitutional haze. I have previously quoted in debate Sir Sidney Low, who in his book The British Constitution, published in 1928, wrote:
“In England we often do a thing first and then discover that we have done it”.
I fear that we may be in danger of doing something without fully grasping what we are doing. We in this House especially should act only when we have understood and fully reflected on the constitutional implications of what we are doing. We need to raise our gaze beyond the immediacy of a toxic and confused debate, and focus on the consequences for our constitutional arrangements.
The House of Commons enjoys primacy and is entitled to get its way, but that does not absolve this House of its responsibility to ensure that legislation is examined thoroughly and as far as possible improved, if necessary inviting the other place to think again about provisions that engage fundamental constitutional principles.
My Lords, not only is the procedure relating to this Bill unacceptable and unconventional, but the Bill too has its faults. It is unnecessary because the Prime Minister has said that she will seek a delay, and this ties her hands. It makes us subservient to European Union timing. Clause 1(6) and (7) give any European Union extension priority over what we might want. According to the Bill, if some hypothetical date that the EU puts forward is accepted, there will be a Motion in the Commons taking the form of subsection (2). That subsection has dots where a date would be; it does not refer to subsection (3).
The other thing that puzzles me is the wording in Clause 1(2). It says,
“for the purposes of section 1 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019”.
I looked it up, and there is no such Act. After much puzzling, I decided that this was a reference to the Bill, but the Bill is called the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 5) Bill, and presumably, if it becomes an Act, it will be the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 5) Act. Therefore, I hope that that can be corrected, or maybe there is already a European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2019 that I am unaware of. I found that reference puzzling and I hope that the Minister will be able to clarify it or make sure that it is corrected.
I also wonder why this House would not be involved if such a Motion for an extension were passed. Why would only the Commons be involved? I think that subsections (6) and (7) of Clause 1 should be deleted. I do not see why any priority should be given to European Union timings. It should be for our Prime Minister to say that she has received a suggestion from the European Union about certain dates and that is what she wants. I do not see why the European Union should make that decision. I also wonder what European Union procedures there are to make those dates firm. We have already had extension dates bounced on us, and we have been told that they are part of an international treaty. I do not know whether we are part of that, how it came about or whether we ever agreed to it.
The root of the trouble, in retrospect, is the Miller case, where a random member of the public who could afford it brought a case to ensure that Parliament was involved in triggering Article 50. I was glad to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, has now found a good use for the royal prerogative and suggests that Mrs May be allowed to use that in questions relating to the date. However, it may be that in years to come the diminution of the royal prerogative by the Miller case comes to be regretted.
It is also the case that there are problems with Article 50. As I said on Twitter, this is:
“A clue to the source of Brexit trouble”,
and these are not my words but the words of Professor Collier, who wrote in the New Statesman a week or two ago:
“Article 50 was designed (by a clever British civil servant of yesteryear) so as to strip any country wanting to leave of all negotiating power”.
I hope that in years to come the defects in Article 50 will be recognised.
The reason why we are in this trouble is that from day one those who voted remain, or many of them, have done what they can to block an orderly exit. Indeed, Brexiteers in the other House were misguided in refusing to pass the withdrawal agreement—not that I hold any candle for it but I do not think there was anything better, and we would not be in the situation if they had voted for it. I can therefore conclude only that the overriding motive of those who are pushing this Bill is to avoid Brexit or to have a softer Brexit. The noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, helpfully spelled it out in the Times a couple of days ago in an article that he said was addressed to the European authorities. This is what to do, he said to them in his article, if you want to stop Brexit: give Britain a delay. Give it more, more and more delay. Do not impose conditions, just delay and delay, and the whole thing will eventually dribble away in the sand. That is what the noble Lord said.
On the other hand, there is the question of no deal. There might be chaos, although we do not know, but two particular advantages of no deal have emerged recently. First, suddenly Mr Varadkar is talking about sensible ways to get around the Irish hard border issue. Suddenly he has come forward with what he says might be acceptable technical ways to do this—a miracle. Secondly, I think no deal would force the European Union to negotiate. It would jump-start it into negotiating, which is its duty under Article 50 and which it has neglected. All the EU has said is, “No, we will not reopen the withdrawal agreement”, and, “No, we will not change anything”. So one wonders really what the delay is for. If Europe will not reopen the withdrawal agreement, why are we delaying? It will say to us, “What’s your new plan for the future?”. Even if we were to say, which I hope we will not, “A customs union”, what guarantee is there that Europe would agree to it? Probably it will just say no to anything that we ask for so that the delay goes on and on. An extension as mandated in the Bill would not end the possibility of no deal, because if no deal happens because there is no deal then no deal is what we will get. So I do not see that there is any reason for the delay.
Lastly, on the notion of a second referendum and people changing their minds, I rather wonder whether remainers have changed their mind. What did they think they were voting for two or three years ago? Were they voting for what we see now across Europe? Were they voting for the collapse of French security? Were they voting for the high level of Belgian intelligence? Were they voting to see more fiscal indiscipline within Italy, higher unemployment in Greece and less philanthropy and sharing of burdens by Germany? Were they voting to see more authoritarianism in Hungary, less respect for the rule of law in Poland or increasing expenditure, sometimes unaccounted for, in Brussels? Were they voting to see a Europe that is unwilling to support NATO as it should? I hope that they will think again. Facts have indeed changed over the last two years, for the worse.
I hope the Minister will respond to my points about drafting and reply as to why we need the Bill at all.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Deech. I have great respect for her, not least because she was until recently chair of the Bar Standards Board. If we do not always agree on matters of constitutional law or indeed attitudes to Europe, and I am afraid we certainly do not, perhaps we should put that down to my not having been a member of the illustrious constitutional law class that she was referring to earlier today.
I welcome the Bill but we must acknowledge that its aims are modest. It allows the House of Commons to ensure that an extension is requested but it does not offer a guarantee against no deal. If it gets to the stage of the Bill being used then I am afraid that that matter remains within the unilateral control of the European Council, or indeed each of the 27 European Governments, who will retain a veto on a matter of extension. It is less powerful in that respect than the indicative Motion placed by Joanna Cherry in the House of Commons last week, though I immediately acknowledge that that Motion did not gain the support of that House, whereas this Bill did.
There is at least one fixable defect in the Bill. I say “at least one” because I am afraid I have not studied the report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee; it may well be that when I look at what it has to say about Clause 2 I will find myself in agreement with that. The fixable defect that I have in mind is that which was lucidly explained earlier on by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, relating to the procedure following a counterproposal from the European Council. That is alluded to briefly in this morning’s report by the Constitution Committee and covered in more detail by the legal adviser to that committee, Mark Elliott, whose name has been mentioned already today, who sets it out in his blog, Public Law for Everyone. He has done a very thorough job and I think we in Parliament should all be very grateful to him for the work that he has done.
The amendment by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, sounds promising to me. If it can be accommodated in time for this urgent Bill to be useful, I for one will be looking at it positively and with gratitude.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. He is absolutely right to highlight the issue about the procedure following a counterproposal. My understanding is that discussions that include the Government are under way on this. Perhaps the Minister might be able to indicate to us at the end of the debate whether the Government themselves will be tabling an amendment on Monday. The Minister is shaking his head and saying they will not, so I think the House will take careful note of that in terms of where it might go next.
In his brilliant speech introducing the Bill, my noble friend Lord Rooker said that the Prime Minister had the reputation of being the most law-abiding person in the country who, even when she was late for an engagement, travelled at precisely 29 miles per hour in her official car. As a former Secretary of State for Transport, I am delighted that she observes the speed limit in that way. However, the big problem that we in this country face at the moment is that she is accelerating the country at about 100 miles per hour towards the cliff edge. We are seeking to decelerate the car very rapidly to see that we do not go off the edge of a cliff but stop, take stock as a country and do something far more sane and sensible than that.
If we had complete trust, there would not be a need for the Bill, but I am afraid a pattern of behaviour has grown up over the past year. There was the first meaningful vote, which became meaningless when the Prime Minister lost it, and then the second meaningful vote, which then became meaningless. There was the clock that was not supposed to be run down but is now practically at zero. That pattern of behaviour has led Parliament and responsible parliamentarians to believe quite rightly that without a legal backstop, which is effectively what we are legislating for, there is a real danger that things could go seriously wrong next week.
The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, is right to say that the procedure in the Bill does not make it absolutely impossible for no deal to take place but makes it much less likely because it imposes a process of parliamentary accountability and debate, both beforehand and afterwards, which makes it extremely unlikely that no deal would happen. The reason it makes it extremely unlikely is that the considered and firmly declared will of Parliament is that we should not have no deal. That has repeatedly been the vote of the House of Commons, by 400 to 200 votes when a view on that specific proposal was last expressed. The majority of one on this Bill is very misleading, because it is due to concerns about whether it is correct to limit the royal prerogative in the way that is being done at the moment. I take careful note of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Norton, on that.
It is very important to address the underlying issue, which is the crisis facing the country: does Parliament want no deal? The House of Commons could not have been more emphatic on that. It does not want no deal. However, because it does not have sufficient trust in the Prime Minister to ensure that no deal is removed from the equation, we have this legislation.
The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, in unjustly derogatory remarks about Sir Oliver Letwin earlier, missed the point that Sir Oliver has been performing a very valuable public service. He has effectively made himself the leader of a massive parliamentary majority encompassing all sides of the House of Commons and the overwhelming majority of Members of your Lordships’ House, who do not want to see the country trashed next week by an inadvertent move towards no deal. Introducing his Bill yesterday, at the beginning of the debate in the House of Commons, Sir Oliver said,
“there should be a transparent and orderly statutory process or framework within which the House has an opportunity to consider the length of the extension that is asked for and to provide the Prime Minister with backing for her request to the EU in an unequivocal and transparent way”.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/4/19; col. 1060.]
That is a laudable and very necessary objective for Parliament to secure, which is why we are attending to these matters so late on a Thursday evening and will not rest until we have enacted the Bill.
The big question which then faces us as a country is: what do we do once we have this long extension? We are in the middle of a very deep political and constitutional crisis, because of our inability to light on a policy which is sustainable for the nation. The noble Lord, Lord Howard, who is no longer in his place, gave a very simplistic answer to the question. I am afraid that, to my mind, that simplicity is born of a fundamentalism I find extremely unattractive. He said the House of Commons voted three years ago to delegate the decision on what we will do as a country to the people. This goes to the fundamental issue facing Parliament and the country at the moment. Three years ago, all that the country was asked to vote on—the only option people were given—was four words: leave the European Union. That was the option on the ballot paper. There was no detail.
As has now become clear, the people behind the leave campaign all had inconsistent and often contradictory objectives about what they wanted. Some said we would stay in the customs union and keep freedom of movement; some said we would not. As the negotiations have proceeded—I give the Prime Minister credit for doing her best in the negotiations—it has become clear that we cannot achieve the objectives set out three years ago. Not only that, but the Prime Minister’s own objectives, set out in her Lancaster House speech of January 2017, cannot be achieved either.
When faced with a situation in which promises made cannot be kept, the country faces a very deep crisis and circumstances have changed radically, what do you do? Do you continue to accelerate at 100 miles an hour towards the edge of a cliff? Or do you decelerate, stop, take stock, be reasonable and—this is highly appropriate—give the country the opportunity to make a judgment on whether it wants to proceed with Brexit on the terms negotiated by the Prime Minister or stay in the European Union?
The situation we face reminds me very much of a Sherlock Holmes novel. I was reminded of it because I have been speaking up and down the country on Brexit recently. Two weeks ago, I was in Crowborough, where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle lived. Indeed, I had my photograph taken next to his statue. I had to get a special angle for the photo, because it is next to a Wetherspoon’s. For reasons noble Lords may understand, I was very keen to have Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the picture, but I was not so delighted to have a Wetherspoon’s in it. I managed to get the right angle, however, and those who follow me on Twitter can see the picture.
In The Sign of the Four, Sherlock says:
“How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”
That is the situation the country now faces. The impossible have been eliminated: no deal; the Prime Minister’s deal; different variations of the Prime Minister’s deal; and supposed alternatives to the backstop, which simply have to be called alternative arrangements because they do not exist and cannot be defined. In a wonderful Orwellian twist, not having any alternative arrangements, what have the Government done? They have set up an alternative arrangements working group. You could not make it up. But there are no alternative arrangements. We will not have a frictionless border in Northern Ireland in the cloud and so on—it does not exist.
In this situation, the only sensible policy for the state that now exists is to take the best deal that can be negotiated, which is the Prime Minister’s existing one—at least that is technically possible to implement, because it has been negotiated—and put that to the people, with the alternative being to remain in the EU. In the conversations taking place between the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition, I believe it would be possible to forge a compromise on that basis.
The noble Lord is both wrong and right. He is right that the referendum was a simple choice. What did it show? It was not a decisive view either way; it showed that the country was deeply divided and confused. I think Sherlock Holmes or Dr Watson would say that the answer to all this must be a compromise, because the country is divided. Why does the noble Lord think that, in putting a further referendum to the country, things would be any different? We would still have a divided nation, maybe with a slight majority one way or the other, and there would still be a need for compromise. Is that not obvious?
I am precisely proposing a compromise, which is to take the Prime Minister’s deal, which is the best deal that can be negotiated if we are to have Brexit, and put it to the nation, with the alternative option being to stay in the European Union. That is a compromise that would bring both sides together. The compromise I do not think it is possible to have, which I know the noble Lord, Lord Howell, hankers after, is some half-bastardised form of Brexit. We have spent month after month searching for that and I am afraid that, like the holy grail, it does not exist.
I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that people were confused three years ago. Does he agree? Now they are much more informed, so they can make a much more informed decision. It is not fair to compare that with the people’s decision three years ago.
The noble Lord makes a very powerful further argument for the second referendum. I support his argument; he will make his speech later and I hope he will develop that important point. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that, because we have not been able to produce a Brexit that lives up to the promises made three years ago, and because there is not—let us be frank—a parliamentary majority prepared to support it on principle, I think the only compromise that is now viable for the country at large is to put that deal to the people, because it is technically possible to implement it, but with an alternative option to stay in the European Union. It is my view that the majority will vote for the option to stay in the European Union because it is now so obviously preferable to the Prime Minister’s deal, and the £39 billion that we would pay the EU for worse trade and economic terms than we have now—the arguments go on. The people could make that judgment.
I will make one final remark about the situation we now face. One former leader of the Conservative Party, the noble Lord, Lord Howard, has spoken and made a very hard-line speech, if I may say so, about how we need to leave with no deal. An equally significant intervention was made this week by another former leader of that party, a Member of this House who, alas, is not in his place and speaking this evening, the noble Lord, Lord Hague of Richmond. On Tuesday, he wrote an article in the Daily Telegraph and it is very important for those engaged in the Brexit debate to read it. I would particularly recommend it to noble Lords on the Conservative Benches and maybe even more so to Conservative MPs, many of whom, from my watching of debates in the House of Commons, have become extremely hard-line and militant on this issue of the need for a no-deal Brexit.
This is what the noble Lord, Lord Hague, wrote:
“Do not underestimate … the immense danger of continuing to pull apart from each other while the public looks on with an irritation that is now turning to dismay, and at any moment could turn to anger … the Conservatives are inevitably identified with the Brexit project, for good or ill, and slowly, steadily, the case for Brexit is being lost … The Conservatives … face the terrible double prospect of voters shifting away from supporting their central policy, while those who do support it become enraged by the failure to deliver it … My advice to my old colleagues is therefore this: if you don't get Brexit over the line now, it will probably never happen”.
Brexit has not been got over the line; it will probably never happen. The right thing for the nation, and maybe even for the Conservative Party, is for it to be buried, for the nightmare to end and for us then to carry on our national life in a much better prospect.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, always gives a compelling and fascinating speech, but there are not many shades of grey in it. I am sure that he, along with most of us, breathed a sigh of relief when the Chief Whip announced the agreement with the usual channels tonight, because this afternoon was one of the most unpleasant afternoons that I can remember in your Lordships’ House. My noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford referred to this. There was an almost palpable anger in the air for much of the time. Why? Because some of those in my own party who have been most militantly for Brexit, most of whom belong to the strangely named ERG, are not prepared—to use a word that has come up many times this evening—to compromise.
I cannot speak for everyone, but I can certainly quote my noble friend the Duke of Wellington, who is here. Most of us were fervent remainers who were disappointed at the decision that was taken in June 2016. We thought it was a mistake but, nevertheless, we accepted it. We saw it as our manifest duty to work together to produce a Brexit that did indeed preserve many of the advantages of the European Union—which, I may say, had been promised by the leave campaign—but would, at the same time, turn this country in a slightly different direction, while always preserving, cultivating and deeply valuing our friendships in Europe, because the 27 other nations remain our friends and neighbours, and sharers of a common civilisation.
I make those few remarks as a preface, because what I want to do is briefly to say how much I admire those whose names are on the face of this Bill. They are men and women of four parties in the other place, led by notable members of the Labour and Conservative parties, who, realising that compromise was absolutely essential, came together. For many months now, in spite of vilification, some of which was repeated this afternoon, Sir Oliver Letwin, Dominic Grieve and Dame Caroline Spelman—who I must admit is a cousin of mine—of my party have worked tirelessly along with people such as Hilary Benn and Jack Dromey from the Labour Party, trying to come together.
I always felt, from the word go, that it was necessary to try to come together. I proposed in June 2016 a Grand Committee of both Houses and all parties. That was turned down—I have made similar suggestions since—but this is the nearest to an enactment, as it were, of that suggestion. They were able to come together and stand firm, and we must remember that this Bill predates, in its conception and indeed in its drawing up, the recent welcome developments to reach across the parties that we have seen in the last few days.
I can well understand why my honourable friend Sir Oliver Letwin, and Yvette Cooper, a woman of great courage and stature, persisted with the Bill. It is now before your Lordships’ House. It was created in a vacuum, and the vacuum was created by a lack of leadership. What we have to recognise is that this is, as has been said, a public Bill. It is not a private Bill. It is a public Bill that has commanded a majority—albeit the smallest of majorities—in the other place and, because it has commanded that majority, it comes before us. Our constitutional duty is to give the Bill an unopposed Second Reading and then to look at it with care and diligence on Monday. I am glad that we will be doing that after a little refreshment over the weekend, rather than when we are tired, exhausted and tetchy in the middle of the night. We would all have been all of those things, and we would have got progressively worse as the night had gone on. Now we can come to it fresh on Monday.
Of course there are amendments that we should look at. I was much taken by the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and glad to hear of the amendment that he and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, are intending to place before us on Monday. It may well be an amendment that will be accepted without Division. I hope that it will, because I hope we will be able on Monday to bring people together. I hope that we will be able to send this Bill back to the other place with constructive and improving amendments that it can accept. Then it does no harm because, although this is a constitutional innovation—my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth was right to indicate some of the problems and potential pitfalls—we must all nevertheless always remember that it is the Executive who are answerable to Parliament, and not Parliament that is answerable to the Executive. We live in a parliamentary democracy, where we have parliamentary sovereignty.
We also have to heed the wise words of my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford—he has disappeared now—who talked about the difference between democracy and majorities. There is a definition of democracy that I always like: a proper democracy is one that has regard for all minorities. A proper democracy therefore has to have abundant regard for the largest recorded minority in British history. People are always talking about the 17.4 million, but the 16-plus million were the largest recorded minority in British history. We have to come out of the difficult slough of despond in which we have wallowed for far too long with something that recognises that, particularly as the majority of those who voted remain were not of our generation. There are exceptions in the Chamber tonight, I know, but for the most part they were of the younger generation. Those of the generation that is most represented in this House this evening were on the leave side.
If we are to create a new relationship with Europe—I look at it in that way: not as the severing of a relationship but the creation of a new one—it has to be one that fires the imagination of the young and gives them the opportunity to partake in many of the benefits that we have enjoyed. We debated one such benefit on Monday night of this week when we talked about the Erasmus and Horizon 2020 projects.
It is good that there is a quieter, more sober atmosphere in the House this evening. It is good that we are not going in for too many recriminations. We are not all of one mind and one view, but we have to respect each other’s views. In parenthesis I will say how delighted I have been this week to see my noble friend Lord Spicer back in his place. He has suffered from grievous illness and shown enormous courage and bravery. I never agree with a word he says on Europe, but we have been firm friends since he first entered the other place a year or two after I did. We must remember that, only two or three years ago, although we very often had differences of opinion on Europe, most of us who were members of the same party—and indeed of the same Chamber—respected and liked each other. I have seen an erosion of respect and a diminishing of liking. It is our duty to reverse that unfortunate trend. I hope we can begin that tonight and continue it on Monday.
My Lords, I am not going to give the speech that I had planned to give at this late stage of the evening. I was nearly goaded into picking it up again by the typically hard-line speech of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, but I will leave my speech with my other papers down there, and just say that I would have said a lot more about the B-word. Instead, I will just associate myself with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, because I agreed with what he said about it.
I have stayed in the House to speak in this debate because, while I cared passionately about the issues that we debated during the day, and the constitutional issues raised by the way in which the Bill has been put through the House, I believe that there are aspects of the Bill that are worth debating. We should be very wary of restricting the scope of the Government to negotiate international treaties, and that is what this Bill does. It further restricts the royal prerogative. Of course, the royal prerogative has been restricted in many ways over many years, but this is a further restriction in the area of the Government having the effective power to negotiate internationally, which I believe is important. The royal prerogative is part of how our constitution works. It is important in enabling the Government to govern effectively.
So I regret that this Bill has come to us. It passed by one vote in the other place—but we have to accept that and move on. I was particularly interested in the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, who is no longer in his place, about the way in which the Bill is over-restrictive in this area. I hope that he will return on Monday, together with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, to explain further what he means in an amendment there.
I accept that this Bill will come. We just need to concentrate on improving it—from my point of view because encroaching on the royal prerogative is so serious. The most important thing that we should do is ensure that the powers that have been created for Parliament are time-limited. In any event, it should only be needed for next week—or perhaps slightly longer—but we should look at putting some restrictions in the Bill on how the powers that have been created could be used. Whether we do that by time-binding the powers that are created in Clause 1 or by way of a sunset clause is something that I shall reflect on and return to in Committee. I do not believe that this is a statute that should be left for ever and a day on the statute book. I do not think that it is a good precedent, but I accept that we need to send it forward in a workable way.
I was also interested in the speeches earlier today of two of my noble friends, Lord Hunt, as a member of the Constitution Committee, and Lord Blencathra, chairman of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. Both of them indicated that this Bill should be improved through the process of scrutiny in your Lordships’ House, which we will now be able to do on Monday. I join my noble friend Lord Cormack in rejoicing in the agreement that was reached through the usual channels today. Now we can tackle this Bill in the civilised way in which we normally conduct our work of scrutinising legislation. I thank the usual channels for coming to that arrangement, and, for my part, I look forward to resuming discussion on the Bill on Monday.
My Lords, the Brexit debate has increasingly reminded me of the film that shot James Dean to fame, “Rebel Without a Cause”. Noble Lords who are old enough will remember that the high spot of the film is James Dean and his arch rival driving their cars towards a cliff edge. The idea is to be the one with the most nerve, and to jump out of the car as near to the cliff edge as possible. For some time, I have been wondering who from the ERG we could cast in the James Dean role. It seems to me that that is what they have been doing over the past few months.
I want to make one simple point. Whatever may have happened previously on this issue, it has now become a matter of trust and confidence. The Government’s behaviour over a period of time means that it is extremely difficult to rely on their word or their assurances. We have been though many stages: “No deal is better than a bad deal”; “The Government’s deal is the only deal that can prevent no deal”. The Government’s deal and no deal have, however, been rejected pretty consistently by the House of Commons, and with substantial majorities. No clear picture has been presented to Parliament or the public about the sunny uplands that are supposed to appear after we have left the EU. No picture has been painted for the public or Parliament to understand. Very late in the day, a document was cobbled together, with no statutory responsibility attached to it.
The Prime Minister has been forced, very late in the day, to seek help from the leader of the Opposition—to many in her party the great Satan, to use the Iranian mullahs’ phrase about the United States. Her decision belatedly to reach across the aisle has been extremely badly received by a substantial proportion of her party and her Cabinet, so there is now huge uncertainty as to what will happen in the next week. That is the actual position we are confronted with at this time. Whatever arguments there may have been in the past about the merits or demerits of the case for the remainers or the leavers, that is where we are today, and we have to face up to it.
The date with destiny is approaching on 12 April, whether we like it or not. In this situation, the British people can place little confidence in what an uncertain Prime Minister will do next week. We cannot be sure what will happen; we have no certainty whatever. I suggest that the House of Commons is right to try to get some grip on this situation and to create, through the Bill, at least a possibility that the British people will have a chance to create some space to think further about the issue of Brexit. With some sensible use of the Bill, they would at least be presented with an opportunity not to experience the chaos of no deal, and not to experience a deal, not having given their approval to it, negotiated by the Prime Minister with the EU and with little clarity about the future.
This kind of legislation is necessary because there is plenty of evidence that the one thing all remainers and leavers now agree on is that the Government have made a great hash of the negotiations. Those groups may be in that position for different reasons, but they both agree that this has been an unsatisfactory use of two years. Both sides of this argument are not terribly thrilled with the way the Government have handled things in trying to give effect to the referendum result. There is also plenty of evidence, whether we like it or not, that many people—on both sides of the argument, but particularly among those who voted to leave in 2016—have changed their mind after they began to understand what was actually involved in leaving the EU. That uncertainty, and the lack of confidence in the Government which helped create it, is why I support a people’s vote. It is also why I support the Bill.
I would much prefer not to have needed the Bill, for all the constitutional reasons that people have adduced. But we are where we are, as they say: in the very uncomfortable position of the date arriving when, whether we like it or not, some pretty uncomfortable things will be done on behalf of the British people. Let us be absolutely clear: the reason we have got to this position is that the Executive have consistently failed to properly consult parliamentary opinion over the two years, or to convince those in Parliament of the merits of the deal. The Government have brought this serious problem on themselves, and the good guys and girls in all this are those in Parliament who, as we approach the end game, have really tried to create some time and space to produce a more reliable and better outcome to the Brexit issue. That is why I support the Bill, which will provide some possibility of helping this Prime Minister and the Executive rethink how they can proceed in a way that achieves more support for any exit, within Parliament and within the country.
My Lords, I agree with only two things that the noble Lord, Lord Warner, said: one is the lack of trust in the country for this Government; the other is the botched mishandling of all our negotiations with the EU and in Parliament. But the lack of trust is largely due to the way Parliament is seen to have tried to block the result of the referendum.
I remind noble Lords in this House, who seem to have forgotten it, that in June 2016 the people of this country voted to leave the European Union. The turnout for the vote was 72%, which was one of the biggest turnouts for a democratic vote in this country’s history. The result was conclusive: 52% to 48%. The remainers understandably did not like that and said that we did not understand what we voted for. Of course we understood what we voted for: we voted to leave. In fact, each household in the country was sent a leaflet by the Government of David Cameron, who was then Prime Minister, extolling the virtues of remaining in the EU, which said we would be absolutely mad to vote to leave. At a cost of about £9 million, that was a pretty shabby little exercise at the taxpayers’ expense.
The last page of that leaflet was interesting, and I want to remind the House what it said:
“The referendum on Thursday, 23 June is your chance to decide if we should remain in or leave the European Union… This is your decision. The government will implement what you decide”.
That seemed to be echoed by the current Prime Minister in her Lancaster House speech, which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. At that point, she clearly accepted that the result of the referendum was a clear out. There would be no single market; no customs union; no part in, part out; and the famous,
“no deal is better than a bad deal”.
Parliament seemed to agree with her on that, and with the vote in June 2016. I remind noble Lords of what the votes were, both in this House and the other place. The European Union Referendum Act 2015 was carried in the other place by a majority of 491 votes. The Commons voted to give the Bill its Third Reading by a majority of 263 votes. The Bill received its Second and Third Readings in this Chamber without Division. On the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017, the Commons divided, and the amendment was defeated by a majority of 236 votes. The Bill was given its Second Reading by 498 votes to 114; a majority of 384. The Commons gave the Bill its Third Reading by 494 votes to 122; a majority of 372. The same applied to the European Union (Withdrawal Act) 2018, which was passed by majority votes in both Houses. There is this sudden idea that this is somehow unconstitutional.
Can I ask the noble Lord a question? Had the referendum gone the other way, would he and his friends have accepted it absolutely and stopped campaigning for Britain to withdraw from the European Union?
Of course we would have accepted the referendum result—we would have had to. We would not have said that the whole thing was illegitimate and that we wanted another referendum; we would have had to accept the result, just as we were forced to accept the result of the 1975 referendum which unfortunately brought us into the clutches of the European Union, or the Common Market, as it then was. We accepted that, so the answer is that we would have accepted this.
Today, we were presented with a wretched Bill that orders the Prime Minister to go to Brussels as a supplicant, on bended knee, to request an extension until an unknown date. That we do not have a date in the Bill is a matter of contention which will be dealt with in Committee. It is a complete negation of the vote at the end of June 2016.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who spoke earlier to introduce the Bill, and other noble Lords, have said there is no appetite for no deal. I must disabuse them of that idea, and tell them that there is an appetite for no deal. Only this morning, a YouGov poll came out—not of Parliament, because we know the flavour of Parliament and have had enough of that for a long time, but of the country at large. Among the Conservatives polled, 72% were in favour of no deal and only 15% against. From the Labour Party, 21% still voted no deal and 34% against. In London, 26% were for no deal and 45% against. In the rest of the south of England, 44% were for no deal and 34% against. In the Midlands, where I come from, 46% were for no deal and 31% against. In the north, 41% were for no deal and 34% against. That was today; it is not imagination.
Could the noble Lord clarify the results he has just cited? When he says, “against”, is it no deal versus revoking Article 50? If not, what is it against?
It is no deal versus remain in the EU. That is what the question was in the YouGov poll this morning. I have it on my mobile; I will talk to the noble Lord afterwards and give it to him.
I have got the figures right here. The latest YouGov poll, which I looked at today, says that 37% were for a second referendum, 26% for no deal and 11% for the PM’s deal. No deal being a bad outcome was 50%, versus 25% for it being a good outcome.
That is very different from the poll I saw. Perhaps after this debate the noble Lord and I might share a drink and we can compare polls. However, I stand by the figures that I cited from today’s YouGov poll.
Earlier this afternoon, the noble Lord, Lord Owen, who is generally admired, warned this House to be very careful. He was right to say that. The reputation of this House has been damaged by the perception—perhaps no more than that—that it is against leaving the EU and against the result of the referendum voted for by 17.4 million people. If this goes on, and the House continues to thwart and block the result of that historic vote, I fear that the feeling will quickly turn to downright contempt, and deservedly so.
My Lords, we need the protection provided by the Bill because the potential losses from a no-deal Brexit are so grave. I will not repeat what the House has heard many times about potential short-term disruption, which could indeed be very serious. I will not repeat what it has heard about security and Northern Ireland, although these things are very worrying. As an LSE professor and current president of the Royal Economic Society—though I do not speak tonight for those institutions—I emphasise and understand how threatening a no-deal Brexit would be to our universities and our research, which are among the UK’s greatest assets and comparative advantages.
My basic purpose tonight is to dispose, very quickly, of the fatuous argument that a no-deal Brexit would bring some medium-term sunny uplands. It is assertion without evidence; it is fantasy. Every serious study, by the IMF, the OECD, the Bank of England, Her Majesty’s Treasury, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, some of my fine colleagues at the LSE, although not myself, the merchant banks JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs—I could go on—points to medium-term losses of 5% to 10% of GDP per annum; that is not tomorrow but in 10 to 15 years. That is £100 billion or £200 billion a year to this country, dwarfing the £10 billion net that we pay to the EU. Where do these calculations on losses come from? They come from rising trading barriers to our major partner and discouraged investment. They take account of possible reduced barriers elsewhere, but the suggestion that these could offset the other losses simply does not stack up. The results are consistent with the currency markets, with clear messages from business and with common sense. There is no pretence at precision here. We are simply understanding, from the serious work that has been done, that the medium-term costs from a no-deal Brexit look very serious.
The evidence for the argument of the medium-term sunny uplands is simply not there. The argument is a tissue of confusions, yet we have heard it today in your Lordships’ House. It cannot be taken seriously by those who take evidence seriously. The risk of a no-deal Brexit is grave in the short, medium and long run: that is why we need the protection afforded by this Bill.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Stern, whose informed comments about the effects of no deal none of us should dismiss.
Earlier this evening the noble Lord, Lord Warner, reminded us of the film career of James Dean. I was reminded of another James Dean performance: “The Dark, Dark Hours”. We have been through the dark, dark hours—not least this afternoon. I feel that at last, with this Bill, we are beginning to see the light. When the country so desperately needs cross-party co-operation, as even my right honourable friend the Prime Minister now seems to accept, it is a huge relief that in the other place Sir Oliver Letwin has been able to work with colleagues from across that House to bring us this important piece of legislation. My noble friend Lord Cormack pointed out just what hostility some of these individuals in the Commons have had to face. They have been incredibly brave and I am full of admiration for them.
It is now clear that after three years of limping towards Brexit, the country needs significant time to plot a sensible course ahead. That is certainly not the Prime Minister’s deal, which has little to recommend it; nor is it to simply leave without a deal—we have already heard just how bad that would be. Business has been yelling from the rafters that no deal would be a disaster for this country. So we need time to come to a consensus on what the country could accept as its future relationship with the EU. The 27 have consistently said that they need the UK to say what it wants, not what it does not want. We have spent nearly three years establishing what we do not want; it is going to take us a bit of time to work out what we do want.
We have heard much today about the dangers of Parliament taking control. In normal times I would join that chorus urging caution, but if our unwritten constitution were working effectively, there would have been no need for such radical action. If the constitution were functioning, the Executive would have been listening to Parliament. Instead, they have consistently tried to ignore Parliament, from the start of this process until the recent attempts, over and over again, to bludgeon the Commons into accepting a flawed deal. This Bill gives Parliament the ammunition to require an extension to Article 50, which gives us time to plot an acceptable course. I always pay attention to what the noble and noble and learned Lords, Lord Pannick and Lord Judge—and sometimes Lord Hope—have to say and I shall study their amendments, but in principle I support the Bill, which provides an insurance policy against our crashing out without a deal.
Earlier today, the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, accused those of us who support the Bill of suggesting that we do not trust Mrs May. It is not about not trusting Mrs May; it is that Mrs May has to respond to changing events, and therefore what she says changes as events change. She may not even be there when D-day comes, so we need an insurance policy to avoid crashing out without a deal. I continue to believe that the best use of an extension would be to thrash out a deal that is acceptable to Parliament and then to put it to the people. Three years on from the 2016 referendum, such a major step as changing our relationship with Europe seems to me to require the informed consent of the public, and this is our opportunity to get it.
My Lords, this Bill is misconceived in every aspect. It mandates the Prime Minister to seek an Article 50 extension, and in so doing its authors are pursuing what we used to call a chimera. I think we now call it a unicorn; the unicorn of soft Brexit. Where sovereignty is concerned there is no such thing, and it is sovereignty that is essentially at issue in Brexit. By sovereignty I do not mean power; the power of a nation is always circumscribed. I mean our right to make our own laws in our own democratic institutions, accountable to our own people and interpreted by our own courts. On that there should be no compromise. The choice in 2016 was between leaving and remaining. That is still the choice.
The people of this country took a robust view in 2016. They were warned of the possibility of economic disruption—indeed, they were warned in lurid terms by Project Fear. None the less, they voted as they did. Remainers are wont to say that no one voted to be poorer, but the people of this country voted as they did in full awareness of the potential consequences, including the possibility that leaving might make them poorer, and that was the decision they took. That was what they decreed.
The political parties committed themselves in advance of the referendum to accept the decision of the people, and in the wake of the referendum they committed themselves to respect it. It was therefore incumbent on the Government to pursue a clean Brexit. That meant being willing to leave the European Union and trade in the future on WTO terms, while of course seeking to achieve a free trade agreement as soon as possible—a Canada-plus-plus-plus deal. That would have been possible. Had the Government, following the referendum, stated that they were going to negotiate as soon as possible a free trade deal with the European Union, but that if the European Union was not willing to grant that for some time they would none the less be willing to leave with no deal, then our negotiating position would have been very much stronger. By now, this country would have been psychologically and organisationally much better prepared than it is today.
Remainers often assert that the real reason people voted to leave was fear of immigration. It is true that a minority were very much moved by that consideration, but there is no inconsistency between believing we should leave the European Union and being an internationalist—understanding and valuing the economic, social and cultural benefits of immigration. Reassuring those of our fellow citizens who are apprehensive and nervous about immigration is a very important challenge for our leadership. The best way to do that is to make it clear to them that in future we will have the power to make our own decisions about our own immigration policy. That is among the reasons why membership of the single market and the Norway option are inappropriate for this country.
From the point of view of democracy, no deal is indeed better than a bad deal, a phrase which the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, referred to rather contemptuously as “that appalling mantra”. It all depends on your point of view; if you believe that the issue of democracy is paramount in Brexit, then no deal is better than a bad deal. There is no such thing as a soft Brexit. It is not Brexit. Soft Brexit is actually soft remain. The Prime Minister’s withdrawal deal and the political agreement would entail the continuation of very important elements of lawmaking being controlled by the European Union, with the Court of Justice of the European Union hovering over our courts. A softer Brexit still, such as the customs union, would be Brexit in name only.
If as a remainer you believe that economics is what matters above all, you can well contemplate a soft Brexit. Of course there are degrees of separation that you may be willing to consider. However, the remainers paint a lurid picture of what our departure from the EU may mean. They suggest—the noble Lord, Lord Stern, made this case just now in stark terms—that to leave without a deal would be a catastrophe; my noble friend Lord Adonis described how the country would be “trashed” in such circumstances and talked of us driving at 100 miles an hour towards a cliff edge.
I prefer the sensible and calmer language of the noble Lord, Lord King of Lothbury, who is a very respectable economist—the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, talked of reputable economists, but as far as I can see, her definition of a reputable economist is an economist who agrees with her. There are economists who do not. I prefer the view of the noble Lord, Lord King of Lothbury, to that of his successor, Mr Mark Carney, who has addressed this issue in rather alarmist terms, and I am amazed at the leaked document in which Sir Mark Sedwill, the Cabinet Secretary, described the possible consequences of no deal in melodramatic terms. How can he possibly contend that the price of food would rise by 10%? It is of course a possibility that there may be some devaluation of the pound at the moment we leave the European Union, but we will have the great opportunity—this is the crucial point—to abolish the tariffs on food and allow our people to have the choice of cheap food if that is what they want to buy.
It is not Brexit that is damaging our economy at the moment but the uncertainty associated with the Brexit process and the prolonged nature of it, which are paralysing decision-making and investment. Those who argue for a further extension, and that is what the Bill is about, are proposing to perpetuate this period of indecision and economic paralysis. The sooner we extricate ourselves from the close relationship we have with the European Union, the better the chances of our prosperity. Look at the condition of the German and Italian economies and at the structural flaws of the eurozone, with no integrated fiscal or economic policy. The European Union will change, because its present configuration is unsustainable. Either it will proceed to a much more integrated economy, as the President of France wants it to do—which I believe would be, politically, entirely unacceptable to us—or it will begin to disintegrate. The financial and economic consequences of that will be dire, and the more so if we are still in membership.
We all have immense respect for my noble friend, but he has associated concepts and thoughts with the position of remainers on which I simply cannot remain silent. Some of us have always believed with deep conviction that, while politics and economic relationships are the mechanisms that helped to build the European Union, the purpose of the whole European drive has been to build peace and security on the European continent, and it has certainly achieved that. We are anxious that we do not give an example to the world in that, having done that successfully, we are now going into retreat.
I have the greatest respect for my noble friend. He is of course right that that was the founding vision of the European Union, and that has been its great justification. However, I put it to him that today’s European Union is not an agent for peace and social harmony. If he looks at the levels of unemployment across the Mediterranean countries, the rise of neo-fascism in eastern Europe and the palpable tensions and indeed hostilities within the European Union, I fear that the model that attracted his idealism is no longer the European Union we have today.
I must proceed, if my noble friend will allow me. I am grateful to him.
I find it extraordinary that those of us who believe that what is essentially at stake in Brexit is the future of our democracy and say that that is the most important thing should be characterised as hardliners. The fact that this language is used goes some way to explain the disillusion that there is among so many of our fellow citizens with politicians.
The endeavour of Brexit is about the self-respect of a country that has centuries of tradition of parliamentary government but gave away too much of its parliamentary government in 1972. It is significant that older people, who have longer memories of our parliamentary government and democracy, have been more disposed to vote leave, and that younger people, who have been brought up in a culture of cynicism about politics—a cynicism that I think derives from the democratic deficit of the European Union, in which we are implicated—are the main remainers.
The Bill, and the procedures under which it has been introduced and is being treated in Parliament, abrogate important elements of the constitution. It is flawed even in its own terms. As the noble Lord, Lord Norton, reminded us, it betrays a profound misunderstanding of the respective roles of the legislature and the Executive. Parliamentary government does not mean Parliament governing, and it is very wrong, as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, have intimated, that the Prime Minister should be dispatched by Back-Bench legislation to negotiate with the Council of Ministers with her hands so tied. That is an insult to her and her office. It is not in the gift of the Parliament of the United Kingdom to determine unilaterally the date of our exit.
As the constitutional proprieties have been so comprehensively junked in recent times, we would be well within our rights if we were to reject the Bill and ask the other place to think again. Of course, we will not do that, but I hope that we will seriously amend the Bill on Monday.
Meanwhile, I hope that we will indeed leave on 12 April. Our departure will be more ragged than it need have been because it has not been well prepared for. The House of Commons does not want us to leave with no deal but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, asked: what would the extension be for? The House of Commons may not like no deal, but the House of Commons has been completely unable to determine what it wants. If we leave on 12 April or shortly afterwards, we can then embrace our birthright, renew our democracy, embark on a politics of reconciliation, address ourselves to the major issues that have been so badly neglected during this Brexit saga and seek a progressive internationalism for our country.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Howarth. I want to adopt many of his points, which I would have made myself. Speaking in this temple of remain, one often feels like a Spartan facing the 100,000 Persians. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, appreciates the analogy, given the part of the world his family originally comes from.
I must say, Parliament and the majority in this place are out of step with the country. I was going to refer to several statistics, but they have already been referred to by previous speakers so I will not. However, I have one that I think has not been mentioned. A recent poll—in the past week, I think—said that 55% of all voters believe that Parliament is trying to stop Brexit. That is worrying. The reason for that is obviously the great disconnect between the current constitutional make-up—of the House of Commons, in particular—and what happened in the referendum. We all know the referendum numbers but, apparently, about 500 MPs in the House of Commons voted to remain and only about 160 voted to leave. That is the reason for the disconnect we now face. I am afraid to say that, in accordance with that poll, Parliament is perceived as seeking to steal Brexit from the people; that is many people’s perception.
The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, referred to palpable anger in the context of the earlier debate. There is palpable anger out there, outside this place, from people who believe Brexit that is being stolen from them. In this regard, 15 days ago, Justine Greening—a prominent remainer, of course—said:
“We can do a clean-break, hard Brexit, which I know many MPs want, and I respect that. Indeed, the millions of people who voted to leave had that kind of Brexit as their expectation”.—[Official Report, Commons, 20/3/19; col. 1117.]
That supports the point I have been trying to make.
I will also make a point about no deal that is not related to Brexit at all. Anybody in this House with any experience of life, particularly of business or negotiation, would tell you—common sense also tells you—that in any negotiation, your counterparty should always know that you could walk away. Take away that credible threat and—similar to what the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said earlier—you are naked in the arena and have effectively raised the white flag of surrender. I am afraid to say that, in my view, this Bill does exactly that.
One or two noble Lords have spoken about the possible economic consequences of a no-deal exit. I will make just a couple of points. No one expects there to be no consequences of a no-deal Brexit—I want to make that clear—but many, including many businessmen, consider them manageable. Also in regard to no-deal planning, I refer to the resignation letter yesterday of Chris Heaton-Harris, the Minister in DExEU responsible for no-deal planning. He said that there has been an awful lot of no-deal planning by the Government and that, if anything, the Prime Minister appeared not to have been properly briefed about the extent of it. By implication, what she was saying in the public domain did not reflect that position.
A few speakers, including some from the Front Benches, have spoken about how a no-deal exit—a WTO exit—would be a disaster for business; the noble Lord, Lord Stern, referred to evidence, and so on. It depends where you choose to take your evidence from. We all know what the CBI, representing big international business, says, but that is not the evidence from the Alliance of British Entrepreneurs or from an entrepreneurial businessman I know, who told me, “Despite some disruption, especially initially, business will sort out its problems pretty quickly. That’s what business does”.
Closer to home, I pray in aid my youngest brother, who employs more than 100 people in manufacturing in the West Midlands. He exports to more than 30 countries worldwide, including several EU countries, and is the recent winner of the Queen’s Award for Enterprise: Innovation. I asked him what he had to say on this subject. He said, “A little short-term inconvenience is a small price to pay for a healthy long-term economic structure”. There are different points of view here; it is quite wrong to suggest that business generally thinks that it will be a disaster. That is a gross misrepresentation and distortion of the position.
I was going to go on and make a point that the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, made before I spoke: in fact, business fears not a no-deal exit but uncertainty. Ask any businessman about that. It is about uncertainty. I am afraid that a prolonged and substantial extension would only aggravate that.
I have just a couple more points to make. I would like to say something about the position of the House of Lords, as one or two speakers in the debate have already touched on. In view of the admitted democratic deficit we have in this House and its delicate constitutional position, you might think that this place would tread carefully in opposing a majority decision of the people in a referendum. However, I am afraid that that does not appear to be the case. As I think someone else said, this place does not appear to have the self-awareness, to use that phrase, to look at itself. Outside this building, the Westminster bubble, central London and so on, everything looks rather different.
My Lords, does the noble Lord not think that we should take our lead from the House of Commons, which is of course elected and sent this Bill to us?
As I tried to say earlier, there is a massive disconnect between the current composition of the House of Commons and the outcome of the referendum. Earlier, someone—the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby, I think—quoted the Government’s pamphlet before the referendum; I was not going to repeat it. It said, “This is your decision. The Government will implement what you decide”.
Is the noble Lord saying that the House of Commons should not be expressing a view on the conduct of Brexit either? That is quite a fundamental revision of our parliamentary democracy.
I am saying that 55% of voters at the moment apparently thinking that Parliament is attempting to steal Brexit or stop it is not surprising in view of some of the things that have been going on recently.
Moving on from what I was saying, the majority of the country feels betrayed by what is happening. The contract between the elected and the electors has been fractured, and the consequences for democracy and the constitution of this country are potentially very serious. The Brexit genie is out of the bottle and will not be put back in again. At the moment, it looks to people like me as though the battle for Brexit may be lost, but as Monsieur Barnier would say, “La lutte continue”. Speaking as a Conservative, I regret to say that the Prime Minister is presiding, and has presided, over a national humiliation. In my view, I am afraid that this Bill will serve only to aggravate that humiliation.
My Lords, it is normally form in this House to say what a pleasure it is to follow the previous speaker, but on this occasion I am finding it difficult to deal in the normal courtesies. All I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Fairfax, is what he has to remember is that he is looking at this completely from the perspective of someone who is a committed leaver.
I am looking at this from the perspective of the 17.4 million people who voted to leave.
I understand that, but you would think that they are the only people who count. What about the 6 million people who in the past two weeks have signed a petition to revoke Article 50? That is one of the biggest demonstrations of support for remaining in the European Union that we have seen. What about the 1 million people who went on the march? Are they just part of the London bubble and that they do not represent anyone outside London?
I thank my noble friend for giving way. How many of the 17.4 million does my noble friend think voted for a no-deal Brexit, six weeks’ worth of medical supplies, the M20 becoming the largest car park in Europe, the ports not working, international driving licences having to be introduced and so on? Does he think that more than perhaps a few hundred thousand voted for those particular horrors?
Is the noble Lord inviting me to respond? Of course I will if he wishes me to do so.
My noble friend, as always, has taken the best parts of my speech. However, he is right.
We are in the gravest political and constitutional crisis that this country has seen since the Second World War. I am troubled by the tone of the debate this afternoon. There seems to be—certainly on one side of the argument—little realisation of how serious the crisis is. This might be a flawed Bill, brought here by an extraordinary process, but nevertheless it is part of the solution to the crisis in which we find ourselves, and that is why it should be supported.
The idea that Britain could leave the European Union credibly with no deal has always been a fantasy. The popular view was that coming out of Europe would be like bargaining about buying a house or a second-hand car and that unless you are prepared to walk away you will never get anything. This is a complete fallacy about the nature of our relationship with the European Union.
We have been in the European Union for 45 years and in that period the depth of integration across whole fields of our national life has been huge. It started mainly as a customs union, developed into a single market and in recent times there have been important developments in the security field which are vital to the safety of people on the streets in this country. The idea that we could simply walk away from all of this without any consequences or massive disruption is a complete nonsense.
I say with a heavy heart that I blame the Prime Minister for the fact that this argument has gained strength. I greatly admire—perhaps it is a false view—her sense of dogged public duty, but she made a terrible mistake in her Lancaster House speech in January 2017 when she allowed her chief-of-staff, Nick Timothy, to insert into that speech the populist line that,
“no deal … is better than a bad deal”.
That has been the driving force for the argument that has grown about no deal being a credible alternative for coming out of the European Union.
Does the noble Lord therefore support a bad deal? Is that what he is saying?
I am certainly not saying that. I am saying that you have to recognise the realities of the 45 years of the relationship. It is almost certainly impossible to walk away from that relationship—which is what no deal involves—without massive disruption in all kinds of spheres.
We have heard a lot tonight of evidence from the association of entrepreneurs—or something—that no deal will not do us any harm, but every respectable business organisation takes the view that no deal would be very damaging. We have heard a lot about the views of the noble Lord, Lord King of Lothbury. We have heard very little about the views of Mark Carney, the current Governor of the Bank of England, who was devastating in the Financial Times today in what he said about his predecessor and the rank foolishness of what he was proposing.
Does the noble Lord recall that the noble Lord, Lord King of Lothbury, is acknowledged to have been rather slow to spot the financial crisis in 2007 and 2008?
The noble Lord, Lord Warner, makes a point, but I did not want to get into that.
What has not been mentioned is the extraordinarily frank memorandum which the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Mark Sedwill, circulated to the Cabinet. Let us remember who he is. He is the personal appointee of the Prime Minister, one of the officials in whom the Prime Minister has the most trust. As we know, the Prime Minister does not get close to many people, but she certainly has become very close to Sir Mark Sedwill, and he has written the most devastating critique of what would happen under no deal.
I think the Prime Minister is in a bad situation. She found herself trapped by no deal. Look at the present situation in the Conservative Party as a result of that foolish statement she made in Lancaster House. There are about 160 Tory MPs saying they prefer no deal to anything else and 75% of Conservative Party members saying they prefer no deal to anything else. About half the Cabinet is saying that. Why is this? It is because the concept of no deal was not knocked on the head early on in these negotiations. It would be ruinous for Britain.
This Bill is a parliamentary response to the grave danger we face. It has to be supported, and I very much hope the House will back it.
My Lords, I was on the phone at 7 am to one of my fellow directors in Australia. I said to him, “What a mess our country is in. It’s harming the UK so much”, and he said to me, “Karan, Brexit is not just a mess for the UK; it is a mess for all of us around the world”.
There is no question that Brexit was caused by the faction within the Conservative Party that has existed for more than 25 years and is vehemently anti-Europe, as we have seen today, and by UKIP, which polled 14% of the vote in the 2015 elections. Sam Gyimah, the former Minister, recently said in the Evening Standard that ambitious Conservative MPs used to talk about the economy and the big society, but:
“Now ambitious … MPs are saying, ‘I have no fear of no deal’”.
We have heard time and again in this debate that no deal would be a disaster by all accounts. The noble Lord, Lord Stern, a world-renowned economist, has said that the damage could be up to £200 billion—20 times the £8 billion to £10 billion a year that we contribute to the European Union. The noble Lord, Lord True, who is not in his place, said that I have spoken in 40 debates about the European Union. It may be more. We have looked at specific aspects of Brexit. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and I spoke on Erasmus and Horizon 2020, and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and I have spoken in many such debates. In consumer rights and every field that you look at, no deal is a disaster for that area. It will be a disaster for our universities, our businesses and our consumers. This Bill is required because we are in a crisis. We are in an emergency and are facing a cliff edge. We have been watching a train crash in slow motion. The train is about to crash and in fact it nearly crashed on 29 March.
The Government and the Prime Minister have lost control. By how much more can you lose control than losing by 230 votes—the biggest loss in history—then 140-plus, then 50-plus? Three times the Prime Minister has gone back to MPs and asked them to change their minds, yet the people of this country are not given one chance to change theirs. That is hypocrisy beyond belief. How many times today, throughout the afternoon and in this debate, have I heard mention of the 17.4 million people? As the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said: what about the 16.1 million? A true democracy is one that respects a minority, let alone a large minority. Let us not forget that, in the nationwide referendum in 1975, the number of people who voted to remain in the European Community was—wait for this, my Lords—17.4 million. The difference is that that 17.4 million people made up not 52% but 67% of the number that voted—an overwhelming, definite majority.
We have a divided Parliament, a divided House of Commons and a divided country. The House of Commons has voted more than once to say that no deal is not an option, but the Prime Minister has not been willing to legislate for that. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, started this debate by saying that there is a lack of trust. The most important thing that I have learned in business is trust. If there is no trust, there is nothing. How can we now trust the Prime Minister and the Government when they say, “No deal is better than a bad deal”? They refer to “the will of the people”, but which people? They are talking about the people who voted three years ago.
Then they say that the will of the manifesto has now overtaken the will of the people. However, when it suits them, the manifesto is ignored. What about the grammar schools and the dementia tax? What about the fact that people do not read manifestos? There are more than 200 items in every manifesto. First, people do not even know that they exist; secondly, they do not read all 200 items; and, thirdly, they do not vote for the one item in the manifesto that says, “We will implement the result of the referendum”. It is nonsense to say that.
The electorate has changed. We talk about the 17.4 million and the tyranny of the majority, but three years later two of my children are now of voting age, whereas they were not in June 2016. Three years later, there are 2.4 million people of voting age who were not of voting age then. Three years later, the youth who did not turn out to vote regret that they did not. If given another chance, they will mobilise and turn out in droves, and that 1.3 million majority will seem a pittance. This Bill is essential to delay Brexit and prevent no deal.
There is one thing that no one has brought up. In the final stages of Brexit, this House has been left out completely. We should have had all the meaningful votes and indicative votes that have been going on in another place. We should have been doing them side by side in this House to show what we feel about the issue, just as we do with legislation. We were not given the chance, although finally, today, we have been given a chance to have a say through this Bill. Time and again, it has been pointed out in the context of this Bill that the House of Lords is the guardian of our wonderful, special unwritten constitution and that it is a check and balance on the other place, yet time and again the Prime Minister has tried to sideline Parliament. She started by trying to implement Article 50 without coming to Parliament. It took the brave Gina Miller to take on the Government, the law and the whole of our constitution, with the Executive, the legislature and the judiciary being stretched and challenged, and finally we got a say through the courts. The Government then tried to bypass Parliament in not disclosing their legal advice.
Today, after 12 and a half years in this wonderful House, which I absolutely love, I have seen it at its worst. I have seen blatant filibustering by Members of the extreme Brexit wing. Seven Motions took seven and a half hours, but it felt like seven and a half years. They were strung out deliberately; those Motions could have been debated within one hour. In my 12 and a half years, I have never seen anyone use the Motion, “That the Question be now put”, which was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, just to put an end to the first round of filibustering, let alone seen it used so many times just to vote to get on with things. The worst part is that a lot of the movers of those Motions had their names down to speak in this debate, but there are only two of them here; the rest have scratched.
Then the Government tried to insert a Motion from the Finance Bill Sub-Committee of the Economic Affairs Committee, which I have sat on for many years, to do with making tax digital. There were two other debates, one of them to do with Europe, which I was going to speak in but were scratched, but that Motion was left in. And who were the speakers in that debate? People who signed up at the last minute who are Members of that extreme pro-Brexit wing, who I have never seen in all my years in that Finance Bill Sub-Committee having anything to do with the committee or speaking on anything that it has produced. Luckily, that debate was pulled at the last minute.
I have been a member of the Finance Bill Sub-Committee for many years, though not absolutely every year. I was a member of that committee this year, so I intended to speak. I hope the noble Lord is not referring to me in those remarks.
Absolutely not. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, is here. She was a member of that committee, and I have sat on the committee with her. I was referring to other people. By the way, today’s running order was blessed by the Government. Could the Minister explain how they came to that?
Today, I was not proud of the behaviour of our House. At many stages I felt ashamed of the disgraceful behaviour that I do not think was befitting of the finest, highest-quality debating Chamber in the world. I asked one of our Members who has been here for nearly 50 years, “How bad is this compared with Maastricht?” He said, “Maastricht was a tea party compared with this”.
My noble friend Lord Pannick has clearly said that the Bill is not perfect. None of us says that it is perfect; it was rushed through at the other end. However, he and my noble and learned friend Lord Judge have already found a way of amending the Bill in Committee that will allow it to be effective and will prevent us reaching the cliff edge.
Before I conclude, I want to emphasise how much we need the Bill, because what has been agreed so far is nothing. If my noble friend Lord Kerr were here, he would say, “I wrote Article 50 in order for those two years to be used to agree a future relationship. The withdrawal Bill just becomes part of that, and then you leave after two years having agreed it”. We have not negotiated our future relationship. We have negotiated only three things: people, the backstop and money. And £39 billion out of a £2 trillion economy is absolutely not material in the long run; this big figure is actually not a material figure. What about the political declaration—the wish list of our future? Nothing has been negotiated at all: tariffs, customs, services, market access, regulation, financial services, digital, capital markets, intellectual property, movement of people, aviation, roads, maritime, energy, civil nuclear, data exchange, foreign policy, security, defence, space, cybersecurity or counterterrorism—
Would the noble Lord give way?
Do not ruin my momentum, please; I will give way in a second. Nothing has been agreed.
I have great sympathy with the point made by the noble Lord. Is it not a fact that it was the European Union that insisted on the sequencing of the negotiations and was not prepared to talk about the future relationship until the withdrawal agreement had been effected, contrary to Article 50?
The noble Lord, with all his experience, has pre-empted what I was about to say next. The European Union has played a blinder. Recently, I gave a master class at the University of Cambridge Judge Business School, where I am chair of the advisory board, using Brexit as a case study in textbook negotiating techniques. We have made all the mistakes—including on process, which the European Union dictated.
The biggest reason we are in the position we are is that the 27 different, disparate countries of the EU had one very clear mandate and one negotiator. How many times have our negotiators changed? The position of Brexit Secretary is a revolving door. That is why the EU has done so well: it has negotiated brilliantly and with a clear mandate.
Michel Barnier, in his speech on 1 April in Brussels, said clearly that the EU would accept the current deal, a customs union, a relationship similar to that with Norway or no deal, for which it claims it is better prepared than we are, having taken protective measures—though it has not done so willingly. Lastly, Michel Barnier said the EU will accept an extension, but it will need strong justification. What will that justification be? He has been clear that there will be a painful “political cost” for this extension and, if we have not left by 23 May, we will have to take part in the European elections. He also made it very clear that a long extension is for,
“a member on its way out”.
The uncertainty is something the EU will hate.
This evening, I was meant to be giving a lecture for the London Business School about brands. I thought about the brands of Great Britain and the UK—
The noble Lord should have gone.
The noble Lord may not like what I am saying, but it is true. There is lots he has not heard. It is so heartening to see heckling from a sedentary position from a Minister; it makes me even prouder of this House.
I thought about the brands of Great Britain and the UK and the world saying, “What is this great country, at the top of the world table, doing to itself?”
We must pass this Bill. We must extend Article 50. It must be a long extension and we must put it back to the people—today’s people, not the people who voted three years ago. We must put it back to today’s electorate, reflecting today’s world and today’s facts, not those of three years ago. When people are given that chance, it will be a two-thirds majority to remain in the European Union—the best deal by far.
My Lords, this is the first time I have spoken today, but I will try to be brief. I do not think that I can support this Bill, for the following reasons. We are told that this business is an emergency, but of course it is not. We have had nearly three years to prepare for it and the Government have assured us that they are ready to leave without an agreement if necessary. Indeed, more than half the public now thinks that it is the right thing to do. I am rather nervous about using YouGov, but it did a study and asked voters:
“If Britain has not agreed a deal by April 12th, what do you think should happen?”.
I am sorry to disappoint the noble Lords, Lord Hannay, Lord Adonis and Lord Bilimoria, but every English and Welsh region outside the M25 would be happy to leave the EU without a deal if no agreement has been reached by the end of next week.
The overall result for the whole country, if you include Scotland and Northern Ireland, was 44% to 42%—a very narrow margin. It was not as stark as the noble Lord said.
The result was still in favour of leaving with no deal. We are told that emergency legislation is necessary, but the reality is that the Prime Minister has already said that she will seek an extension beyond 12 April—so where is the emergency? The convention is that emergency legislation passed in one day has the consent of both Houses before being brought forward: in other words, it is not contentious. This clearly is not the case with this Bill, as could be seen in the voting last night in another place.
Not only is this Bill not an emergency; it is also not necessary. As I said, the Prime Minister has already agreed to seek a further extension, which is what this Bill seeks to achieve. If passed, it will become UK law. When the Prime Minister recently sought an extension to the 30 June, the EU came back with the two dates of 12 April and 22 May. The withdrawal agreement said that extensions could be made if passed by a statutory instrument in both Houses. However, the Prime Minister circumvented that by getting Sir Tim Barrow, our man in Brussels, to write to Brussels accepting their offer. Hey presto—we were told that that was sufficient to be an international agreement, and that international agreements trumped UK law, so the SI was just a tidying-up exercise. So what is to stop the Prime Minister seeking another extension by getting our man in Brussels to write another letter? Then, hey presto, we would have another international agreement that would trump this Bill if passed.
I have another point: traditionally, only a Minister may move a money resolution in support of legislation that requires expenditure of public funds. There is a very good reason for that: it is because the Government have responsibility for the Budget. If they want to spend more, they have to raise more money through taxes or borrowing. This Bill could have very significant financial consequences indeed. Staying in the EU for any length of time would be an extremely expensive thing to do and I believe that it would need a money resolution, which must be moved by a Minister of the Crown in the other place. I understand that a report from the other place says that, if we extended our stay in the EU for two more years, it would cost the UK taxpayer some £36 billion—a huge sum of money.
I was quite taken by something that my noble friend the Leader of the House said in her remarks earlier today. She said:
“Because of the speed at which this legislation is being considered, we have genuine concerns that this Bill could tie the hands of government and, in fact, be contrary to its stated objectives”,
and could lock us into leaving without a deal. My noble friend then gave the example of the Prime Minister going to Brussels next Wednesday. She might ask for a further extension to, say, Friday 31 May. Brussels might say no but, late at night—as it has done previously—come back with a counter offer of, say, Monday 22 May. All the leaders of the 27 would then go home. This Bill would then allow Sir Oliver Letwin and his friends in the Labour Party to consider this offer on the Thursday and either agree it or not. That would leave the EU 27 only the Friday 12 April to agree the date or, indeed, a new date chosen by the Commons. We know that, if all the 27 have not agreed by 11pm on the 12th, we will leave with no deal. That, presumably, is not something that the movers of this Bill would want.
I do not think that that will happen. I do not believe that this Bill will have any teeth if it is passed. If the Prime Minister wants to accept the offer of a new date from the EU, she will just get her man in Brussels to write another letter. This will again create an international agreement, which will trump anything that the Commons proposes through this Bill.
My Lords, I declare, as before, my various European interests, as detailed in the register. I have been on holiday for the last week, as I had thought when I planned it that we would be out of the EU by now. While away, I have watched with dismay the way the other place has rejected yet again the Government’s deal. I really think that this Parliament has demeaned itself, and it has again failed. So it is unsurprising that, with the Government unable to carry their own deal through the House of Commons, Parliament should wish to legislate to prevent the country leaving without a deal.
In view of some of the comments made this evening, it seems necessary to repeat what I have said before. I have long since accepted that we are leaving the European Union, and would support the Prime Minister’s deal time and again, but we cannot leave on 12 April without a deal. If the Government cannot get their deal agreed by next Wednesday, we must try to agree a further extension with the EU 27. The Prime Minister has agreed to seek such an extension. The reason why this Bill is necessary is because we cannot be sure that certain elements of the Government—or the Conservative Party—will not seek to prevent her carrying out her intention. In fact, I think that the passing of this Bill will strengthen her hand within the Government. With the help of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, I am sure that the Bill can be improved on Monday, and that will also strengthen the Prime Minister’s hand in her negotiations with the European Union.
The Prime Minister has said that she will seek only a short extension. I would support this. I have always thought that it would almost certainly be necessary to request a short extension. However, I am clear on this. Given the choice between a longer delay and leaving with no deal, it would, to my mind, undoubtedly be in the national interest to agree a longer delay. Only those driven by ideology still believe in a no-deal Brexit. We should all take serious notice of what was said earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Stern, who is no longer in his seat. A much-respected economist from the London School of Economics, he did not in any way exaggerate the dangers of a no-deal Brexit.
It worries me that those from all parties who seek to deliver Brexit but at the same time to minimise economic damage—those who are trying to seek cross-party agreement to get us out of this difficult situation—should be vilified from both the political extremes. I would like to associate myself with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and other noble Lords, in applauding the efforts of those people—Sir Oliver Letwin, Yvette Cooper, Dame Caroline Spelman, Hilary Benn and others. This is surely a moment for moderation and pragmatism. In this House, and in the other place, we serve the country, not political parties or ideologies.
To my great and profound sadness, we are leaving the European Union. However, it is in that spirit that I support this Bill. I also commend the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for taking over the Bill—I think it a pity that the Government did not take it over themselves—and I very much hope that on Monday we will pass it.
It is a pleasure to speak in the gap and to follow the words of wisdom of my roommate and noble friend Lord Cathcart and someone as experienced in EU matters as my noble friend the Duke of Wellington. I speak as someone who voted remain. However, I am not convinced that the Bill is the right approach and, like my noble friend Lord Howard of Lympne, I will vote against it should the opportunity arise. I have dealt with the EU all my career and I do not believe that the EU 27 will let us leave without a deal in the short term. I fear that the Bill plays into their hands.
Frankly and first, it is an attempt that will make the negotiation by the UK with the EU 27 of an acceptable deal more difficult or even impossible. It also goes against the past promises of both main parties. Those who advocate this week’s takeover of Parliament have, I suggest, become more impudent. I believe that this abuse of the constitutional norms could bring Parliament into disrepute and set the Parliament against many of the people, with potential damage to the constitution. There is the added point that if everything goes wrong with the Bill, we do not know who to hold to account.
Secondly, as a businesswoman and former member of the Government—and indeed the bureaucracy—I very much dislike the increasingly last-minute nature of business in the UK Parliament and the UK Government. Looking at the Bill, I have several questions of detail such as about how the dates work, what happens about our European elections and what is to be done about any conditions that the EU may impose, notably on our reason for any extension.
I believe that this country would be much better served if we had proper preparatory paperwork and explanatory notes on the Bill, particularly given its constitutional significance. However, I appreciate the acceleration of work by the Constitution Committee and the Delegated Powers Committee, allowing the usual channels to find a way forward and therefore agree to a Committee stage on Monday. The fact that there was a special report on concerns about rushed legislation and amendments as HL Paper 116–I, which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Hunt, shows the scale of the problems that we can have with rushed legislation.
Finally, I was astonished when I heard the House of Commons Speaker ruling that this is not a money Bill. I will as usual be probing on the financial implications and impact of the Bill—both positive and negative, because they go both ways as a result of any delay—even though I have not been able to persuade the parliamentary authorities to agree to having amendments to require the necessary impact assessments or a sensible post hoc review on such a very important issue.
My Lords, I am delighted to share the gap with the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe. I will say a few words briefly and I make clear my support for the Bill in general terms. But my concern, which I flagged up in my intervention earlier, is that it fails to cover one key circumstance which could well arise during the coming days.
The Bill as it stands requires House of Commons approval of a new date as specified in Article 50(3) of the treaty but the Bill does not apply if no withdrawal agreement has been ratified under Section 13 of the withdrawal Act, and if no agreement has been reached under Article 50(3) of the treaty to extend the date at which the treaty ceases to apply to the UK. In these circumstances of possibly ongoing negotiations, there is the very real danger of the UK crashing out without a withdrawal agreement. That point has been referred to a number of times in the last few speeches. If that is the wish of the House of Commons, so be it; but the votes of the Commons indicate a strong rejection of such a course, with some 400 MPs voting accordingly. It is therefore my opinion that the Bill should be amended to tidy up that loophole, and it is my hope to present an amendment in Committee to remedy that defect.
My Lords, I am happy to support the Bill from these Benches, and I thank my noble friend Lord Rooker for bringing it to this House. I share the view that has been expressed that it would have been better if the Government had brought it, but we are where we are. I look forward to seeing it pass.
The purpose of the Bill was expressed quite shortly by my right honourable friend Yvette Cooper in the other place. I will quote what she said, which seems so right:
“The Bill simply provides for a simple, practical and transparent process to underpin the Prime Minister’s plan. It ensures that the extension has the support of the House of Commons, but also that we keep the parliamentary safeguard in place… She has recognised that she cannot implement anything in only nine days, which is why the extension is needed. This is a hugely important Bill”.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/4/19; col. 1135.]
I agree with that. It was described by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, as a modest Bill. Modest it may be and, in certain respects, that is much to its credit, but it is an important Bill because of the issues that so many noble Lords have spoken about this evening. As the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said:
“It was created in a vacuum, and the vacuum was created by a lack of leadership”,
because of uncertain times.
In listening to this debate, three points came across to me. The first was objection to the Bill from those who either view a no-deal Brexit with insouciance or actually welcome it. A number of noble Lords spoke in that way, such as the noble Lord, Lord Howard, who knows the high respect in which I hold him, the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, and my noble friend Lord Howarth of Newport, for whom I also have great respect. I profoundly disagree with their view that a no-deal Brexit is not a great problem.
This evening we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Stern of Brentford, important evidence-based concerns about what a no-deal Brexit would do. Other noble Lords have spoken about that in detail, and I want to add the reference that has already been made, although belatedly, to what Sir Mark Sedwill has said about the risks. It is not, as the noble Lord, Lord Fairfax of Cameron, described it, “a little short-term inconvenience”. Those are the merits of the principal point that has been debated.
The noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, rightly described the problem not so much as not trusting the Prime Minister, but not trusting the circumstances in which she finds herself and the people she finds around her. It is therefore an insurance policy. It may well be that, without this, the Prime Minister is able to achieve what she now wants, but it is important to have an insurance policy, as my noble friend Lord Liddle described it.
That took up most of the debate this evening. The second main point was the question of constitutionality. The noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, referred to that. I was privileged to sit on the Constitution Committee when he chaired it, so I always listen to what he says with great respect. The problem is that we are in, as my noble friend Lord Liddle said, perhaps the gravest crisis since the Second World War and exceptional circumstances require exceptional measures. They are exceptional in a number of respects, not just because of the gravity of the situation with which we are faced but because of the apparent lack of ability of the present Government to solve it. That has led to the other place taking the view that it must step in to help resolve the problem.
There is a need for the Bill. It is important that we respect the other place, which has sent it to us. We will be giving it scrutiny, and I am glad that we will now continue this debate in Committee next week, although I have something to say about the critical need to get it done on Monday.
I am also glad, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said, that we have been able to have this Second Reading debate in a much better atmosphere than we had earlier in the day. It was an unpleasant afternoon for all of us. The comments made about Sir Oliver Letwin were uncalled for. He did not deserve them, given what he has been trying to do in the interests of the country, having been a loyal servant of the public. Although he did not come up so much in this debate, I also mention Dominic Grieve, who was my shadow when I was Attorney-General. A more honourable and honest man I do not know. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, that it was a pleasure to see the noble Lord, Lord Spicer, back in his place.
A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Howell of Guildford and Lord Cormack, and the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, referred to the importance of compromise. The Bill at least provides an opportunity for that to take place. Whether it happens is another matter.
I am very conscious that the House has been debating this, one way or another, for a number of hours, so I will wind up quite quickly. On the detail of the Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, raised the most important point about the royal prerogative. Following on what the Leader of the House said, the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, raised the danger of the Prime Minister finding herself in a situation where something is offered which she would want to accept but which is not actually covered by the Motion that has been passed by the House. Does she have to come back? That ought to be looked at and, for our part, we will look at it before this matter comes back next week.
I want to underline, and end on, the importance of getting this done. Noble Lords will be aware, because they will all have read the Bill carefully, of the way it works. The day after Royal Assent is given, a Motion needs to be presented to the House of Commons—which it might or might not accept—setting out the time for the extension. That gives rise to two issues. One is that it is proposed by the Government—I would anticipate, by the Prime Minister—for the other place to consider. It is not the European Union setting out the timetable, but the Prime Minister must be given the date in time to pass it to the members of the European Council so that they can consider it before they meet on Wednesday. They will not thank anybody, I understand, if they are given it with very short notice. It is obviously an important decision for them and they will want to discuss it among themselves. That is why we must reach the position on Monday where we have dealt with all amendments in time for the other place to also deal with them that day and Royal Assent be given, so that the following day, Tuesday—only one day before the Council meeting—a decision can be reached on the timing.
A number of noble Lords have expressed happiness that we have been able to reach an agreement so that this does not go through the night tonight, but that was on the basis that we will conclude this on Monday—the Chief Whip talked about 8 pm. I hope all noble Lords will be able to co-operate on that. We have our work cut out, but not if we do it efficiently. At the end of the day it remains quite a straightforward and simple Bill, which we will be supporting.
The noble and learned Lord referred to this as the greatest crisis since the Second World War. Briefly, that brought to mind the famous case of Liversidge v Anderson, the facts of which I need not remind him of. There were emergency powers and the majority of the court held, “Yes, that’s all right, let’s lock this chap up”. The judgment we remember now, and it was famous even then, was the judgment of Lord Atkin, who said:
“In England, amidst the clash of arms, the laws are not silent. They may be changed, but they speak the same language in war as in peace”.
We stick to the principles we have always had. His reference to Second World War reminded me of that: when you have an emergency—and I would not compare this with the Second World War—it is all the more important to use the proper constitutional principles.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I remember that case very well, of course, though I did not have the pleasure of being one of her constitutional class. Of course, what the House of Lords decided in that case was that it was not for individual Ministers to make decisions; that is what the case was about. It was about control of executive power: they were not to make determinations themselves. In this case, the Bill seeks to give primacy to the House of Commons to enable its decision, perhaps in the face of the wishes of the Executive, to be effected.
My Lords, as this is not, of course, a government Bill, I am sure noble Lords will be delighted to know that I can keep my remarks brief. Legislation has been debated, scrutinised and passed by this House since July 2016 to prepare for our exit from the EU, including many statutory instruments that noble Lords have scrutinised thoroughly to ensure that in any scenario, our statute book will function properly and appropriately. At the most recent count, more than 500 statutory instruments have been considered by the SLSC and more than 200 SIs debated by this House under the affirmative procedure. However, the Bill before us today in the name of the right honourable Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford offers little but constitutional ambiguity and greater, not less, uncertainty. The Government strongly oppose the Bill.
I agree with many of the criticisms of the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, my noble friends Lord Howard of Lympne, Lady Noakes and Lady Neville Rolfe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Deech. The approach to this Bill risks setting an unhealthy and constitutionally irregular precedent for this and future Governments. The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, asked me a simple question: do we need this Bill at all? The simple answer is no. Most importantly, the fundamental flaws in its drafting not only undermine what it seeks to achieve but may even increase the risk of an accidental no deal next week. I also note the Lords Constitution Committee’s report and thank it for its efforts to produce its report so quickly.
Noble Lords will recognise the ambiguity that would arise should the Bill pass, particularly regarding the royal prerogative and the long-established convention that the Government of the day lead on our international negotiations. Heads of Government are able to enter into international agreements without preconditions set by the House that constrain their ability to negotiate in the national interest. This Bill not only calls that ability into question, it does nothing to provide any clarity on what we should, in fact, seek.
The other place has consistently demanded greater certainty for businesses and for citizens. Despite this, noble Lords will no doubt be very alive to the risk that the conditions imposed by the Bill bring to life the very real possibility that we cannot agree an extension in time, a point well made by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, by my noble friend Lord Cathcart and at the end by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith. This is because the Bill creates a new parliamentary process whereby any counteroffer on the extension of the Article 50 period by the EU must be put to Parliament and agreed on the day after the offer is made by the EU. As we saw at the European Council on 21 and 22 March, when the original extension was agreed, it requires a request by the UK, a decision by the 27 EU member states and then agreement from the UK.
I am pleased to say that yesterday the other place approved a government amendment to the Bill to change the parliamentary scrutiny procedure that applies to an SI, amending the definition of “exit day” from affirmative to negative.
The Bill creates processes that increase the risk of us being timed out, but, even if agreement were possible in time, we would still need to ensure that any extension agreed in international law was reflected in our domestic statute book. The Government considered it prudent to seek to amend the Bill to make the SI needed for this purpose subject to the negative procedure to ensure that our statute book reflects international law.
However, I regret that the other place did not pass the amendment that the Government put forward to address the dangerous constitutional precedent set by this Bill overall. It would have protected the Government’s ability to reach an agreement with the EU on an extension to Article 50. In doing so, it would have clarified the position on the royal prerogative to ensure that nothing in the Bill would prevent the Government being able to seek and agree an extension.
The Bill therefore remains fundamentally flawed. It could tie the hands of the Government and bring about a situation contrary to the purpose expressed by its movers. This legislation is not a sensible or desirable approach to take and I urge noble Lords not to support it.
Before he sits down, could the Minister answer two questions? I asked the first earlier, and I would be grateful for an answer. Have the Government taken the necessary steps to prepare for a European election should the extension go beyond 23 May? Secondly, I found missing in his remarks any recognition that the elected House had actually taken a decision—that it had adopted this Bill and sent it to us. If we adopt it on Monday, is he seriously saying that the Government consider themselves to be somehow above decisions taken by the two Houses? If so, that is a very peculiar constitutional suggestion.
Of course we do not. I can answer both his questions with the same statement. The Government will abide by the law of this country in all circumstances—both European Parliament election law and any law made by this Parliament—in the appropriate fashion.
My Lords, I did not hear much compromise in that last speech. The only reason we are here discussing this Bill is lack of trust and compromise throughout the whole process. We have just heard the embodiment of it, which was different from many of the other speeches over the last three and a half hours—they have been, as someone said, much pleasanter than what we might call the afternoon session, where it got pretty het up.
I will not try to wind up, but I will also not fall out with the staff of the House, so I might need some help. One of the early speeches that made me think was the very sharp speech of the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth. There is a lesson for us all in what he said not just about this Bill but beyond it about changes. I was really taken with that, as I was with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, that there was a vacuum which the Commons started to fill. That is the reality. People may not like it, but a vacuum was left there.
Many noble Lords—I will not list them all—supported a second vote. I did not mention that in my opening speech, but I certainly support putting whatever decision is finally taken back to the people. It is preposterous to argue that we can all change our minds three or four times in both Houses but the people are not allowed to change their minds or think again when they know more facts.
First of all, criminal offences were committed by the leave campaign—no one has mentioned that. The fact is that a whole series of court cases is probably coming up, and I certainly hope that a few people will be locked up as a result of them. However, the fact is that things went wrong there. It is not relevant to the Bill, but it is there in the system, and it is partly that which has caused the lack of trust, as well as some of the bitterness around on both aspects of it.
My Lords, what about Russian money, for instance, which is another example?
Dirty Russian money flooding into London, which allegedly funded part of the campaign on digital media, is a serious issue. We in this country have not taken it as seriously as the Americans have started to take it. One only has to look at the material that comes out of the Khodorkovsky Center and what happens in parts of London. We have taken legal powers, but we have not taken enough action about the money that is swilling around.
The noble Lord, Lord Stern, also made a powerful speech. Economics has never been my strong point, but, to be honest, what he said scared the hell out of me. The consequences of walking out without any arrangements in place are very worrying.
I will touch on another aspect: the food issue, which my noble friend Lord Howarth mentioned. We were due to have a debate on Brexit-related food prices and on the effects of leaving without a deal. Some 30% of our food comes from the EU, 50% is made here, and 20% comes from elsewhere. A 22% average increase in tariffs will not lead to a 22% increase in food prices, but, when you talk to industry, you realise that the 10% that the National Security Adviser scared the hell out of the Cabinet with is realistic. That is a 10% increase at the checkout as a result of no deal. You cannot gainsay that—the facts and the evidence are there. It is no good saying, “You’ve been a-scaring—it’ll be all right in time”. It will be all right in time for those who can afford to carry the burden in the meantime, but that is one serious problem that the National Security Adviser warned the Cabinet about.
Is my friend, the noble Lord, aware also of the frightening predictions that have been made by the extremely able president of the NFU, Minette Batters?
Yes. The NFU has been the quiet dog on this issue for three years. It never had a position on Brexit. It did not campaign—it was split. Many took one view and many took another. I know NFU members, ex-presidents, who worked their socks off travelling the country, trying to organise for remain. But the organisation was split—it never put its corporate voice into the debate.
That may be so, and I agree, but the president has recently come out very clearly on this, and it is terribly important that that is put on the record. Does the noble Lord not agree?
Yes, I absolutely agree, and I applaud the role that the new president has taken.
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord’s peroration. He may be aware that, contrary to what a number of noble Lords said, many people who, like myself, live hundreds of miles outside London, are very aware that the majority of farmers, particularly upland farmers in the Yorkshire Dales, voted leave—frankly, they do not like people from Leeds, far less people in Brussels; the noble Lord, Lord Woolmer, appreciates the strength of that view. They voted leave, not carelessly, but not thinking that it would have any personal consequences for them. Now, they very much realise that leaving without a deal could mean the end of their careers. Therefore, when the extremely impressive group North Yorkshire for Europe held a stall at the Leyburn cattle market a couple of months ago, expecting to be nearly lynched by all these farmers who voted leave, much to their surprise they were if not physically embraced, mentally embraced, by people who said, “My goodness! We now realise that our livelihood is seriously at risk”.
Is this not just one example of the many we have heard from noble Lords today of the potential economic consequences—not minor but visceral—of crashing out without a deal for the livelihoods and lives of people we respect for the contribution they make not just to the economy but to the environment, and who, as we speak, are going to bed worried about what is happening to our country?
I am grateful to the noble Lord. My very last point—it is my very last point, because it follows from what I said earlier—is about the warning from police chiefs this morning about the language being used. We have heard it here today: “betrayal” and “stealing”. The police have warned us not to use that kind of language because, in this sensitive area, it is almost inciting people to violence. Those words have been used, as have some others this afternoon, but I did not list them all. We either listen to what the police say or we do not. It is absolutely preposterous that language like that is used in Parliament, given the official advice this morning.
With that off my chest, and given the announcement that we are not having a recess next week—I am damn clear that I am keeping to my short family holiday, and my noble friend Lord Robertson of Port Ellen will be here on Monday to carry the burden of Committee—I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
House adjourned at 10.41 pm.