Second Reading (2nd Day) (Continued)
My Lords, this is in many ways a sad occasion for me because, as the House knows, I was a European Commissioner for many years. I was very proud to serve in that role; I believed then, and I believe now, that the work on which I was engaged was in the underlying and long-term interests of the United Kingdom. Now that we have decided to leave, I share many of the emotions that were expressed last night by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, at the beginning of her speech. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield, for the words of appreciation that he expressed for those of us who have worked in European institutions and who have sought to further the cause of Britain in Europe. However, we failed to convince our fellow countrymen and women, and we therefore have no choice but to accept the result of the referendum.
The referendum was fought on the basis of in or out, and the Government, supported by Parliament, promised to accept the result. Indeed, I myself promised to accept the result when we debated the referendum Bill in the summer. To attempt to go back on that result would not just have been a massive breach of faith; it would have ended in disaster. The Government would have lost all credibility both within this country and within the European Union, and it would have been quite impossible for them to conduct any sort of constructive policy either here or there. I hope that this is a point that my noble friends Lady Altmann and Lady Wheatcroft, who spoke with such emotion, would like to reflect upon. The right course now, in the Government’s own words, is to set out to create a new partnership that works both for us and for the European Union and its member states, with whom we have so many bonds of friendship and common interests. These are economic, financial, foreign policy, strategic and security, and I believe that the approach set out in the Lancaster House speech and the White Paper is the right place to begin.
I say that not least because it respects the stated wishes of the other EU leaders. They have made it quite clear that their emphasis is on the integrity of the European Union. What they do not want is a repetition of the negotiations over opt-outs and derogations involving issues of principle that necessarily characterised the Cameron negotiations. If we go down the route of aiming to stay in the single market and the customs union as an object of policy, we will be going down exactly the route which our negotiating opposite numbers do not want. We cannot combine those objectives with taking back control of immigration and rejecting the supremacy of the European Court of Justice. It is, therefore, far better to set out with the 27 remaining members of the EU and with the EU institutions on building a new UK-EU partnership covering all our common interests that takes account of their red lines and of our referendum.
The negotiations may well be very tough—the noble Lord, Lord Birt, expressed a strong view on that last night—but they need not be either protracted or overly difficult, and I shall explain why. In a normal negotiation, the two sides have to put together a new structure. In this one, we start with a structure because we are all members of the European Union. The question is how much of that structure to dismantle, to the disadvantage of both sides, and how much to retain under a new brand and in a new form as part of a new partnership. There is no need in these negotiations to start from scratch and then go through all the work that would have to be done. We should start from where we are and see how much of the existing arrangements it is in the best interests of both sides to keep within the context of the new partnership. There are models that could be moved from one to the other; there are models that can be built on; there are models that can be retained. That is the direction down which the negotiation will, I hope, go. The noble Lord, Lord Birt, might be right and it might all end in failure, but, personally, I take a more optimistic view.
Of course, the other 27 members and the EU institutions will not want the new deal to be as good for us in their eyes—I emphasise in their eyes—as the existing relationship. We must accept that. The challenge for Britain will be to make up for that by taking advantage of the new opportunities that open up for us in trade and in other fields as a result of leaving the Union. That will not be easy, but I hope very much that we will succeed. I hope, too, that we will maintain as much co-operation as possible with the other members of the EU on matters of foreign policy, security, research, Europol and wherever else is to our mutual advantage.
I hope very much that the new partnership will be a more harmonious one than our membership of the European Union has sometimes been. We must not look back on the past through rose-tinted spectacles. All of us who have been involved with the European Union know that the marriage was not always a very happy one, and we must hope that the new partnership will be set up on more lasting lines.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord. I agree with just about everything he said. I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Interests. In particular, I am a director of Morgan Stanley, a trustee of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, and president of Chatham House.
Invoking Article 50 is the inevitable consequence of the referendum result last year. There is no alternative but to do that. I am being consistent here. Throughout the Scottish referendum campaign, in which I played some part, I made it very clear that the result would be binding. If we voted to leave, that was it; there was no going back. For the sake of consistency, and because I happen to think it is right as a matter of democratic principle, if we ask people what they think and they come back with an answer, even if we do not like the answer, we have to go along with it. There is no point in trying to rerun the arguments that should frankly have been made with more force on my side last year. It did not work and we now have that result. It is now up to us to ensure that we try to shape things so that we get the best possible result for the United Kingdom, as the noble Lord has just said.
However, that will not be easy. I also, of course, part company with the many who have spoken who take a different view from mine—mainly from the Benches opposite—who are more or less inviting us to give the Prime Minister and the Government a blank cheque. I am not prepared to do that. The problem is this: whereas a narrow majority, but a majority none the less, voted for us to leave the European Union last year—we know what they are against—there was no plan B, no alternative on the ballot paper. It is not at all clear exactly what people were voting for. The truth is that there will be a whole spectrum of people who voted to leave the European Union and will not be happy until we treat it as any other third country—keeping it at a distance—and those who just wanted a rearrangement and a slightly different sense of direction.
The problem is that the leavers did not expect to win and the remainers thought they would, and the result was that there was no plan B waiting to be taken down. That is why we get the impression that the Government over the last few months have been very much making up matters on the hoof and why we have a White Paper which must be the thinnest government publication I have ever seen—I say that having been a Member of a Government for 13 years. This has precious little to commend it.
The next two to five years will be critical and, of course, they also take place in unusual circumstances in British politics. The Prime Minister has chosen to tack towards the Brexiteers because she does not see that there is much in the way of opposition that would pull her back the other way. However, that means that the middle ground of British politics has been abandoned which is a very dangerous place for us to be. There are many people in this country—even a majority—who are prepared to say that there will be a different relationship, but they want a voice and at the moment they are not always getting it.
I might also say that the idea that after a referendum people will come together may be a pious hope. I live in Edinburgh; Scotland is more divided now than it was two years ago. The wounds every day are being reopened and, as the House will know, the nationalists never accepted the result and have always said they will come back. I imagine that had last June’s result gone the other way, the idea that those who were against the European Union for the last 40 years would have kept quiet and gone away is fanciful.
Those of us who believe in openness, in trade, and who take a liberal view of where this country should stand in the world, will not want abandon everything that we believe in but we have to accept the referendum result. However, we must also be ready to engage.
Following on from the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, I would say that there are alliances to be made if only the Prime Minister and the Government would allow themselves to make them. This is not a divorce with one party on either side of the table. There are 27 on the other side, and in many ways 27 different views as to where we ought to end up. If we were living in a rational world—the world described by the noble Lord, Lord Hill, yesterday, and there was no politics in all of this, I suppose we could say, “We all have problems with freedom of movement of people, so why not look at this again?”. We know that there are problems with the construction of the single European currency—the euro and the Eurozone. However, we have to recognise that the politics on the other side of the Channel is different. We are the only country that joined the European Union largely because of trade. Most of them joined to escape their history, to avoid some of the terrible things that happened in the past. That is why we have an attraction to an ever closer union because they saw it as a political rather than an economic construct.
We also need to have a grown-up conversation with our own people. Negotiations inevitably involve compromise, and it does not matter whether you are negotiating with the United States or anyone else. By the way, I do not regard a deal with the US as an alternative to a deal with the rest of Europe. If America is to come first, it seems to me that somebody will have to come second. I do not have the slightest doubt that we will get some sort of deal but I just wonder what it might be. So it is not an alternative, and that is all the more reason for engaging constructively with the European Union as we go through the difficult issues of trade and the free movement of people.
All these issues are set out in the White Paper and they all sound absolutely fine, except that someone on the other side has to agree to them. That is why I do not accept the argument that from now on those of us on the remain side should sit back, say nothing and simply give the Government a blank cheque to proceed. We cannot do that because there are so many uncertainties and unanswered questions, whether on the freedom of movement or sectoral trade agreements, which sound like we are going back to the planning agreements of the 1940s. How will all this work?
Finally, none of these negotiations will be conducted in secret. It is not a case of sending away negotiators who will come back in two years’ time. There will be a running commentary on all this every single day. You cannot talk to 27 other countries and expect anyone to keep quiet for more than about 30 seconds. So let us be grown-up about it and engage positively. However, the Brexiters and the Government have to accept that there is a large section of the population in this country and a large number among the membership in this House and the other place who will not for one moment accept some of the extreme arguments being put forward and who think that the voice of reason must prevail for the good of our country in the decades to come.
My Lords, I have tabled an amendment on Euratom. Contrary to what the Leader of the House said yesterday in her opening speech, there is no mandate to leave Euratom. It is not part of the EU and it seems that, as a country, we are in danger of cutting off our nose to spite our face for no reason in terms of an electoral mandate.
Today, I want to speak primarily about my great-grandfather, Samuel Miller. He was a master sergeant in the Middlesex Regiment in the late 19th century. I think that he served in South Africa but in the late 1870s he was posted to Dublin. There, he fulfilled his military duties and one year later, in 1880, my grandmother, Edith Blanche—later Leddra—was born. Because of that accident, I was able to take on Irish citizenship and indeed did so in 1996. I am a dual national. Therefore, after Brexit takes place, I will be able to have all the privileges of a European citizen, but that will not be the case for the 16 million people who voted to remain part of the European Union. Not just those with relatives who were born in other EU nations but those born in Ireland will also be able to decide whether to continue to have those privileges as European citizens in the UK beyond Brexit.
Perhaps I may remind your Lordships of some of those privileges. They include non-discrimination alongside other European nationals, the ability to move and reside without hindrance in European Union countries, the ability to work within the European Union, to establish a business, to export and to trade without red tape, the ability to have diplomatic representation, the ability to use our qualifications throughout Europe, and of course the right to healthcare and a European health insurance card when travelling in the EU.
I looked through the White Paper with a great deal of interest. As other noble Lords have said, it is not very long. Strangely, although there were a number of comments about reinforcing UK citizens’ rights in the rest of Europe, it said absolutely nothing about the 16 million of us who will be denied those privileges and rights through the vote of the 17 million. On that, there is a complete void. It is because of that that I feel that those 16 million who along with me voted to remain—I am not going back in history; this is just how it was—have been abandoned by this Government. It is not mentioned in the White Paper. There is no plan for us to retain those rights.
I have spoken with the European Parliament. It is my intention with other parliamentarians who have a similar concern not to negotiate with our own Government—I have no questions for the Minister today, because the Government cannot give what I am asking, nor do they have the power to do so—but to take a delegation of other parliamentarians to meet the rapporteur of the European Parliament and to ask it to protect those rights of our citizens either through membership or associate membership, and to try to achieve that where our own Government have clearly failed and have no interest.
My Lords, like previous speakers, I believe that the people’s decision in the EU referendum requires the Government to trigger Article 50. The Government should get this Bill and get ahead with their negotiations as soon as possible.
With regard to those negotiations, we must accept the logic of the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech. To regain control over immigration, the EU rules require the UK to leave the single market. If the UK is to make independent trade deals with third countries, we must leave at least parts of the customs union.
On the other side of the account, as the noble Lords, Lord Tugendhat and Lord Darling, said, the UK has much to offer our EU neighbours in terms of access to our markets, our financial services, our security co-operation, our universities and research establishments —and much else. Correspondingly, we have much to gain from our European partners.
Thus far, I go along with the Government. Like the noble Lords, Lord Tugendhat and Lord Darling, I believe that there is a deal to be done in rational negotiations. Press reports today suggest that Germany and some other of our European neighbours are prepared to take such an approach. I hope that those reports are right. But we cannot be sure that the negotiations will be rational. We have to allow for the possibility that, as the noble Lords, Lord Lawson and Lord Birt, said forcefully yesterday, such an agreement may not be available. We may ask our partners for things that they may feel unable to give; and they may ask of us things that we are unwilling to give, such as continuing large subventions to the EU budget.
Is the outcome of last June’s referendum to be interpreted as meaning that a majority of the United Kingdom want to leave the EU whatever the terms? The Government clearly think so. But on a matter of this importance have not the Government a duty to be sure before our departure becomes final? One has to ask why those who base their arguments for Brexit on the will of the people are now opposed to consulting the people on the outcome of the negotiations. One has to suspect that they fear that they will get a different answer, but, if so, we ought to know. I must say that I was surprised by the closing part of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, when he said that establishing the up-to-date view of the British electorate would be undemocratic.
I have a question for the Minister—there have not been many speeches that I have heard that have left questions for the noble Lord who is answering the debate tonight. Do the Government regard the views of the British people on the outcome of the negotiations as irrelevant to our departure?
I said previously in your Lordships’ House that I will support an amendment requiring the Government to consult the people again before our departure becomes final. Having said that I would support such an amendment, I will—but, in truth, I doubt whether such an amendment to the Bill is of much significance. As the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, said, much will happen over the next two years. If there is no agreement, or if the terms of any agreement are unsatisfactory, and if there is evidence that public opinion may have changed, I expect that the Labour Party will not be as co-operative as it is now, rightly, over the passage of the Bill. We know the position of the Liberal Democrats and of the Scottish Nationalists.
The Government may well be defeated in the House of Commons, as well as in this House, at the end of the negotiations. A matter of this importance is certainly an issue of confidence. If I am right that there is the prospect of that happening, by one route or another, the Government or a new one will have to return to seeking the views of the British people—and so they should.
My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register of interests. I recognise that at this stage in the debate one struggles to find anything original to say, so I will content myself with a few short points.
On the Bill, it never occurred to me that after the vote happened last year there could be any question but that Parliament should have a voice before the triggering of Article 50. I recollect, possibly rather tragically, as a teenager sitting in the Public Gallery of the House of Commons during the six-day debate it had before the decision was made for Britain to join what was then the Common Market. My noble friend Lord Lamont permitted me to be a signatory to the Maastricht treaty as his deputy—my opportunity, he said, to put my footprints on the sands of history. I recall that, both before and after the agreement of that treaty, there were two-day debates on it in the House of Commons, which undoubtedly informed the way in which the negotiation took place. It is important that on something of this magnitude and gravity Parliament must have a role, a voice and a say.
Having said that, of course a decision has been made, not an expression of preference or view, by the public in the referendum. They were invited to make a decision and they did so. Therefore, it is completely appropriate that there should be a full debate, as is happening in this House, but it is totally inappropriate for the Bill to be significantly amended, and I hope that this House will think again. To me it would be a double affront to democracy to seek to overset both the verdict of the public and of the elected Chamber on this issue.
I remained undeclared during the referendum campaign and took no part in it. I thought the arguments were finely balanced, and that if there was a vote to leave there would be some short-term downside and some medium to long-term upside opportunity. For those who cheerfully say, “Well, we are in the short term and there has been no downside”, I simply say that the short term is not over yet. We are only eight months into this period, and the short term certainly includes the two years we are going into when the negotiations will take place, when businesses looking to invest will have concerns before they do so. With regard to the longer-term upside opportunity, I stress that it is opportunity and not certainty. Whether those opportunities are realised depends very much, obviously, on what happens in the meantime. Of course, as many of your Lordships have said in the course of this debate, the eventual arrangements are not in our sole gift; these are to be negotiated. We hope that collective economic self-interest among us and our 27 current partners will prevail and that there will be sensible arrangements which benefit all, but we know that rationality does not always obtain in politics.
There must of course be control over immigration, although I suspect that the actual number of immigrants is unlikely to fall by much, although its composition may well change. It is also extremely important that this country remains not only open to talent from around the world but that it actively seeks it, because that has been our history and much of our strength.
Will economic self-interest prevail and outweigh the desire that there clearly is in some parts of the EU to hurt the UK and to make sure, as my noble friend Lord Tugendhat said, that the UK cannot be seen to be better off afterwards than it was before? It was clear to me, as Trade Minister, that many of our partners in the EU see this as a zero-sum game. They see a benefit to one country as being a loss to others. We know that they are wrong. I hope that there is a consensus in this House that that is wrong. Economics is not a zero-sum game.
In the context of the excellent EU Financial Services Sub-Committee chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, looking at the clearing of euro-denominated instruments in London, of course it is open to the European Central Bank to ordain that that must happen within the EU. We know that that activity is not just about the euro; it is co-mingled with the clearing of other currencies. There are huge efficiency gains to the whole of the European Union from that continuing to be the case, and there would be a significant efficiency penalty, as well as potentially some systemic risk, if that were to be undermined. There are only two financial centres where this can take place—London and New York—and there is no place in any kind of medium term where that can take place within the rest of the European Union. Certainly, the European Central Bank can ordain that, but it is not what the doctor would order for the eurozone’s fragile financial system.
My last point is this: what is within our unilateral gift is to set the environment for business to take place in this country. It needs to be unequivocally welcoming, and we need to make this, as it has been for much of my lifetime, the go-to destination for people who want to put to work their expertise, their energy, their money and their ideas. That means a proportionate regulatory environment, a simple and low-rate tax regime, and continuing support for the world-leading science and research base. If we do those systematically, the arrangements to be reached with the European Union will matter—they are certainly not marginal—but we can do a huge amount ourselves unilaterally to make sure that the upside opportunities in the medium and long term that I see from Brexit can actually be realised.
My Lords, it is a real pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Maude. I was once told by somebody else that he and I were true free marketeers and entrepreneurs, so I had better draw attention to my commercial interests in the register.
I will say a few words about the way in which I want to approach this. I have, sadly, been on the losing side in general elections. I recognise that the Government that were elected are the Government that are elected. But it never once occurred to me that I should be expected to abandon values or not try to do the job of Opposition. It was a fundamental expectation of our democracy that we should review things, hold people to account, amend and sometimes even reject—although in this case I accept the result in the referendum—but we should do so responsibly and respectfully, and without threatening one another or the existence of the political Chambers in which we work. None of that is of any help in trying to get a proper discussion in our democracy.
Indeed, I always thought that the point of being described as the “loyal Opposition” is that there is, of course, loyalty to the Crown and loyalty to the nation, but there is also loyalty to the concept of opposition and doing the job properly in a democracy; that is what people expect. For that reason, if we were to say, on a massive existential issue, that we are just going to wait until somebody thinks that we are more right, and then we will have the freedom to act as we wish and we should pass over any of the other tasks of the Opposition, that would be a woeful neglect and would never be understood by anybody in a democracy such as the United Kingdom.
I say to other noble Lords: be careful what you wish for. In many ways, it is the absence of a serious Opposition at the other end of this building that is the gravest risk to the Conservative Government. Not being able to say to people, “You have sometimes a rather curious view of the world, and there are other things and other voices that need to be considered”, is hugely dangerous, and we can avoid it at least in this House. Keir Starmer has done a fine job—a heroic one in many ways—but nobody could say that opposition has been shown fully. For example, the Prime Minister probably came here yesterday to seek a nostalgic reminder of what opposition was like, on the grounds that she had a very small chance of seeing it in the Chamber in which she operates.
I opposed leaving for lots of reasons, notwithstanding the EU’s irritating characteristics. There are a number of reasons why it is important to consider what we might say in the context of the Bill. When it started out, the decision that “Brexit means Brexit”—a transposition of a line from Alice Through the Looking-Glass: it means whatever you want—morphed, rationally or not, first into leaving the economic area and then into something along the lines of leaving the customs union, or at least substantial parts of it. It has morphed all the time, and the only thing that has finally ended up as consistent is the Prime Minister saying that she would rather have no deal than an unacceptable one. I have never believed that politicians were good negotiators and I will say it candidly in this House. Anyone who went into a negotiation and said, “This is my final point”, can expect the people on the other side to play it for all it is worth. It is an amateur approach and needs to be thought about with a great deal more seriousness.
I believe that we will be worse off on a number of fronts: the economic future; the staffing of the NHS and care homes; the excellence of our universities; in defence, where our key counterpart in the White House is an isolationist and, at least on the question of Sweden, a fantasist; on Europol; on Euratom; on the environment; on employment protection; on Ireland and hardened borders; and on the security of the United Kingdom as a union, which is something I have always supported. I think that we have problems, and the referendum debate on both sides did not throw much useful light on those issues.
I know that others disagree with me: they think I am wrong; I think they are wrong; and that is absolutely fine. However, none of us knows what it will be like in two years’ time. Of course we do not know what the conditions or the final settlement will be. In those circumstances, it is perfectly fair to say that the final terms need to be approved by a future Act of Parliament and we should consider that amendment. I also believe that it should go back to the people, exactly for the reasons described by the noble Lord, Lord Butler. If there is no agreement, it must be open to Parliament and the people of this country to consider whether they want any kind of system to replace the one from which they will be departing. Those are fundamental, existential issues for our country.
We should not play with people’s lives. They have put down roots; their kids go to school; they have families here. They are people about whom we normally express profound values. Let us not play with that. The use of “grandfathering” yesterday was not an accidental choice of word. It is about family and deeper values in the way we deal with people.
My final brief point is that this has been a very divisive period. A number of communities have felt the full force of that, including my own. I do not know how they have done it, but the Portuguese Government have managed to track some of the Sephardic community that left in 1492. I am in the happy position that I may apparently be offered Portuguese nationality, although I will have to take an exam in Portuguese which I am not optimistic about. Real, deep strains are coming out and people are experiencing fear and violence. To all the Brexiteers who said, “That is deplorable, the law should protect people and we always want to do so”, I say, “Stand up and do the things that protect people—do not leave them in this position where their lives seem parlous for no reason at all”.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, is in his place, I will thank him for the opportunity to debate this legislation which we might not have had if he had not played such a good role in the Supreme Court. As our party spokesman on home affairs I want to make absolutely clear that I support the protection of the rights of EU citizens resident in the UK and of UK citizens living in the EU.
This afternoon I seek to make only one point and to use one example to illustrate that point. The British people did not know the full consequences of leaving the EU at the time of the referendum and did not therefore make an informed choice. They are entitled to a vote on the final deal. As the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, said, none of us, on either side of the argument, knew what the full consequences of leaving the EU were going to be at the time of the referendum—and, of course we will not know definitively until the negotiations are complete, although there are some things of which we are certain and which I will come to.
Let us be honest: no one, least of all the Conservative Government, thought much about the consequences of a leave vote because they never believed it would happen, as the noble Lord, Lord Darling, has just said. That is why the people need to decide, once they can make an informed choice, whether to accept the final deal negotiated by the Government. One thing is for sure: it is the people who started the process that will lead to the negations to leave the EU. Therefore, it is only the people who should decide, by means of a referendum, whether they want to go through with it once they have all the facts.
I come to my example. As the noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal said yesterday, the Government’s White Paper sets out in detail the 12 objectives for the negotiations, one of which is to continue to co-operate with our European partners in important areas such as crime, terrorism and foreign affairs—the noble Lord, Lord Blair of Boughton, clearly articulated how important such co-operation is. My noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire pointed out yesterday:
“The White Paper also pledges to maintain close co-operation on internal security, intelligence and crime, but without accepting judicial oversight of such sensitive issues. That will not be possible”.—[Official Report, 20/02/17; col. 30.]
A major plank of the leave campaign was to make the UK Parliament sovereign and for law to be decided by British courts. But, as I shall seek to demonstrate, essential co-operation with the European Union on issues of terrorism, serious and organised crime, policing and justice—matters that are the primary role of any Government to keep their people safe—cannot be achieved without ceding sovereignty. To be effective in combating terrorism and serious and organised crime, such as people trafficking and child sexual abuse, and to bring to justice criminals who flee from the EU to the UK or vice versa, there needs to be a mass exchange of information between the countries of the EU and the UK.
At the moment there are shared electronic databases, with more due to come on stream in the coming months. They enable a police officer who stops a suspect in the street in the UK to check instantly whether they are of interest to the security services anywhere in Europe and whether they are wanted under a European arrest warrant. Fingerprint and DNA samples found at the scene of a crime can be checked across the EU in seconds, minutes or hours, rather than in the weeks or months—if it could be done at all—that it would take using Interpol.
These EU databases are subject to data protection law agreed by EU member states. Compliance is overseen by the European Court of Justice. At the moment we have a say as to what these EU data protection laws are. When we leave the EU, we will not. If we are to continue to have access to these vital databases, we will have to comply with EU data protection law over which we will no longer have any say.
The Government have also said that they will no longer be subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. So who will adjudicate on our compliance with EU data protection law? The Government may say that there should be a bespoke body specifically to adjudicate on such matters, as it suggests in its White Paper. This will obviously duplicate the work currently undertaken by the ECJ. Who is going to pay for this bespoke body that will ensure that the UK complies with EU law over which we will have no say? One thing is for sure: it is not going to be the Mexicans.
The British people believed that we would be safer outside the EU. They believed that we would no longer be subject to EU law and that we would no longer have to pay anything to, or for anything to do with, the European Union. That is what they were told during the referendum debate, whether in good faith or not. The reality is that we will either be much less safe if we no longer have access to the information held on these EU databases, or we will have to give up sovereignty by complying with EU law over which we will no longer have any say. We will either still be subject to the ECJ or we will have to fund an alternative body to adjudicate on these issues. Not many people realise this, and even fewer realised it at the time of the referendum.
This is why we are proposing an amendment to the Bill which will enable the British people to decide on the final deal when they know exactly what the consequences of leaving the EU are. This is not necessarily because they were misled or did not understand, but because it is only now beginning to dawn on all of us what the full consequences are going to be. As the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, said, what is not democratic about giving the final say to the British people?
My Lords, I am as much a Eurosceptic as any Brexiteer. I do not like the way in which the European Parliament works. Nobody knows their MEP; MEPs have no connection with their constituencies and move from Brussels to Strasbourg every month. The euro is a disaster; one size will never fit all. Thank God we did not join it. I thought that we missed out on Schengen for business and tourist visas, but one of my favourite sayings is that good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment. We are lucky not to be in Schengen. In many ways, we are not affected as much by the migration crisis. From a security point of view it is better not to be in Schengen.
There is no question but that, with our democratic system, we have to accept the result of the referendum, however narrow it was. When the Minister sums up, will he clarify why, when we passed the referendum Bill, this was an advisory referendum? Why was it not set in stone that it would become law straightaway? Why was there no supra-majority, which is normal for something like this? Compare it with the AV referendum, which was very simple. The outcomes were spelled out—yes or no; for or against AV. It was a simple yes or no question. Here, however, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jowell, said yesterday, the question was black and white—remain or leave—but with a technicolour answer.
As several of my fellow Cross-Benchers and other noble Lords have said, we have to accept the result of the referendum. However, because the outcome of the no vote is totally unclear, it is not that simple. People voted to leave for a number of reasons. Many, sadly, believed the figure of £350 million a week to save the NHS. No one put it to them that this was despite its being a gross figure and despite the fact that the £8 billion to £10 billion of our net contribution is barely 1% of our Government’s annual expenditure per year. I have met people who voted for that reason. People voted to take back control of EU laws. When I have asked people who did this to name any EU laws that affects them day to day, they cannot name one. I built Cobra beer from scratch over a quarter of a century and I have not spent one hour of one day worrying about EU legislation. EU law, the law that is made in this country, is predominantly made by us in this Parliament, whether it is about taxes, planning or business rates.
The biggest issue of all was immigration. How badly this subject has been portrayed. These 3 million EU citizens, many of them leaving homes and families thousands of miles away, not knowing the language, come over here, work hard in an alien culture and put in five times more than they get out in taxes and benefits. Are we grateful to them? If we are grateful to them, right now, without legislation, we should be guaranteeing that they should be allowed to stay here. The Government should confirm this and I ask the Minister to do so. Far from being a burden on our country, these people work in our public sector. In fact, many parts of our public sector would collapse without them. Some 160,000 work in our NHS and care sector. Sajid Javid wants to build more homes: 250,000 people from the EU work in our construction sector. We have less than 5% unemployment, the lowest in living memory. We have the highest level of employment in living memory. What would we do without these people? We would not be the fifth largest economy in the world.
I am chancellor of the University of Birmingham and I chair the advisory board of the Cambridge Judge Business School. Some 20% of our academics come from the EU. I am president of UKCISA, the UK Council for International Student Affairs. We have 450,000 foreign students, 180,000 of them from the EU. It is not just about the money that comes for research. As the vice-chancellor of Cambridge said, more worrying than the loss of revenue is the damage to the networks of collaboration on which world-class science depends today. The Indian high commissioner gave an interview just this week in which he said, “Yes, we can talk about free trade agreements, but we also need to talk about visas and immigration”. Does the Minister accept that we should stop including international students in our net migration figures? They should be removed at once.
When these facts are made clear, when we move away from going back to hate crime and racism thanks to this wretched referendum, then people will have every right to change their mind. After all, the Prime Minister changed her mind; she was a remainer. Phillip Hammond changed his mind. Our court jester, Boris Johnson, was emphatic to remain just a couple of years ago. We are respecting the will of the people but not accepting that the people can change their minds. Look at the hypocrisy of it. It is said that countries such as the United States of America, China and India do not have trade deals with the European Union but they still deal with the European Union and that Brexit means that we are unleashed to do deals with the whole of the rest of the world, but we are going to give up the biggest deal on our doorstep—50% of our trade. What hypocrisy. Keynes said, “When the facts change, I change my mind”. Here, the facts may not change but people will wake up to the facts and then they may want to change their minds.
I think it is wrong that this House of Lords has been threatened. I think it is wrong that people are told that they are not patriotic if they are not for Brexit and that they are not for Britain if they are not for Brexit. That is wrong and it is disrespectful. The attitude of this Government, who have had to go to the High Court and the Supreme Court and have produced a White Paper only when pressed to, is neglecting government. If we want to negotiate now we will have to negotiate with many different countries, yet the Government are saying that no deal is better than a bad deal. Leaving the single market and ruining our economy would be a bad deal. To emphasise what the noble Lord, Lord Butler, said, logically, because of the nature of this question, there is no way we can respect the will of the people if we do not go back to them with the deal that we have and ask, “Are you now happy to leave on this basis?”.
Where sovereignty is concerned, I conclude by saying that we have our sovereignty. We measure our roads in miles and our petrol in litres. I pour my draft beer in pints and sell it on the supermarket shelves in litres. No one can force us to join the EU army or force us into further integration. As the noble Lord, Lord O’Donnell, said, there will be complications for the Civil Service. There are 38 countries and regional assemblies that we will have to negotiate with—six in Belgium alone. The majority of the youth of our country voted to stay. We have to think of the youth of our country. I conclude by quoting Professor Deepak Malhotra of the Harvard Business School, a world expert in negotiation, who said, “Karan, read a book called The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman about the beginning of the First World War”. We are currently commemorating the centenary of that unnecessary war that sacrificed millions of lives. He said, “Reading that book is like watching a train crash in slow motion”. That is what we are watching right now.
My Lords, we have heard many home truths in the previous speaker’s speech. I voted to remain and I regret but certainly accept the outcome of the referendum. There is a wide perception around the country, which is true even among the remainers, that we now need to get on with the negotiation under Article 50. It is not, as some would assert, because suddenly a national consensus supporting Brexit has now emerged, but because of the simple and common-sense realisation that uncertainty is economically damaging and marking time is not healthy politically. So the Government have my strong support in sticking to their timetable and getting on with the negotiation. There will be plenty to do in the coming months before the elections in continental Europe have concluded, and plenty to avoid as well, I might say, not least a massive bust-up over the value of European Union assets which could sour subsequent negotiations.
No one can tell at this stage how we are going to get on. Let us hope for and do what we can to further enlightened behaviour around the negotiating table to obtain what the Prime Minister has termed as the best possible outcome. We certainly need the partnership that has been promised. As many noble Lords have pointed out, the UK’s hand is not totally devoid of cards to play, and we have plenty to offer our partners. If the deal is a good one, it will be supported in the country at large and I do not think that it will be necessary to have electoral verdicts on it. But that does not exclude the need for endorsement by Parliament in statutory form, and I hope that this issue, which is clearly going to come before us, can be resolved without further resort to the Supreme Court. Parliamentary sovereignty is not to be mocked.
Sadly, we cannot exclude the possibility that the outcome will be judged as less than satisfactory either by the people or by the Government, or indeed by both. What happens next is the question preoccupying many, and we have heard references to the need for another referendum. If the British people judge that responsibility for a bad deal is borne by EU negotiators, which might well be the case, the likelihood of them wishing to crawl back into the European Union can be ruled out. I do not think, as some people fondly hope, that a second referendum will be a sure-fire ticket for a return. Equally, as it has been well put in the debate, the British people did not vote to be poorer and they will be entitled to judge whether the negotiations lead to that outcome. Moreover, they will want a say in any radically new economic model which the Government propose as a response to a bad deal. So, frankly, I think that we can rely on the normal electoral processes of this country kicking in to deliver a verdict on what should happen next, and I reckon that this will happen in a timely way. Our system will certainly cope with whatever outcome the negotiations deliver.
In the time remaining for me to speak, I want to focus on a different aspect which has not been covered so fully by other noble Lords. Whatever the final outcome, which could take years, this country has embarked on a course where it cannot respond in a “behaviour as usual” manner. Underlying the political and economic turbulence of our times is a technological revolution of vast proportions and significance. The word “transformational”, which is overused, is nevertheless appropriate here. We shall need to master rather than be overwhelmed by the changes in train and turn them to our advantage. That means leadership by government and followership in the country. An important start has been made in the Government’s consultative document on an industrial strategy, which must turn not only into a good strategy but into implementation plans which lead to the exploitation of the strong science and research base of this country, upskill the workforce, draw in the private sector as a partner and reward achievement.
Giving them a future is especially owed to the young people of this country, and we know how the majority of them voted. As a people and as a country, I do not think that we like massive organisation and planning, but this is a moment in our history when we must make the most of the opportunity we have of laying a new economic base for the whole of the United Kingdom.
The Government have a lot on their plate, and I hope they have both the bandwidth and the nerve to take forward an ambitious industrial agenda. It is emphatically not a time for characteristic half-measures or failures of departmental co-ordination. Long-term consistency of policy often fails us Brits—we tend to mess about—but we really cannot afford this. A bipartisan approach would be a strength and would, I suggest, help with the task of recreating national unity, which certainly does not exist at the moment. I plead that we do not allow preoccupation with Brexit, important as it is, to drown out the important task of mapping out our national future.
My Lords, in the referendum last year I voted for Britain to remain in the European Union. Along with millions of other people, I did so not out of a lack of patriotism but because of a deep and abiding concern for my country. I was convinced that leaving the European Union would be an act of monumental self-harm that would diminish Britain’s prosperity and our influence as a nation. I saw nothing from the supporters of Brexit during last year’s campaign, nor have I seen anything from the Government since, to change that view. However, this debate is not about refighting the referendum, nor is it about the principle of whether or not we should leave. Instead, it is about a seemingly narrow Bill that disguises a far broader intention. Without a meaningful provision to ask the Government to think again, the Bill seeks not just a mandate to leave the European Union but a mandate to negotiate a very specific outcome.
What was set out in the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech and in the Government’s White Paper is the hardest of Brexits, giving up our membership not just of the single market but of the customs union too, before even getting to the negotiating table. This is only one possible interpretation of the referendum result, and it is an interpretation for which there is no majority in the country. The referendum campaign, and the relatively narrow margin by which it was won, revealed a country deeply and almost evenly divided. Even among the 52% who voted to leave, there were multiple and often contradictory reasons for wanting to do so. There will have been leave voters who believed the claims that Brexit would mean an extra £350 million a week for the NHS. Others will have been persuaded that it would mean the revival of traditional industries and an end to the impact of globalisation. Still more will have believed assurances that we could end immigration while not having to leave the single market. However, it is now clear that Brexit meant none of these things. They were fake promises and false assurances, specifically designed to deceive.
Rather than seek to heal this divided nation, hold an honest conversation with the country and try to build a national consensus, since 23 June this Government have chosen a very different route. Through the constant repetition of empty phrases such as “Brexit means Brexit”, they have sought to simplify the mandate, disguise its central complexity and distort the meaning of the result, while what they ultimately seek becomes clearer with every threat made to our former partners. Their clear goal is an offshore, small-state Britain, meaning not more money for the NHS but less, and the systematic reduction of the rights of British workers. I have no doubt that this vision of Britain as a mid-Atlantic Singapore is strongly supported by hard line ideologues in the Conservative Party and in some sections of the media. But equally I have no doubt that they would never have won the referendum had they been honest enough to articulate that beforehand.
The verdict of the referendum has now become so distorted as to be unrecognisable. In this Bill, we are being asked to support an unelected Prime Minister, with no mandate of her own and pursuing a policy opposite to that in the manifesto on which her party was elected, as she seeks to negotiate the hardest possible interpretation of Brexit for which there is no majority in the country and which will be devastating to the lives of millions of those leave voters on whom the outcome depended. Yet the Government now have the nerve to lecture us about respecting the “will of the people”.
There was an opportunity in the House of Commons for the Labour Party to resist this interpretation. I am proud that many of my colleagues stood up for an alternative way forward, putting growth, jobs and living standards first. However, at the very moment when the country needed our party to act in the national interest and in the interests of the people it was created to defend, our party’s leadership was found badly wanting.
As a result of that vote in the Commons, I have no doubt that the Bill will pass, but I cannot support it. From the outset, the issue of Brexit, from referendum to negotiation, has put narrow political interest before the national interest. The decision to hold the referendum was made purely to keep the Conservative Party together. The Government’s response has been simply about electoral calculation. Now this House has been warned that, if it dares to act in the national interest, it faces abolition.
I have great humility about the outcome of the referendum and about the unelected nature of this House, but if we sincerely believe that the course we are on will do untold damage to our country, we have a duty, whether elected or unelected, to say so, to oppose it and to tell the truth. I believe that working people’s lives will be made worse by this Bill. I believe that those who voted for Brexit in the greatest numbers will suffer most from the outcome. I believe that the very real problems in their lives were not caused by the European Union, and will not be solved by our leaving. I believe we will do them no favours by pretending otherwise.
Those of us who believe that Britain’s national interests are best pursued inside the European Union must listen, learn and understand why our view was rejected, but we should never stop telling the truth. The British people are being sold a lie, and we should say so. When the extent of this betrayal becomes clear, when what has been promised turns out to be undeliverable, there will be a terrible reckoning—maybe not now, maybe not in two years or even in 20, but history will judge us very harshly indeed if we now connive in that betrayal when we believe in a different course.
I want to know that I did the right thing so, with a clear conscience, I feel bound to affirm my opposition to the Bill and to its profoundly damaging effect on our country.
Yesterday, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, spoke of the vision of what was known as the Common Market. My first vote was in 1975, in the referendum to remain in that Common Market. Although I was born in the 1950s, the war still cast a shadow. I was a young woman, newly married to a junior officer in a very, very much larger Royal Navy—one which could certainly cope east of Suez—and the idea of binding states in trade to avoid conflict appealed to me then, as it still does.
Britain’s withdrawal from the EU comes at a time of great global instability. Russia, resurgent and hostile, flies nuclear sorties through UK airspace, harasses NATO’s eastern flank and claims to be seeking a “post-West world order”. The American President expressed ambivalence towards NATO as recently as last Wednesday. Europe has been wracked by a wave of extremist attacks, and the chaos swirling in the Middle East shows no sign of abating. Against this bleak backdrop, the passage of this Bill will set in motion the greatest upheaval of UK foreign, economic and domestic policy in recent history. I submit that the triggering of Article 50 will also have—and, indeed, has had—a profoundly negative effect on the UK’s defence and security.
As I noted last July in this House, Brexit means losing our place in defence institutions such as Europe’s common security and defence framework. Last July, it was clear to us that the loss of access to these important networks might hold unknown risks to our ability to defend ourselves, but last July Donald Trump was not President and NATO did not seem any more at risk than at any time since the end of the Cold War. In difficult times, we must preserve our global alliances and friendships, and yet this Government have failed to provide assurances that they will work to preserve our key security links with the continent after triggering Article 50.
I would be grateful if the Minister could reassure the House that, in this hard-Brexit world, our defence alliances with mainland Europe have not been overlooked. Defence and security should not be bargaining chips to be pushed back and forth across the negotiating table; they are essential commitments which protect our citizens and those of our allies. We cannot allow our withdrawal from the EU to jeopardise or sour our security alliances, and yet the Government’s approach risks doing just that.
It is not just our European alliances that are at risk. Since the 23 June referendum, the pound has fallen by more than 20% against the dollar. At the end of last year, RUSI predicted that if the decline were sustained, the cost of Britain’s defence imports could increase by around £700 million a year. This means, in effect, a 2% cut in the purchasing power of Britain’s defence budget. Last month, a National Audit Office report on the MoD’s equipment plan found that the MoD had already eaten through the £10.7 billion of headroom built into last year’s budget to provide flexibility. That report found that,
“The affordability of the Plan is now at greater risk than at any time since reporting was introduced”—
an effect of the declining exchange rate.
There is, in short, a significant rising threat to the affordability of the defence of the UK. Despite the commitment to spending 2% of GDP on defence, the continuing capability of the British military to meet strategic objectives is far from guaranteed. Just last week, the International Institute for Strategic Studies reported that, in 2016, Britain failed to meet that spending commitment despite the Government’s 2015 pledge to commit at least 2% of GDP for defence for each and every year of this decade. These rising costs might necessitate a revisiting of the 2015 SDSR or else there will be a reduction in expected UK defence capabilities at a time when the world is becoming markedly less secure.
The Government will need to accept that the effects of Brexit on defence will require either a substantial rise in taxes or cuts to vital domestic services. If the UK Government cannot accept these options, they must admit to British citizens that their borders will be less secure and their security more uncertain; they must acknowledge that they have broken their NATO spending commitments at a time when NATO’s future is already uncertain. It is clear that, in just a few months, Brexit and this Government’s Brexit strategy have made the UK less secure and less well defended.
It is not clear, however, that on 23 June last year voters assumed these risks. Leave campaign leaders promised that Britain would reclaim its place on the global stage, yet Brexit has left UK forces less able to defend key interests and has seen the UK diminished within its network of alliances. Brexiteers promised more secure borders, yet our borders are set to become less secure against those who wish to do us harm. They promised us more money for services such as the NHS, but the Government might now have to slash those services if they are to defend our borders and interests in an increasingly unstable climate.
In short, while 52% of voters cast ballots last June for a departure from the EU, they did not vote for that destination. On matters of defence, that destination seems increasingly bleak. My noble friend Lord Paddick and other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, have said that the voters should have a final say.
My Lords, I am sure that we all welcome the fact that the Prime Minister was present for part of our proceedings yesterday. Although it is reported that she looked as if she had come to intimidate more than to learn, I hope that she found her appreciation of the issues enriched, for the debate has been every bit as rich as House of Lords debates can be. She might have learned from the noble Lord, Lord Hain, for example, that member states have more scope to influence levels of immigration from other member states than is commonly supposed, or, at any rate, than is commonly made clear.
Like many other noble Lords, I deplore all the sabre-rattling about abolishing the House of Lords if it does not toe the line. At least, I would if the threats were not so empty. For a Government encumbered by the task of extricating the United Kingdom from the European Union, a commitment to abolish the House of Lords is all you need. If you are going to go in for sabre-rattling, you need to have some sabres to rattle.
I was in South Africa all last week. As I travelled back from Heathrow, I thought someone must have been putting something in the water as I picked up on the rather febrile suggestions that by exercising its traditional function of scrutinising legislation and asking the Commons to think again, the House of Lords would be acting unconstitutionally. It might be wrong on a particular issue but the idea that it would be behaving unconstitutionally is preposterous, especially when the Commons has been so pusillanimous in exercising the authority which the Supreme Court has confirmed it has.
By this point, there must be a premium on brevity so I will cut to the chase. We do not normally vote at Second or even Third Reading in this House but if we do, I will vote against the Bill. In the nearest I get to blogging—my Christmas round robin—I said that I was in favour of a second referendum on the terms of withdrawal once negotiated and would take every opportunity to vote against moves to remove us from the European Union, partly because the vote to leave was won on a fraudulent prospectus and partly out of sheer bloody-mindedness. As the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, put it—for once, in more parliamentary language than mine:
“I will oppose it by any legal and constitutional means”.—[Official Report, 20/2/17; col. 110.]
The equation between the referendum and democracy is specious. I looked that word up in the dictionary. It means superficially plausible but actually wrong. As I said in the debate on 6 July last year,
“a snapshot of public opinion on a particular day is a very bad way to determine a question as complex as to whether we should remain a member of the European Union”.—[Official Report, 6/7/16; col. 2075.]
Moreover, the democratic credentials of the referendum are contested. If the vote had gone the other way, you can bet your life that the leavers would be mounting just the same criticism as the remainers.
Yesterday the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, whom I normally find a genial and engaging debater, reminded us in an uncharacteristically intemperate speech of a government leaflet which said to the British people:
“The referendum on Thursday, 23rd 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”.
In a final taunt, he said:
“What part of that do those on the Liberal Benches not understand?”.—[Official Report, 20/2/17; col. 60.]
The Liberal Democrats can speak for themselves but I understand it all right. However, I will make five points which suggest that we should take it with a substantial helping of salt.
First, notwithstanding the Government’s language, there has never been any doubt that the referendum was advisory—and, I submit, the more flawed, the more advisory. Secondly, I do not make my stand on the flawed nature of the referendum. We are where we are. However flawed, there can be no question of setting the referendum aside. Whatever else it did, it certainly gave the Government a licence to open negotiations with the EU about withdrawal. But there is no way that it mandated a hard Brexit and there is no way that I am going to vote for triggering a negotiation designed to achieve a hard Brexit, which is likely to be so damaging for our country in terms of the economic growth essential for prosperity, living standards and the progress of civilisation and opportunities, and so inimical to an outward-looking and internationalist approach.
Thirdly, as others have said, a hard Brexit shows a cavalier disregard of the 48% who voted to remain and an unstatesmanlike indifference to the need to work for unity and reconciliation in our country. Fourthly, I cannot emphasise too strongly that support for a second referendum on the terms is not the same as seeking to refight the referendum campaign, which is what supporters of a second referendum are accused of. As Tim Farron MP said in the other place,
“voting for departure is not the same as voting for the destination”.—[Official Report, Commons, 7/2/2017; col. 290.]
Accordingly, I shall support an amendment designed to provide for a second referendum. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market, put it very well in a typically thoughtful and unpolemical speech when he said that he did not believe that the referendum vote should be decided as final, that the real issue is the reaction to the outcome of the negotiations, and that that is where the final judgment and vote should take place.
Finally, I shall support amendments which seek to maximise our access to, or retain our membership of, the single market. The Conservative manifesto for the 2015 general election indicated support for the single market. Especially if, in a bespoke deal, you wish to retain as many of the advantages of remaining in the single market as possible, it makes no sense to signal up front your desire to withdraw from it. If that is the way we are going to conduct the negotiations, we are going to get a very bad deal indeed.
My Lords, it is indeed a challenge after some 124 contributions to say anything original at all. We live in a parliamentary democracy and I am absolutely no fan of referendums—neither the first one nor the second that some are calling for. They were described by Clement Attlee as a device of dictators and demagogues—a quote repeated by Margaret Thatcher, so we have both sides of the political divide covered, and indeed by my noble friend Lord Balfe yesterday. However, in 2015 Parliament abrogated its responsibility and devolved the decision on this matter to the British people—and at Third Reading in the House of Commons there were no dissenters. We gave away our authority on this matter. Politicians are much maligned; they are accused of a lack of integrity and a lack of consistency. We need to show both integrity and consistency, or we will be criticised for not keeping our promises and saying different things to different people at different times to curry favour.
I will focus my brief remarks today on those calling for a second referendum. We know what they want, notwithstanding what the noble Lord, Lord Low, has just said. They want a different result. Tony Blair said exactly that when he called upon us all to rise up; the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, said exactly that yesterday, when he said—and it can be read in Hansard—that he wanted a second referendum to allow people to change their mind. It is perfectly reasonable to change one’s mind, but this is actually about telling people that they got it wrong. I recall the Danish no vote on Maastricht in 1992 and the two Irish referendums, on the Nice Treaty and the Lisbon Treaty. On all these occasions the people were told, “Get away, you got it wrong, vote again”. And if the second referendum were to take place, and the same result came out, would there then be calls for a third referendum from those who could not accept the will of the people?
I would like to take the House back to the People’s Budget of 1909, which I do not think has been mentioned before. It was the Liberal Government of Asquith. Lloyd George was Chancellor and Churchill—who was later a successful Conservative—was Home Secretary, so we have all sides covered here. It was the threat of the creation of hundreds of Liberal Peers that led to a similar Budget and the Parliament Act of 1911 being passed. Now that sounds familiar to me today.
I will turn to the inheritance of the Liberal name. On 26 February 2008—at least two noble Lords currently on the Liberal Benches were Members of the House of Commons then—Nick Clegg led a stunt. He led out the Liberal Members of Parliament from the House of Commons because the Speaker had not selected the amendment that he had put down on calling a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. My noble friend Lord Finkelstein pointed out that Nick Clegg then led a campaign. “It is time for a real referendum”, he said. Although there are only two in the Chamber at the moment, in the Commons in 2008 there were 11 Members of Parliament who now sit on your Lordships’ Benches on the Liberal Democrat side. Did they take part in the march out? I have no idea. But what is their consistent intention today?
Also involved in Liberal Democrat politics at the time was the chief executive of the party, the director of communications, the head of the leader’s office, two members of the federal executive and the chairman of the electoral campaign at the time—and they all now sit on the Liberal Democrat Benches. The leader—who is in his place, so I think I may name him—was, I think I am right in saying, chief of staff to Charles Kennedy in 2005, and was then on the Front Bench between 2008 and 2010.
So do those people who then supported the Real Referendum campaign consistently now want to accept the result of the referendum? In 2005, the Liberal Democrat manifesto said of the proposed constitution that,
“ratification must be subject to a referendum of the British people”.
The 2010 manifesto—I see that they all remember it—stated:
“Liberal Democrats therefore remain committed to an in/out referendum the next time a British Government signs up for fundamental change”.
The noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, sadly is not in his place. His comment on the day of the referendum has been much quoted by my right honourable friend Michael Gove and by my noble friend Lord Bridges and yesterday by my noble friend Lord Blencathra. However, it bears repeating. He said:
“I will forgive no-one”—
“who does not respect the sovereign voice of the British people once it has spoken, whether it is a majority of 1% or 20% … It is our duty as those who serve the public to make sure the country does the best it can with the decision they have taken”.
Tim Farron, on 1 February, said:
“Democracy means accepting the will of the people”.—[Official Report, Commons, 1/2/17; col. 1047.]
He then called for a second referendum. In 2008, Nick Clegg said:
“Only a real referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU will let the people decide our country's future”.
On 31 January this year he said that,
“the British people gave the Government a mandate to pull the UK out of the EU”.—[Official Report, Commons, 31/1/17; col. 843.]
He then called for a second referendum.
Do my friends on the Liberal Democrat Benches not understand why they were so comprehensively rejected in 2015? The reasons were integrity and consistency. The British people expect us to live up to our statements and our promises, in this House as well as in the elected House down the Corridor. I hope that those calling for a second referendum will eventually show that consistency, respect the decision of our peoples and be on the right side of history.
I will end on an optimistic note, because this has perhaps been a little partisan.
Perish the thought.
In 1805, Prime Minister Pitt said:
“England has saved herself by her exertions, and will, as I trust, save Europe by her example”.
The circumstances were very different, but I believe and hope that that may be the case both for us and for Europeans in 2017.
My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Dixon, whose death the Lord Speaker announced earlier today. Don Dixon was my constituency neighbour for many years. Throughout a long and distinguished parliamentary career in both Houses he was utterly rooted in and devoted to his own constituency.
About six months ago, before the referendum, I was involved in a debate at the Cambridge Union Society on the motion that this house believes that the European project has been a failure. Given that the EU, formerly the EEC, had existed for 60 years, that it had grown from 6 to 28 members, that it had underpinned democracy and economic transformations in many countries, had stood up for employment rights and had stood for better environmental regulations, the question seemed to be a no-brainer. There was no way that it could be considered a failure, particularly given the contrast with the first 50 years of the 20th century when the countries of Europe had twice been torn apart by war. During that debate I said that if the EU did not exist, given the conditions of trade in the modern world and the many international challenges that we face, we would need to invent something like it. To a certain extent, the Government seem to have accepted this logic in their talk of a new partnership with the EU and how close we are going to be to the EU in future, despite not being members.
I welcome talk of partnership but I find the Government’s approach so far unconvincing. Their approach, particularly as seen in the White Paper that they were forced into producing at the last minute, is vacuous. As many people have said, it seems to be a case of the Government wanting to have their cake and eat it, served up with a huge helping of wishful thinking.
I also find the timing of this Bill troubling. At the Conservative Party conference, the Prime Minister announced that Article 50 would be triggered by the end of March. I am not sure why she chose that particular date, and certainly the world has changed considerably in the meantime. I understand—many people made this point in the debate yesterday—that people want to get on with it so that we can conclude the divorce and make progress with the newly negotiated relationship. However, Article 50 states that,
“the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with”,
the state concerned,
“setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union”.
That seems to indicate that it is a question not of doing the one thing followed by the other but of these things happening concurrently. However, I am very conscious that in a few minutes there will be a contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, so perhaps I had better not say anything further about Article 50, as the undisputed authority on the subject is present in the Chamber.
There are huge gaps in the information that the Government have given us so far. I am amazed that in the 12 principles outlined in the White Paper there is absolutely no mention of environment policy, even though I and others have questioned the Government on it many times. There is nothing on foreign policy and nothing on defence. On trade, there is little realism about the difficulties involved. The Government talk blithely about creating new trading arrangements, yet the countries with which we want to forge trade deals will doubtless want to know first what our future trading relationship with the EU will be. The trading and investment issues are very important to all of us, and they are particularly important in regions such as mine—the north-east—where 58% of our exports are to the EU and inward investment relating to access to the European market is vital.
I hope that we press the Government hard on better involvement by Parliament in this process. The way in which they have tried to bypass Parliament so far means that their current assurances ring hollow. Such parliamentary involvement will also be important in allowing Members of the House of Commons, in particular, to explain to their constituents what is happening. People out in the country will have a right to some accurate information about the negotiations as they proceed.
The previous speaker said a lot about referendums. I am wrestling with the idea of having another referendum because I have always disliked them for all sorts of reasons. I have never supported any of the EU referendums that my party has proposed—for example, on joining the single currency or on the ill-fated European constitution. However, I can see the logic that, if a vote of the people began this process of withdrawal, there is a case for people having a vote on the final deal. They ought to be able to compare the deal against the promises made by those who advocated to leave during the campaign—particularly the promise on the National Health Service, which I know was very tempting to people in my part of the world. It also strikes me as quite ridiculous that those who were so keen to have a referendum on this issue now seem to be saying that there should never be another. Their view seems to be that the people have spoken but, having spoken once, they should never be allowed to speak again.
Finally, I want to say a word about the role of this House in this process. I respect those who are so keen to trigger Article 50 that they do not want to see amendments tabled debated or passed, but I reject the view that we are not entitled to make amendments or to ask the Government to think again. We have our established revising and questioning role, which we should carry out in relation to this legislation as we do with other legislation
My Lords, I start by making a point about the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Robathan. I just want to clarify that the Liberal Democrats are not asking for a second referendum; we are asking for a first referendum on the outcome of the Government’s negotiations. I see nothing at odds with democracy in the electorate changing their mind. In my experience, they change their minds every four or five years.
I am a member of one of the EU sub-committees of this House, and week after week we take evidence from major British businesses. When asked what sort of trading arrangements they would like to see in the future, almost without exception they have said, “Something as close to what we have at present if possible, please”. They want, and indeed expect, the Government to honour the promise in their manifesto to remain in the single market.
We must accept the decision of the referendum but I will not accept the Government’s interpretation of that result. It was a clear result but a narrow one. Therefore, the Government’s winner-takes-all approach to the result is completely unacceptable. The 52% should be respected but so should the 48%. The Government are intent on ignoring the views of the 48% so it falls to this House to give them our full attention. The Government’s White Paper was one of the most depressing documents I have read in many years. The view expressed throughout it was that we are the best; that the world owes us a living. The fatal hubris shines from every page.
I speak on transport. Time and again I have heard the Secretary of State for Transport tell gatherings of transport professionals that all will be well because they need us more than we need them. What is not factored in is that there are 27 of them and only one of us—for each individual EU country, trade with us is a relatively small part of their economy. Our EU sub-committee has taken evidence from Ministers too, of course. Depressingly, they speak only in percentages and billions of pounds. They fail to speak of hundreds of jobs or of individual companies. I have no doubt that over time our industries will adapt to the change but individual businesses will go to the wall and there will be casualties along the way. Transport is heavily integrated across the EU. Across the various modes, from aviation to road haulage, transport businesses can operate freely from one EU country to another. We have a huge stake in this. We have, for example, the EU’s largest aviation sector and the Government cite this as a strength. In fact, it is a point of weakness. There is much for the rest of the EU countries to gain if we were to be removed from a fully competitive position. There is no reason why Germany or France, for example, should not mop up our markets if, for example, easyJet could no longer fly easily and freely from one EU country to another or within any individual EU country.
Trade in all industrial sectors stands on the shoulders of the transport industry. We cannot succeed if we cannot transport our goods or personnel. I remind your Lordships’ House that in 1988 it required 88 separate documents to transport goods from London to Rome. It now takes one document. If we go back even a few steps towards 1988 it will cost time and money and increase complexity. There will be a huge impact on our ports, on Eurotunnel and on the individual businesses and industries that create the goods that the lorries and so on are transporting. The Government talk of friends across the other side of the world, with exotic trade deals in China, South America and so on. The large shipping lines and airlines will adapt, but parts of the transport sector cannot adapt. For the bus operator taking tourists down the Rhine valley, for instance, a thriving tourist trade in China is no use at all. Ferries cannot operate on the other side of the world, across long distances. HGV operators can operate only with neighbouring countries, and Eurostar and the Channel Tunnel are pretty immovable. So for these reasons, the transport industry can cope with the single market but not a hard Brexit.
Across the world, countries trade most intensively with their neighbours. The reasons are obvious: distance costs time and money and makes your goods less competitive. Despite the vote on 23 June, we cannot ignore the realities of geography. The EU countries are our neighbours and it would be economic suicide to abandon them. We must remain part of the single market.
The Government need to see the reality of this. They need to recognise the dangers of a hard border in Northern Ireland. They need to recognise the rights of EU citizens living here and they must acknowledge that the referendum gave them the power to negotiate and not to decide our final destination. The voters must decide that.
This journey started with the people and it must end with the people. I will vote in due course for amendments that implement that.
My Lords, I leave the great constitutional issues to Edmund Burke and the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock—they are very similar thinkers; I am a great fan of both of them. I want to say a word about the White Paper. Others have mentioned that it is a little long on assertion and bravado and a little short on facts. I thought that I would offer four facts.
First, it is a fact that if we leave the European Union, our economic relationship with it will be less advantageous than it is now—that has to be a fact. If we leave the single market and the customs union, if we reject common regulation and common jurisdiction, there will be a price to be paid; there has to be a price to be paid. Secondly, it is a fact that our relationships with the rest of the world will be more difficult economically. We will be less attractive to them. Why should they be so keen to open their markets to us if we are no longer their entry point to a market of 500 million? Thirdly, it is a fact that trade halves as distance doubles. Fourthly, it is a fact that customs controls cause delays that damage modern global supply chains and that building trade barriers hurts both sides, but the bigger economy loses less. Obviously, the Government know all these facts but have decided to put our autarchic sovereignty ahead of economic well-being. It is a sad fact that it will not be those who got us into this fix who will suffer. The Bullingdon boys will be just fine; the country may not.
But the country is still in the dark; it does not know where it is going. We are in this bus heading for Heathrow, with mendacious slogans on the side, and we have no idea what the destination is. We do not know what the Government mean when they say that they may have to change our economic model. They may have to go for a low-regulation, low-tax and low-welfare economy. What do they mean? The White Paper does not tell us. The White Paper does not tell us the future of farming in this country, of environmental law in this country or of social law in this country. It does not tell us how the Belfast agreement can survive if the Irish Government are obliged on the inner Irish frontier to run the customs frontier of the European Union.
It will not do just to refer to the oxymoronic repeal Bill and to tell us that all applicable laws will be temporarily extended while we think about their fate. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, spoke authoritatively yesterday on the Supreme Court ruling. The Supreme Court says that rights resulting from EU membership can be extinguished only by legislation; this Bill extinguishes no such rights. But some rights fall away the moment we leave the European Union and cannot be extended by the oxymoronic Bill. The rights enjoyed in this country by our citizens that are enforceable against other member states go. Rights whose geographical scope extends into other member states go. Rights whose enforcement requires the co-operation of other member states and the EU institutions go. We will need a new legislative rendezvous, and that is nothing to do with the great repeal Bill.
In my view it would make sense to improve the Bill before us to provide for that rendezvous in at least two respects. First, the Government have given us no undertaking that they will come back to Parliament if the negotiations threaten to break down. I rate the chances of breakdown at well over 30%. The White Paper is totally silent on the impending row about money and the bills we will be asked to settle as we leave. With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, no deal is much the worst deal. Walking away would mean recourse to law or arbitration, extended uncertainty about any continuing links with our largest and nearest trading partner and no legacy rights in its 50 agreements with third countries—a disaster for business and citizens alike. If the bravado of the White Paper proves hollow, the Government must come back to Parliament before the clock runs out.
Secondly, we need to consolidate in the Bill the Government’s quasi-commitment to give Parliament its say before the die is cast on any emerging settlement. The European Parliament’s similar right is enshrined in the language of Article 50. This Parliament deserves no less. It will not do just to give Parliament Hobson’s choice—to say, “It’s this deal or no deal”. Timing is crucial. Parliament must have the chance to consider at least three other options. Under option one, Westminster could follow the frequent practice of the United States Congress, say that it does not like the emerging deal or some particular aspect of it, and ask the Executive to go back and try harder. As one who has negotiated with two US Administrations, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Oareford, who thought that any such possibility would weaken the Government’s negotiating hand, that that is the exact opposite of the truth. Saying, “I hear you but Congress would never wear it” is a negotiating weapon our American friends frequently use to great effect. I speak from experience.
As regards the second option, if timing proves tight Westminster could invoke Article 50(3) and invite the Government to seek an extension of the two-year period. The European Union is a union of democracies. If this Parliament asked for an extension, and our Government conveyed our request, in my judgment it would certainly be given.
Under the third option, Parliament could invite the Government or the country to think again. An Article 50 notification is not irrevocable. The President of the European Council and a gallery of EU legal luminaries have confirmed—of course, the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, is among their number—that a member state may, in accordance with its constitutional requirements, withdraw its notification within the two-year period or its extension. This morning, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, asked about the Government’s motive in conniving in the High Court at the fiction of irreversibility. I cannot answer her but the fact is that Article 50, which first saw the light of day under the heading “voluntary withdrawal” is not an expulsion procedure. We remain full members of the European Union throughout the negotiating period—the two years or its extension. If, having looked into the abyss, we were to change our minds about withdrawal, we certainly could and no one in Brussels could stop us. If it were not so, I would have to oppose the Bill. As it is, all we need do is improve it and make sure that the rendezvous with history, which comes when we know what the Government want for the future of our country and its relationship with our continent, is clear.
My Lords, it has been an extraordinary afternoon as Peers have greeted each other in the Corridor, saying, “What number are you?”. I am number 129. While it is tempting to say that I agree with numbers one, five, eight, 16 and 30, that would not be in the fine traditions of the House.
This House is usually thought of as an august, deliberative body. It can indeed impress with its breadth and depth of knowledge and grasp of legislative detail, and, in certain circumstances, it can much improve Bills put before it. But I doubt whether this is one such Bill that will allow us to showcase the best of your Lordships’ skills. Indeed, I fear just the opposite—that we could make ourselves conspicuous by our lack of democratic mandate and overstep the constitutional boundaries which we are all responsible for upholding.
The Bill, as many have said by way of criticism, is short on detail. Indeed it is: that is because its purpose is simple and exclusive—to grant a parliamentary mandate to the Government to trigger Article 50. The other place understood this and voted it through with a significant majority, despite some confusion in the party opposite and disquiet from many in all parties who did not want to be in this position. I ask noble Lords who are still thinking of tacking on amendments to ignore their own personal views on Brexit at this time. We all had our say, along with the rest of Britain, at the ballot box. I ask them not to rerun the argument as to whether they believe it will harm Britain or not. I ask them to focus on whether Brexit, the referendum, the Bill and Article 50 are the will of the people. As democrats, that will requires us to do our duty and carry it out.
We have heard many esteemed figures, not least a former Prime Minister, say that people did not know what they were voting for and, as such, should be given a chance to reconsider, to vote again on an eventual deal, or even to have the referendum question put again, only this time with more detail, such as questions on the single market, on the free movement of people and so on. I fear that this simply will not wash with the British people. It is similar to when we saw EU countries vote down the EU constitution, only to be asked, shamefully, to vote again until they got it right. Put simply, Britons knew what they were voting for and the Bill, unadulterated, is a key enabler to carrying out that popular will.
The 2015 Conservative Party manifesto promised an in/out referendum. The Conservative Party was elected on that manifesto and duly held that referendum and the people voted to leave. The manifesto, it is worth saying, went on to state that after the referendum, the Government would “respect the outcome”. I hope that noble Lords will keep that sentiment at the top of their minds today and respect the tradition of this House of honouring the elected party’s manifesto. It is now said that, having voted to leave, people did not know what they were voting for. This is patently nonsense. We can be certain that leaving the single market was accounted for in the vote, not least because Michael Gove said so specifically during the campaign—many of us heard him say so on the Andrew Marr programme—as did others. Crucially, staying in the single market would mean not having sovereign control of who can come and go. Who can deny this? Sovereignty was an aspiration of the majority of voters.
Having canvassed in a dozen or so extremely marginal seats over a number of elections, most of which Labour subsequently won, it has been very clear to me that people have been very unhappy with the four pillars of freedom of movement and that successive Governments, including ones I supported, have just not listened. Can it be realistically posited that people expected Britain to continue paying into the EU budget after we left, or that our laws would continue to be written in Brussels? No, and that is why the Government’s current strategy—of setting out clearly that we will leave the EU, including the single market and of course the customs union, and seek a bespoke deal for Britain that is in the interests of Britain, of our allies in the EU and, I truly believe, of our other trading partners, particularly developing countries—is the right one. Anything else is simply a defiance of the democratic will.
I call on noble Lords from the Liberal Democrats to reflect on this. It was not so long ago that having a referendum on EU membership was their party’s policy. It is a shame that they have forgotten this. I appreciate that some in opposition parties see this as an opportunity to position their party for an election which they worry may come soon. It is entirely understandable that they should want to do this and draw attention to their views in this way, fuelled in some cases by an indifference as to whether this House remains appointed, or even in existence. However, I simply comment that the British people will see through this. They do not like opportunism and in my opinion the British public always call it right, to the point that I even grudgingly accept that this was the case in 2010, with the creation of the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition.
The noble Lord, Lord Newby, exhorted us twice to listen to Gladstone and “trust the people”. We will do this by passing the Bill without amendment. This House should support the Bill and then use its undoubted talents, which I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks, to shape and make a success of Brexit via the great repeal Bill, the right forum for determining what form Brexit might take. I hope that the Minister will confirm that there will be that opportunity and other junctures to debate the nature of Brexit and the protections which we as a House believe should be sought.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in what I suppose will be described as this great debate. I am particularly grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, who, regrettably, is not in his place at the moment. I felt that he raised some fundamental issues yesterday. He posed questions to the Minister; I subsequently had a word with him and said that I hoped that he might table amendments himself. He mentioned that he had friends who might do the same, so I look forward to the possibility that the Cross-Benchers, who can make such a big impact on our deliberations, will probably come forward with amendments—not a lot of them, but fundamental ones. Can the Minister please give me an assurance that he will give a reply to the questions from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, the noble Lords, Lord Kerr and Lord Butler, and—again, she is not in her place—from my noble friend Lady Symons, who raised a particularly pertinent point this morning on the legal position?
I will be broadly supportive of the Government, which might come as a surprise to some and may upset some of my colleagues around me. However, as an old negotiator, I have some fairly simple approaches: know your red lines; keep them to yourself; keep your cards to yourself; and do not give much away in advance before you start the negotiation. We are in a mess, and my role here today, along with others, is to try to pull ourselves together as best we can. We are a divided nation, we are in bits and pieces all over the place and so I look to be as constructive and helpful as I can rather than spending my time looking backwards. I was a remainer, I regret that we lost but I see no point in saying that today. I am in the moment, and we have to move forward. We should come together in any way we can and in doing that help the Government to protect the majority in the country—not the Brexiteers, not the minorities or anything—and try to get them behind the Government. It will not be easy.
I come back to the point the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, made. A price will be paid at the end of this exercise; we will be weaker in security and defence, and so will Europe, and we will be weaker in terms of trade for quite some time. However, if the only alternative, if we pull away, is a deregulated, Singapore-style environment, with no protection for workers, which some people would like, the Government should reflect that life is very much on a knife edge these days, particularly with social media and with the kind of press we have at the moment, and that as recently as 2011, when we were pushing hard cuts—there may be cuts to come—we had riots in London and in cities around the country. They started on the pretext of a dispute with the police, but there were underlying factors behind them. These days people can very quickly communicate, bring great numbers together and create great disturbances, so let us not forget that when we talk about a hard-line Brexit. I do not want that, and I do not believe that any of us want that, so we need to look for an alternative, too, in the event that in fact the negotiations that Mrs May brings back are not satisfactory. Maybe we should look for a halt or a delay or for more time, or perhaps even a different approach entirely, which might involve going back out to the people. We have to be as flexible as we can in trying to deal with what is a quite extraordinary, difficult situation.
So I give a view as an old negotiator, and I back the Government there: get on with it as quickly as you can, and come back as quickly as you can. We should try to encumber them as little as possible. The judgment will then be made when Mrs May returns. It is at that point that I rather sense the House is trying to find some additional mechanism which is needed within Parliament, whether in the Commons or here, or out with the people, whereby a further check can be made on what is being delivered to find out whether it is acceptable to the people.
The other day the Minister persuaded me to be more patient in response to another issue on the industrial strategy. I have listened to his words; I am being patient. I give the Government the chance, but they must listen to all that is being input and answer in particular the searching questions on the legal side and about where we stand on the constitution. Also, they should think about how they themselves can lead the initiative to present the outturn of the negotiations in a way that will find good support in one way or another rather than simply saying that it is “Take it or leave it”.
My Lords, it remains a remarkable piece of good luck if you are born in our country and a remarkable judgment if you choose to make our country your home, but I am fearful about our union of nations and I am especially fearful for the views that our young people have about their future.
The Leader of the House and I have at least one thing in common: with our birthdays 18 months apart, we have lived all our lives in a country that has been a member of the EU. We are, I understand, two or only three Members taking part in this debate, of 190 speakers, for whom the UK’s membership of the EU is older than we are. The majority of the people of our country of our age and below voted to remain; the Leader of the House is in a minority. Britain’s youngest voters will have an average of 60 years to live with the consequences of the Government’s decisions in the coming two years. Sixteen and 17 year-olds—those with the most at stake—were denied a say, and very many of them are now frustrated that they are denied a voice. If with some good fortune I am now at the halfway point of my life, I fully acknowledge that I may need to come to terms with living in a country that I passionately believe is going on the wrong path. I may have to come to terms with that and we may not be able to turn back.
We use our best judgment in this House on legislation for the future’s interest, but we know that we cannot easily bind our successors. However, with this Bill the Government are explicitly telling us that we are binding our successors, who will be living with the consequences long after most of us are dead. So I refuse to be silenced on having a say if my say is different from that of the Government of the day, and I refuse to be intimidated about having a vote in Parliament on what kind of agreement is in the best interests of the country and its future. Indeed, as this is of such seismic importance, the people of the future—the next generations to come—should have a real say as to what is in their best interests, especially since we are now having to bear down on the reality of the commitments and promises, many of which were known to be mistruths, given to us during the referendum campaign. I am reminded of what Sir Walter Scott said:
“Faces that have charmed us the most escape us the soonest”.
We are now having to pick up the pieces for the next generation.
So far, the Government believe that the future is for them, and them alone, to decide. It was their decision that we should have no formal participation in the common economic market or a free trade area or the customs union or the regulatory bodies. These decisions were based on new Conservative Party policies—made only in months—and there was little mandate for them, not to mention any cross-party consensus. As I say, these were seismic choices made by one party according to what it defined as the will of the people. A Government elected by not even 25% of the electorate made choices based on a referendum won by a narrow majority of those who voted but a minority of the electorate as a whole.
The Government have set extreme parameters which months earlier they argued passionately would be highly damaging to the country. I agreed with them then and still agree with their previous position. The recent White Paper is weak in comparison with its pre-referendum predecessor. The economic facts and realities have not changed. Indeed, the challenges ahead are immense, and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, that some are perhaps insurmountable. How unkind history would have been if Keynes had been reputed to have said, “When I change my mind, I change the facts. What do you do, sir?”
The Government are approaching this alone, and they should not do it alone. In Scotland after the referendum I saw—as we all knew it would—that a winner-takes-all approach would be wounding and perpetuate a deep division in the country, which is hard to heal and continues to be hard to heal. That is why there was a Scotland Bill as a result of cross-party consensus and a commission, with a radical transfer of fiscal and welfare powers after it. But even with the Scotland Act, many people in Scotland on the losing side of referendum feel aggrieved. In many respects, the response by the Government to the EU referendum simply confirms the suspicion that we now have a UK Government which is effectively an English Government playing for an English audience. They play the lines of the unionists when it suits the play, but when they retire for the curtain call the real personality of their character as an English-only party comes to the fore. “Party first” will not do now. You respect the result of a referendum not by courtesy but by action.
What has been quite hard to accept in the debate so far has been many on the government side saying that they would not even countenance the people having a say on the deal. I ask myself why the Government have not ruled out a second Scottish referendum. All of the rhetoric in this debate suggests that they would never countenance a referendum after the previous one for Scotland—when the margin was much stronger and the issue much clearer—but the Government do not say this. They say that the people have a right to decide, and in fact, in confidential briefings to the press before Christmas, the Scotland Office floated the idea that it may well consider another referendum, but only after a Brexit deal is arranged. Is this perhaps for political imperatives? We cannot afford political imperatives any more.
People of my age and younger, who will have to live with the consequences of the next two years for the rest of their lives, and perhaps come to terms with this in the context of a whole different world order, will perhaps agree with the American comedian and commentator who came up with the term “truthiness”: the notion that if I feel something to be true, it must be legitimate. This may well be the new Trump doctrine, but surely it cannot be the Brexit mantra. Our next generation will live with the consequences of this. They need to have a say on whether it is in their best interest, and I will refuse to deny them a voice whenever I have an opportunity to vote in this Parliament.
My Lords, we are facing change on a scale probably not experienced since World War II. The noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, spoke very eloquently on the changes we face yesterday. This is a time of massive global economic uncertainty. As Members of this House, we know a little of the complexities of roles, function and status which derive from our current situation as members of the EU. But I wonder, despite what some noble Lords have said, whether those who voted for Brexit—I was not one of them—really understood the extent to which our economic, social and cultural realities are interwoven with those of our fellow member states in the European Union.
When I started teaching European law, more years ago than I care to remember, freedom of movement was available only to those who could support themselves and satisfy various criteria. That has changed utterly, as have the rules on freedom of movement of goods. There were restrictions, some of which might have seemed eminently sensible had we been looking to reform the European Union today. It needs to change—I think there are very few who would say otherwise—and it would be good had we been able to be part of that change. But that is not going to happen.
When the Supreme Court said that legislation was essential for us to trigger Article 50, it did not say that we had to rubber-stamp the outcome of the referendum. Rather, it said that it was for Parliament to determine what should happen and, as your Lordships know, the House of Commons voted conclusively on that issue. Now we have to decide whether to endorse that view. I will not repeat the contributions of many Members in articulating the reasons why I believe we cannot vote against the Bill or really amend it. My reality is that although, as a citizen of the UK, I believe that our best interests would be served by remaining in the EU, I do not believe that as a Member of your Lordships’ House I should vote against the Bill.
I have read with care the many amendments suggested. The issues with which they deal are very often of fundamental and enormous significance, but I do not think that anything will be achieved by attempting to alter the Bill. It has but one purpose, and that purpose, however regrettable, must be achieved. Other issues must be dealt with during the period of negotiation. The EU committees here—I was a member of the Justice, Institutions and Consumer Protection Sub-Committee—have produced several reports on various vital areas of concern. We will have to ensure that all that should be taken into account is taken into account.
I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, talking about the effect of triggering Article 50, but it is possible that any attempt to retract Article 50 would end up in the European Court of Justice, with the delays which would inevitably follow from that. The fourth report from the Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House says that Parliament should work on the assumption that if we trigger Article 50, it will not be reversible. I do not know the answer to that and I do not think that any of us knows.
Contributions have been made both in this House and in the other place that have been very disparaging about the White Paper, but the reality is that it goes to the negotiations that will take place and nobody would expect a negotiator to disclose their hand at this stage. We in Northern Ireland know that negotiations always go to the edge, and it is at the very edge that the most important concessions are made by both sides.
Having said that I do not think we can amend the Bill, I will refer to two issues. In Northern Ireland we have an uncertain peace. I have said before in your Lordships’ House that we cannot assume that our peace agreement will stand. I am sure that the election we face in just over a week in Northern Ireland will result in direct rule. I do not believe that our politicians will be able to form a Government, so to my mind direct rule is inevitable. That will create space for malefactors who will then argue that the Good Friday agreement has failed—and, of course, we still have active dissident and loyalist paramilitary groups that manage a large empire of drugs, fuel smuggling, people smuggling and so on. There are still a lot of guns in circulation and we continue to have shootings and bombings, so we cannot be complacent and I do not think we can suggest that there is nothing to worry about. Brexit will recreate the border between the north and the south.
Borders are by their nature divisive, and this border will attract protest, hostility, violence and significant economic delay. Other borders across Europe will also create delays for those who seek to export from the United Kingdom into Europe—but, ironically, the border could be the thing that precipitates the demand for another referendum on a united Ireland, which is provided for in the Good Friday agreement. The Governments are talking glibly of not recreating the problems of past border stops, but that seems inevitable because how else are tax and customs regimes to be managed?
If we leave the customs union and the single market, or if we enter them on different terms, as we must if we leave the EU, we will have to have alternative systems or some form of alternative access to European markets. As other noble Lords have said, it is inevitable that that will come at great cost. We will be one country seeking to deal with 27 separate states who are already in—and it does not take much effort to work out the odds in that situation. So my question for the Government on the subject of borders is: how does the UK intend to manage restrictions on freedom of movement? Is it not inevitable that there will have to be some sort of presence on the one land border that we have in these islands—the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic? Otherwise, people will move into the UK through Ireland, and into Ireland through the UK. That is going to be costly and difficult.
I also find it difficult to imagine how trade and customs tariffs can be managed without some visible form of border. The border between the north and the south of Ireland has many crossing points and was always difficult to police. It was done during the Troubles by destroying crossing points—placing massive concrete bollards in the way and often having a military presence. That generates resentment and no one wants to see a regular visible military presence again. If roads are closed, that will attract direct action to reopen them because they have been open for so long now—and that will lead to violence. I suspect that if electronic forms of surveillance are put in place, they will be blown up after a few days. How are Her Majesty’s Government going to manage that situation? How will we generate some sort of a programme to win over the minds and hearts of people to the division of the island of Ireland that will be necessary to enable both Brexit and the functioning of the EU? These are not idle questions; they are fundamental.
I will make one more point, on security and policing for the protection of the UK. There is an expectation that everyone will understand that it is in everyone’s interest to continue the Europol arrangements we have with Europe. That is the theory. When there is a need for immediate co-operation, as there is when things suddenly go terribly wrong—and they always do go terribly wrong suddenly—you need to have the databases, contacts and everything else in place. It is not enough to start talking about them then. We have seen the failures of the security services in America, France and elsewhere, as well as in Ireland, and we have seen what happens. So I would say that this issue must be one of the Government’s primary targets in terms of focusing on what must be done to enable everything else that will follow in terms of trade.
So there are huge dangers and huge opportunities. I wish the Prime Minister well in the journey that she is embarking on. She has got to do her best for all of us and we have to go with this referendum result, but I would say to the Government that there are far more important issues yet to consider, and noble Lords will have that opportunity.
My Lords, last year I voted for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union because I believed we should control our own destiny. First and foremost, we should be able to do business with whomsoever we wish. Exiting the EU means that we can now realise a greater economic potential.
The United Kingdom has a long and rich history as a successful trading nation—long before the concept of the EU was ever envisaged. In the 17th and 18th centuries, we started actively to send merchant ships to different parts of the world. Companies such as the East India Company were established. In fact, the East India Company at one time controlled half the world’s trade. In the 19th century, our manufactured goods dominated world trade. We became the so-called workshop of the world. Our success led to us becoming the world’s first modern industrialised nation. It is in our blood to innovate and to export this innovation globally. Such enterprising spirit is a part of our heritage which can now be released, no longer restrained by outside directives and burdensome regulations.
During the last 18 months, I have visited four overseas countries—Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Sudan. Wherever I go, I find that we are well respected and that there is an appetite for building closer ties with us, both economically and politically. For example, in Kazakhstan, the English language will be used in the Astana international financial centre and, furthermore, English law will apply. With regard to central Asia, I am hosting a conference in March where we will be discussing trade links with Kyrgyzstan. I urge the Government to establish trade ties with Sudan, following the lifting of sanctions previously applied by the USA. I have connections with African countries such as Uganda and I can assure your Lordships that there is appetite in the region to do more business with us. I know a number of ambassadors and high commissioners who also give me the same message. It is liberating to know that we will now be truly free to make policy decisions, relating to all these countries and others, for ourselves.
Trading relationships define friendship and co-operation between countries. They are a part of a nation’s character. It is, therefore, so important that we build them for ourselves, rather than as a component part of the European block. Not least, we should be seeking to revitalise our trading links with other Commonwealth countries. The importance of the Commonwealth in world trade has grown significantly in recent years. During the last 20 years, the combined GDP of Commonwealth countries has doubled. They include a third of the world’s population and two key BRICS emerging markets—India and South Africa.
I believe that our wider ties with the Commonwealth have suffered as a result of the overwhelming imposition of our membership of the European Union. We have been forced to present ourselves primarily as an EU nation. I now look forward to strengthening relationships with countries, based on our deep historic roots, shared values, mutual respect and common language.
We also have a great deal to offer the world in the field of Islamic financial services. The United Kingdom has the largest Islamic finance industry outside the Muslim world, with assets now exceeding $20 billion. We have a vast number of highly skilled accountants and lawyers, including the largest legal services market in Europe. They are ready to promote and supply our Islamic finance expertise and other financial services to the world.
We must be bold and ambitious in seeking new trade agreements. I applaud the formation of the new Department for International Trade and will support it in every way that I can. Aside from new trade opportunities, leaving the EU will allow us to regain full control of our borders. This is an important principle of our national sovereignty and public confidence. If our border policy is seen to have integrity, people may become less hostile to immigration. In addition, there would perhaps be more incentive to integrate following a proper process of migration, rather than having an open border.
I hope that we can also increase our educational links with academic institutions overseas. Much like trade, these relationships help to build bridges between nations, and exchange knowledge and learning without the need for centrally imposed bureaucracy.
I have a long-standing connection with the City of London and can confidently say that the City will flourish after Brexit as long as it develops a global gaze. We must be firm in our plans and invoke Article 50. I feel that we should avoid uncertainty—any hesitation will have adverse consequences. The will of the people must prevail.
My Lords, the Prime Minister has decided that gaining control of our borders to reduce migration from the EU is to be the central plank of her Brexit strategy. From that decision, much else flows. We are to depart the single market and the customs union and avoid the unwelcome oversight of the European Court of Justice—except, the White Paper goes on to say, in those sectors of our choosing where we do not wish to depart and, indeed, plan to remain in the single market and the customs union. It remains to be seen whether this desire for, shall we say, a relationship on the side on terms of our choosing after the marriage has ended will survive the inevitable turbulence and recrimination of the divorce proceedings or whether it is perhaps the triumph of hope over experience.
The conflicts inherent in this approach speak to the fundamental truth that the UK’s economy is, and will continue to be, inextricably intertwined with the EU, our largest market. Yes, we will over time build stronger relationships with countries outside the EU—we will rediscover the Commonwealth. However, for the foreseeable future, our economy will have to depend upon the continuing strength of our relationship with the EU and, in one important area, our reliance upon the enormous contribution made to our economy and society by migrants from the EU. The Office for National Statistics estimates that 3.3 million EU citizens live in the UK, of whom 2.1 million are in work. Important sectors rely upon their continuing contribution: 30% of the workforce in the food processing industry and 17% in the hospitality industry come from the EU; 170,000 EU citizens work in the NHS and residential care homes; 200,000 work in the construction industry. It is quite shameful that these citizens and their families—a good number of whom have been resident in the UK for many years—should have any shred of doubt whatever about their rights to remain here.
Securing those rights is one of the dozen principles set out in the Brexit White Paper, but it is not too late to give a pre-emptive commitment to those citizens and recognise and match the commitment they have made to our country. That they have been designated the status of negotiating chips is repugnant. If, as a result, they decide to leave, it will damage our economy and our reputation and be a massive own goal. The White Paper acknowledges that we will always want immigration, and it rightly asserts that openness to international talent must remain one of our distinctive assets. At the same time, the White Paper wants to design a migration system to control the number of people coming into the UK according to quotas based on the Government’s assessment of sectoral needs.
Are cumbersome state-planning quotas to help control migration likely to work? The omens are not good. In her five years as Home Secretary, Mrs May failed each year to achieve her net migration target of 100,000. The largest contribution to her failure was not the free movement of people from the EU but the migration from outside the EU, where work permits favour her degree of control. As a former Home Secretary, she knows only too well that information on migrants, including details about their participation in the workforce, is patchy and wholly inadequate to provide the basis for effective management and control. In the absence of better information and improved systems, control of migration risks becoming a blunt and bureaucratic instrument, unresponsive to the many and changing needs of our economy and of society more generally.
Let us be clear: we need not only to retain 3.1 million people from the EU who live here already; we also need to attract new EU migrants to help the UK economy to prosper. For instance, the Housing White Paper targets an increase in home building of 100,000 a year. To reach that level, the construction industry estimates that it will need 500,000 additional construction workers. The Chancellor’s welcome decision to increase infrastructure investment by £23 billion during the life of this Parliament will add further to the demand for skilled and semi-skilled labour.
What is clear is that for the foreseeable future we will need more—not less—immigration, and not only the brightest and the best, who feature heavily in the White Paper, but also those with less glamorous but essential skills to help deliver a growing economy. The Government must be honest about this. At the same time, they must commit and come forward with moves and investment to put more resources into increasing our own national skill base.
The heated and divisive dialogue about migration—which, if anything, has grown more rancorous since the referendum—provides scant reassurance to those from the EU and from countries outside the EU who have made their homes here, and it may deter those living in the EU who might otherwise consider coming to the UK. The best, the brightest and the skilled have choices, and unless our words and our actions speak to the enthusiastic welcome we want to extend to them as fellow citizens, they may choose not to join us. In every respect, we will be the poorer for their absence.
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Low, who is not in his place at the moment, I want to talk about democracy. I never thought that, one day, speaker after speaker in a Commons debate, on an issue of immense significance for Britain’s future, would announce that, although they believed that Brexit would gravely damage our national interests, they would nevertheless vote to leave because the will of the people must be obeyed. They did not say, “Of course, we have to take the decision of the people very seriously, but in the end we have to make up our own minds”; they declared, in effect, that they were not in Parliament to exercise their own judgment but were delegates who had to vote the ticket of populist correctness.
Out goes the tradition of parliamentary democracy, with its checks and balances; out go Locke, John Stuart Mill and others, who created liberal democracy, which has been much admired; and out goes Edmund Burke, who argued that MPs were representatives, not delegates. The doctrine of Rousseau now rules in Westminster, that the will of the people must always prevail, a doctrine much admired by autocrats ever since the days of Robespierre and the Committee of Public Safety. With great respect to my noble friend Lord Ashdown, the idea that the will of the people equals democracy or the national interest is a fallacy. Before the Second World War, Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin all commanded overwhelming public support and represented the will of the people. That hardly made them democrats or left their countries better off. Today Putin and Erdogan are among the most popular populists. They boast about their majority support. Are they democrats, even though they suppress dissent and trample on the rule of law?
Of course, the view of the majority matters. It is often, in my view, probably generally right but there have been times when the majority has been disastrously wrong. In 1938 Chamberlain came back from Berchtesgaden with a piece of paper, declaring, “peace for our time”. His message was almost universally acclaimed. Only a few dissented against the wish of the people. They were led by Churchill, who was denounced as a warmonger, a pessimist and, no doubt, a moaner. Then Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia.
I fear that the vote for Brexit will turn out to be one of those occasions. If we are heading for disaster, we do not lie down and give up but fight to avoid it and point out the dangers of what we are heading for. If after the very short period for negotiations there is no deal or one that leaves us all much poorer, must MPs accept that we must still leave the European Union because the June vote requires them to act as lemmings? Mrs May graciously allowed Parliament a vote on the final deal, if there is one, but even if her deal is a very hard Brexit, Parliament’s only choice will be either to accept or to reject and fall off a cliff—no chance for the people to change their vote if they change their mind or because circumstances have changed.
In fact, circumstances have changed. We now know, as several speakers have pointed out, that curbing immigration is the Government’s first priority, not economic welfare. In addition, Mr Trump was elected President. The United States used to lead the world as the champion of free trade. Now it is “America First”. He threatens a trade war with China. His election, like the Brexit vote, encouraged every protectionist and nationalist in Europe. What price then for the Brexiteers’ promise of a bonanza of free trade? Worse still, having decided to abandon the European Union, Mrs May feels she must cosy up to someone who wants to destabilise the European Union itself, has doubts about the importance of NATO, seeks a new deal with Putin as a strong man he greatly admires, and who declares that torture is an effective weapon against terrorism because torture works.
The forecasts of most independent economists that we are now in the calm before the storm may prove wrong. So far there is no clear evidence of a significant shift in public opinion. If there is none before the end of next year, it is doubtful that Brexit can still be avoided. But if opinion does shift, because the economists are right and the pound falls further, inflation rises, employment suffers, more companies emigrate and living standards decline, or if increased dependence on the good will of Trump repels the public—a future symbolised by Mrs May and Mr Trump walking hand in hand—the June verdict must be open to review. Brexit is not yet a done deal. A new referendum will not be a rerun of June, as the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, pointed out, because this time we will know what Brexit means. Its consequences will not be speculation but reality.
It is also said that the June verdict is irreversible. Dictatorships do not allow people to change their mind but in a democracy no decision is ever irreversible and if people feel they have made a mistake, they must be allowed to change their mind.
In her famous Bruges speech, Mrs Thatcher made a profound observation about Europe when she said that,
“on many great issues, the countries of Europe should try to speak with a single voice. I want to see us work more closely on the things we can do better together than alone. Europe is stronger when we do so, whether it be in trade, in defence or in our relations with the rest of the world”.
Is now the time, in the Trump era, for Britain to leave and weaken the European Union, ourselves and our influence in the world?
My Lords, yesterday the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, talked about the historical freight that this legislation carries. It carries a great deal, but it also carries the historical freight of referendums which have been coming into this country’s democracy for some years. We have barely mentioned 1975, but that was also a time when the country had the chance to leave or to stay, and it chose to stay. Broadly speaking, that decision has lasted until the present. There was an attempt at one time, which was finished by the election of 1983, to come out without a referendum despite a referendum’s having been given eight years earlier. That failed.
I will not say any more about this, but the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, did not mention the referendum. You cannot face this issue and ignore the decision of the referendum, but equally, you cannot talk about a United Kingdom without being aware that a substantial number of people did not vote for it and, in my view, tragically, we were split in Scotland, though not in my own nation, Wales. We have to take account of those divisions as we approach this next and most crucial stage.
One of the issues of a referendum is that you do not have manifestos about what you are going to do. You have referendums because political parties are split. What you do is charge the Government of the day with negotiating on behalf of the whole country. I believe this Government have tried to do this. It is right that we are having a debate now; it should probably have been conceded straightaway. Nevertheless, it was impossible, given that no preparation whatever had been made for this referendum by the previous Prime Minister, for the present Prime Minister to take time to look carefully at all the detailed issues and be in a position to negotiate. The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union wisely said on 2 February that,
“once we are outside the EU, the question of whether we automatically cease to be a member of the EEA becomes a legal empty vessel. We will look at that. If we do propose to withdraw from the EEA, we will come back and tell the House”.—[Official Report, Commons, 2/2/2017; col. 1227.]
It seems to me that that indicates a flexibility we all need. We have to be flexible on many things. We need to come out of the EU as quickly as we can, and I would not wait two years to do this. That is the fundamental decision as I understand it, and which I believe is virtually irrevocable as the result of the referendum.
How we handle the next few years is a very difficult question. It is becoming apparent that negotiating a trading agreement with the EU is going to be very difficult. The noble Lord, Lord Lawson, said that he thought it was virtually impossible. It will take far longer than it should and far longer than I would want. Therefore, there has been a growing recognition that there has to be a transitional period, but that transition should be after we have gone from the EU and before we have a trading agreement. In that area, there are flexibilities that we should be examining. Of course, we must first talk, as we are bound to do under Article 50, to the 27 EU member states—our friends with whom we will, as Europeans, be working in many, many fields for decades to come.
We should also talk to our other European friends—the non-EU members of the EEA. This House does not seem to understand that there is a huge difference between the single market and the EEA. There are two quite different tracks within the EEA, apart from anything else. It is beholden on us to talk to those members, and it is necessary for us to see whether a transition period could be put in place that would give us time to get what we need, and that is a trading agreement. The Government hope that it can be done by a bespoke agreement, and they have established areas in which they think they might be able to achieve this. I very much doubt whether that will be easily given, and certainly not in a short timescale.
All this time, we face a world in a fragile state, an extremely fragile European economy—look at what is happening to Greece as we talk—a dysfunctional EU that is unable to grapple with the problems of the Eurozone, and a financial situation that could get worse at almost any time over the negotiating period. Therefore, we should stage these negotiations; most negotiations actually are staged. Often, it is best to take the most difficult issues first. That is the one on which we have the clearest mandate: to come out of the EU. As to how we handle the transition period, there are flexible ways of dealing with it: it will be negotiated, but we do not know the details. As the Minister said, if they do propose to withdraw from the EEA, they will come back and tell us.
Why do I stress the EEA? The EEA has nothing to do with ever-closer union: it is an economic arrangement. There are separate surveillance mechanisms that are outside the European Court of Justice. They are also outside foreign trade, fishing and many other different aspects. It is a very different mechanism and it must be looked at, because it might be a mechanism for healing some of the wounds and for gathering a higher percentage of people in support of a policy of coming out of the EU. That must be our objective.
It is certainly not our objective to “rise up”. I hope nobody else goes to Bloomberg to make speeches. The reason we are in this mess is the speech by the former Prime Minister, David Cameron, and now we have another past Prime Minister going to Bloomberg to tell the people to “rise up”. What we need is unity, the maximum unity possible.
My Lords, the debate both before and after the referendum has been passionate and, at times, heated. However, I will briefly restate three points. First, the decision to call the referendum to ask the people whether they wished to leave or remain in the European Union was endorsed by both Houses in this Parliament and was based on a manifesto commitment of this Government. Secondly, the referendum decision, on a turnout of more than 72%, was clearly to leave. Thirdly, the overwhelming will of the elected other place—both Her Majesty’s Government and the loyal Opposition—is to accept and respect the outcome of that referendum and to carry out the instructions of the people. It would be undemocratic for this Chamber of appointed Members to do anything other than vote for this Bill. To do otherwise would demonstrate a lofty disdain for the democratic mandate and could cause enormous harm to the status of your Lordships’ House.
There will be many important debates in the months ahead about our future relationship with the European Union. The Prime Minister’s speech in Lancaster House, and the Government’s subsequent White Paper, set out a common-sense plan for the wider relationship between Britain and the European Union. I trust that Brexit will not mean Britain turning in on itself. That is not in our history, not in our culture and not in our nature; nor is it in our short-term or long-term economic interest. Speaking as the daughter of a refugee from communist Czechoslovakia who defected to the liberal West, I believe it is vital that that applies to immigration, where the aim should be control, not arbitrary reduction, and it should certainly apply to global free trade. Post-Brexit Britain must be open, free market and liberal.
The Prime Minister has also, correctly, promised to resolve the status of EU nationals in the UK, calling this “right and fair”. The sooner we can give a guarantee to EU citizens that they are welcome to stay here, the better. The Prime Minister’s noble attempt to fast-track a deal whereby EU workers currently living in the EU are allowed to remain, in exchange for an agreement that would give British expatriates in the European Union similar rights, was rebuffed by the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk. It is deeply regrettable that European politicians are playing politics with people’s lives to force the Government’s hand. I very much hope that other member states give the Government the guarantees they need to resolve this issue at the earliest moment.
This will not be a winner-takes-it-all process. It is, after all, a negotiation and negotiations require compromise. We need to seek the best deal possible. It is vital not to bind the Government in any way, administratively or legally, because they must have the ability to negotiate flexibly and in the national interest.
The EU institutions and member states have obdurately held to the position that negotiations cannot begin without notification, although the demand from the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, for €60 billion in advance of trade negotiations appears to be at odds with his own declaration that he should be holding his peace.
The Prime Minister must therefore trigger Article 50 before the discussions commence. My appeal to remainers who also support free trade and liberal values is to move on from attempts to frustrate Brexit through clever procedural amendments and to join the debate about what sort of country we want to be and what policies we want to have after Brexit. We must allow the Government to get on with their negotiations. I therefore support the Bill and urge other noble Lords to vote in favour of it.
My Lords, I want to use my time not to repeat the arguments that have already been well rehearsed in the context of the referendum but to reflect on the significance of the Bill before this House. We are, after all, discussing the simplest of simple Bills—just two clauses—with the simplest of simple objectives, which is to begin the process of carrying out the decision of the British people as expressed in a referendum. It was a referendum based on a Bill that this House passed without opposition and, by the way, it was a referendum held all of eight months ago. Yet here we are with a two-day debate on the Second Reading and 184 speakers. I cannot remember when we ever had a speakers list quite like this, but it is absolutely in line with the phenomenal focus that this House has shown on the referendum and related matters since 23 June last year.
Like, I dare say, one or two other people in this House, I spent a bit of time during the short recess knocking on doors in a by-election, and I have to report to the House that our interest in this subject is not matched by people on the doorstep. Bearing in mind that one of the reasons most frequently advanced for the leave vote being so high is that people feel politicians are out of touch, I simply hope that in the months ahead there is a better match between the subjects that we are discussing in this House and those being discussed by our fellow citizens. The fact is—and the polls demonstrate this—that the public have largely made up their minds about the referendum, its significance and the result. An ICM poll on Saturday showed that 68% of us want the Government to get on with the process of leaving the European Union, and that includes no less than 48% of those who voted to remain.
That brings me to the role of the Lords in relation to this Bill. The first point is something on which I think we all agree—the primacy of the Commons. This, of course, expresses itself in a number of different ways. Very rarely, the Commons has to assert itself through the Parliament Act; much more frequently, the view of the Lords in respect of Commons decisions, and the extent to which they are challenged, is dependent on the clarity of the judgment the Commons has made. Well, the message in respect of this Bill is clearer than any I can remember. The Commons decided by a majority of 384 that this Bill should become law. What is more, the Commons’ verdict is a massive endorsement of the even more important decision made by the people in the referendum. Let us be absolutely clear: there really is no wriggle room. If you enter a contest or competition, especially one in which you have written the rules yourself, as we did in the referendum Bill, then surely you must accept the result.
“Ah,” say some remainers, “but this was only an advisory referendum”. Of course, legally that is true. It is advisory. Parliament could reverse it. There are no substantial constraints on what our Parliament can do, apart of course from the very substantial ones applied by the European Union. But politically, and most of all democratically, the referendum was binding. I very much doubt that if remain had won the argument and the Government had then decided that we were going to leave the European Union anyway, there would have been many remainers saying, “Well, fair enough, it was only advisory”.
If you play the game, you accept the result. When I watch Stoke City at the weekend I accept the rules and the result, though I have to admit there have been many occasions when I would have loved to have been able to say that the goals against us were only advisory. Any amendment proposed during the passage of this Bill that has either the effect of seriously delaying the implementation of the verdict of the British people, or at worst rejecting it, should, in my view, be unceremoniously rejected.
What about the suggestion coming from the Liberal Democrats that it is not one referendum we need but two? No doubt they are hoping that the second one will go the other way. I have to say in passing that, where I come from, that would make it one all and we would need a decider. However, I have to acknowledge, at least, that a second referendum would be in the finest traditions of democracy European Union style. Have a referendum if you must, but if you get it wrong, have a second one to reverse it. The EU has plenty of form on this—ask the people of Denmark and Ireland.
A second referendum would be a betrayal of the record number of people who voted in June last year. The turnout was 6% up on the 2015 general election. In my own region, 60% voted to leave. People were enthused to vote who never normally take part in elections. They were assured they had been given a hugely important, once-in-a-lifetime decision to make.
“Ah”, say some opponents of the Bill, “the people were duped. They were fed false information. The referendum wasn’t fair. The people didn’t know what they were voting for”. I say this with all seriousness—with acute seriousness—that in a democracy we should be extraordinarily careful about using the argument that we know what is good for the people better than they know themselves. I have some authority on this because I have the dubious distinction of having lost more general elections than probably most people in this House. My record is: played eight; won four; lost four. The pattern when you lose is always the same: it is because your opponents made promises they could not possibly keep, you say; it is because they lied; it is because they had the press on their side; it is because they had far more money for their campaign. When you win, of course, it is a triumph for democracy.
On the argument that the public did not know what kind of Brexit they were voting for, the answer is simple—they did not vote for Brexit at all. It was not on the ballot paper. The choice was remain or leave. They voted to leave. Brexit may be ambiguous; leaving is not. If you leave an organisation, you no longer sit on the executive committee, you do not have to pay the subscription and you do not have to obey the rules. That applies whether you are leaving a political party, the snooker club or the European Union.
Those in this House who are seriously thinking about voting against the Third Reading and voting this Bill down should think very carefully about the implications. That would mean a straightforward clash between the Commons and the Lords. It would, in my view, inevitably result in a general election very quickly after such a decision had been made. We can all speculate about the conclusion of that general election. It is now eight months since the people made their decision, and one which the Commons has overwhelmingly endorsed. It is now our job to scrutinise the Bill in the most effective way, as we always do, but as our constitutional practice has made clear, not to thwart, delay or block it, and I am confident that we will do just that.
My Lords, from the Prime Minister’s 12 point plan, the clear intention is that the UK should be destined to leave the single market and the EU customs union. It does not require too much scrutiny to work that out. That is in order to pursue bilateral trade agreements with faster growing economies outside the EU. In considering this Bill, it is not therefore unreasonable to consider the impact on the economies of the countries with whom we trade within the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific groups and beyond.
In the Prime Minister’s 12 point plan, point 8 refers to the establishment of free trade into the European market through a free trade agreement, and point 9 is about concluding new agreements with other countries. It is blindingly obvious that this means that the UK will leave the EU customs union and the single market, while assuming it can establish a free trade agreement with the EU that is unlike any existing agreement.
I was fortunate to secure a debate on Africa and the EU economic partnership agreements—the EPAs—on 17 November last year, recorded in Hansard Volume 776. In his response to that debate, the Minister of State commented that UK leadership had secured,
“the world’s most generous package of market opening for developing countries”,
of which, 44 are in Africa, in which I have a special interest.
With Brexit, the Minister stressed that, while the UK remains part of the EU,
“we … remain governed by the EPA arrangements”,
“all rights and obligations will apply, including our commitments to developing countries through the EPAs”.
He said that we enjoy,
“strong trading relationships with many developing countries, and we will look to strengthen those ties in future. That will be part of the negotiation package as we move forward”.
“That will be part of the negotiation package, as we move forward”.—[Official Report, 17/11/16; col. 1642-44.]
At the same time, the Government have set as a priority a target of increasing trade and investment with the Commonwealth, estimating that Commonwealth trade will surpass $1 trillion by 2020. However, until Brexit is completed, the UK is bound by EU regulations, which forbid members from negotiating trade agreements with others, including the Commonwealth nations. That is, of course, where the dichotomy lies—between ambition and reality, emphasising clearly why the outcome of these negotiations must be sanctioned by Parliament before any deal is ratified.
In its paper for the Commonwealth secretariat, well-known economists Mohammad Razzaque and Brendan Vickers confirm that,
“Once the UK has formally exited the EU, however, all rights and obligations under these various agreements will cease to apply”.
They also point out that, between 2000 and 2015, sub-Saharan Africa merchandise trade with the UK increased from $6.5 billion to $12 billion. Significantly, the same countries achieved far greater expansion in trade into the rest of the EU over the same period, with their exports far more than doubling—from just over $30 billion to $71 billion over the same period. Despite its relatively low market share of EU trade with Africa overall, the UK remains an important destination for countries such as Botswana—we take 40% of its exports here in the UK—while for Kenya we take 29% and for South Africa 26%. The impact of Brexit is bound to include a decline in exports to the EU from these and other African countries if the EPAs exclude the UK in the future.
Furthermore, any erosion of preferences in the UK market for the many current value-added products could have an adverse impact on the continent’s plans for structural economic transformation, as set out in the African Union’s development plan, Agenda 2063. More than 20 ACP countries face most favoured nation tariff increases on the value of their total exports to the UK, amounting to some $250 million. South Africa would have to pay the largest import duties, of about $80 million, while its neighbours Swaziland and Namibia would face a potential tax bill of 8% of the value of their exports.
As Razzaque and Vickers point out, there are a number of policy options that the Government could pursue for EPA countries. For the least developed countries, or LDCs, the UK could devise its own generalised system of preferences, or GSP, building on and improving arrangements for the world’s poorest countries. The UK could also reduce non-tariff barriers and introduce more relaxed and more generous rules of origin. It could follow the Australian and Canadian models, which require recipient countries to add only 25% to the local value for goods to qualify for duty-free access. A UK offer of trade preferences could extend to services in line with the agreed least developed countries waiver under the World Trade Organization, or WTO.
A key issue is whether the UK can accede separately to existing EPAs or whether it can install replicas for ACP countries that have signed the deals with the EU. The Government will have to consider not only whether the replication of EPAs is possible but whether it is worth pursuing at all.
As we can see, Brexit will have a profound and far-reaching impact on our trade with African countries, in or out of the Commonwealth. I look forward to the Government’s response in terms of negotiating Brexit with the EU prior to further deliberation by Parliament and before asking the people to endorse that decision.
My Lords, I was counsel for Mrs Gina Miller in the court case that led to this Bill.
I want to pay tribute to Mrs Miller, because her determination in the face in particular of quite outrageous racist and sexist abuse has ensured that we have the opportunity to debate whether—and, if so, on what terms—Article 50 is invoked. The whole House should be very grateful to Mrs Miller.
The Divisional Court and the Supreme Court carried out their constitutional responsibilities by affirming the supremacy of Parliament. It is now for this House to live up to our constitutional responsibility. It is for us to scrutinise a Bill of enormous importance to the future of this country.
I think that the Bill requires amendment, in particular to ensure parliamentary sovereignty as the process of withdrawal occurs over the next two years. Noble Lords know that the Prime Minister has promised that any agreement with the European Union on the terms of our withdrawal and our future relationship with the EU will require the agreement of both Houses of Parliament. She has said that the agreements will so require before any agreement is put to the European Parliament for its consent. That promise should be written into the Bill. A political promise, made by the Prime Minister in good faith, is no substitute for a clause—an obligation—in an Act of Parliament. The reason for that is that political circumstances can change; Prime Ministers can change over the next two years. On a matter of this importance, it is vital to ensure that there is a clear and binding obligation on the Government to return to Parliament at a defined time to seek the agreement of both Houses of Parliament for the terms of any agreement. As the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said, this Parliament must have at least the same powers that the European Parliament has to disagree with the terms of any draft agreement.
In the course of this debate—I have listened to much of it and read the rest of it—I have heard only two arguments for why this political commitment should not be included in the Bill. The first is that we should get on with it—that is, get on with notification. The answer, of course, is that to amend the Bill in this way would not affect the Prime Minister’s deadline of the end of March for notification. The only other argument that has been made by noble Lords is that we must be very careful not to weaken the negotiating power of the Government in Europe. However, the Prime Minister has already promised to seek the consent of both Houses for any agreement that the Government reach with the EU. If there is any weakening of our negotiating position then it is the result of the Prime Minister giving that commitment, not the result of writing it into the Bill. In any event, and again the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, made this point, surely it will strengthen the Government’s hand for the Prime Minister to be able to say to the Europeans that she has to get the deal through Parliament. Of course Parliament has previously imposed legally binding duties on Ministers to secure parliamentary approval before a treaty is ratified—for example, Section 20 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 and Section 2 of the European Union Act 2011. The question is: why not in this Bill?
I am also concerned about what happens if there is no draft agreement between the UK and the EU on the terms of our withdrawal. In my opinion, parliamentary sovereignty must also apply in those circumstances. Surely it must be for Parliament to decide whether we prefer no deal or the deal offered by the EU. It is for those reasons that I have added my name to an amendment that would require parliamentary approval for an agreement or for no agreement. The Supreme Court recognised the constitutional requirement for Parliamentary sovereignty. I hope noble Lords will do likewise.
My Lords, I support the Bill and hope that it goes through unamended. I should say that I joined the Brexit campaign but only after hearing the proposed deal that Mr Cameron came back with.
One of the functions of parliamentary democracy is to provide means of resolving differences that citizens cannot be expected to resolve among themselves. By their very nature, those differences tend to be intractable. People hold very different views on the legitimate reach of government. I happen to believe in small government, not least because whatever Governments do, they do it expensively and often not very well. However, I wonder if the tendency on the part of modern Governments to overreach has not perhaps led indirectly to the divisions that shook the UK last June and which still persist.
I was born in an age when, whoever was in power, we enjoyed a comforting sense that we received governance from one another’s hands. The administration of these islands had a national flavour and, broadly, enjoyed public support. Authority was all around us, and it seemed on the whole to be benign and on our side. Much of that has been lost. In my life and work I feel that authority has come to be seen often as hostile, remote and even menacing. This has produced a public malaise that it strikes me has grown as the influence of the EU has grown.
To make sense of that malaise, we have to look back. As a lifelong member of this party, I was among those who genuinely felt cheated when the deal that we voted for not only turned out to be something quite else but undermined some fundamental freedoms and values, things that my father and grandfather had fought and suffered to defend in two world wars. Of course, for most of my youth Britain was weak and tired and I think it is safe to say that a well-meaning official class took it upon themselves to steer us, not without a degree of stealth, down the road that led to where we stood on the eve of the referendum; that road, as we now know, was labelled “managed decline”. It took no account of the possibility that the decline might be reversed, as in fact happened. This is not the place to say how it happened and at whose hands.
The party opposite’s journey in its approach to the Common Market and its successor entities is very different and completely fascinating. The Labour Party of my youth, as I remember it, believed passionately in the British parliamentary system and was loath to see its participation, won at such cost, assailed and diluted. Then suddenly the orthodoxy changed. Even before the famous Delors speech, I remember reading tracts by socialist authors, saying in effect: “Listen up, brothers; this is a new, global world. Socialism will become an increasingly hard sell with the voters. We must infiltrate the institutions that will give effect to our agenda of redistribution”. All I can say is that I salute them; it has been a triumph for Labour. Shedloads of British taxpayers’ cash is doled out by unaccountable officials without the need for politicians to explain to voters where their hard-earned cash has gone
For the Liberal Democrats, the journey has been different again. There is something counterintuitive to me about seeking political power only to give it away again. It is also insulting to those who entrust power in the first place. Pro-EU politicians seem to be seduced by the superficial attractions of holding office without shouldering the responsibilities that their electors conferred on them. Voters, it now appears, expect more of them. Those I spoke to in Copeland last week certainly understood why, for example, the country had to endure austerity, even if the opposition parties cannot. “That is why we elected them—to make the difficult decisions”, one man said. This Copeland man’s insight suggests to me that many politicians, and probably all Liberal Democrat ones, fundamentally lack the confidence to govern in the modern age—the confidence and the competence. It is hard not to sympathise and agree with them, but the solution does not lie in handing powers that rightly belong to Parliament to a cadre of officials, most of whom have scant understanding of Britain’s needs and aspirations.
It is time, I feel, for those who feel oppressed by the heat in the democratic kitchen to leave it and make way for those prepared to give electors the bad news as well as the good, those who will find solutions to those intractable problems. I have a glorious vision of a new generation of post-Brexit men and women entering public life, valued perhaps as much for their experience outside politics as for their contribution within the Palace of Westminster.
Time allows me to say very little about trade, but once again I remind Ministers that it is the SME sector that is driving UK growth. I declare my interests as an operator in the SME sector, as given in the register. There can be no doubt that regulation impacts on the SME sector disproportionately. It hinders small business by magnitudes more than it does large businesses. The EU has been, and remains, the enemy of small business. It is an enduring stain on EU practice that some 50,000 lobbyists representing large multinationals have been made welcome in Brussels, where in effect they buy regulation to benefit their clients and to damage their smaller competitors. I have always found it odd that EU supporters are so uncritical of this widespread corporate venality.
However, all the defects of the EU pale into insignificance beside the constitutional issue. Anyone with experience of the real world understands that when the discipline of accountability falters, a car crash ensues—not possibly, not probably, but inevitably. In terms of accountability, the European Union is a scandal. Its failures threaten personal freedom. It has contempt for democracy. The ancient settlement under which the citizens of these islands are free to do what they will until Parliament decrees otherwise, and under which government is by consent, this priceless legacy, has been taken apart piece by piece and replaced by forms of governance entirely alien to us.
People may patronise Brexit supporters, characterising them as Mr Blair did over the weekend as having “imperfect knowledge”. Let me tell him what experience should have taught him: the people do understand and a majority spoke last June. Those people I talked to in Copeland understand. They are not rude about immigrants; they are not inward-looking; they are not xenophobic. They want, as I want, our children and grandchildren to walk in freedom under the law. Put simply, they want their country back, and so do I. Let us give a fair wind to the Bill, unamended.
My Lords, it is rather difficult to stand out in a debate of 185 speakers, but I am perhaps almost unique in one aspect, in that I really do not have terribly strong views on Europe. I voted no in 1975, rather to the horror of Anthony Crosland, for whom I then worked. Even this time, I hummed and hawed a good bit before voting to remain, partly for fear of the unknown but more because I found the egregious lies told by the leave campaigners even more offensive than the egregious lies told by the remainers. So I am not passionate about Europe, but I am passionate about the British constitution and parliamentary sovereignty, and I am a particular opponent of the concept of binding referendums.
Last year, with the noble Lord, Lord Cooper, I arranged a series of seminars at St Anthony’s College, Oxford about aspects of direct democracy, including referendums. I therefore had to read up on the subject. I now know more than I would like to admit about referendums in Uruguay, which is the referendum capital of the universe as well as one of the most unequal countries on earth. The more I read, the more the concept of referendums seemed to me to be flawed. I was delighted in the last Parliament when I had the opportunity to block the private Member’s Bill providing for the referendum here by proposing the adjournment of the House. But it was a short-lived triumph, and this Government brought it back in.
Let me run through the arguments, not in my words but those of the rather remarkable 2009 book by James Fishkin, When the People Speak. He identified the following defects in referendums. First, the difficulty of motivating citizens to become informed. This is particularly so because each individual knows that his or her voice does not count for much and it is not therefore rational to spend their whole time investing in acquiring great knowledge.
Secondly, citizens hate to admit to being ill informed. A famous piece of American research showed that citizens had very strong views on the public affairs Act. In fact, save for in the minds of the researchers, there was no such Act.
Thirdly, the model of the individual rationally deciding his or her view is a distortion of what really happens in families and groups. For one thing, people have a strong inclination to discuss things with people whom they know agree with them. I do not suppose that many Members of this House know very many leavers, but they are 52% of the population. However, this inclination has got much worse in the age of Facebook and social media, which means that we try very hard—and usually successfully—never to read anything with which we are certain we are going to disagree.
Fourthly, and critically, the process is manipulated by politicians. It is not something that grows on its own—the timing of the initiative lies with the politicians. The decision to hold this referendum, now seen almost universally as a disastrous one, was taken without a thought to the national interest and solely in the partisan interests of the Prime Minister of the day and his party.
Today, we are in a position that defies belief. Four-fifths of the Members of the House of Commons are remainers and believe that this is a disaster for Britain, and yet four-fifths voted for this Bill for exit. It would have been better for Parliament to wait until negotiations were much further advanced and see what the temper of public opinion then was, then either hold a vote in Parliament or—fingers firmly clasped on the nose—hold a second referendum, which is the course being put before this House. However, we are not yet at the end of this tale. Negotiations will take place and they could be prolonged. There are scenes, indeed whole acts, to come before the fat lady sings. Will Brexit mean Brexit? We shall have to see.
My Lords, I wish to speak about some of the issues that have been raised by people and organisations in my own city of Bristol. The first thing to say is that the moralistic argument that “the people have spoken” has a rather hollow ring in my city, where a large majority voted to remain in the EU. They have spoken too and they feel that no one in government is listening to them.
Bristol is a highly successful city with an economy driven by an innovative business community which is based on strong links with the EU, particularly aviation and its supply chains throughout the south-west. Through the partnership of its two world-class universities, it is also a test bed for technological and environmental development and a trailblazer in the creative, media, digital and microelectronic industries. It is Britain’s leading smart city and was the European Green Capital in 2015. Bristol is a city of small companies. Having read some of the case studies in a local chamber of commerce survey, I do not recognise the description that I heard from the noble Lord, Lord Cavendish. The small firms in Bristol very much value working with the EU. Due to the skills shortages in this country many of them are dependent on recruitment from the EU and EU workers’ freedom of movement. They feel that the constraints that may be put in their way may well lead some of them to consider operating from Europe, where access to skills and freedom of movement fit much more with the kind of businesses they run.
Bristol is a city of young people. Many noble Lords have mentioned that the remain vote was much stronger among young people. There is a very strong tradition of internationalism in Bristol, which has a young people’s culture. It has one of the highest graduate retention rates in the country and is part of a very innovative, international culture, in partnership with EU countries and colleges. One thing that I have not heard mentioned today is the importance of those shared cultural heritages.
As an international port, Bristol welcomes people from other countries. It has many diverse communities and is not a homogenous city. We need to acknowledge that many cities, particularly in this country, are in the same position. When talking about divided communities, we need to think about the difference between our cities, which are sometimes defined as the economic powerhouse of our country, and other areas. Bristol is a city that welcomes people from outside the UK, and the distressing plight of the EU nationals there is a matter of great concern. The barriers that have been put in their way as they have tried to apply for residence are legendary. I had a group of them here yesterday. They told me that the form they have to fill in consists of some 85 pages. It is the longest of any EU country. For these people, many of whom have lived here for 40 years, worked here and paid their taxes, surely this is a most distressing state of affairs. Not only have barriers been put in their way, they have been subject to hate crime. Many of them tell me that they have lived here for 40 years. They came to this country because they valued its qualities of fairness, justice, constancy and a culture where they feel at home and where people from other countries feel welcome. Their experience since the vote has been quite the contrary. I spoke to people yesterday who told me that they are not sleeping; they are depressed, and their families are suffering as a result. All they want is reassurance—to know that they are welcome and will have the rights they have had over the last 40 years. I will most certainly support an amendment to the Bill that will give them those rights.
To come back to the argument that “the people have spoken”, when I talk to young people, more and more of them tell me that they are quite shocked to find that the only political party they have to support them is the Liberal Democrats. They have spoken to other parties and they are not—
That is borne out by the increasing numbers of people who are joining the Liberal Democrats for that very reason. If you read their reasons, you will understand why.
There was also a challenge to the point that somehow the punters are not interested. They are very interested in my city, and they were very interested in Richmond Park, where that was a key issue in the by-election. Maybe some people are not interested, but many are.
The outcome of the referendum was a huge shock and disappointment to people who have devoted their lives to co-operation and peace, internationalism, shared common values and beliefs. These will not be dismantled so easily. Despite this, we respect the right of others to differ. We do not say, “They got it wrong”; I know it is a jolly good phrase that gets passed around, just like “The people have spoken” and “Brexit is Brexit”, but we do not say that at all. None of us in this Chamber or in this country can know what the outcome of the negotiations will be. We also know that things will change. How many people on 23 June would have believed that Donald Trump would be elected? We know that circumstances can change, which is why we in this party are absolutely committed to the idea that people should vote and should have the final say on any deal that emerges. Two years is a long time—even a week is a long time in politics—and so much can change. As others have said, this started with the people, and so it must finish with the people.
My Lords, my involvement in the Bill stems from a deep concern about the Government’s approach to EU withdrawal. Their excessive optimism is accompanied by a reluctance to accept Parliamentary scrutiny of the EU withdrawal process. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, said yesterday and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said today, it is constitutionally clear that it is for Parliament, not the Government, to authorise and give legal effect to the changes in domestic law and existing legal rights that follow from the negotiations after Article 50 is invoked.
It is of course impossible for Parliament to discharge that responsibility until it knows the terms of any proposed changes to the rights of British citizens and businesses and of EU citizens lawfully here. It also needs information and sufficient time to consider whether the proposed changes are in the country’s best interests. Neither the Government’s actions since June nor the Bill show proper recognition or acceptance of this fundamental constitutional position and its consequences.
I suggest that the Government started on the wrong foot with their oft-repeated claim that on 23 June the British people clearly voted to leave the EU. It is a fact that only 17.4 million people of the 46.5 million eligible to vote actually voted to leave the EU—some 38% of the electorate. The other 62% either expressed no opinion by not voting or voted to remain. The Government are claiming a mandate that is based on a voting threshold that did not reach the 40% required for most public sector strikes under their own Trade Union Act 2016.
Since June the Government have tried to use the royal prerogative to exclude Parliament from starting the withdrawal process. As the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said, this was stopped only by a courageous citizen and the Supreme Court saying that Parliament must authorise the triggering of Article 50. The Government have continued to resist parliamentary scrutiny of the negotiating process and have promised to give Parliament only a take it or leave it choice on a final deal, without scope for amendment.
The Government’s negotiating strategy has been less than reassuring so far. They have ruled out membership of the single market and the customs union. They take an extremely optimistic view of the UK economy’s ability to cope when it no longer has guaranteed tariff-free access to the single market—our nearest neighbours. They have an inflated sense of the strength of their negotiating hand and the weakness of the EU’s, and have shown a touching belief that the rest of the world is just gagging to do better trade deals with us once we have left the EU.
Another flagship claim by the Government is that people voted to control our borders and that that can be done only by leaving the EU. The realities are somewhat different. Only about half the annual net increase of over 300,000 immigrants to the UK actually comes from the EU. Most of these people are needed to cope with staff shortages in many key sectors such as the NHS and care and hospitality, and many of our high-value research and technology sectors. Many others are students who help to keep our universities financially afloat. The Government are also ignoring the fact that the UK needs continuing inward migration because our own workforce will not be able to handle the growth of the UK’s non-working population over the next two decades.
As the start of the Article 50 negotiations approaches, there are myriad other complex and important issues to be resolved for this country, as many noble Lords have said. Not least of them is a classic parliamentary issue: the taxpayer funding an EU exit charge. At present there seems little government willingness to involve Parliament until a deal is done or the negotiations collapse amid massive recriminations. This is both unrealistic and not in the best interests of the country or even the Government. Instead, we are expected to be satisfied with the Government’s rather Panglossian White Paper and to nod through the Bill unamended. I think not. There is a wide range of amendments to be considered that will strengthen parliamentary scrutiny and involvement in our withdrawal from the EU. We should not be deterred from debating and passing some of these, whatever bloodcurdling noises are heard from inside or outside this House.
It is time for the Government to move on to a more mature approach to EU withdrawal and, if I may say so, to look a little less—here I will introduce a little poetry—like Edward Lear’s Jumblies:
“They went to sea in a Sieve, they did,
In a Sieve they went to sea:
In spite of all their friends could say,
On a winter’s morn, on a stormy day,
In a Sieve they went to sea!
The water it soon came in, it did,
The water it soon came in;
So to keep them dry, they wrapped their feet
In a pinky paper all folded neat,
And they fastened it down with a pin”.
I do not think we should end up like the Jumblies. I think we should amend the Bill to best meet the needs of the British people.
My Lords, speaking at number 145 in this debate, it was inevitable, and I expected, that some previous speakers would have eaten my lunch. But I did not know that the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, would have eaten my lunch, plate, knife and fork and even the table—and more amusingly, perhaps, than I can. As Russia has been mentioned at least once, I must first declare an interest, which is in the register, as an executive for a Russian shipping company.
The Bill, carried overwhelmingly and unamended in the House of Commons, simply gives effect, as the Government have said, to the referendum result. What did the referendum show? It was something very simple: a wish by the majority that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK. This was totally understood by some young Ukrainian friends of mine with whom I was discussing this subject several months ago. Having been brought up in the Soviet Union, they understood the result of our referendum very clearly. As a proud descendant of Sir Thomas Fairfax—some noble Lords may be aware that he was the commander of the parliamentary army in the English civil war—I understand about standing up for the rights of the people against an oppressive and undemocratic ruler.
As others have said, this is not about rerunning the referendum arguments, but I will make two short points. The first is about democracy and the role of this House; the second is about the negotiations, which some noble Lords have touched on. Here in this unelected place there may be a large EU-phile majority, but that view is out of line with the UK as a whole. I need not refer to the ICM poll as the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, has already done so. I understand that this may be very painful to many here, including to some members of the EU nomenklatura, as their condescending disdain for the majority view often shows. This includes many Liberal Democrat Members of this House who, as my noble friend Lord Robathan showed, campaign for a referendum one minute and then reject it when the result is not to their taste. The country is watching and will judge them by their behaviour.
I will say a few words about the negotiations. As anyone with any experience of business or the world knows, negotiating with one hand tied behind your back—all the more so if your counterparty knows that—severely reduces your chances of achieving a successful outcome. This being so—and as my noble friend Lord Hill commented—amending the Bill is not conducive to the best outcome. It is against our national interest to do so. I have heard the contrary argument, made by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, 10 minutes ago, that having an element of uncertainty when negotiating enables you to say to your counterparty, “I cannot agree that because I must go back”. But in reality that would not be the case here, because the Government would know that, particularly in this place, their authority is questionable and may even, as we will discover soon, be subject to defeat. Therefore, that argument does not hold weight.
In closing, I applaud the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, the Leader of the Opposition, for some extremely realistic and constructive remarks in her speech yesterday—if I understood them correctly. As many speakers have said, everyone is entitled to express their views.
A noble Lord
Not when they are wrong.
But there should be no rerunning of the referendum, despite the EU’s form in that regard. Let us pass the Bill without delay and unamended, as the elected House of Commons has done. The majority of the country is expecting nothing less.
My Lords, we voted to leave on 23 June and the consequence is leave we must. No thresholds were in the referendum Act: it was in or out and we voted out. The public would not have it any other way. Some are frustrated that we have not already left, while others think that we have already left. We voted to leave after years of Tory public dissatisfaction with the EU. It does not matter how I voted; we are to leave the EU.
A family anecdote shows in microcosm what was going on, relating to what my noble friend Lady Armstrong said yesterday about the disconnect between the EU and those who can benefit from it. I will try to conceal their identities, but it involves a young, twentysomething snowboard instructor, living and working in France, speaking to his grandfather. It went like this: “Did you vote in that referendum, Grandad?” “Yes, I did. I voted to leave”. “Why?” “It was those Albanians”. “Where are they?” “They’re in Albania”. “What’s the problem?” “They’re going to come over here”. “How do you know?” “It was in the paper yesterday, so I voted to leave the EU”. People do not see the connections between the EU and their or their families’ lives.
This House seems to be full of emotion. Some have described a grieving process taking place and seem to have reached the anger stage, while others are in reflective remembrance of things past. But exiting the EU must be a calm, considered and orderly process, as the noble Lord, Lord O’Donnell, advised us yesterday. We are asking a huge amount of those whose job it will be to negotiate on our behalf over the next two years and to get us as close as they can to the Government’s 12-point wish list. Is it doable? I doubt it, but we will see. If it is not achieved, an interim future beckons. As the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, reminded us, the debate would not be taking place but for the bravery of two citizens who took on the Government and won in the Supreme Court. He and they deserve our thanks.
The Government started this process without a plan. The former Prime Minister was gone, the emperor’s clothes were reassigned and the present Prime Minister bought time to get her house in order by declaring, “Brexit means Brexit”. But what did it mean? The Government came to the strategic conclusion that controlling immigration trumped everything else and from that conclusion everything else would follow: no running commentary, no White Paper, no need for parliamentary approval and no need for a vote in Parliament to approve or reject an agreement. All of that has been overturned. Our role now is to scrutinise and make the Government accountable for what will happen. It is not enough to say that Parliament will get a vote at the end of the process. That must be on the face of the Bill.
What about the EU and EEA nationals living here? What about the promised vote at the end of two years being in the Bill? What will our relationship be with Euratom and myriad other agencies working in the EU? What will be the impact of withdrawal on the economy of the north-east? What about environmental safeguards and equality? Where are the impact assessments for those? What about open borders in Ireland? These issues are to be debated next week and must show the House of Lords doing its job.
This is a procedural, not a substantive Bill. It gives the Government the right to begin the process of negotiating our withdrawal from the EU. That they will get. I fully accept the primacy of the elected over the appointed Chamber, but it is our responsibility to ask the Government questions and to reconsider when we feel that it is necessary for them to do so. The amendments will show that, where things require to be reconsidered, we should send them back asking for change through probing and seeking clarity. That is what we do.
My Lords, when we are told that the people have spoken, we are referring to the one-third of the electorate who supported the leave campaign. I would say that the people have not spoken. They were taken on a ride in a bus built in Poland by a German company. On its side it said, “When we are out of the EU, we will have £350 million a week to spend on the NHS”. That was the promise, yet in Arron Banks’s recently published book, The Bad Boys of Brexit, he says that from the beginning they knew that it was a blatant lie. One of the biggest donors, giving £5 million to the leave campaign, has said that they knew from the beginning that it was a blatant lie.
If it was a lie, is it not possible that the result of the referendum was because of a lie on the side of a bus? In all probability, by the leave campaign’s own admission, the referendum was won on a blatant lie. If that was so, we have every right to ask the people to consider it again when the time comes. It will determine the future of every one of us—our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. This House can either go along with a lie or it can decide that we are going to stop this here.
People say that we can rely on the Government. I have heard it argued that we can sort out the minutiae of this. I hope that the Government’s promise to do this is firmer than their promise to bring 20,000 Syrian refugees to the UK and to provide a home for 3,000 unaccompanied children. I do not trust this Government to keep their promises.
The difference between 23 June and today is that we have a different Administration in the United States. When people voted, Obama was President of the United States. Today we have a very different presidency —a Trump presidency. Every day we recoil in disbelief at the news from the US, the daily edicts of an Administration who are totally unpredictable. We only have to go the other way—to Russia—and, again, we have questions.
I am not going to speak at great length but, at this time of tremendous instability in the US, in Russia and perhaps in other states in Europe, I suggest that this is the very worst time for us to weaken the European Union. We are the basis for stability. We have our faults. We know that the European Union has its faults, but our own UK Parliament and Government also have their faults. What could be worse than for us to withdraw from Europe? It could be the beginning of the unravelling of the European Union at a time when we need it more than ever before. I would urge this House, at every opportunity, to secure not only our own future but the future of other countries in the world by voting to stay, strongly committed, at the heart of the European Union.
My Lords, in the referendum on 23 June, I voted to remain. I took the view that the economic prosperity of the UK was likely to be better looked after if we stayed in the EU than if we left. I thought that, for all its failings, the EU was an integral part of the international system created after two catastrophic world wars originating in Europe. It was intended to enable intra-European disputes and differences to be resolved by peaceful means and to give the countries of Europe, acting together in a world increasingly dominated by superpowers, an influence that none could exert on its own. Our history shows that, when there are differences and disputes in Europe, we are inevitably—and to protect our own interests—drawn into them. We should be taking a full part in Europe, not standing aloof from it.
I welcome the way in which the Prime Minister is seeking to restore and strengthen the relationship with our United States allies. Of course, this is very important, but there are limits to the extent to which we should allow ourselves to become too dependent on it. President Trump’s priorities are crystal clear—America first. We are a stronger and safer ally for the United States as part of the EU than we would be on our own.
So I regretted the outcome of the referendum but, whatever one may think about the quality of the campaign, the result was what it was. We have to respect that and pass this Bill. The result was not a legally effective decision; it was, in effect, a political mandate. It was an instruction to the Government and to Parliament to enter into negotiations with the EU for a treaty and to introduce legislation that would give effect to that instruction. The Bill that we are now debating is, in effect, a process Bill. It does not set out the terms for our leaving the EU; it simply authorises the Government to enter into negotiations with the EU for a treaty that would take us out of it. The elected House has approved the Bill by a substantial majority, and the unelected House should not seek to reverse that decision—or, indeed, to amend it.
The negotiations for our joining the EEC, when there were only six member states, were complex enough. The negotiations for getting us out of the EU by unstitching more than 40 years of membership, when there are 27 other member states, are likely to be much more complex. It is very likely that we shall need to invoke the part of Article 50 that allows the period of negotiation to be extended beyond two years.
I cannot see the outcome of the negotiations; the fog is too dense. It may be possible to negotiate an agreement which gives us a reasonably open and comprehensive trading relationship with Europe; which preserves our participation in European scientific, technological and academic organisations—it benefits them as much as us—which allows the continuance of the flow of migrant and immigrant European workers, on which large parts of British economic and social activity have come to depend; which deals with the problems of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland; and which preserves the rights of British citizens who have chosen to live in Europe and of European citizens who have chosen to live in this country. That is a consummation devoutly to be wished for. But there are so many uncertainties and variables that we cannot be sure of it. The EU is under strain for other reasons than Brexit, not least the strains created by the introduction of the euro. There are electoral uncertainties in a number of European countries that could have profound consequences for the European Union.
At the other extreme is the risk of coming out of the negotiations with a deal that is clearly not in British interests. We have been told that we could be faced with a choice between coming out with a bad deal or coming out with no deal at all. That, to me, has an air of political unreality. Surely the Government who presented such an outcome for parliamentary approval would have utterly failed the nation and would have to pay the price for such a failure. There would be a major political crisis at home, as well as a major crisis in our relationship with the EU.
Because the outcome is so uncertain, it is very important that Parliament should be given an opportunity to consider and vote on it when the time comes. I welcome the Government’s commitment to seek parliamentary approval when the probable contents of an agreement are clear, and before any final decisions are taken. I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that the judgment of the Supreme Court the other day means that whatever parliamentary approval is sought will have to be given by legislation, not by a Motion or a resolution.
By the time the outcome of the negotiations is known, it will be nearly three years, if not more, since the referendum. If a week is a long time in politics, three years are an eternity. When the time comes, the Government will have complied with the political instruction of the referendum, and it will be the responsibility—indeed, the duty—of the Government and of Parliament to look not just backwards at the referendum but forwards to what, in the situation then prevailing, is going to be in the best interests of Britain and the welfare of British citizens, whatever that solution may be, and to set their course accordingly.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster. He gives wise counsel, as ever. I have respected and valued his judgment ever since 30 years ago he gave me a box 1 marking when he did my annual appraisal at the Cabinet Office. I draw attention to my interests as recorded in the register, particularly in relation to Low Associates, which has contracts for event management and other services with the European Commission.
I was a member of David Cameron’s Cabinet when he first promised a referendum on our membership of the EU. I campaigned to remain. I regret that we lost but I respect the result. I therefore support the Bill and I will not back any amendments to it. The Bill is specific in empowering the Prime Minister to trigger Article 50—no more and no less. Any amendment to the Bill is seeking either to fetter that power or to anticipate issues that should properly form part of the discussions on future legislation to implement withdrawal or to establish our future relationship. That legislation should be debated; indeed, probably a year from now we will be debating the so-called great repeal Bill. That will happen while negotiations are still under way.
The Government did not want this Bill but, rightly, were required to bring it forward. I pay tribute, as have others, to those who initiated the case before the Supreme Court. The Government’s mandate to leave is of course in the referendum, but their authority to do so, and the authority for the future agreements with the European Union, will derive from this Parliament. We must exercise that authority at the right time—that is, before the die is cast. Of course, the Government promise a vote on the final deal, but that is not good enough. Parliament must be fully engaged with, and party to, the potential outcomes before that happens. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, was quite right to illustrate how Parliament could be engaged properly in that negotiation, and about the potential value to the Government of Parliament being engaged in that negotiation.
One of the most alarming statements among many being made recently about Brexit is that “no deal is better than a bad deal”. I share the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, about that statement. “No deal” is a bad deal; it is potentially the worst deal. It would be a disorderly exit. It is a cliff edge, if not so much for trade in goods then certainly for services and reciprocal arrangements for health, benefits, accrued rights, research and scientific collaboration—and issues such as policing and justice, as the noble Lord, Lord Blair of Boughton, reminded us. I therefore do not share the inference of the noble Lord, Lord Lawson of Blaby, that a good deal for us is a bad one for the EU and vice versa. There are many areas, such as health, science, the environment, policing and security, where continued close collaboration is of mutual benefit. Even in relation to trade and migration, it remains true that open markets deliver growth for both parties.
Open markets, like competition, are a tide that lifts every boat. If we are true to our championing of free trade, our approach to the future relationship with the European Union must be built on the expectation of continuing freedoms to trade and for investment, freedom of capital movement and indeed freedom of movement for skills. There is ample evidence that the British people understand and accept this. I am reminded that my former boss, my noble friend Lord Tebbit, quite often said, “We voted for a Common Market and we’d like to have one”. We still want one.
As the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, said, Britain has long advocated the economic benefits of European Union membership, including Conservative advocacy of the single market, but our enthusiasm has been progressively eclipsed by the political drive for ever-closer union, which this country has never accepted for itself. There are many across Europe who, recognising our increasingly semi-detached nature as a consequence of our EU membership ever since Maastricht, concede that a new relationship, with a comprehensive economic free-trade agreement and continued collaboration on that wide range of potentially beneficial issues, could enable the variable geometry of Europe to be realised in a way that EU membership could not accommodate.
I am being optimistic. There are many obstacles, although the worst are not in the enormity of the technical issues but in the politics. European politicians accept that we are leaving but want us to pay a price, including a budgetary price. They want to deter any future secessionist tendencies. They deeply resented the anti-EU rhetoric and perceived misrepresentations of the leave campaign, and they see too much of it being replicated in the Government’s approach prior to the negotiations. They will not accept a have-your-cake-and-eat-it outcome.
So tough decisions are ahead. I sympathise with my noble friends Lady Altmann and Lady Wheatcroft in their anger at what is potentially being done to the future prospects of this country, and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay: this is not what I, my children or indeed my former constituents—who voted 62% to remain—wanted. The response, however, should not be to deny democracy but to use our parliamentary democracy to build a new settlement. To achieve this, our starting point must be to reject anti-EU rhetoric and to respect the decisions of other member states and their commitment to a European ideal as much as we are committed to our own path. Our offer should be to be the closest friends and partners of our European neighbours, to see working together as a natural approach and to be prepared for compromise, including through transitional provisions, regulated co-operation and the orderly unwinding of the budgetary settlement.
Shortly after the referendum, an Austrian friend of our family emailed us a picture of his children, with the accompanying text, “Whatever happens, our children will still be friends”. That is how it must be.
My Lords, one of the seldom-discussed reasons why Britain voted for Brexit is that we do not speak foreign languages. Our ignorance of continental languages, people, customs, habits and especially markets has made us carelessly complacent. We idly rely on speaking English fortissimo in brokering trade deals. The result? Our shameful balance of trade deficits. The supreme irony is that, when we leave the EU, English will remain the lingua franca binding the EU 27 as they circle the wagons against existential threats. There is slim hope that we will expand our linguistic capabilities as we become buccaneers trading those wider world markets. Does the Minister agree that our ropey language skills have weakened us when it comes to competing within the single market, and will do so again outside of it?
Our domestic failure to ready ourselves for the challenge of the modern world persists: look at the habitual, stumbling response to our poor productivity rates, where we lag behind the rest of the G7. Brexit is not a tailored response to our self-inflicted shortcomings, and that brings me to some practical concerns. Do we have sufficient skilled and experienced civil servants to conduct trade negotiations now and in the future? Have we hired Jonathan Faull, the former right-hand man of Michel Barnier, who will be conducting these conversations?
I know that in my own field of financial services, the Government are begging, borrowing and stealing financial experts from the City of London, at goodness knows what cost, while our civil servants’ negotiating skills in the art of trade have lain dormant for years. How are we to make up this shortfall in trade experts and at what cost? Indeed, what preparations are HMG undertaking to broaden and deepen those trading skills as we look to new markets round the world? Will the Minister say how much we have paid in hiring those financial and trade experts? Why could we not have done all this beforehand? As the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, said, when we were in the single market, why did we not make the effort to make it a proper, working single market?
For some years, I was your Lordships’ representative at the parliamentary conference of the World Trade Organization. Pascal Lamy was its fine director, but even his agile mind could not resolve the contradictions inherent in the bilateral, the plurilateral, or the multilateral paths of advancing world trade. However, the vagaries of WTO trading rules are the very pit into which we will slip if we fail to secure a deal with the remaining 27. Is that what we want? Is that what we really, really want? The WTO rules are a disgrace and a disaster. Parliament must have the final say on securing a deal if we are to be pitched into the WTO rules.
Here is the essence of what I want to say: what decisive advantage does HMG discern in embarking on this hard Brexit for the UK? I ask the Government to please spell it out. The White Paper is shifty, while the three Brexiteers retire daily from the fake advantages they hailed in the run-up to the referendum. The weekly £350 million for the NHS was the most evanescent of the will-o’-the-wisps cited by the leavers. We are buying a pig in a poke.
Financial services is, as they say, my bag. Perhaps the Government might ponder the thoughts of your Lordships’ EU Financial Affairs Sub-Committee, which I had the honour to chair from 2010 to 2015. In its recent Brexit Report, it saw the City of London under threat from New York as well as the continental contenders such as Frankfurt and Paris, to which it was reported this morning that 1,000 employees of HSBC will repair. Why on earth are we imperilling the City of London’s pre-eminence as Europe’s global financial centre? Moreover, what will be the consequence to our domestic services industry of losing the London-based European Banking Authority, chaired by the excellent Andrea Enria? The consequence will be the loss of jobs and influence, but what is the gain?
So I will indeed do my patriotic duty and oppose this reckless, ill-thought-out plunge into the murky waters of illusory UK independence in a world of ever-increasing interdependence, the trading world. I was sent to the Lords to use my block, not to be part of the block vote of blind Brexiteers. I was sent here to think through and test Governments of all persuasions to think about their errors, missteps and policy stumbles, as were we all. Perhaps the Minister can explain how his many companions here and in the other place suddenly found themselves born-again leavers, no longer remainers. Are we not a representative democracy, where MPs think for themselves, as they have done on assisted dying and the bring-back-hanging debate? Referendums are reserved for Prime Ministers to wriggle out of their given responsibility to act in the best interests of the country.
Note, too, the Brexiteers’ lazy assertion that the Anglophone world will embrace us with open arms if we leave, but the Commonwealth is a small corner shop compared to the vibrant shopping mall of the EU single market. Holding hands with a rudderless President Trump will not make up for our wilful self-exclusion from the world’s biggest single market.
My Lords, I have no interest to declare, save that I have waited for 25 years for this moment. The decisions about Brexit did not start last summer. There are a number of reasons why this House will not bring credit upon itself by obstructing the Article 50 process. The first is the continuing failure to appreciate that people knew what they were voting for. The disdain shown for leave voters is unprecedented. They do not want to be patronised. Many voted to leave precisely because they were being treated as ignorant.
Over the years, leavers have seen, sadly, that tolerance, the rule of law, judicial integrity and freedom of the press have all failed in various countries of the EU; that it is dysfunctional; that a number of EU states are low in the league table of world corruption; that some eastern European states are sliding backwards, with leaders who espouse the same attitudes as President Trump to barriers and to rejecting migrants on religious grounds. The UK has been unable to stop this happening. This country should not be part of a union, let alone have laws determined by it, if it has such failings.
Leavers have seen the damage that the institution has wrought through, for example, state aid rules and the imposition of the euro; the lack of effective foreign policy and accountability; the failures to deal with migrants and the rise of the extreme right wing; and even diesel. The economic benefits that membership may bring are outweighed in my mind by the EU’s weaknesses over principles of rights and proper governance which are far more vital to us in the long run. I am not prepared to compromise my values on an altar of tariffs and I am optimistic that things will work out. Another reason is that a significant number of noble Lords have close ties to the EU: the perception will be that this affects their judgment.
It is for the House to determine the question of relevance, but in ordinary parlance the amendments do not seem to me to be within the scope of the Bill, which is about giving notice to withdraw under Article 50. There is no scope within Article 50 itself for embellishments. The negotiations and agreements come later. In considering our negotiation aims, where is the equivalent of our White Paper from the 27 other members, setting out their position and their goals? All we have heard from the EU since the referendum is a desire for punishment and self-protection. There has been no rallying call, no conciliation and no plans for a better future—only fear and a desire for revenge and money, rather like a bad divorce where mediation has failed. I would not want to be a member of a club that will not let me leave even though I am disliked.
The time for seeking agreements—for example, about the residence rights of EU nationals living here and UK citizens living abroad—is later, but in relation to residence rights the UK is now, and will stay for the foreseeable future, a party to the European Convention on Human Rights. The call for immediate guarantees on residence is, in fact, a red herring: it is impossible to imagine that any EU national living here could suffer an arbitrary reduction in benefits or threats to family life, let alone mass expulsion, without recourse to the Human Rights Act, with every prospect of success. To embed rights for residents now is to force Her Majesty’s Government into a position without the real need to do so and to hamper the Government in their negotiations.
So far as a second referendum is hypothetically concerned, why would it be any more binding than the first? Losing it would be as unacceptable to the losing side as the June referendum was. Would there have to be a third referendum—the best of three? It would plunge negotiations into chaos at the moment of conclusion and leave us in limbo. Clauses that might be added to the Bill now could, of course, be repealed by the Government, like the provisions of any other Act. One can envisage the Government coming back in two years and saying, “We have to repeal this addition because it does not fit in our negotiations”. If they have a majority, that is what they will achieve. Only after the two-year process is over does Parliament get its sovereignty back.
The House of Lords, although it may disagree, always concedes to the Commons that which is promised in the manifesto of the party that won the election. I quote:
“We will let you decide whether to stay in or leave the EU … We will honour the result of the referendum, whatever the outcome”.
Some 65% of the electorate did not vote to remain. There has been a strong undemocratic attack on the referendum result, and some of these amendments are plainly designed to undermine Brexit or to make it meaningless. It is impossible to imagine that had a political party with a radical manifesto won a general election by 2% or 3% the losing side would chip away at and more or less refuse to accept the result in a way reminiscent of those tin-pot dictators in some parts of the world who refuse to accept defeat. The nature of the push-back is summed up by the mission of the former Prime Minister whose judgment on another international situation led directly to the Chilcot inquiry. As for voting with one’s conscience, even if one believes that Brexit would turn out badly, that prerogative belongs to the Cross-Bench Peers. Every day in this House, Peers belonging to political parties troop into the lobby to vote in a particular way as mandated by their party—because democracy in our system is tied to party discipline—and so it should be today. The duty of the House is to give this Bill a fair wind as it stands.
My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Deech. This Bill is simple: its only purpose is to give Her Majesty’s Government the authority to begin the process of leaving the European Union, as voted for by the British public. I remind your Lordships that this House is bound by the Salisbury convention, which states that where a Government have made an election promise which was included in their manifesto, and voted on by the electorate, that promise will not be rejected by this House. How much more should this respect for voters’ wishes bind this House when the issue has been directly voted on by the electorate in a national referendum?
The proposed amendments for Committee stage are distractions designed to impede the process and avoid carrying out what the people of this country have voted for. The amendments should be rejected; this Bill is only about firing the starting gun. This House has no alternative but to agree this Bill, which directly reflects the will of the people, and give it a swift passage.
Comment has been made that the majority in favour of leaving was not large enough for such a momentous decision and therefore lacks legitimacy. That is not so. It was a clear majority and was achieved in the face of the most appalling bias, starting with more than £9 million of taxpayers’ money being spent on a leaflet containing inaccuracies. An embarrassing and truly shaming amount of pressure was then put on organisations of all types and sizes to say publicly what a disaster Brexit would be, even to the extent of the previous Prime Minister trying to get the editor of the Daily Mail sacked. Well done the proprietor for resisting this and well done Paul Dacre, the editor, for standing up for the newspaper’s integrity and not being corrupted by the antics of the fear campaigners!
The fundamental argument is this: should Great Britain be governed from Westminster by a democratically elected and accountable Government or should it be governed by unelected bureaucrats in another country? It is a simple argument. Personally, I do not want to surrender my country to another power. The sovereignty argument is overwhelming but for those who have concerns about the economics of leaving the European Union, I point out that we have a trade deficit some £70 billion a year with the EU from which they benefit. This makes the EU the supplicant and puts it in the weaker bargaining position. The European Union needs us more than we need them. This economic imperative will push towards a solution agreeable to all, in spite of some of the pessimistic noises made during this debate. With large corporations such as Google, Nissan and Apple making commitments in Great Britain, there is increasing evidence for optimism. European politicians—notably Germany’s Finance Minister—have also started commenting on how essential Great Britain is to the European economy.
The only real impediment to a satisfactory conclusion to Great Britain leaving the European Union would be to fetter the British negotiators with amendments at the Committee stage of this Bill. This would damage the negotiating position by taking away flexibility and room to manoeuvre. Frankly, some of the amendments put down show only that those proposing the amendments are doing so with ill intent or lack experience of the real world.
The British people were asked what they wanted—to stay or to leave. They chose to leave and it is not the place of this House to get in their way.
My Lords, batting at number 153 as I am, I do not seek to make a balanced and complete argument as many have done. I am here, however, to speak on two points where I have specific real life, worldly experience. I voted to remain but I am also among the 48% of us who want to find out as quickly as we can how our lives, families and jobs will actually be affected.
I am particularly concerned about the economic effects. We are a small island, unable to feed ourselves, and we live by trading, as we always have. I share the concerns of my noble friend Lord Harrison about our abilities to do all this. This sounds like history now but I started my Civil Service career in the Board of Trade—even before we joined the European Union—and I was concerned with the annual negotiations on how much butter, bacon and lamb the Australians, New Zealanders and Danes were to be allowed to sell in the UK. This took weeks every year and burnt up senior time. It would be as nothing to the negotiations we will have to undertake, sector by sector with the European Union or severally with the USA or Canada, on the full range of goods.
Nor can we have any confidence that negotiations will succeed. Our fellow members of the European Union are naturally disposed to seek to negotiate away our perceived advantages, most obviously in the financial services sector. Here I remind the House that I was a director of the London Stock Exchange Group for 12 years until 2013. The recent merger between LSEG and Deutsche Boerse is an example. The deal—I voted for it as a shareholder—provides that the headquarters of the joint group shall be in London and subject to UK regulation. The deal is under attack already from German politicians who now see the possibility opened by Brexit of getting the headquarters in Frankfurt, hoping that jobs and business will follow. The French are trying much the same. All that will happen if they are successful is probably that the jobs will go to New York because that is where financial services will move. A prominent Brexiteer in the other place sought to persuade me that clever investment bankers will adjust. Yes, they will. They will do the business where they can, move people where they need to, and it will not be here but most probably in New York.
In other sectors we will also lose business and jobs, particularly in the short to medium term, while we struggle to get our trading positions and prospects back to where we are now. Nor should we put much reliance on even the most potentially willing of our allies, namely the United States. However much President Trump wants to help us, he is also committed to keeping business and jobs in the USA, and in any conflict between the interests of an ally and the interests of his own core voters there can be no doubt which way he must go. Similarly, Australia and New Zealand would very much like to trade with us again but, since they are both knowingly exporters of agricultural products, what they mean is that they would like to sell us things, which will not necessarily be very productive for our balance of payments.
I suggest that that is an even more serious consequence, and again an area where I have experience because I was an adviser in the Ministry of Defence from 1998 to 2005, as well as being a non-executive director. We, and everyone else in Europe, have been sheltered by the American umbrella since the Second World War. The Americans have expected, and largely got in return for this a united Europe, a united defence against their perceived enemies. I wonder whether they will feel the same about us if we become yet again a small island, no longer attached to the European name.
I believe that we must all—remainers and leavers—be allowed to oversee and understand that the majority wish to resile; indeed, it is a course of action on which we are embarked. As the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, reminded us, we can do all that within the Article 50 process. We do not have to hurry and it is not for ever.
There is another point on which I have specific knowledge and on which I want to speak. My eldest son has lived in Germany for the last 20 years and my brother is married and lives in France. Despite this, I think it is a matter of honour that we should here and now announce that immigrants from Europe now in the United Kingdom must legally be guaranteed the right to stay. We must take this step because it is a moral duty. I also believe that it is an important step to keep the immigrants who are actually here and working in our most critical industries feeling reassured and welcome in a climate where they are suffering, quite unjustly. I also believe that it would be an important reassurance to our European partners that we are not hostile to them and prepared to treat their people decently, and that this would improve what is at the moment a very sour negotiating climate in which difficult negotiations will take place.
My Lords, the Telegraph reports today that the EU Bill for a Brexit divorce is €60 billion. It is made up of existing annual budget commitments until 2019, pension obligations and other longer term liabilities. The European Commission concedes that the United Kingdom should be allowed to offset against that Bill its share of the assets of the EU, perhaps between €15 and €20 billion, so we are left with a net hefty €40 billion or so to stump up as the price of divorce.
What does the Government’s White Paper say about this prospective liability? Absolutely nothing. Do the Government agree we have a price to pay? If so, how much? We do not know. This is not a poker game, and this is just one card in a whole stack of cards. The Government’s argument is that to disclose our negotiating position on any issue would harm our national interest. I do not believe for a moment that that is the reason for their reticence. If you do not disclose your hand, and keep your cards close to your chest, there is no measure by which the public can judge whether your negotiations are a success or failure. Whatever deal can be dragged out of the negotiations can then be termed victory. That is exactly what David Cameron did a year ago. The Government cannot be seen to fail. Where they create a desert, they call it peace.
My noble friend Lord Campbell of Pittenweem pointed out yesterday that if the deal goes pear-shaped, as we believe it will, the members of the public who voted for leave will look the other way, and everybody will blame the politicians. Yet Brexiteers heap scorn on our suggestion that the people of this country should be given ownership of the deal that is negotiated by ratifying it in a referendum. Let them own it. No, the Government say, “You gave us the mandate to start the process, so you must accept the result”. Well, fair enough. Press the Article 50 button and let the Conservative Party take the consequences. This is where I enjoyed the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, yesterday—I regret to say that he has just deserted his post. Like a good general, as Jo Grimond once reminded us, he marched his troops towards the sound of gunfire. There is no longer any point in attacking Her Majesty’s Opposition. It is rather like the fall of France in June 1941, when the leadership had deserted and left behind strong pockets of courageous resistance; the Free French have become Free Labour.
The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, spends his six minutes attacking the Liberal Democrats. He is a latter-day Earl of Cardigan, leading the charge of the Brexit brigade. He bellows at our Benches: “Yours not to make reply, yours not to reason why, yours but to do and die”. The Russian gunners thought the Light Brigade charged the guns at Balaclava because they were drunk. I think the Brexiteers are, for the moment, intoxicated, but merely by the success of their campaign. Unfortunately, it is we in Wales who will share the depths of their hangover.
Wales is a net beneficiary of European funding to the tune of £680 million annually. Importantly, EU funding is based on need, not on a calculation of population share, like the Barnett formula. For example, Welsh farmers receive £274 million each year in direct subsidies under the CAP. These are significantly above the Barnett share of UK receipts. It reflects the marginal nature and low incomes of much Welsh farming. Are the farmers going to receive this support after 2020? Will they face the destruction of their industry by cheap imports or by a trade deal with New Zealand, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cohen, spoke of a moment ago?
Take the support for the poorer parts of Wales. The European Social Fund is due to invest £800 million in Wales in tackling poverty, supporting people into work and increasing skills among young people and the most disadvantaged. Will the Government commit to replacing this funding after 2020? Take economic development. The current ESIF programmes are investing more than £1.1 billion in research and innovation, business, renewable energy and urban development in Wales. We have spent years creating a single market, removing barriers to trade, standardising our regulations and creating a level playing field for us all to serve a market of 400 million people. It is not good business to abandon it all. Progressives believe that it will lead to the impoverishment of the people of this country.
The noble Lords, Lord Forsyth and Lord Robathan, who indulged in some light skirmishing earlier today, are both right. We are the enemy—to Brexiteers, to Trump’s vision of America and to populist politics everywhere. We are progressives. We stand instinctively for co-operation, not conflict, in Europe; for universal human rights; for social welfare and the health service; for the solution of environmental issues across borders; and for a common standard of justice throughout Europe. We have been led along these paths by Lloyd George, Keynes, Beveridge, Attlee, Nye Bevan, Roy Jenkins and many others. The wheel will turn again.
Thirty-six years after Balaclava, Rudyard Kipling reflected on the aftermath of the famous charge in his poem “The Last of the Light Brigade”:
“O thirty million English that babble of England’s might,
Behold there are twenty heroes who lack their food to-night;
Our children’s children are lisping to ‘honour the charge they made—’
And we leave to the streets and the workhouse the charge of the Light Brigade!”
My Lords, we must organise, not agonise—this is not the time for your Lordships’ House to agonise but to organise a smooth journey for the Bill to allow the Government to invoke Article 50. Speculation is not legislation. The reality is that until the Bill is passed into law, all that has happened since the Brexit vote remains uneasy speculation. The Bill must become law in order to implement the people’s referendum result and respect the judgment of the Supreme Court.
Brexit is a process, not an event. The passing of the Bill is an essential part of this process. We are privileged to be engaged in the most important season in British history since World War II. But as the Prime Minister, Theresa May, said on 17 January:
“We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe”.
For example, after Brexit we will remain an influential permanent member of the UN Security Council, the second-largest contributor to NATO after America, and a leading member of the G7, the G20 and the Commonwealth. However, we are now seeking partnerships no longer dictated by Europe. This is the opportunity to become a truly global Great Britain.
My wife, who is here today, is American and between us we have at least seven nationalities in our family. Lady Taylor is Swedish, Cherokee and Texan. My side is Caribbean, Irish, Indian and, of course, Birmingham. Recently Lady Taylor and I were guests of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington DC at a dinner addressed by the Vice-President, Michael Pence. There was also an invitation to President Trump’s National Prayer Breakfast. At this landmark event, the only people allowed were the President of the United States of America and me—and about 2,000 other guests. I had the privilege to be interviewed by Fox News and other American media. It was striking from these experiences that as a result of the referendum our biggest single trading partner—America—clearly now sees Britain very much at the front of the trading queue. The Americans and other huge trading partners such as China and India are watching very closely to see whether we seize the opportunity that Brexit gives us. This is not the time to delay or draw back.
For your Lordships’ House not to pass the Bill would be missing an amazing open goal. Being a long-suffering supporter of Aston Villa, missing open goals is an activity I am used to watching. In fact, there was a rumour that Aston Villa would be applying for a European trademark on missing open goals. But unlike in football, we cannot rely on extra time or a replay. In order to win for global Britain we have to stride forward and score the greater goal now.
The prizes ahead for winning are clear. They include, first and foremost, control of our own laws, with the end of the European Court of Justice overruling British courts. Brexit will strengthen the union between the four nations of this United Kingdom by returning power to Westminster and the devolved Administrations. We will be able to control immigration to attract the brightest and the best to work or study here. There will be a free trade agreement with the European Union. We will no longer be shackled by the EU’s single market or burdened with paying huge sums to the EU budget. Britain will become a truly global trading nation, making trade agreements around the world, including with the 52 nations of the Commonwealth, free from the constraints of EU customs union membership. The result will be not only a stronger Great Britain but a stronger Europe and a stronger world.
I am from a diverse racial background and I greatly admire the contrasting cultures and languages within the European Union, but the EU has 24 official languages: Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish and Swedish. Then there are the classified, semi-official languages, including Basque and Catalan. Let us not forget the main immigrant languages, including Russian, Berber, Turkish and Kurdish. Each language brings with it a different identity and understanding. I am a great supporter of diversity, but the EU has become a bureaucratic tower of Babel where complexity and confusion increasingly frustrate co-operation. Compare this with the 52 nations of the Commonwealth family who possess the spirit of Great Britain. They are one-third of the world’s population. The Commonwealth nations share an immensely rich and enduring history and culture, with English as a common language, and the same sovereign—Her Majesty the Queen. The timing of this Bill is excellent, since Britain is due to host the next Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting—CHOGM—in 2018.
This Bill is not a leap into the dark. When fear knocks at our door, we must answer it with faith. In doing so, we have the assurance of Proverbs 16:9 that people make their plans but God directs our steps. It was Sir Winston Churchill who said:
“History will be kind to me for I intend to write it”.
Brexit has for ever rewritten British history. Now, through this Bill, we can make Great Britain an even greater Britain.
My Lords, bananas. I am just trying to get the attention of noble Lords at this point in the proceedings. “Bananas” was the response given by a member of the audience on the BBC’s “Question Time” to explain why she had voted to leave the EU. The essence of her point was that there are too many rules and regulations—it comes to something when the EU decides what shape of banana we can buy in the shops. The bendy banana is, of course, a favourite of the anti-EU media as well. Pressed on the issue, she added, on a more positive note, that “there are opportunities out there that we ought to seize as a country”. She immediately became a Twitter star and showed herself to be an articulate, feisty person.
There are indeed opportunities out there, but they will not take the form of a leap to freedom from burdensome regulation. The banana trade is a huge business and heavily contested, as anyone who is familiar with the banana wars will know. Outside the EU, Britain will be faced with the same need for detailed regulations concerning how that particular fruit and a multiplicity of other goods are to be defined and traded. It will not be magically released to determine these regulations, which are fought over and decided both bilaterally and within the WTO. The wrangling often goes on for years. Britain has much more chance of influencing the outcome as a member of the EU than it has acting in isolation, because the bargaining power of the Union is far stronger than that of an individual nation. So the case of the bendy banana actually shows the opposite of what is often claimed.
The situation is no different in the case of migration. There is no magical la-la land waiting for the UK outside of the EU here, either. Any significant bilateral trade deals made after leaving the Union will almost certainly mean us making concessions on freedom of movement. We can all agree that the anxieties felt about migration, especially in poorer communities, must be responded to. The causes of the resentment involved are complex and the policy responses must be as well.
The Government have declared that Britain will leave the single market and will try to negotiate a pick-and-mix agreement with the rest of the EU. The obstacles, both political and economic, standing in the way are huge. The phrase “global Britain” is trotted out as a mantra, but it is dangerously misleading. It is absolutely not the case that distance has become irrelevant to trade. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, touched on this point in his magisterial speech, but he did not develop it. Trade is strongly influenced by proximity and by effective regulation, especially in the case of services, which make up the bulk of Britain’s exports. It is a mistake to suppose that the advances in global communications have altered all that.
The results of a recent study carried out by a non-partisan body, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, on this issue are both revealing and disconcerting. The author calculates that quitting the single market will reduce UK total trade in the long term by 22%, even if Britain manages to set up a free trade agreement with the rest of the EU, an outcome that is itself far from certain. She estimates that trade gains from the much-touted possible free trade deals with the BRICS would amount to no more than 2%. Those set up with the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand would be only fractionally larger, at under 3%. The single market has been very successful at reducing non-tariff barriers, so important for trade in services, but crucially she concludes that free trade deals reached with non-EU nations are by contrast almost wholly ineffective in reducing such barriers. Services free trade agreements tend to be limited in scope, especially as regards financial services, and fall far short of the passporting rights of the single market. These are troubling conclusions indeed for the British economy, given that services make up the bulk of our exports.
A total of 16.1 million people voted for Britain to stay in the EU, versus 17.4 million to leave. We do not know what proportion of those who voted to leave wanted to abandon the single market, since the leave option was left empty of content, or made deliberately ambiguous. There was no forward plan at all. If even 10% of leavers were attracted by the Norway or Switzerland models, there was no majority for hard Brexit. I echo what other noble Lords have said about the assertion that no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain. No deal would be a very bad deal indeed, not least for what remains of this country’s manufacturing industry and for all smaller farmers too. I shall therefore support amendments which keep open the chance of the UK staying in the single market, and I hope that many other noble Lords will do the same.
My Lords, I declare an interest. For 37 years we have had a much-loved home in Italy, which today lies broken by the recent earthquakes and falls of snow. But we will rebuild it, and do so with confidence in the future as committed Europeans.
Naturally, I wish it had been clarified that EU citizens resident here and UK citizens in the EU will stay—but this was refused by others. One hopes that they will soon come to their senses, for the idea that in my small comune in Italy, where live British, Germans, Romanians, Dutch, Albanians, Belgians, Macedonians and Russians, there would ever be a rastrellamento to drive out the British, while letting others stay, is quite preposterous. Let the blockers of this deal relent—and until they do, we do not need a divisive campaign to pin blame for this uncertainty on our Government, who want the matter cleared.
I will vote against that and all amendments to this Bill, for each and every amendment is, in my judgment, an attempt to bind the will of the people in coils of silk. That includes the proposal by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, to give, as I heard it, an effective veto on the details of the UK settlement with Europe to an unelected House that largely supported remain.
The British people decided by a majority of 1,269,501—a figure which is not so very small, being more than the populations of Sheffield, Manchester and Leicester combined—that Britain should leave the European Union. We must therefore leave, for better and for worse—and there will be both—and this Bill is the first step in that process. This House should not stand, at any stage, against delivery of the clear will of the people, supported by the elected House.
Nor, I submit, should this House now send a message to the British people that your Lordships so little respect their decision that we already want a second referendum. That would be seen as exemplifying the stubborn refusal to listen to the people that has brought political establishments and the EU itself into growing disfavour.
I also plead for an end to the political rhetoric that sets generation against generation. Young people are just older people in waiting, and older people, if they are wise, hold close to the idealism of youth. We are made of the same stuff. No class, age or place voted monolithically in the referendum. No one betrayed anyone. No one failed to think of the future. The great British people came together in numbers never seen before and issued a collective wisdom that we should all respect.
I voted in 1975 to stay in the EEC. I saw the free trade side of the coin and missed the protectionism. I saw the co-operation and missed the drive for harmonisation. I respect those who still cherish that idealism. But, as a child of the Sixties who marched for freedom, I must say that I would not march with enthusiasm today to stay under what an unreformed Brussels has sadly become—remote, sclerotic, undemocratic and the slowest creator of prosperity in the developed world: the landline in the digital age.
When we hear, as we did from the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, that the future is uncertain, and when we hear time and again that the future will be bleak outside the EU, I have to say that for millions, as the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, said so compellingly, the grass is not greener on the inside. The catastrophic euro project is grinding southern Europe and squeezing life out of the small businesses that are Italy’s lifeblood. Italian GDP has shrunk since 2011 and living standards are no higher than they were when Italy joined the euro in the first place. Those, too, are facts. That is the real “lost generation”. It is not what may be to come post Brexit but what is in the book—what has been done.
Youth unemployment has more than doubled in 10 years in Italy to over 40% and Greece’s condition is worse, yet the establishment clings to its euro project, sacrificing a young generation on the altar of a flawed currency ideology. They call it “internal devaluation”; I call it profoundly immoral. The EU has shown itself utterly incapable of dealing with the challenge of half a million illegal immigrants who have been landed in Italy in the last three years, drawn by the prospect of winning asylum under the aegis of the ECHR.
At all this the average Italian looks on with a sense of impotence and despair. Once, with no loyalty to a malfunctioning state and with a self-seeking and unaccountable political caste, Italians were the most enthusiastic in Europe in looking to the European Union as a guarantor of legality and stability. Far fewer feel that way now. The great majority still wish to stay, but it has not taken the earthquakes to make many people feel that years of sacrifice under the burning sun have been in vain and that they are drifting back to the poverty of the past. Increasingly, voices are raised against Brussels—and Berlin. An Italian small businessman said to me, “Europe was fine when we all sat at a round table. Now we sit at a very long, very bare table, with Germany at its head”.
Not only is coming out uncertain: staying in is uncertain, too, and we should remember that balance in this debate. As one who is no less European now than I was last June, I say with reluctance that, as the EU has now become unwilling or unable to reform—as David Cameron found to his cost—the British people were right. They took the correct decision and I support the Bill.
My Lords, as a former Member of the European Parliament, I have always believed that the British people are European, geographically, politically and culturally. We are not some pop-up island in the mid-Atlantic; we have ties to the European continent that stretch back centuries, millennia even. However, as we have just learned from the Brexit vote, that does not mean that British people are necessarily wedded to any set of European institutions. Unfortunately, and as I witnessed at first hand, the EU’s leaders overreached themselves and failed to take their people with them; nowhere was that more true than in the UK. The EU increasingly became perceived as a self-serving edifice, a huge ideological and political project, run by an elite remote from the daily concerns of Europe’s citizens. The euro always had a political rather than an economic rationale, designed to bring about the ever-closer union to which the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, referred earlier. Greece should never have been allowed to join the euro in the first place.
In Britain, for over 30 years the European Union was pilloried by our press and much of the Conservative Party as costly, undemocratic, overly bureaucratic and slightly ridiculous. I remember well the straight banana saga referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Giddens. I was an MEP at the time and had the pleasure of receiving a rotten banana through the post. We should hardly be surprised that the British people, conditioned to be anti-EU for so many years, voted for Brexit. When David Cameron came back from Brussels with his non-deal, his fate was sealed, and so was our country’s. I remember Mikhail Gorbachev suffered the same fate in 1991. Asked for financial support, Europe’s leaders refused. A Russian coup followed shortly, and within months the USSR had ceased to exist, after 70-odd years as the Soviet Union. The EU’s leaders’ myopia led to Brexit. Some 60 years after the treaty of Rome, Europe is in crisis and it is an open question whether the EU will survive to its 70th birthday.
We should not rail against the British people for voting in favour of Brexit, no matter how small the margin was. Those who voted did so with their eyes open because they were concerned about mass immigration, loss of national identity, sovereignty, globalisation and marginalisation. That they did so reflects badly not on them, but on a comfortable liberal elite too smug and complacent by far. Brexit, as shown by the election of Donald Trump, was not a purely British or even European phenomenon but one with global implications. Protectionism, largely eradicated in the beggar-thy-neighbour 1930s, is back on the agenda.
I do not believe in government by referenda; I believe in government through a representative democracy, with Parliament at its heart. However, if you ask the people a question, you cannot ignore the answer simply because you do not like the result, as has been said many times in your Lordships’ House over the last couple of days. When people vote for a Government, they live with that choice, often for four years or more with no opportunity to change it. With a referendum, you cannot ask people to keep voting until they come up with the right decision. That is not only contemptuous of democracy, but treats the electorate as stupid. That would be a very dangerous concept to embrace, and would undermine the very principle of democracy that has sustained this island nation since the middle ages.
There is another factor that your Lordships must take into account in this debate. On 23 June last year we heard the verdict of the people. We may not like it, but it was clear. More recently, the other place has spoken, with a Third Reading majority of 372 in favour of triggering Article 50. I agree with the arguments made by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, and others on this point. To my mind, it is inconceivable that this unelected House should try to hobble the elected one or the will of the people on a clear issue of principle: that the Government notify the EU of an intention to withdraw and thereby start trade negotiations. Triggering Article 50 is the only logical and democratic response to the referendum held on 23 June. If the elected other place has decided not to approve amendments, then it is not our place to do so on an issue of fundamental principle.
Your Lordships are not being asked to amend or revise some common or garden piece of legislation. In response to the question asked earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, when he said that he had not received a convincing argument as to why your Lordships should not amend the Bill, the issue at stake here is the primacy of the House of Commons. That is the fundamental principle of our unwritten constitution. As a historian, I think it would be totally unacceptable for this unelected House to flout the will of the House of Commons and of the people. That is the difference between this piece of legislation and other pieces of legislation. This was a political decision made by the people and taken by the people. As the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, said, it was a political mandate—a clear mandate by the people to their elected representatives and to Parliament as whole. As many noble Lords have said, your Lordships’ House should not put itself on a collision course with the elected Chamber in a battle that it cannot, and should not, win.
I welcome the fact that the Government have promised a final vote on the deal they will bring back from Brussels, and no doubt there will be further discussion and debate on that. I am sure that the Prime Minister will not make the same mistake as her predecessor in trying to sell a hopeless deal to Parliament and the British people.
As for the EU itself, it has some challenging days ahead. Brexit already means that it will have to adapt to survive. Politically, the thunderstorms in Europe are gathering. Whatever lies ahead, this country will survive. It is the task of Parliament and Government to ensure that it prospers.
My Lords, I declare a historic interest and note that I have no contemporary interest. I worked with the late—and great—Lord Jenkins in the European Commission for just over four years, at the end of which period I decided to come home. It was an interesting revelatory moment with regard to working within the European Commission, because when I attempted to resign, the head of personnel, who as it happens was an Englishman, said, “You can’t possibly do that—you are a fonctionnaire permanente!”. He meant every word. However, I persisted, and came home. I took my pension agreement with me at that point and I no longer have one from the European Commission. I make that clear.
On 15 June, a number of days before the referendum, we had a debate in this House on the referendum itself. By then, it was already clear that the referendum was in many ways dangerous, certainly divisive, and likely to be damaging. But for me, the most important thing about it was its folly. It was an unnecessary referendum, a miscalculation, and a high price has been paid. However, for the time being, as many noble Lords have said, this is water under the bridge. Cruel events over the next two years may well change the electorate’s perspective, but meanwhile, what can be done? I find three imperatives compelling and possibly hopeful.
First, over the next two years, we have the opportunity —and the obligation—to change the narrative on Europe. I remind the House that the White Paper’s title is The United Kingdom’s Exit from and New Partnership with the European Union. We should take that title seriously. There is a positive experience—a number of them—on which to base a more positive narrative. First, it is factually correct that on the overall economic balance, membership has been good for the United Kingdom. Look, for example, at the role of the City, which has enormously benefited in its standing and prowess, and in particular its transactions related to the euro. Look at what a Minister called recently the “beacons of success” in manufacturing; namely, the car industry. Why are we the recipients of this huge flow of inward investment? From South Korea, India and Japan, the cars that are being manufactured make Britain numerically one of the greatest car manufacturers and exporters in the world, and that is because we have this access to the single market. Look at research and development and at our universities. I say, as a Cambridge man, how interesting it is that Oxford is to make the first move in terms of situating itself in part on the continent.
Our membership has also been very good for the European Union. Reference has been made to the role of English, so let me share something with noble Lords. One of the things that I am proud of during my four years in the European Commission was a certain battle for the English language. I well remember going to a meeting, having had it explained to me beforehand by a Frenchman in the Groupe du Porte-Parole that if I submitted a paper on Mondays for a decision on Wednesdays in English, it would not appear for three weeks. If I submitted it in French, it would be dealt with that week. An Italian was in the chair at the meeting—it was a Council meeting but I was there for the Commission—and everyone began to speak in French. The contributions were being made in alphabetical order and Watson is at the end of the alphabet. As it came near to my turn I thought, “What on earth am I going to do? Well, I can speak German”. But then I thought to myself, “How stupid. English is a European language”. So I went into English and the Irishman who was sitting next to me said, “Oh begorra”—I should not say “sweet Jesus” in this House—“thank you for doing that”. He too immediately went into English and from that moment on everyone else did. So that was quite gratifying.
The second imperative is that when we trigger Article 50, which we will, we will also trigger the so-called new partnership. On 10 October last year I put down a Question for Written Answer asking what the Government were going to do to respect and take fully into account the votes of the millions who voted for remain. I received this reply:
“Our guiding approach is to … deliver the … best deal for the British people … working constructively with our EU partners going forward”.
I would therefore like to ask the Minister what plans Her Majesty’s Government have for going forward constructively with our new partners in Europe. We have heard all about the opposite, but let us hear a bit on this side. I also think that this House has a key role to play and Parliament clearly so in terms of scrutiny and above all in ensuring that this new relationship is, in the end, voted on by both Houses of Parliament, and that the vote is important and decisive so that there is no legitimacy to this outcome unless that vote takes place.
Thirdly, I want to refer to a contribution made yesterday to the debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, is in her place. In her speech she used a wonderful analogy. She said that when marriages break up, there is usually a messy divorce and the only people to benefit are the lawyers. I have a horrible feeling that that is exactly what we are going to replicate over the next two years. But she went on to say that quite often after a divorce has happened, there is a reconciliation and an amazingly large number of partners remarry. Is that la-la land? One thing I can say is that it is a much better prospect than its alternative of division, disaster and maybe catastrophe.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Watson, particularly in his reference to language because I can remember being told by a department of state in London when I was a Member of Parliament that it could of course produce a document in Welsh, but it would take two or three weeks to translate it if it was to give any attention to it. These things happen, I fear, all around the world.
I believe that the advice given by the voters in June’s referendum represents a disastrous course for the UK and one which in time people will come to bitterly regret. My party, Plaid Cymru, wants to see Wales and Britain remain in the EU, and if that is now impossible, to secure as open a settlement as is possible with our EU partners. Plaid’s three MPs voted against the Bill because of the Government’s stance in backing the hardest of hard Brexits. Had a single market or customs union linkage been accepted by the Government, we would not have opposed the Bill, but the Government rejected such amendments.
Let us never forget why European countries came together after World War 2: to make it impossible to go to war against each other ever again. Since 1945, we have enjoyed over 70 years of peace, the longest unbroken period of peace in 400 years. I trust that this House will not be rushed into taking decisions against its better judgment on the basis of an arbitrary timetable imposed by a Prime Minister who seems to be running scared of scrutiny.
Let us remember that lack of scrutiny was evident in the funding claims made by the Brexiteers. People were told downright lies about the funding consequences that would arise by leaving the EU. In Wales, we are £245 million a year net beneficiaries from the EU. The gross figure is some £650 million, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, mentioned earlier. EU structural funds have underpinned dozens of local economic projects. People in the old industrial areas of Wales voted out because they were told that every penny of EU funding would be replaced by the Treasury, but amendments to that end were rejected by the Government.
Last June, people voted out for many reasons. We were repeatedly told by Brexiteers that we could continue to co-operate with EU countries on key issues, including security and migration, and maintain close trading links with Europe. Half a dozen models were advocated by various parts of the rag, tag and bobtail amalgam which constituted the Brexit campaign. Individuals knew what they were voting against: farmers voted against Brussels bureaucracy; fishing communities against overfishing by continental vessels; small business owners voted against overregulation; and some objected to the European courts. Only a minority of such people were motivated by immigration issues and I cannot accept that 90% of those who voted out did so to block immigration.
If I am right, then the mandate to leave the EU is not a mandate to halt the free movement of people and thereby block UK citizens from working, studying or retiring in other EU countries. Nor is it a mandate to block EU citizens from coming to work or study in Britain. Yes, let us negotiate controls to prevent abuse of our health service or social security provisions, but let us remember that UK citizens also move to France to benefit from French healthcare provisions. Present uncertainties are undermining 1 million UK citizens living in other EU countries or who have bought continental property ready for their retirement. The threat felt by EU citizens working in Britain—in the NHS, university research, tourism and food processing—is an appalling by-product of the Brexit campaign which, at its worst, has stimulated odious racist campaigns. This has to stop and stop now. The Government have to flag up that absolute control over EU citizens working in Britain is not fundamental to their negotiating position.
From a Welsh perspective, two-thirds of our manufacturing exports go to EU countries. Companies such as Ford, Airbus, Siemens and Toyota will be hard hit by tariff barriers. Two hundred American and 50 Japanese companies are located in Wales in order to sell to EU markets. That strategic element of government industrial policy in Wales will be undermined by a hard Brexit. Our agricultural sector faces similar challenges. Over 90% of beef and sheep-meat exports go to EU markets. Any tariff barriers would be a kiss of death to rural Wales.
Wales needs unfettered access to the single market. That is the basis of the excellent White Paper produced by the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru, in co-operation and with Liberal Democrat support, entitled Securing Wales’ Future, which calls for full single market participation. I know from earlier comments by the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, that the Minister is seriously considering the approach taken by Carwyn Jones and Leanne Wood, and I urge the Government to accept amendments to that end and to work closely with the devolved Administrations. This constructive approach might also offer a formula relevant to both Scotland and Ireland. The challenge we face in relation to Ireland has within it the seeds of not only destroying the Good Friday agreement but potentially dismantling the United Kingdom.
How any final negotiated agreement will be ratified is a basic question. It is the perceived will of the people which is driving us towards the cliff edge now, and so it is the people who should be allowed to ratify the Government’s negotiated outcome. Do the Government accept the recent legal opinion, of which I have a copy, by Sir David Edward QC and others that, if there is no agreement with our EU partners, then Article 50 paragraph 3 would not automatically bring to an end the UK’s membership of the EU?
I appeal to the Government to be more flexible and to step back from the mindless threats against this Chamber. As a revising Chamber, our role is to propose those changes which, in all conscience, we deem necessary. If we cannot change a dot or a comma in such a major Bill, we can justly ask what the point is of having such an impotent Chamber. Much more important than the future of this Chamber is the future of the nations of these islands and of Europe itself. It is for that reason that I cannot support this Bill in its present form.
My Lords, I think that I am right in saying that I am the only Conservative still alive who voted against joining the EU in the first place. My Whip was a very young man by the name of Kenneth Clarke. I was probably the start of his campaign of dealing with difficult women and I can assure your Lordships’ House that I made it as difficult as possible and I voted against joining. I have never regretted that for one moment since.
It is not only the petty things, but goodness knows they have been annoying enough—loads and loads of regulations, ill-thought-up, imposed on British consumers without any recourse to deal with them or to change them, because every time negotiations started they stopped half way through because they were not getting anywhere.
I have not heard any noble Lord mention—I apologise if they have—that membership of the original Community that we joined has changed immensely. Members that we probably would never have thought of accepting are now firmly in the Community and are often causing a lot of heartburn and trouble, not only within those countries but for the Community in dealing or helping to deal with those problems.
I feel that this has been a fantastic opportunity that I never dreamed would come our way in my lifetime. I am deeply grateful that it has and that one has the opportunity, if that is what the country wants, at least to change our position and, I hope, our membership. I have the greatest admiration for our team that has negotiated so far. It has got ready quickly to start the difficult and important negotiations that will undoubtedly have to go on for some time. I wish it well.
On this occasion I would like, unusually, to mention another Member of your Lordships’ House, the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. He was and still is a great admirer of Brexit. He was very much looking forward to speaking tonight but unfortunately has been taken ill and is unable to do so. I have spoken to him on the phone. He is doing well and his message is: “I am just delighted about Brexit. Please tell everybody from me”. On his behalf, it is a great pleasure to do so.
Finally, I will not detain the House, but I hope that when our team has completed these proceedings, those involved will be able to continue to negotiate as well as they have in the difficult circumstances that they have faced from the very beginning. If it happens and if all goes well, I will have a small tear in one eye at the thought that the day may dawn when I will see us leaving Europe.
My Lords, it has been a very interesting and informative debate. In fact, I welcome to the House people who I have not known before who have joined in the debate. I hope they will come back and join in other debates in the future—I should certainly welcome that.
Looking at the issue, I see that it would be totally wrong for this, an unelected House, to try to overturn what the British people and the elected House have decided. We must accept the decision. Nearly all the speeches in this Chamber have mentioned how dependent we are on the European market. I will say one or two things about how the European market benefits from the UK market as well. For instance, there is a £50 billion surplus on trade between Europe and ourselves—that is not something to be thrown away lightly. Also, we are one of the biggest importers of German cars; at one time, it was running at some 30%. Germany has a £25 billion surplus in relation to trade with this country. I then go on to Italy. I think all of us enjoy Italian wine and goods, and it has a £3.45 billion trading surplus with us. No one enjoys French wine more than those of us here, and France has a £5.2 billion trade surplus with us. I put it before noble Lords that when we go into the negotiations, we should bear in mind that they also have quite a lot to lose in relation to the British market.
I move on to Gibraltar, which has been mentioned by several people on this side. We must not forget the people of Gibraltar when we are negotiating, either now or in the future when we are dealing with trade. Gibraltar must be included because, in 2002, 98% of people there voted to remain with the UK, and in 2016, 96% voted to remain in the EU. Gibraltar is a haven for financial services, and they do extremely well there. However, more than 90% of that trade is with us. Again, when we are looking at the issues, we must not forget the service Gibraltar has given us. All these issues are important as we go forward.
Several speeches have been made decrying what the British people have decided. I remind noble Lords to consider that although some of the British people were not well informed and did not know, you must always trust the electorate and the people of this country. You may not like what they do—many times, as a politician, I have certainly not liked the Government they have returned—but they take that decision. It is wrong for this unelected House then to discuss overturning what has been decided.
What will happen in the future? I remind noble Lords what was said when we went into this referendum. I agree that the arguments made by the Prime Minister were not the best. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, that the arguments he has made today are far more important than the economic arguments. The First World War and the Second World War were caused by disputes between European countries, but the fact of Europe coming together means it is unthinkable today that that would happen. I give that to the EU.
However, I say that there is a bright future for this country in going forward and deciding where we want to go on our own, not forgetting that we have responsibilities to countries such as Gibraltar, which have shown that they want to stay with us. I think we can secure agreements not only with Europe but with the rest of the world as well. We are still a very important trading nation, but I come back to where I started: the British people have decided and we should respect the decision that they made.
I hope there is no longer any talk of an unelected House trying to overturn the decision of the British people and the decision of the elected House. It is not for this House to do that. By all means let us be constructive in what we say and the way we look at the issue, but our future lies in the direction that we have been told by the electorate in this country. We should go forward and look not with pessimism but with optimism at the future that we can generate for the people of this country.
My Lords, I wish to start with a few quotes from some excellent speeches. We have heard a wealth of expert and apparently reliable information that flatly contradicts itself. We have been told that if we cannot compete inside the EU we cannot compete outside, and the advantages of our being within it seem compelling. We have heard that we are turning our back on many of our friends and on what is in our own interest. Equally, we have heard from some who have spoken of a slow and difficult acceptance that an era has come to an end. We have been warned of the danger of flying in the face of public opinion, albeit a minority. It has been argued that the Government have taken the policy of pushing the Bill through the other place, will undoubtedly do the same thing here and, in the circumstances, cannot do anything else. They cannot admit even small amendments because that would upset the whole timetable. A headline in a national newspaper has boldly stated that this Bill is, “The mandate that never was”.
All those arguments came from our debates in this House in 1971 and 1972. Nothing has changed except the actors and the fact that people on one side are using the arguments that the other side used at that time but with slightly different words. The only major difference from that time is that our speeches are, thankfully, limited to six minutes. I am the only Peer taking part in this debate who listened to those debates. As I did so, sitting then on the Cross Benches, I became increasingly convinced that the UK was right to join the EEC. As I have listened over the last two days, however, I have become increasingly concerned. In the 1970s, the minority accepted the will of the majority. The great difference now is that the minority do not. They are fighting on, banging the war drums and threatening disruption to the Bill. The more that that minority continue their strident tone, which becomes ever more shrill, the more I fear for the future as it will be so much harder to get the unity that we need, and the narrative right, for the oncoming negotiations.
The noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, said in a powerful speech that we need to know what the Government want for the future of the country and its relationship with our continent. I believe the Government have done so as it is very clear in the Bill. It is not the Government who have suddenly sprung the Bill upon us; what has happened is that enough of the British people have changed their minds on the benefits of staying in the EU since the 1970s. The Government are merely reflecting that, and we must respect it too, however difficult it is and however many hazards lie ahead.
The EU is in a mess. The noble Lord, Lord Owen, called it dysfunctional. Although Brexit is our top priority, it is certainly not that in the EU. That was clear in the negotiations that Mr Cameron had with the EU, and it will become clear for our Ministers shortly, when their negotiations start. That will add to the EU’s difficulties.
My noble friend Lord Hill of Oareford, in another powerful speech, said that we should listen to what our friends said, so at the weekend, I spoke to friends of mine in France. They likened the EU to a colossus with feet of iron and clay. We know what happens to such a colossus. My friends also suggested to me that it was essential for the UK to leave the EU for the EU to change to save itself from becoming ashes. Our leaving is the electric shock that is needed and, when it reforms, it will again benefit from the UK rejoining. They are right that the EU as we know it has to change for Europe’s sake and for ours. For a start, it will have to address its budget contributions now that one of the few milch cows is leaving.
None of the extreme predictions of the 1970s came to pass, and neither will the worst fears of the extremists today be fulfilled. It will be difficult. There will have to be changes and yes, I firmly believe that people’s minds will change. However, now is the time to accept the results of the referendum, whether we like it or not—and I did not like it. My daughter, who is much younger than anybody taking part today and works in the City, was firmly in favour of us leaving.
We must allow the Government to trigger Article 50, do the best negotiation they can and come back to Parliament as promised. It is only at that stage that we will know what is and what is not on offer.
My Lords, there is a very strong argument that the constitution belongs to the people and that we and our friends in the other place are practitioners within that constitution. We have one of the biggest decisions to have faced Parliament for many years, and the challenge to get on with our responsibility as practitioners is a heavy one. We in this House have become very good at scrutiny. Our job will be to take scrutiny seriously, to look at the implications and consequences of what is proposed and contribute our findings to the public debate.
Looking at the situation in the other place, I must say that I am one of those who is disappointed, because the strength of British democracy has very much relied on its representative nature, individual responsibility and the role of the individual conscience of Members of Parliament. I find it extraordinary that there has been a sort of herd action in the other place which seems to have said that our conscience—what we know to be right—must be put on one side because we must bow to the will of the people. It is not that we are not bowing to the will of the people; it is enabling the people to understand, as the practitioners we are, the real implications of what is happening. We must take that seriously.
There has been a good deal of talk in this debate about taking the 48% seriously, but there is another statistic that we must never discount. Only 37% of the electorate actually voted for Brexit. That is hardly an indication of the overwhelming popular will; it is an indication that some highly motivated people mobilised their case well and effectively.
Of course the consequences of coming out of the single market will be far reaching across so much of our lives, and it will be unthinkable for Parliament not to establish how the Government propose to deal with the consequences. It is an abandonment of responsibility; this is what Parliament is here to do—to find out what the Government are proposing and how far they will look to the well-being and interests of the people.
On Ireland, we are playing with fire, almost literally. We must know from the Government how they are going to meet the new challenges of potentially a border between Northern Ireland and the European Union in Ireland, and what the consequences politically and in any other dramatic ways might be.
My noble friend Lord Grocott, who is an old friend, said that the people feel we have lost touch. That is because we have allowed ourselves as a political community to become elitist and inclusive, and have failed to communicate with the public as we should by explaining to them why issues matter and why legislation is being introduced in response to what matters.
The issue will not go away. We are in a highly interdependent world. We need ways in which to co-operate with others to meet almost every challenge that faces us, our children and grandchildren. That is true of climate change and the environment. There is no way in which to protect the environment or respond to climate change on our own. It is also true of security and terrorism, as we have heard clearly in this debate. It is true also in the operation of justice and legal co-operation. I serve on the European Justice Sub-Committee and it has been striking to hear distinguished lawyers explain how so much law now crosses borders and how useful practice is being implemented all the time, enabling lawyers to meet their responsibilities to their clients. That is strong in, for example, the sphere of children, when there are broken families and so on, and making sure that children can be properly protected. That is getting better year by year, and we are in danger of throwing that away. How are we going to meet that situation? Interdependence is also there in the case of learning and knowledge, as we have seen with universities. We can have effective universities only if they part of international communities that in every sense of their operation reflect the challenges of the world and the way in which we must work together.
I am sure that when we have done our work in Parliament, which we must take seriously, it would be unthinkable not to have put before the British people again the outcomes of what we have discovered and are finding. We owe it to them. What on earth are we talking about when we refer to democracy and responsibility if we do all this work, and then make a decision in the inclusive club of Parliament that we do not put to the people?
My Lords, we find ourselves in a situation that most of us would not have thought possible a year ago. Our Prime Minister seeks not only to invoke Article 50 but also to needlessly destroy our country’s tariff-free and frictionless access to the largest market in the world, thereby doing serious damage to our economy. Stranger still, this is not some dystopian, Corbynista nightmare—it is a Conservative Prime Minister choosing, at a stroke, to destroy for ever her party’s reputation for economic prudence. She is putting at risk the prosperity that our country has enjoyed since we joined what was then the Common Market. She will also be undoing the success of the coalition in pulling our economy back from the brink after the 2008 crash. She and her party will not be forgiven for their collective madness when everything goes pear-shaped—as it surely must.
What is this lunacy for? It is for a small reduction in immigration, which in itself will damage our economy. Can it be that Mrs May is so scarred by her failure to meet the impossible target of cutting immigration to below 100,000 in her six years at the Home Office that she is hell-bent on having another go through the most extreme and damaging of Brexits?
Or is there a more sinister explanation? There is a loony-right clique of well-organised Brexit zealots in her party, known innocuously as the European reform group. Have they pushed Mrs May into gambling that she can somehow mitigate part of the damage she is doing by making trade deals with people such as Donald Trump? Trump can spot desperation a mile off. Being a property man, he knows exactly how to fleece someone who has been stupid enough to sell their house before they have one to move into. By rashly throwing away the single market card before the negotiations even begin, Mrs May has put us in precisely that situation. All the talk of global Britain and fantastic trade deals is just that: talk, pie in the sky, whistling in the dark. One thing is sure: our prosperity, investment and jobs will suffer. The only question is by how much.
Many noble Lords on the Benches opposite are, like me, businessmen. If the chief executive of a company that you were chairing came to you saying that he was going to withdraw from the company’s biggest market immediately, with no certainty that he could rescind the decision, and that he would try to fill the vacuum with clients that the company was only just getting to know, I think that your first call—like mine—would be to a headhunter to find a new chief executive.
Mrs May asserts that we voted to leave the single market. This is a total fabrication on her part. The question on the ballot paper made no reference to the single market, indeed both Vote Leave and the Conservative manifesto of 2015 said that we would stay in the single market. Likewise we did not vote to leave the customs union or vote for WTO rules. Moreover, we did not vote to destroy our currency, to lose sterling’s reserve status or our triple-A rating. We certainly did not vote to become an offshore tax haven and see our employment rights destroyed. We did not vote to have our public services starved of funds and to witness the consequent destruction of the NHS. We did not vote to put the integrity of the United Kingdom into play, to put the Good Friday agreement at risk or to have our safety and security endangered. Nor did we vote for EU citizens living in Britain to be used as bargaining chips and to be subject to racist abuse. We did not vote for our Government to cosy up to dictators and demagogues in a desperate search for something—anything—to make up in a small way for the folly of leaving the single market. We did not vote to see our environmental protections whittled away.
Many people fear that the West is drifting towards fascism. Experts are being denounced. Judges who uphold the law are called enemies of the people, just as happened in Germany in the 1930s. Liberals are disparaged as unpatriotic. Foreigners are scapegoated. Muslims are being vilified in America. Anyone who opposes the Government is viciously attacked. With a delusional egomaniac in the White House, we should be huddling closer together with our European neighbours, not pushing them away.
Should we not be asking ourselves: why are the Government in such a hurry? Why are they so intransigent and intolerant of meaningful scrutiny of the deal they hope to bring back from the negotiations? The explanation must be that deep down they realise that they cannot possibly secure a deal anywhere near as good as the one we have right now. Whatever they get will not stand up to close comparison with membership of the single market and the customs union.
Our patriotic duty is to scrutinise and amend the Bill. We must protect Parliament’s sovereignty and give it a chance to accept or reject the deal, with the status quo as one of the alternatives, rather than automatically going over the WTO cliff. We must protect the rights of EU nationals already in the UK and we must give the people a say in the final decision. That way, if the best deal the Government can get is not good enough, Parliament and the people will have a final chance to stop the self-destruct button being pressed.
My Lords, I will confine my remarks to the effect that leaving the European Union will have on Welsh devolution, in particular on the Welsh devolution settlement contained in the Wales Act 2017.
Wales achieved a reserved-powers constitution in that Act. As the House will appreciate, there are two main patterns of devolution. One is a reserved-powers constitution where there is notionally a transfer of the totality of powers and then a reservation of certain specific exceptions. The other is a piecemeal system—what is called conferred devolution—and that is what Wales had from 1964 onwards, when it achieved its Secretary of State, and indeed there have been hundreds if not thousands of what one might call confetti-like situations of conferring individual powers.
Central to the concept of a reserved constitution is the idea that the mother parliament has on the table, as it were, the totality of powers that are available and relevant in the situation, and that the mother parliament looks upon those powers and says, “This is all that we have. This is where we draw the dividing line between the totality that is transferred and that small remnant that is retained and reserved”. If indeed for some reason the mother parliament did not have the totality of powers at the time, it goes to the very heart, kernel and essence of a reserved constitution. I make the case that that is exactly what happened.
From 1972 onwards—indeed, from 1 January 1973 when we entered the Common Market—it meant that the European Communities Act ruled with regard to a very considerable swathe of legal authority. Exactly what percentage that represents of the laws affecting us I would not like to calculate but it is very substantial. It may be 25%, it may be 30% or 35%, or even higher. What it means for Wales, and it affects Scotland in exactly the same way, is that some 5,000 elements of law affect those devolved countries and yet the authority was not on the table of the mother parliament. That seems to me to go to the very heart, core and kernel of the idea of a reserved settlement.
What can one do? We can look at three situations: one is the Sewel convention, a convention that is now contained in the Scotland Act and the Wales Act of last year. That convention says that it is accepted that the mother parliament, being the supreme authority, can do what it wishes in relation to a devolved Administration. It can change the situation overnight if it wishes, but it will not do so, and would not think of doing so, unless asked by that sub-parliament or unless there were some very exceptional circumstances. That, as I said, has been written into the law by way of the Scotland Act and the Wales Act.
It is a convention. The Supreme Court said it was a convention and nothing more. It does not have the power of law. That obviously must be the situation technically. However, the Supreme Court went on in its judgment, in paragraph 151, to say that, nevertheless, a convention is important. It is binding morally and politically. It goes on to say that such conventions are of immense significance and have to be respected to bring about the harmonious situation and amity between the mother parliament and the devolved parliaments.
Although you might say that Europe was a reserved matter altogether, that is not so. Paragraph 8 of the schedule says that, although European relations are reserved, the question of the administration and oversight of the operation of European relations is not reserved. Clearly, that is covered by the convention.
Secondly, there is the question of the Joint Ministerial Committee, where, in utter confidence, matters are disclosed between one party and another. It has a very considerable future: it is possible to build a mutuality of trust that can be more important for the future of the United Kingdom than anything else.
Thirdly, there is the question of protocols. When the legislation was going through in relation to Scotland and Wales in late 1990s, it was said that on matters that were not devolved, there would have to be protocols. In fact, however, it was a dead letter. I would like to see the breath of life breathed into the cold clay and dry bones of such institutions, which I think have a very considerable future.
As for the situation now, when these powers are repatriated, they will be repatriated, of course, not to Wales, nor to Scotland nor, indeed, to Westminster. A joint body should be set up between Westminster and Scotland and between Westminster and Wales to see exactly how one can bring about a settlement that is fair, just and lasting.
My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Tugendhat, who spoke almost 60 places before me on the list, I regard this as a rather sad and sobering day. I do so because I remember, in particular, a very happy day in 2004 when I was with a group of parliamentarians at the University of Tallinn in Estonia. There, a group of us from the All-Party Parliamentary Arts and Heritage Group—not a freebie, I hasten to say—with our spouses were greeted by the rector of the university, who said that they were only recently accustomed to freedom and how thrilled and proud they were that their nation was now a member of the European Union and a member of NATO. I remember looking at my dear friend, the late, great Tam Dalyell, and both of us nodding enthusiastically in agreement.
This is coming to an end. I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Watson, reminded us of two crucial words on the cover of the new White Paper—“new partnership”. If there is to be any real hope in the future, there has to be a new partnership with our friends and allies in Europe. We have to continue to regard them with affection and respect, which we hope will be reciprocated. My noble friend Lady Hooper talked yesterday about divorce. Well, we may have filed for divorce but I hope that, following the White Paper, we will build a true civil partnership in every sense of those words.
I feel that we have had two sobering days of debate. They have illustrated, very eloquently in many cases, that the divide is still there and that the wounds are still deep. We have a collective duty, on whichever side of the argument we were on 23 June last year, to work together in the national interest. It is not going to be all that easy. These two long days of debate are but the beginning of endless days of debate. This subject will dominate our agenda, not just this year or next year but far into the future. I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, who reminded us that it is not necessarily what people are talking about in the Dog and Duck, but the future of our country is in our hands and it is absolutely vital that we recognise that.
Those of us on the losing side—the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, yesterday, and the noble Lords, Lord Darling and Lord Triesman, today—say to those on the winning side, “Please do not think that we can discard our beliefs any more than we can discard our beliefs after a general election if the other side has won”. As a Member of Parliament for 40 years in Staffordshire, I had to work—as I did, happily and co-operatively—with a Labour county council for almost the whole of that period. We could do that only if we respected each other’s differences. We have to come together through a mutual respect in the years ahead.
Another theme that has run though this debate has been how complex the situation is. I was sitting next to a colleague at the long table just a few weeks ago. He was a Brexiter. I asked, “Did you really realise it was going to be quite as complex as this?”. The answer was an honest, “No, but we’ve got to make it work, and I believe it will work very well”. I know that he meant that. The fact is that it will be far more complex than many of us thought.
My heart is very much with my noble friends Lady Wheatcroft and Lady Altmann, and I feel similarly to them. My noble friend Lady Wheatcroft, in her powerful speech last night, talked of Kenneth Clarke in the other place, a colleague of mine for 40 years. We entered the House of Commons on the very same day. Had I been in the House of Commons, I might well have gone in with him, but I was not. When I was in the House of Commons, I had an electorate to whom I was responsible and answerable every four or five years. Although my heart is with them, my head is with the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, who made an extremely compelling speech. If this House is to fulfil its constitutional duty properly, it must always recognise that supremacy lies at the other end of the Corridor, with the elected House. We have a duty to examine and scrutinise. It may well be that on one or two issues we ask the Commons to think again when we come to our Committee and Report stage deliberations, but we must not push that too far. If they refuse to think again and they send it back, we have to accept that, however sadly. It would be quite wrong for this House to frustrate the will of the elected one and hold up this process.
I say to noble friends such as my noble friend Lady Altmann, “Please, please think very carefully. Perhaps exercise a vote on an amendment once or twice, but don’t push it, because this House must not jeopardise its important constitutional position”. I make that plea to all noble Lords who are intending to vote on one or more of the amendments. I have particular sympathy with the amendment on EU nationals. I have spoken on the issue several times in your Lordships’ House and I was delighted to hear the UKIP Member, the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Ludgate, say that he wanted that to be resolved as quickly as possible.
There will be difficult days ahead. We have had a splendid debate, but I hope very much that we can keep a sense of perspective as we go into uncharted waters or perhaps, to use another metaphor, into the quicksands and the fog.
My Lords, as general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation for eight years, I was keenly aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the EU. I will pick out a number of quick points. It has been a very successful institution in spreading peace, freedom and democracy in the south and east of our continent after the collapse of the dictatorships in those countries—remember them? We could not do very much for Poland, for which we went to war, in 1939 or in 1945, but since 2004 we have been able to do a lot to help the development of that country and others in eastern Europe. The EU has also built some common labour standards to complement the single market. I am particularly proud of the role of the European trade unions and the TUC in achieving that. It was not always an easy task, given the attitude of British Governments.
However, I readily acknowledge that it has not all been a success. It was swept by a tide of neoliberalism around the turn of the 21st century and it has not recovered from the 2008 financial crisis. Austerity policy has made things worse, here as well as there. I am not starry-eyed about the EU but I am deeply concerned about the terms of our impending divorce from it. I still regard the EU as a noble project, despite its flaws. However, the Bill is not simply about triggering the divorce and those who keep saying it is should think a bit more widely. It is also a de facto endorsement of the Government’s post-Brexit plan: the White Paper and the plan set out in it. If the Bill passes Parliament without amendment, we are giving the Government a mandate for a very clear but very hard Brexit, with the UK outside the best trade deal we are ever likely to get. The risk for jobs, rights and prosperity are enormous. These risks are recognised, not just by me and other remainers, but by some of the leading campaigners of the leave side in the referendum such as Boris Johnson—“I would vote to stay in the single market”—Owen Paterson, Daniel Hannan and Arron Banks. At the last election, the Conservative Party manifesto said:
“We say: yes to the Single Market”.
The White Paper says no to the single market, yet it could be possible for the UK to honour the result of the referendum and stay in the single market, and so reduce the risks of Brexit to our economy. Of course, other EU members might not let us do this. Why not put the onus on them to negotiate us out? Let us not give up, even before talks are under way.
Clearly, the Government have in mind the requirement of the single market to accept free movement of labour. We all recognise that migration was a factor in the referendum result. We could apply new conditions to migration ourselves. In particular, a migrant must have a job to come to. Jobs should be advertised locally and not just in eastern Europe. Migrants should get the rate for the job, not just the minimum wage. Other EU countries do these things; why not us?
The Prime Minister has said that we cannot accept the European Court of Justice continuing to have jurisdiction in our country. Let us be clear. Any comprehensive trade agreement will need an adjudicating body. There will remain a need for our exporters to adopt EU rules and regulations—regulatory equivalence, as I note it has now been called by Ministers in the last few days. This will be a major factor in any new deal.
To stay in the single market we would have to pay but, as we are about to find out, the cost of Brexit will be enormous. It is not just the hefty divorce payment, but all the staffing of the different organisations that we will need, such as more customs staff, more negotiators and more diplomats. There will be new institutes for which we will have to take responsibility, as the work is currently done at EU level. Being only in the single market means that we would have no seat at the top table of the EU when decisions are taken—decisions that would apply to us. This is very uncomfortable. I find it implausible that our interests would or could be trampled on by the EU and its democratic members. It would not be in anyone’s interest for this to happen. So, next week, I will be one of those calling for the UK to remain in the single market and so avoid a colossal act of self-harm.
Finally, being in the single market would help ease the dangerous border issue in Ireland. It would also remove at least one reason for another referendum in Scotland. It would protect supply chains, avoid tariffs and all the consequent delays that would take place in ports. It would be making the best of a bad job. It is the patriotic duty of this House to put the option back on the table and ask the Government to consider it. I do not think that is a constitutional outrage.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a beneficiary of the common agricultural policy.
The British people have decided to leave the European Union. The Commons has passed this Bill unamended. We, in this House, pride ourselves on scrutinising and revising Bills, but what is there to scrutinise? What is there to revise? This is a two-clause Bill. It is not our job, as my noble friend Lord Lang said yesterday, to adorn legislation. If we amended this Bill, we would be adding to it. This is just about all there is to say on the matter.
However, listening to all the doom and gloom in this debate, I am reminded of what Woody Allen once said,
“mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction”.
We must, he said, make the wise choice.
That, all too often, is how we have been talking about the future. Being a rational optimist, let me take just a few minutes of your Lordships’ time—less than six, I promise—to strike a note of hope. You might call it “project cheer”. I will start with why I, for one, am surer now than I was on 24 June that the British people have done the right thing. Voting to leave the EU last June has had precisely the opposite effect to what project fear told us would happen. Instead of an emergency Budget and an immediate and profound shock to the economy, a loss of confidence, a drying up of inward investment and a collapse in the stock market—all of which were promised if we voted leave—we have seen an acceleration of growth, now the fastest in the G7. There have been record highs on the stock market, votes of confidence from Apple, Google, Siemens, Nissan, Snapchat, McDonalds, IBM and many other companies. There has been a manufacturing revival, a narrowing of the trade deficit as exports pick up, thanks to a welcome devaluation of the pound, and the humiliation of economic forecasters at the IMF, the Bank of England, the Treasury, the European Commission and elsewhere.
I know that it is early days but to those who say that we face disaster when we actually leave, I say: project fear having failed last year, such warnings cut even less ice with the British public now. Besides, we are rarely ambitious and positive enough about our future. Leaving the exchange rate mechanism in 1992 proved a turning point, not a catastrophe. Staying out of the euro turned out to be a triumph, not a trauma. Moreover, it is becoming clearer by the day why the European Union is stagnating while the rest of the world grows and why so many EU countries have had a lost decade, while some African and Asian countries have doubled the size of their economies. The centralised, top-down dirigisme of Brussels is stifling innovation at the behest of big companies, big bureaucracies and big pressure groups. The Brussels system is hamstrung by an overzealous version of the precautionary principle that is too pessimistic about future possibilities, too complacent about present systems and too convinced that bureaucrats know better.
From the Reformation to Napoleon’s continental system and after, this country has throughout its history done better when it looked outward to the world more than inward to the continent. We are an island, not a peninsula. Perhaps in the 1960s, it was just about understandable that we should try to retreat inside a tariff fortress to get access to a single regulatory zone. But today in the age of container shipping, budget airlines and the internet we have a global language, we are a science superstar, we have immense soft power, we have championed free trade for generations, and we have lent the world our systems of law and finance, of medicine and technology, of ideas and discovery.
Finally, in Theresa May we have a Prime Minister who intends Brexit to be a global, outward advance not an isolationist, defensive retreat. Now I know there are those on the other side of the referendum divide who say that we globalists won the referendum only because we were supported by people with a darker agenda who wanted to pull up the drawbridge, go back to the 1950s and stop all immigration, not just control it. We are told: “What have you unleashed? Are you sure you know how to ride the tiger of populism?”. I say to those who take this view: look at what the Government say and what they do. It is run by the globalists, not the isolationists. If you want to strengthen their hand—our hand—and make sure the globalists get their way and not the protectionists, then come on over and join us. Bring as many of the 48% as you can and we will bring as many of the 52%. To echo what my noble friend Lord Cormack just said, together we can build an unassailable majority for an outward, confident and ambitious country, trading and thriving, inventing and discovering, leading and enlightening the world as never before. This is a great country with a great history, but we have hardly started.
My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, may be a rational optimist but I am afraid that I am a realistic sceptic. I should declare interests as outlined in the register as chairman, president or vice-president of a range of national and international environmental NGOs.
I want to focus on two linked issues. Leaving the European Union is probably the most significant change experienced by this country in living memory, so I believe firmly that Parliament must be able to provide proper scrutiny on a regular basis, and effectively to monitor and actively contribute to the negotiation. I began to get a bit unhinged round about September last year and that lasted through almost to today. If felt as if there was a period over the autumn and winter when democracy had gone into a kind of limbo. The Government were saying absolutely nothing about any emerging thinking on the detail of Brexit. Indeed, they were making a virtue of their silence by saying that to do otherwise would risk revealing their negotiating hand.
The result was that the normal and hugely valuable checks and balances in our democratic process, with commentary on and the influencing of government proposals by NGOs, the media and expert bodies—and indeed by Parliament—simply stopped, as there was absolutely no substance to comment on. That, I believe, was hugely dangerous. The Government cannot hatch up solutions in isolation and in the dark to the myriad complex challenges that face us in the post-Brexit settlement. If we are to get halfway sensible solutions on the fine grain of the new arrangements, it needs everybody—civil society, academia, industry, the media, expert bodies, the public and indeed Parliament—to have transparency of the proposed arrangements and to be able to comment on them and influence them. That is part of how we will develop a consensus and a buy-in to the arrangements that are to follow. It is imperative that Parliament, among others, is able to scrutinise proposals regularly, to effectively monitor and to actively contribute to the negotiations. That provision is so important that I believe it needs to be in this Bill.
The second point I want to make is about what happens after this Bill. Again, it is an issue of transparency and an understanding of what the Government’s intentions are. Environmental standards have been a huge benefit coming from Europe. About a quarter of all EU legislation that applies to the UK is about the environment, and that legislation has done a really good job in raising environmental standards. But the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has said that up to a third of that EU environmental law may not be able to be transposed through the great repeal Bill. We need urgently to understand how the Government will fill the gaps left by the transposition process with the new regulations, to ensure that at least as good standards as the EU legislation laid down are continued. The Government need to guarantee that they will not water down the rights, the duties and the remedies without full parliamentary debate and scrutiny. I very much share the concerns outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, in his contribution to this debate from his experience and expertise. The statutory instrument process will work only if it is a transparent maintenance of the standards, not a reduction of them. A first step would be to publish the list of environmental legislation and regulations that cannot be directly transposed. Will the Minister undertake to do that? If we cannot even have the transparency of a list of things that will need a statutory instrument or even primary legislation to bring them over successfully, we are not getting the degree of transparency that we should.
In the White Paper, the Prime Minister said that the EU acquis will be transferred into UK law. As well as directives and regulations, the acquis includes principles of European law that are set out in treaties, including, in the case of the environment, the precautionary principle, the principle of sustainable development, dealing with damage at source, the principle that the polluter pays, and various access-to-justice measures. These principles need to be transposed, too.
All this environmental standards stuff is not just nice to have. It is not just about birds and otters, or even about clean air and water for human health. British business—and, indeed, British agriculture—needs to know what environmental standards it should be committing to meet in planning and developing its goods and services for the next five to 10 years., and British business tells us—I was a regulator for the environment for many years—very firmly that it likes to have clear environmental regulation that does not flip-flop around and that allows them to plan for the medium and longer term with some degree of certainty. We need the Government to say, in much more detail than the general platitudes outlined in the Brexit White Paper, how they are going to give business that security for the 30% of environmental legislation that cannot be transposed.
I suppose where I am at the moment—with a very heavy heart and less joie de vivre than the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley—is that I voted to remain in the EU. I believe that the Government are playing a very unpredictable and hazardous game of poker, with their cards too close to their chest for the sake of democracy in this country. I will support this Bill only if it can be significantly amended to ensure proper parliamentary scrutiny and an assurance from the Government about greater openness in the future, so that we can fulfil our proper purpose of holding the Government to account in the interests of the people.
My Lords, I wish to declare an interest. Noble Lords may be rather surprised that on a Bill of this length one could declare an interest, but it is the following: my father, Con O’Neill, negotiated the UK’s entry into the Common Market. I do not, of course, know how he would have judged all the later developments of the European project, but I think that some aspects of his experience may be relevant to the negotiations that will have to be entered into if and when the UK invokes Article 50.
The Bill we are discussing is, of course, minimal—incredibly minimal—but it is also quite opaque and obscure. Clause 1 simply confers on the Prime Minister the power to notify under Article 50(2) the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the EU. That much seems clear enough; it is only a matter of notifying the EU of an intention. The rub comes later, after notification has been given and the UK seeks to act on this intention and negotiate withdrawal. This may be where my father’s experience might be in some ways relevant.
It is obvious that in negotiations one does not always get the deal one wants. Folk memory in the UK has it that the UK got a harder deal on entry than it might have done otherwise because of the action or attitude of the French and, in particular, of General de Gaulle. My father had a more complex view. While he thought that the negotiations had achieved less than might have been achieved if we had got serious about entering the EU earlier, in his view the difficulties were not solely or wholly to be attributed to de Gaulle or to France.
I do not think that we have reason to think that negotiations to exit the EU and form a new relationship with the 27 after Article 50 is invoked will inevitably go more smoothly or that they will deliver everything that is desired, or everything that would be in the interests of the UK, any more than in the past. We often hear enthusiasts for Brexit pointing out how many EU states and EU companies have strong interests in specific sorts of engagement and trading relationships with the UK. That is surely true. However, such interests are often dispersed and are not shared by all member states or by all companies. Indeed, some member states and some companies will have considerable interests in securing the exclusion of the UK or of UK companies with which they would have to compete. They may seek to obstruct that solution. In short, there is likely to be the most enormous co-ordination problem in these negotiations because so many interests will not be widely enough shared to make agreement simple or obvious. As the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, said, we are now dealing with 27 not six other parties.
The negotiations may not go smoothly despite the fact that many have an interest in reaching an agreement and it would irresponsible of us not to be clear about that reality from the start, so I wonder whether the Minister could take time in winding to state what happens in the event that negotiations lead to no deal or that the only deal on offer is unacceptable or very harmful to the UK. What happens in the event of no deal and what happens in the event of a bad deal? I do not think that we know, but it is something that has to be understood when invoking Article 50.
Two different possibilities are mentioned. By one account, if there is no deal, nothing has changed and we are still a member of the EU. By another account, though, we will have left the EU with no agreement in place. That is one pair of views on the matter. If the latter, then on some views we would be able to trade on WTO terms, but on other views WTO terms are not an automatic default, since our membership of the WTO hinges on our relationship with the EU and a failed negotiation would not deliver WTO terms. Again, this needs to be clear not merely to Members of your Lordships’ House but to our fellow citizens. It is important, before the Bill passes, to understand the situation in the event of either no deal or an evidently bad one. That is why I hope that the Minister will set out the Government’s present understanding of the situations in the event of no deal or a conspicuously bad deal.
My Lords, here is the paradox. I happen to believe that it is the historic rapprochement between France and Germany in the 1950s that has led to the Bill before us today. The establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community and the Common Market itself could not have happened without the brilliant leadership of Jean Monnet and the founding fathers. There had been three devastating wars between France and Germany in less than a hundred years so political leadership was required to bring the two countries together, and it was brilliant leadership.
It was top-down leadership, though—it had to be. That is how the Common Market, and later the European Union, began its life, and that is how it continued. That is why there has been a growing democratic deficit. You have only to look at the reaction of European leaders when the peoples of Ireland and Denmark voted in their referendums the wrong way; they were made to vote again because the leaders thought they knew better than the people. Look at how the euro, the single currency, was steamrollered through, with its devastating effects on young people in southern Europe whose lives have been blighted by it. Once again, the European leaders claimed to know best.
Surely if Europe is about anything, it is about democracy, the coming together of democratic countries by popular consent. Top-down leadership may have been necessary in the 1950s but today people want their say, and last June the British people had it. The Bill before the House today has one purpose only: to give effect to the decision of the British people in that referendum to leave the EU. That is what was on the ballot paper—one question, remain or leave, nothing else. The ballot paper did not have on it any questions about EU nationals, the single market, the customs union or immigration. It asked one question only, so the Bill rightly confines itself to that one question. Anyone who has ever canvassed on the doorstep, as many noble Lords know, knows that people vote for this party or that party for all sorts of reasons, often unpredictable and indeed bizarre. We do not and cannot know why people voted the way they did. The only evidence we have before us is the ballot paper.
Surely one of the things in which we in this House take great pride is basing policy decisions on hard evidence, not speculation or hearsay. The ballot was a one-issue ballot so this is a one-issue Bill, and so it should remain.
My Lords, in my 40-odd years in political life, I have voted six times in referenda. I was on the winning side three times and I was on the losing side, including this one, three times. On all those occasions, I had to accept that, whatever my personal views, I would accept the views of the people in that referendum, and I willingly and happily—perhaps not happily but willingly—accept the views of the British people in this one. But that does not mean that there is no role for Parliament or for the House of Lords to consider the issues affected so dramatically by the single decision of coming out of the European Union.
The political landscape of the United Kingdom in the past 20 years has changed dramatically. Despite the decision of the Supreme Court not to allow the devolved Administrations their wish in this matter, politically Parliament and this House of Lords cannot ignore the issue of the devolved Administrations and what might happen in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. I was never a Scottish Minister, but I was Secretary of State for Wales and for Northern Ireland, and I want to address a couple of issues with regard to those countries and how the Bill and subsequent legislation will affect them. In his winding-up speech, I hope that the Minister will be able to address these points. Next week, amendments will be tabled and debated with regard to the devolved Administrations.
Wales voted to leave. That does not mean that there are not issues in Wales that need to be addressed. Seventy per cent of Welsh exports are to member states of the European Union. The great Airbus factory in north Wales is heavily dependent on European business. Tens of thousands of Welsh farmers rely on European money and are wondering what will happen when it runs out. Hundreds, indeed thousands, of organisations and communities in Wales depend on European Union funding too, and they are concerned about what will happen. Our Welsh universities and colleges depend on European students, but also on a great deal of resource for research. I hope that the Government will take these matters seriously and discuss them with Carwyn Jones, the Welsh Government and the Welsh Assembly.
I turn to Northern Ireland. There, the situation is different. The people of Northern Ireland voted to remain in the European Union. The people of the Republic of Ireland are strongly in favour of their membership of the European Union. Yet that country, Ireland, will be affected more than any other European country as a result of our decision to leave the European Union. Billions of pounds every year are spent in trade between Ireland and the United Kingdom. The European Union Committee issued a great report on the issue which I hope we will be able to debate in the months to come. What about Northern Ireland? There, the issue of the border looms. There has been no border, other than at the time of the Troubles, separating North and South in Ireland. The fact that the Troubles disappeared and that the border went with them was a huge issue in bringing about peace in Northern Ireland. I hope that the Government are, with the Irish Government, looking extremely carefully at how to deal with the situation in practical terms.
There is more. I chaired many of the talks that led to the Good Friday agreement 20 years ago. It was based on the common membership of the two Governments —the two countries, Ireland and the United Kingdom—of the European Union. That common membership permeated every strand—1, 2 and 3—of those negotiations. Strand 2 concerned relations between the North and the South. Most of the bodies that have been set up between Ireland and Northern Ireland are based on Europe. Therefore, if we leave the European Union, that essential element of the Good Friday agreement is jeopardised.
Money came too, of course—not just Objective 1 money, important though it was to Northern Ireland, but peace money too. The distribution of that peace money from Europe to Northern Ireland meant that nationalists and unionists, Catholics and Protestants, worked together in distributing those funds in Northern Ireland in itself helping to bring about peace. The people of Northern Ireland in a referendum in 1998 voted for the Good Friday agreement. At the same time the public of the Republic of Ireland overwhelmingly voted for that agreement. The people of Northern Ireland voted to stay in the European Union and yet the people of the United Kingdom decided to come out. If that is not a huge dilemma for the Government, I do not know what is.
I will finish by simply quoting the preamble to the Good Friday or Belfast agreement of 1998. It says that the two Governments wish,
“to develop still further the unique relationship between their peoples and the close co-operation between their countries as friendly neighbours and as partners in the European Union”.
The European Union has been vital to the Northern Ireland peace process. It must not be jeopardised by the Brexit process.
My Lords, given how many noble Lords have already spoken in this debate I aim to be as succinct as the Bill itself. However, some additional comments have crept into my notes in response to the quality of debate I have heard from noble Lords’ earlier contributions. For example, I noticed how frequently Members on all Benches disclosed their own reactions to the outcome of last June’s referendum. To bring some balance, I will mention my own reaction. Frankly, I was chuffed that the people of this country wrested back the ability, in the words of our Prime Minister already quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy,
“to hold their governments to account”.
Collectively we rejected the strong supranational institutions created by the European Union which, as she said,
“sit very uneasily in relation to our political history and way of life”.
My first point is simply that we have already, and unusually, been given the opportunity to vote on this issue. Unlike in parliamentary elections, members of this House were included in the plebiscite that decided to leave the European Union. We have already had our say; hence we should do nothing to resist the majority decision reached through that process which is implemented by the Bill before us.
Secondly, however vital our scrutinising role, the many amendments that have been tabled seem to me to be at odds with the scope and purpose of the Bill, which is simply to notify withdrawal, not to set any kind of terms. As my noble friend Lord Blencathra said with his customary forthrightness:
“There is nothing in this tiny little Bill to scrutinise … The amendments are nothing to do with scrutiny. They are an attempt to build in conditions and tie the Prime Minister’s hands”.—[Official Report, 20/2/17; col. 116.]
Moreover, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, was right to criticise government by referenda. It risks an even more short-term approach to politics than the one already criticised by so many. Cabinet Ministers testify that the progress of government business was grievously hindered almost from the outset of 2016 with a good six months still to go to the referendum.
In relation to the concern many share about amendments, my third point is that venturing into certain territory such as proposals to guarantee EU citizens’ rights to remain flouts the basic rules of trading, of which I have some relevant experience, albeit not always of the successful kind. Stating from the outset that these rights will be granted without obtaining the same rights for our own citizens in the EU breaches the elementary principle that you do not give anything away in advance that will weaken your position if you do not need to, and certainly not in order to communicate what kind of a country we aspire to be.
This is very costly virtue-signalling. Looking good does not belong in hard bargaining. We have already learned this to our cost. It would repeat the same undemocratic error that the Blair Government made when we, unlike most of the old EU 15 countries such as France and Germany, opened the door to citizens of the 10 new accession countries, including Poland and another seven eastern European states, without transitional arrangements. We did this because we wanted to say, “This is the kind of country we are”. Events have shown that the kind of country that the electorate want us to be is pragmatic about the level of population that our services can sustain, not idealistic about opening our arms to all. It is an inescapable fact that we are a small, overcrowded island; research published yesterday reveals that our roads are the most congested in western Europe. Delays cost £31 billion per year, a little under £1,000 per driver. In terms of quality of life, those who drive in peak periods are stationary in traffic jams for about four working days per year.
The public want us to get the best deal for the UK and for UK citizens abroad. To echo a former Chancellor and noble and learned friend in this House, Lord Howe, they do not want our negotiators to go in with broken cricket bats that they would be equipped with if we downgraded the importance of our own interests so unnecessarily from the outset. My noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral deployed a similar metaphor: we have to keep this simple—it is not just the patience of the elected Government that we will be testing if we do otherwise; it is also the good will of the electorate itself.
My Lords, this Bill has come to us, as it should, with a White Paper. The White Paper has been dealt with quite frequently this evening and yesterday in the debate, and a number of things have been said about it. It has been described as “hubristic”. The noble Lord, Lord Warner, described it as Panglossian, I think, and I accept both of those epithets. But what struck me most about it was how very uninformative—almost insultingly uninformative—it was. Nothing precise was said at all about the benefits of Brexit and nothing whatever was said about the costs.
I looked in vain for even the words “cost” or “risk” in the whole document. If you put out something like that in the private sector as a circular to shareholders or a prospectus for a public offering, you would be faced with a criminal prosecution. Is it because the Government do not think that there are any costs to Brexit, or do they think that public attention should not be drawn to the costs and, if possible, people should be kept ignorant of them? Either of those explanations—and there are no logical third or fourth possible explanations—is deeply disquieting.
The fact is that the Government know perfectly well about some of the major costs of Brexit. Only a few days ago a Minister, Greg Clark, went over to Paris to offer Peugeot SA a large financial package wrapped up as grants for training or innovation or something of that kind—rather along the lines of the similar offer made to Nissan—to bribe PSA into agreeing to keep open their Vauxhall plants in Ellesmere Port and Luton if they go ahead with the takeover of Vauxhall in this country. There is no doubt at all that every other multinational automotive manufacturer in this country will want the same kind of treatment and will have to get it. So the British taxpayer is faced with having to pay out a lot of money for this purpose to reward the shareholders of these international companies, and have no idea with the cost is; the Government refuse to answer questions on that subject, on the spurious ground that it is commercially confidential. Of course, it is not: those payments will appear in the accounts of the UK subsidiaries in due time but, if the payments are not made until after Brexit, and the accounts concerned are not produced for a year or so afterwards, it will happen safely after the next election. That is just an example not merely of the costs but of how the Government are trying to conceal them from the British public, which is deeply disturbing.
The British public are at the very beginning of learning about some of the costs, particularly those of the Brexit devaluation and the inflation that we have had since. Real wages will fall this year, which will put most people in a very uncomfortable position—but it will be particularly bad for the poor and for those who are just getting by, the group that Mrs May says that she is so concerned to help.
A lot has been said this evening about many areas where there will be some real costs, and I will pass over important ones—such as universities, for example, which have been dealt with, and Euratom, which has been dealt with. I will just say in passing that it is an extraordinary idea, when there is such a shortage of nuclear scientists, to decide to duplicate a regulator of that kind. In January, there was an article in Nature, a very well-respected scientific journal, stating that this would almost certainly lead to increased costs and delays in the delivery of our own nuclear programme.
No one has said very much about the European Medicines Agency. What happens if we withdraw from that and set up our own regulatory registration of new pharmaceutical products agency? The answer, of course, is that you will duplicate the costs of registration to pharmaceutical companies. We have heard for years from those in the pharmaceutical industry that a major cost for them, and a major disincentive to put new products into the registration pipeline, is the cost of registration. Fewer drugs will be registered, unless the costs can be successfully passed on to the customer, in which case the NHS budget will be under further strain, as if it were not under enough strain already. Why is that? Why would any sane person do such a thing? I think it has something to do with trying to avoid any contact with the ECJ.
We had a series of very good debates on these subjects here in the House, the most recent one being about the justice and home affairs aspects of the whole question—the membership of Europol, the common arrest warrant, the Prüm exchange and information system, and so forth. It was an extraordinary debate because, very unusually in parliamentary circumstances, there was complete unanimity. Everybody who spoke on both sides of the House, and indeed the members of the sub-committee and its report, were absolutely agreed. They agreed on three things. The first was that these measures are vital for the protection of the British public against terrorism and other forms of serious international organised crime. Secondly, any other arrangement than the one we currently have with full membership of these institutions would be very problematic, difficult and time consuming to negotiate. Thirdly, no alternative arrangement would be anything like as good as the status quo. Everybody said that. So why are the Government doing such a thing? I realised during the course of the debate why it was, although the Government never admitted it. It is because they do not want any contact with the ECJ. This extraordinary decision against the national interest is driven entirely by ideology.
We have heard even worse problems in the last few days. We have heard that the Government propose to malversate money in the international aid budget to give it to east Europeans as a bribe to vote in favour of good terms for Brexit. We have had the most extraordinary suggestion by the Chancellor and the Prime Minister directly that if we do not get what we want in these negotiations we will start a kind of corporation tax war with the rest of the EU, cutting corporation tax and trying to undercut them. As I said in a letter some colleagues may have seen in the Times, we are actually the least well-placed Government in any EU country to undertake a war of that kind as we have the highest fiscal deficit already. So what is going to happen? Will we have a higher fiscal deficit? Will we take the money out of public services when public services are already underfunded—the National Health Service, social services and defence are dramatically underfunded—or will we increase other areas of taxation, put the burden on income tax or on consumption taxes? We have not, of course, been told.
The Government have gone far away—right over the hills and out of sight and beyond—from the referendum in coming up with these policies. They are taking the referendum as a mandate to undertake a series of steps that would have absolutely horrified the British electorate if there had been any mention of them last summer during the referendum campaign. Nobody dared to speak of such things at the time. We should not be in any way inhibited by the referendum in opposing them and we need to have the robust kinds of amendments that have been tabled in this House on this Bill to make sure that the Government do their job and to keep them under some kind of control, answerability and responsibility to the public and to Parliament.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Davies, has given me a wonderful introduction to what I was going to say in any case. Leaving the European Union is strongly against the long-term interests of the United Kingdom and it will hit hardest those citizens who rely most heavily on public services for the well-being of themselves and their families, and for whom economic prosperity is crucial for their job, the roof over their head and the money to pay for the services on which they depend. Several noble Lords have urged us to surrender the best interests of those hard-pressed citizens without a fight, misusing words like “democracy” and “accountability” to do so. But it is not anti-democratic to speak up for the views and interests of the 16 million people on the remain side of the debate, and it would be anti-democratic to leave their voices unheard in Parliament.
However, I also note a paradox. The same noble Lords who complain so bitterly about those of us in the House who have the temerity to speak up and say that Brexit will leave Britain weaker and poorer, diminished abroad and shrivelled at home, are also, almost without exception, against this House actually being representative of public opinion. While my noble friends have consistently advocated and fought for the democratic accountability of this place, our critics in this debate have argued over the years that a representative and accountable second House is the last thing they want to see.
The paradox is that those calling for our surrender to populism today do not believe that this House should represent the public, and have often set out their view that the Lords’ role is best understood as moderating the headstrong impulses of the mob with a strong dose of rationality and expertise. Indeed, just a few moments ago the noble Lord, Lord Sherbourne of Didsbury, said that we are famous for our evidence-based approach to issues that come before us. That is exactly what I and my colleagues are doing and will continue to do throughout this whole damaging and self-harming process.
That is why I will use the remainder of my limited time to focus on one very important but so far ignored sector: the construction industry. I remind the House that the Conservative Government are committed to delivering, among other things: 1 million new homes by 2020; large-scale school expansion and prison-rebuilding programmes; the three Hs of Hinkley Point, Heathrow 3 and High Speed 2; the northern powerhouse and a massive rail electrification programme; and, of course, a boom in exports across the world, needing new factories, workshops, laboratories, roads and ports.
Last November, the Exiting the EU Select Committee in the other place took evidence from the Brexit Infrastructure Group, led by Sir John Armitt, the past president of the Institution of Civil Engineers that to deliver all those things in a timely fashion, the construction industry needs to expand its capacity by 35% over the next decade. To deliver the Government’s investment programme, the construction industry has to grow by 35%. But to deliver the Government’s hard Brexit policy, cutting all access to EU 27 workers, would cause it to shrink by 9%.
Construction is bigger than aerospace and vehicle manufacture combined, contributing around 8% of UK GDP, but of course enabling far more. According to the ONS it employed 200,000 EU 27 workers in 2016—9% of its labour force. In London, EU 27 workers form 54% of the construction workforce, at every level, from top engineers and designers to site labourers. Just to maintain current construction output, EU 27 labour is essential, and the first step must therefore be to safeguard the position of those already here if output is not to decline steeply. To deliver the Government’s infrastructure and housing targets will require more migrant workers, not fewer.
However, that is not all. UK construction projects benefit from the tariff-free flow of goods from the EU 27, with one-third of all materials and construction products, including 90% of timber, imported from them. Therefore the mutual recognition of standards and qualifications, and a zero tariff, should be taken as givens in maintaining frictionless trade with the EU, and as essential if the construction sector is to grow in capacity and deliver the Government’s investment programme. A hard Brexit will certainly not be frictionless for the construction industry.
The Government’s response to this so far has been to downgrade construction in their negotiating strategy. In a list of 50 industrial sectors—where the grades are essential, important and low priority—construction appears as low priority, while the Government’s industrial strategy White Paper is silent on how to recruit and skill up the UK workforce needed to replace the 70,000 construction workers who retire each year, let alone how to plug the 200,000 gap when the EU 27 workers leave—and the 35% increase in capacity to deliver the Government’s infrastructure and housing objectives comes on top of that. A hard Brexit will cripple the construction industry and will leave the UK diminished and hamstrung. This Bill should go no further.
My Lords, I shall focus my remarks on a single piece of EU legislation. The EU General Data Protection Regulation, expected to become UK law in May 2018, imposes new responsibilities on controllers and processors of personal data. It affects every single one of us as it provides an essential arrangement with vast numbers of organisations and businesses, most notably the global companies of Silicon Valley, that is the very basis upon which our personal data are gathered, stored and sold. It is an arrangement that no individual nation state has achieved.
At the heart of the GDPR is the demand that the terms and conditions that sweep up all rights, all privacy and all ownership of our every move and transaction be transparent secure and fair. It is immensely powerful information, fundamental to every transaction we make, which can be used to work out what brand of sneakers we like but can also assess our suitability for employment, our propensity to addiction, our sexuality, our mental and physical health and our political leanings. It can affect our finances, careers, reputations, arrangements for our health, insurance and so on.
The GDPR introduces the requirement of informed consent, provides more stringent definitions and standards of security, sharing and transporting of personal data and preserves some of the rights we currently give away when we habitually tick the “agree” box without reading. It seems to me a significant disaster not to be alongside the bull-headed bureaucrats at the EU as they put checks and balances on the world’s most powerful companies, who are, after all, based nowhere.
While the GDPR is only one of an unfathomable number of agreements that will need attending to, it provides a metaphor. By being asked to trigger Article 50 we are being asked to sign up blindly to terms and conditions we have no idea about. This is not informed consent. Just as the GDPR insists that it is undemocratic and immoral to be denied the right to understand what we are giving away, triggering Article 50 without provision to opt out of the actual terms of Brexit, which will determine every aspect of our future, seems equally immoral and undemocratic. Informed consent is a concept that we use in many arrangements and all areas of life, and it is now considered that consent which is not informed consent is no consent at all—it is coercion. Just as the global corporations of Silicon Valley need to be checked, so too do the Government.
The result of the plebiscite is clear on one binary question only: there is no detail on the face of the Bill. The priorities stipulated in the White Paper manage simultaneously to be too broad and to fail to cover whole sectors. There is nothing about cost and risk, and it includes a fantasy assessment of how the UK fits into the global landscape. Most importantly, the White Paper offers no impediment to accepting a lousy deal. As the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, said earlier in her excellent speech, this document would fail the “treating customers fairly” test. You could not sell someone a washing machine, let alone a pension on this basis.
It is not patronising to say that the electorate did not know what they were voting for: none of us do. It is not yet decided. In this House, we have one power only: to ask the Government to think again. So I ask the Government to think again and make certain that they have the informed consent of UK citizens on the exact terms and conditions of exit from the EU, even if that means a second referendum is a necessity.
My Lords, although it is now many hours since my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal opened this Second Reading debate with her excellent speech, it has been a remarkable two days and a privilege to take part. Both my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, whose speech I also enjoyed, paid fulsome tribute to the work undertaken by our EU Committee and sub-committees. I had the pleasure and honour of chairing, for a short time until ill health forced me to stand down, the sub-committee on foreign affairs, aid and defence and I, too, praise the exceptional hard work of these committees, their officers and special advisers, whose role will be crucial in the two years ahead.
Over the years I have been critical of and vocal about plans to join the euro and in the early 1990s caused grief to senior members of my party, many of whom are now my very good noble friends and sitting on the privy counsellors’ Bench, by being somewhat less than enthusiastic about our membership of the ERM. But I voted in June 1975 to stay in the Common Market and on 23 June 2016 I voted to remain in the European Union. While in 1975 I voted for economic reasons, that was not the case last June. Like my noble friend Lord Maude of Horsham, I thought both sides of the referendum argument made valid points about the effects on our economy of a vote to leave, and I certainly did not feel qualified to know where the greater truth resided. I just suspected what I suppose was glaringly obvious: that there were advantages and disadvantages to both and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, said—in what was a brave speech from the noble Baroness’s Benches—there is an inherent risk in any decision about the future.
As one of the Prime Minister’s trade envoys I have reason to be confident that British companies will adapt to life outside the EU and thrive, although I do not pretend that it will always be easy. What ultimately caused me and I suspect a lot of other people to vote remain was the uncertain state of the world. For all its shortcomings and the visible cracks in its structure, I still felt that in a number of complex areas the EU offered relative stability and I was concerned about rocking that stability. So for me and countless others, it is the kind of relationship we build with our European friends and neighbours that will be the test of a good Brexit. Over the past eight months I have been greatly reassured and encouraged by the language and tone of the Prime Minister and her Ministers in seeking to form that new partnership with Europe.
Like many noble Lords I, too, hope that one of the first issues to be resolved once Article 50 has been triggered will be the status of EU nationals working and living in the UK and UK citizens living and working throughout Europe. It is a concern that has been raised across your Lordships’ House and is of equal importance to those who voted leave as to those who voted remain, although no one expressed it quite so well as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, who blushed rather charmingly and modestly when she sat down to applause from the Gallery. All this and more will be the topic of intense debate and difficult negotiation for months to come. That is where I hope that the knowledge and experience of noble Lords who have expressed their deep concerns in this debate will be brought to bear, because the concerns of noble Lords and the ambitions of the Government cannot be properly debated and settled until Article 50 has been triggered. The Bill simply starts that process.
Although I very much heed the sage words of my noble friend Lord Lothian that we must think carefully how we deploy our feelings as we move forward, this House has a right to debate fully the Bill before it and it is an important part of our scrutiny to seek clarification, raise issues and put comments on the record. However, good scrutiny of a Bill does not necessarily mean amendment of it and I hope we send this one, unamended, back to the Commons, from where it came to us, with a thumping majority in order to allow Ministers the greatest possible flexibility to negotiate on our behalf.
I was struck by the powerful speech of my noble friend Lord Hill of Oareford, who pointed out that this is not just about us. There are 27 other countries affected by the referendum result last June and they too want and deserve clarity and certainty as soon as possible. At the risk of being labelled an incurable optimist—or maybe I am just one of my noble friend Lord Ridley’s rational optimists—the negotiations might not be as bad as some fear. There seems to be a marked difference in attitude between officials of the European institutions and the politicians of the 27 countries with which we have to reach an agreement. The former feel they have to treat us harshly in order to stop anyone else getting any ideas, but there is more realism in the corridors of power of the individual countries. As reported in the papers a couple of days ago, the German Foreign Minister, Sigmar Gabriel, said at a security conference in Munich that:
“We should resist the temptation to treat Britain overly harshly, not out of pity, but in our own interest”.
He went on to say that:
“We need Britain, for example, as a partner in security policy, and I am also convinced that Britain needs us”.
Last week, at a lunch in Abu Dhabi, I had the pleasure of a brief chat with the Finance Minister of Luxembourg. He is on record as saying that:
“I think everybody should remain calm and make sure that we can do this in an orderly way … the British population has given its verdict. It is now up to the British Government to trigger Article 50”.
I hope we are in a position to do that soon, so that we can start the important task of building the post-Brexit Britain, so eloquently wished for by my noble friend Lady Finn, as a Britain which is open, free-market and liberal.
My Lords, as a remain voter my first reaction was to consider opposing the Bill and voting against it if the opportunity arose. However, given the view expressed in the elected House, that is not an option. In some respects, I am here to abstain in person at this stage. What has concerned me since the vote is not so much why we did not get these issues brought out and addressed in the debate but more the exposure of unintended consequences. We seem to be encountering difficulties that nobody thought about before.
For example, the European sub-committee for policing and security, on which I serve, discovered that the European arrest warrant would be one of the casualties of our departure. This is an eminently sensible means of avoiding lengthy extradition processes and it brings prisoners speedily to justice. If we go further, UK involvement in police collaboration through Europol will have to end. Neither of these involves great financial cost, so the health service is not going to benefit. They are largely irrelevant to the free movement of people, apart from accelerating the process of moving accused from one country to another. The fact is that the withdrawal of the UK’s participation in both schemes will make our country less safe and our criminal class more comfortable, to the contradiction of all the hopes about defending our shores and having the ability to pass our own laws.
This was evidenced when the noble Baroness, Lady Evans, in opening the debate, spoke about another of these “Oops” issues, as it were, that we did not really anticipate were going to happen. She devoted a paragraph of her speech—in the context of the length of the speech, this was quite a generous contribution to the debate—to the Euratom treaty. We joined Euratom at the same time as we joined the Common Market. The two are now inextricably linked as they have been integrated into EU institutions, so we find that Article 50 requires us to leave not only the EU but Euratom.
The noble Baroness the Lord Privy Seal was less than fulsome in the assurances that she sought to give us. She said:
“Our nuclear industry remains of strategic importance and leaving Euratom does not affect our aim of maintaining effective arrangements for civil nuclear co-operation, safeguards, safety and trade with Europe and our international partners”.—[Official Report, 20/2/17; col. 13.]
One of the consequences of leaving Euratom will be the termination of British participation in the fusion projects at Culham. This is a scientific project of enormous significance, one in which Britain has historically played a significant role. It will to an extent be overtaken by the establishment of the ITER programme in France in the next two or three years, but our contribution and the significance of British involvement in this will be of massive importance. I will not trouble the House by reading out the White Paper in its entirety. Suffice it only to give the title of paragraph 10:
“Ensuring the United Kingdom remains the best place for science and innovation”.
The pious wishful thinking is there for all to see.
The point is that as far as the nuclear industry is concerned, there is far more involved than simple power generation. We enjoy a significant presence in a number of these areas. Once we are outwith Euratom, though, our ability to co-operate will be very limited. As I say, this is only one example of how our negotiators are likely to be encumbered by these—as I call them—“Oops” issues, the issues that we forgot all about. If we need any argument for the accessibility of Ministers coming to this House and providing us with clear indications of what the emergent problems are, the examples I have shown are crystal clear.
I am not arguing about arrest warrants or Euratom. I am making the point that this is an issue of process. That is what the legislation is about: improving the process whereby we can make the Government of the country, our negotiators, more accountable, clearer and more disciplined in the manner in which they go about it. Rather depressingly in this debate, from the introductory speech onwards—I have quoted the example of Euratom—we have had a thoroughly misleading approach to this whole issue. If that is the way the House is going to go and that we are going to be treated then we need to amend the legislation, and as quickly as possible.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure—humbling, in fact—to follow that fine speech by the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill of Clackmannan, and indeed so many others during these two days. It has been a great debate for the reputation of this House, and we need it.
It is a funny old world. When I stood up in this House three years ago and introduced the Private Member’s Bill the European Union (Referendum) Bill, I expected it—dare I be honest?—to be a “snowball in hell” moment, and I was not disappointed. I remember that, during a crucial Division, one noble Lord climbed on to the leather Bench, pointed to the Not-Content Lobby and cried, “This way to kill the Bill!”. I thought that was a rather strange thing for a Liberal Democrat to do, given the party’s previous, passionate commitment to a referendum, but consistency, I suppose, is no more than the sign of a closed mind.
Yet there has been consistency of a sort. Let us put our EU referendum in the context of others: for instance, the earlier referendums on the proposed EU constitution. Noble Lords will remember that voters in France, then voters in Holland, rejected that proposal with huge majorities. But the EU did not simply throw in the towel. It “rose up”. It ignored those referendums. It just carried on and brought the constitution back, with every clause, every comma, and called it the Lisbon treaty. That treaty, too, was rejected by the voters in Ireland. So they were cajoled and threatened and forced to hold another referendum until eventually they gave the right answer.
There has, indeed, been a consistency in approach, and that has been repeatedly, over many years, to ignore the people in the name of some higher ideal—like preventing German domination in Europe. Well, that worked well. Now our own little referendum has got out of hand and delivered the wrong result. The response is precisely the same: change it, delay it, get rid of it, hold another one in the hope that they will change their minds. In the other place, 293 amendments were proposed, and already the amendments are piling up here like a snowdrift. Some, of course, are entirely genuine, but for too many of them, I am reminded of the words of that noble, if nameless, Lord: “This way to kill the Bill!”.
This is a time of considerable passions. The noble Lord, Lord Newby, was passionate yesterday, and last week, when he said that we have to amend this Bill because—I hope I am quoting him accurately—“We don’t trust Theresa May”. Well, that is a point of view. But it is possible that the noble Lord has forgotten that, according to every opinion poll, Theresa May is trusted by many, many more people than either Mr Corbyn or Mr—I almost said Mr Farage, but he is the well-known one—Mr Farron. But let us be fair. Personally, I find it uplifting that those who wanted to abolish this unelected House in the name of the people now want to use this unelected House to defy the people. That takes courage.
This House has a right—more than a right, a duty —to examine every Bill. But alongside that right stands our overwhelming responsibility, which is to the people. I am not suggesting we should wash our hands of the details of withdrawal, but the appropriate vehicle for that serious and maybe searing examination, described so eloquently this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, will be the great repeal Bill and other associated Bills. I might even join in. Brexit may be a simple word, but it ain’t going to be a simple process.
I hope that the next two years of debate and discussion will mark a renaissance in the reputation of this House. We are parliamentary worms, but we may yet become glow-worms. But if we amend this Bill—today’s Bill—we know that it will come straight back. We will have achieved nothing but delay, and we will, I fear, have undermined our credibility at a time when almost everything we do is being mocked in the media.
We are a constitutional anomaly. We have no rights other than those that are tolerated by the people. It is not our role to second-guess the people, to wish that they were wiser, to treat them as children or to refer to them as a mob, as I thought I heard suggested earlier. Least of all, it is not our role to insist that we know better than they do. That is just the sort of arrogance that dragged us into the tragedy of Iraq. We have been given that awesome but utterly unambiguous instruction to start the process of withdrawal in the name of the people, by the will of the people. It is our responsibility to respect their instruction to allow that process to begin, and to do so without delay.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, even while I disagree with so much of what he said. It is also a great privilege to have the last speech of the evening in such an historic debate, one in which the issues have been so well argued and so passionately felt. One of the reasons why I am very pleased to have the opportunity, even at this hour, is to keep faith with so many people who feel, as I do, that the country has embarked on a major gamble with the future of this country, a gamble that could isolate and impoverish the next generation, which has no voice now other than the one that they will find in this House.
Most do not expect us to try to stop this Bill—they are wiser than that—but they do expect us to try to mitigate the damage and to be clear about the huge risks that we are now wilfully taking. They expect us to inject some principle into the negotiating process. I hope that we can do that, because so many people already doubt the parliamentary and political process so far, which has led to an even further loss of trust. I understand why this has happened, but I am not reconciled to it. There has already been, to my mind, a massive failure of political leadership at every stage of this process. The referendum was conducted in the half-light. It was conducted on the basis of half-truths. In so many ways, it was a vote against the past, a past which had failed many people. It was not a confident vote for the future.
The Prime Minister’s objectives are largely declaratory but we do know that, out of weakness rather than conviction, we will be leaving the single market and the customs union to cut back immigration. We are, in short, prioritising a political goal which may in fact be unattainable, but which is likely to inflict further damage on our country and its public services. It is very hard to imagine a more perverse outcome. Likewise, the White Paper has no answers as to how the Government will manage the hugely complex task of reconstructing our new relationships, whether that is a new customs union, the future of Euratom or the future of Erasmus. There is nothing about the impacts, the costs, the consequences or the choices that already have been made. There is little clarity, and there is less certainty.
Of course we respect the decision of the referendum, but I say to the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, that the real challenge is to take the next step and trust the people with what, on best evidence, we know to be the likely consequences of the referendum as they are now emerging and how we can remove avoidable risks. Many of the amendments proposed to this Bill are about facing that reality. In fact, they will enable Parliament and the people to take back control throughout the process ahead. To those who try—and will no doubt go on trying—to bully this House out of its duty of scrutiny, I simply say that in this respect, your Lordships’ House has never been more solidly or more visibly on the side of the people of this country and their right to know what all this is going to cost us in every sense.
Of course the European Union needed reform. We should have been in there leading that process, being part of it, advocating for it. I have always believed that belonging to the European Union expressed the best of our values, whether that was peaceful co-operation or the working principle of equality—which means that richer communities support poorer communities—or the movement of labour and skills, which benefits us all. The 3 million Europeans who have made this country their future in good faith in recent years have brought huge energy and skill, as have our citizens who live in other parts of Europe. The idea that they should be trafficked as part of some bigger deal is repugnant to people on both sides of the Brexit debate. If the Prime Minister is serious about uniting the country, this is where she will start: with a principled guarantee of their legal rights. I shall be supporting amendments to secure that.
I will also support amendments that mitigate the economic and social risks to this country, particularly to the marginalised communities. This will include amendments to give the devolved countries real purchase on the negotiations and real accountability from government, which will affect not only the disproportionate losses they will suffer from Brexit but all the risks that it now poses to a United Kingdom.
One of the most abject sights in recent months has been to watch the Government twist and turn in the courts to exclude Parliament from the decision. I shall support every amendment that seeks to give Parliament its right and proper constitutional role to check and challenge what the Prime Minister comes back with, particularly if that is a no-deal. I think our European friends and neighbours will understand clearly why we are intent on doing that. One of the reasons for asserting the role of Parliament at this stage is that there are no precedents to lean on in this process. There is still an active legal debate over many parts of the process. Nothing is settled and, frankly, nothing is ruled out, including revocation. Parliament must be fully engaged and we must also be vigilant against the excessive use of executive power and secondary legislation in the course of the so-called great repeal Bill.
Last June is long gone and with it, the illusions that were peddled of a quick fix and lashings of new money. The European Union Committee’s report on the options for trade made it clear, for example, that having swept out of the single market, none of the off-the-shelf alternative models will work for us and none will be modified to suit us. Whatever options are open, they will certainly take more than two years. They will come with costs; some will even require some additional movement of people. To manage this safely, we will need maximum flexibility and a transitional arrangement, negotiated as soon as possible.
The world is indeed turned upside down and Mr Trump is now a part of that. We have a genius in this country when we face crises for muddling through. I do not think we can muddle through this time. I hope we can bring to bear, not just through debate on the Bill but throughout the whole process, the wisdom and experience we have already heard in the past two days. In doing so, I hope we will help to achieve a safer and smarter Brexit. This will require more humility than has been shown to date by the Government, and it will need a greater commitment on behalf of the people to both truth and transparency.
My Lords, I draw the attention of the House, and perhaps the Daily Mail, to the fact that my receipt of an MEP pension is in the register.
We have had a long and intense debate, with many excellent speeches. I concur with the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, in thanking Gina Miller for the fact that we have had this debate. It has been a marathon rather than a sprint, just as the Brexit process itself will prove to be over possibly a decade of blood, sweat and tears. Those who swallowed the myth perpetrated by some Brexiteers that it would mean “With one bound, we are free” are going to be cruelly disappointed. This is just one of the many disillusionments to come. Another is the unravelling of the notion that leaving the EU will solve all our problems. There are in fact many sources of valid dissatisfaction, grievance and frustration among the people of the United Kingdom today. To most of these problems, Brexit will bring no relief but there is no spare capacity in this Government to focus on anything but Brexit. As Tony Blair so rightly said in his recent speech:
“This is a Government for Brexit, of Brexit and dominated by Brexit. It is a mono-purpose political entity”.
The Government’s Statement introducing the White Paper three weeks ago made an extraordinary assertion about the Bill. They said that the Bill is not,
“about whether or not we leave the EU, or even how we do so ”.—[Official Report, 2/2/17; col. 1310.]
From these Benches, and as we have heard from others, there is profound disagreement with that assertion so Liberal Democrats are not prepared to throw in the towel. We hope that majorities will form for key amendments and I welcome indications from across the House of such support.
Against the citation by the noble Lord, Lord Hague, and others that 37% of the electorate voted to leave, I set the riposte of my noble friend Lady Walmsley: that means that 63% did not vote leave. Thus, it is perfectly legitimate to try to persuade the other place to think again. Indeed, waving this Bill through with no change, while harbouring serious reservations, would be an abrogation of our responsibility—as the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, the noble Lord, Lord Warner, and my noble friend Lord Taverne emphasised. We are being asked to rubber-stamp Brexit at any cost, the most extreme of all the options open to the Government.
Extreme Brexit shamefully forgets the interests of the young, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, noted. As the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, said, we will be asked, “What did you do to stop this?”. To the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, who espoused the “doctrine of unripe time”, I say: if not now, when? When do we try to stop the fall off the cliff edge? As the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, said in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, no deal is the worst deal of all. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Russell, coined the best phrase of the debate for the Brexiteers—“sore losers”—and I believe that the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Lawson and Lord Forsyth, bore out that description. Responses came from my noble friend Lady Featherstone, who said, more or less, “Do not bully or threaten me to give up my belief in a close relationship with Europe”, and from the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, who said that speaking out is our right, our responsibility and our duty.
There have been objections to the Liberal Democrat call for people to have the final say on any Brexit deal. The noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, said it was not very British to have a further referendum, but Mr David Davis, who is surely very British, thought it was a good idea. As my noble friend Lady Walmsley said, you cannot start with democracy and end with a stitch-up, and I am grateful that other noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Butler and Lord Triesman, agreed with that proposition. As my noble friends Lady Randerson and Lady Kramer stressed, this would be a first referendum on the result of negotiations, the first chance for the British people to pass judgment on the Brexit deal that the Government come back with. It is not a second referendum in the sense of a rerun of last June. Some noble Lords need to grasp this essential difference, which was well understood by the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston.
My noble friend Lord Newby, in his long-ago introduction, referred to Gladstone’s call to trust the people. This was in fact requoted by Randolph Churchill, but Gladstone originated it, and it is worth recalling the whole quote:
“Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear”.
It is that fear which is so driving the Brexiteer intolerance of disagreement or dissent from the true faith—fear that people might realise that the extreme Brexit emperor has no clothes, and that will mean exposure to cruel, cold winds.
Last June’s vote cannot possibly be interpreted as a decision to leave the single market, as the noble Lord, Lord Darling, emphasised. Not only was Mrs Thatcher —as she then was—the original sponsor of the European single market, but the Conservatives obtained an overall majority at the 2015 general election—the last one we had—with an explicit manifesto commitment to safeguard the UK’s position in it, as my noble friend Lord Shipley reminded us. The noble Lord, Lord Leigh of Hurley, urged respect for that manifesto. Perhaps he might ask his noble friends on the Front Bench and in the Government to respect that manifesto commitment to the single market.
The price we will pay for the alleged privilege of global Britain freedom is not only a restriction of opportunities for all our citizens but also the far greater weight and expense of red tape for exporting to the EU from outside the single market and the customs union. My noble friend Lady Walmsley said that the single market gives us the freedom to sell and the confidence to buy.
The refusal to seek continued membership of the single market is due to two self-imposed red lines—against enforcement of EU law through ECJ jurisdiction and against free movement of people. Yet it is blindly obvious—even the White Paper says so—that, in any transitional period or longer term under a free trade agreement or security arrangements, we will be obliged to follow EU standards and the ruling of the court either directly or indirectly. My noble friend Lord Lester pointed this out, as did the noble Lord, Lord Monks, and my noble friend Lord Marks labelled the Government’s position as absurd. The Government are clearly hoping to get away with a smoke and mirrors concealment of this link to the ECJ.
The Government turn their back on free movement without either acknowledging that it is a two-way street, enabling many British people to explore the delights of study, residence or retirement in another EU country or options for flexibility and change. This was urged by the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Hain.
Some speakers seemed to think we could have the single market without the single market. The noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Ludgate, expects free trade as at present. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, wants mutual market access for insurance. My noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire, the noble Lord, Lord Kerr and the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, rightly refuted any such notion as delusional.
The noble Lords, Lord O’Donnell, Lord O’Neill and Lord Giddens, explained how global trade agreements could not offset the disadvantages of exit from the single market. Other noble Lords explained how Brexit would harm co-operation in different sectors, such as financial services. My noble friend Lord Paddick talked about security and my noble friend Lady Jolly mentioned defence.
The potential effect of very hard Brexit on these islands is alarming. Much concern was rightly expressed about the effects within the island of Ireland of pulling out of the single market and the customs union. The White Paper gives no clue about how it will actually avoid a hard border, as the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, pointed out. My noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed rightly feared for the social unity of this kingdom and for the future of the Union. My noble friends Lady Humphreys and Lord Thomas deplored the effect on Wales and Welsh economic development of pulling out of the single market.
The Government seem blind to economic, social and personal distress being caused by their refusal to guarantee the continued residence and other rights to EEA nationals already legally here. Liberal Democrats are totally committed to securing the continued rights of Britons across the EEA, as well as those of EEA citizens here. We believe—I cite the words of the noble Lord, Lord Howard, in evidence to the EU Select Committee—that it is “inconceivable” that a first move will not be reciprocated. So I hope there will be wide support across this House for an amendment.
In conclusion, it is Parliament’s job to seek to put the “how” into Brexit in a way that at least puts a reasonable proposition to the people and allows them to make a sensible choice between that and continued EU membership. Let us have a return to the pragmatic, common sense on which Tories traditionally pride themselves, even if this is not as exhilarating as the revolutionary ideology gripping this very un-Tory Government now. Britain is set to pay a high price, unless the Conservative Government can be deflected from their inflexible pursuit of the hardest of hard Brexits.
My Lords, this has been a memorable, indeed a historic debate, as befits your Lordships’ House. At 187 contributions, I think it has beaten the record of 182 who spoke in the debate on the House of Lords Bill in 1999. We have had Peers from across the House putting their legal, constitutional, political, public service, scientific and environmental expertise at the disposal of the Government over one of the most important decisions any country can take. We heard the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, with his description of our debate as “an elegy” for 45 years which might become seen as an “aberration”. The noble Lord, Lord Hill, reminded us to heed what the other 27 countries are thinking. The noble Lord, Lord Blair, warned of threats to security and law enforcement. The contribution of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, was an education as well as a privilege to hear—as it always is, I am corrected. Some 150 others recounted a little bit of history, here in the Chamber in the last couple of days. Of course, every speaker kept to the “Just a Minute” rule—no deviation, hesitation or repetition. As the person volunteered by my noble friend to reply, I may not be quite so disciplined.
One issue that has been well covered should be unrelated to the Bill—that EU residents should not be used as bargaining chips, for moral reasons but also for the age-old principle that no one should be affected retrospectively by legislation or, indeed, a referendum. A mere 5% of our people think that EU citizens should be asked to leave. It is no surprise, therefore, that 39—at my count—of your Lordships pressed this point in the debate. The Government’s response tonight will indicate how they will respond over the coming 18 months to future debates and the work of our EU committees. If they do not heed such a clear call, what hope is there for them to be in listening mode as we move forward? I hope, therefore, both for the interests of EU nationals here and for what it says about the Government’s genuine willingness to engage, that the Minister will give more comfort than we have heard so far. He has seen our amendment on EEA nationals, for which we anticipate majority support. How much better would it be to resolve this before we get into Article 50 territory, because this really has nothing to do with our negotiations with the other 27 and everything to do with our regard for people already on our shores, including many dedicated front-line public servants in care services and the NHS?
The Leader of the House told Radio 5 Live that the Bill should not be amended and we should not vote on our amendments, as was suggested also by the noble Lords, Lord Blencathra, Lord Lawson and Lord Forsyth —now what do they have in common?—and a few others. What kind of a legislative Chamber would that make us? We have a duty to perform our constitutional role. Our amendments are not to tie the hands of negotiators but to ensure that the legislation dealing with the outcome of the referendum and the negotiations is correct. We would certainly be happy not to vote on our amendment on EEA nationals if the Government give that pledge. But without it, I see no reason to hold back.
I turn to a key demand, which has been rehearsed by a number of your Lordships, and given a learned and erudite introduction by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, which is the necessity for legislation to implement our actual departure from the EU. At present, the Bill authorises the Prime Minister only to open negotiations. It says nothing about their outcome or the role of Parliament in giving legislative authority to the final deal. We welcomed the announcement in the Commons that there would be a vote in both Houses before any vote in the European Parliament. But this should be clear in the Bill so that come what may—a full withdrawal treaty, just the withdrawal agreement with a framework for future relations, or even a failure to agree, or an extension to the negotiating period—wherever we are when the talks are over, the outcome should be voted on to give the Government the legislative mandate to conclude the deal. We will seek to amend the Bill to provide that certainty—for the public, for Parliament and for the Government themselves.
The Minister can count, I think. If not, he has a five year-old who can teach him. He will have heard the numbers tonight and will have totted them up. So perhaps a government amendment in line with the advice of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and others would be the best course of action. Our role in this House, however, will not be simply at the end, so we will seek access to the same impact assessments that the Government see and a continual quarterly dialogue with negotiating Ministers, both so that they can benefit from the expertise of this House, but also so that there are no surprises when the final deal is done.
No matter how much I regret the choice of the British people, I respect and accept it. Indeed, I have learned throughout my rather long career that the true worth of any leader, chair or chief executive is not simply to take the right decision but to make the decision taken right. That is why I believe the priority is to ensure that the terms of our exit create a Britain that instils a sense of hope, especially for the young, and protect living standards, consumer and workers’ rights, the environment and our children’s futures, all of which also depend on the peace and security of our country, which in turn rely on our relations with our neighbours and close allies.
I share the view of my noble friend Lady Royall that the EU has helped to stabilise democracy. Indeed, as my noble friend Lord Darling said, most other countries joined the EU to escape their history, as with Estonia, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and Poland, mentioned by my noble friend Lord Monks. As put so elegantly by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, the EU changed the pattern of history, replacing centuries of war by peace. This should remain uppermost in the Prime Minister’s mind as she negotiates our exit.
Getting a good deal will be a tall order for this Government, whose leader never favoured Brexit. As my noble friend Lord McKenzie and the noble Lord, Lord Owen, said, she inherited no contingency plans for our method or pace of leaving, nor for our future relationship with the remaining 27 or with other trading nations. She leads a divided country, with Scotland and many of our great cities and university towns having voted one way and Wales and much of England another. As she begins the talks with the 27, she has a duty to put all our people’s interests centre stage: the regions and areas which have fared poorly from globalisation; consumers and shoppers; the retired and the young; manufacturing, the service sector, agriculture, pharmaceuticals, tourism and travel; EU nationals, and our own people living elsewhere in the EU. She also has a duty to seek to reunite our divided country—to come together, I think the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said—and to heal the fractures caused by the referendum. If the Government think they can take the UK out of the EU any old way, they are wrong. We will be watching them, which I think the Prime Minister will appreciate, having indeed come to watch us.
This Bill only starts the negotiations with our partners. Our amendments will be to safeguard the Northern Ireland peace process, to ensure that the devolved Administrations are involved throughout the process and to ensure, as the Government negotiate the divorce and the framework for our future partnership with the EU 27, that the prospect of needing legislative authority at the end of the process will make certain they produce a deal which can win the consent of the elected representatives next door and of your Lordships’ House. We would welcome a positive willingness from the Government to reach consensus on this. That would be good for Parliament and the right way to start this challenging process.
My Lords, the Bill before this House is just 137 words long, yet it has been the subject of almost 20 hours of debate and it is, and has been, an historic debate. On my rough calculation, about 1,000 words have been spoken for each word in the Bill and there are more to come. However, with quantity has undoubtedly come quality and I thank everyone who has spoken. Simply to read out the names of all 183 speakers would take me several minutes, so I ask your Lordships to forgive me—and maybe even thank me—for not addressing every point made by every single speaker.
The level of interest in this Bill is hardly surprising. Our nation’s membership of the EU has been part of the mental map, a fixed point, for many people for decades. So when I hear the concerns that have been raised by your Lordships about what the future holds, I do not dismiss them with a complacent flick of the hand. After all, like many in this House, I too voted to remain last year. I believe that significant opportunities lie before us, but any change brings challenges in its wake—challenges which this House has a rightful role to highlight and debate.
If anyone was in any doubt about the value of this Chamber in the legislative process, they should certainly read the debate of the past two days and the work of our excellent committees. Consider the subjects raised by your Lordships: the rights of citizens, immigration, Ireland, universities, our nuclear industry, agriculture—I could go on. These are all important issues but we must not confuse the policies that flow from Brexit with the core purpose of this Bill. This Bill’s core purpose, indeed its only purpose, is to start the process of leaving the European Union. This was noted by a number of noble Lords and they are right. Other noble Lords were right to point to the democratic process that has brought us here.
The electorate voted for a Government who had pledged to hold a referendum, and respect its result. Parliament then voted—by a majority of six to one in the other place—to hold a referendum. The question people were asked, one agreed upon by Parliament, was brutally simple, as the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, said: did they want to leave or remain in the European Union? Some 33.5 million people entered the polling booth that day last June. This was not, as the noble Lord, Lord Newby, suggested, just an expression of a point of view. It was a decision. As the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, said, they knew what they were voting for, and 17.4 million people picked up that stubby little pencil and voted to leave. That was the point of departure.
Parliament attached no conditions, no small print, no caveats. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said:
“It is simply unacceptable for Parliament—for this House—not to honour its commitments. That is what happened when Parliament enacted the referendum Bill”.—[Official Report, 20/2/17; col. 123.]
As the noble Lord, Lord Darling, said, there is no alternative.
So here we are tonight, debating a Bill that was passed, unamended, by the other place by a majority of 384 to start the negotiations. It is a Bill to deliver on the result of the referendum, so that we can, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, put it, get on with the negotiations so we can get the best deal for the UK. As he said,
“there is no turning back”.—[Official Report, 20/2/17; col. 22.]
At this point it would be somewhat churlish, and the sign of a bad loser, not to compliment the skill of one of our number—I refer, of course, to the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. He is a worthy adversary and I now know whose door I would knock on were I ever to need legal help, although I fear it would have to be pro bono.
Let me now address some of the issues raised by your Lordships over the last two days: first, parliamentary scrutiny. I really do not like to say this after almost 20 hours of debate, but in terms of parliamentary scrutiny, we are just about approaching base camp. As the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, put it, we have a long way to go. As well as this Bill, Parliament will vote on the great repeal Bill to repeal the European Communities Act. Primary legislation such as an immigration Bill and a customs Bill, and secondary legislation, will be required to ensure that our statute book is operable on the day we leave the EU.
The Government have announced that we will bring forward a Motion on the agreement to be approved by both Houses of Parliament before it is concluded. We expect and intend that this will happen before the European Parliament debates and votes on the final agreement. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, asked whether a further Bill might be needed to authorise our withdrawal from the EU. The noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, asked if this vote will be under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act. The Government’s commitment is to bring forward a government Motion, which goes above and beyond the constitutional requirements set out in CRAG, and, of course, any new treaty that we agree with the EU will be subject to the provisions of CRAG before ratification.
The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, raised the issue of revocability of the notice to withdraw. There is obviously no precedent for a country triggering Article 50, let alone seeking to reverse such a decision. As a matter of firm policy our notification will not be withdrawn. A clear majority of the electorate voted to leave the European Union and we will respect the will of the British people. There can be no attempt to remain inside the EU, and no attempt to rejoin it. Further, extending the negotiating period cannot be guaranteed by an amendment in this Bill; extending the negotiating period requires unanimity of all 27 members. It is not within the Government’s gift or Parliament’s.
To those who argue that Parliament should be able to amend a treaty put before it, I would echo the words of my noble friend Lord Hill of Oareford: how would this be taken by our European partners? We have said we will approach these negotiations in good faith. We, like them, want to have a smooth and orderly Brexit. So if Parliament was given the power to unravel the agreement after months of painstaking negotiations, how could our European partners know that the agreement would be honoured? They could not. Consequently, this approach would inject more uncertainty into the whole process. I do not say this just because I believe Britain needs certainty, although I certainly do believe that, but because I firmly believe that Europe needs certainty too. If Parliament could amend one treaty and send it back because it did not like some terms, what is to stop it amending the revised treaty and the one after that?
This House and the other place will have the opportunity to scrutinise and debate the Government’s approach as the negotiations proceed. My noble friend Lord Boswell suggested that Parliament be involved as much as possible, and I totally agree. We have promised to give this Parliament at least as much information as the European Parliament, while protecting our national interest. The key point, as the noble Lord, Lord Empey, said, is that we need to be realistic. These are going to be tough negotiations. So parliamentary scrutiny, yes; giving away our negotiating position, no.
Other noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, raised the issue of publishing our assessment of the impact—the costs and benefits. At this point, all I would say is that such an assessment would surely undermine our position, and be exactly what those on the other side of the table want.
Let me now turn to the issue of a second referendum. The noble Lord, Lord Butler, asked if the views of the people on the final deal are irrelevant. The Government clearly do not think the views of the public are irrelevant, as we are honouring the views they expressed in the referendum. We are engaging with the public, and will continue to do so as the negotiations are scrutinised and the agreement is voted on in Parliament. As my noble friend Lord Hague said, we cannot go round in circles. We need certainty and clarity—certainty and clarity that would be dashed by a second referendum. As the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, argued, we could descend into a world of “neverendums”.
As to the point of the noble Lord, Lord Newby, that such a referendum would bring the country together, let me ask this: given that the Liberal Democrats argue the first referendum has created so much division, why would a second one bring the country together? To insert a second referendum now would backslide on this Parliament’s and this Government’s commitment to honour the result. As a number of noble Lords have said, it would undermine our negotiating position and, as the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, put it, that way lies peril.
The noble Lords, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, and Lord Morris of Handsworth, turned to the issue of EU nationals. They spoke of the valuable contribution that EU nationals make to the UK and I agree. A number of noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, raised the issue of the rights of EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals in the EU. Many noble Lords commented that both groups have felt unsettled by the result of the referendum last summer. The Government share their wish for a fair and speedy resolution to this issue. They hoped this issue could be sorted out before we triggered Article 50. I was delighted when last year the Prime Minister suggested to EU leaders that they should come to an agreement covering both EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals in the EU as soon as possible. Many favoured such an approach but others did not, saying they wanted to wait until formal negotiations begin. Therefore, we cannot begin formal discussions on this pressing issue until we have triggered Article 50. That is why we need to pass this Bill as soon as possible.
I note the strong views expressed about the wish for the Government to move unilaterally on this issue. As my noble friend Lord Lamont said, a unilateral move by the Government to address the issues facing EU nationals in the UK, however well intentioned, will not help the situation of the hundreds of thousands of our own citizens in the EU. They could end up facing two years of uncertainty if any urgency to resolve their status were removed by the UK making a one-sided guarantee. We need to act fairly and provide certainty for both groups of people as quickly as possible, and that will remain the Government’s position.
We are sighted on the future of UK nationals working in EU institutions, about which my noble friend Lord Balfe spoke. We should indeed thank them for their work and we intend to do all we can for them in the months ahead.
Let me now turn to issues regarding our approach to the negotiations. We must do all we can to create the right conditions for a grown-up negotiation with our European partners, which is why, as I have said, we need to show that we are negotiating in good faith. However, it goes further than that. As the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, said, this country will continue to face challenges that European nations face, such as terrorism and human trafficking. We will continue to share a thirst for knowledge and research and we must never forget that it remains overwhelmingly and compellingly in our national interest that the EU should succeed. Our approach will be to seek to collaborate and co-operate on issues wherever it is in our national interest to do so.
Some have characterised the Government’s approach to the negotiations as extreme Brexit. I would argue that it is nothing of the kind. It sets out an approach for a new partnership, to work together and trade together to our mutual benefit. It reflects a world where digital technology is turbocharging the forces of globalisation, as my noble friend Lord Howell remarked. To repeat, it reflects the fact that people voted to leave the EU.
The noble Lords, Lord Mandelson and Lord Hain, spoke passionately of their wish to protect jobs and investment, and I applaud their sincerity and the consistency of their views. Where I part company with them and others such as the noble Baroness, Lady Jowell, is that this means we must remain in the single market or in the customs union. Staying in the single market would mean not controlling our borders; it would mean remaining under the EU’s rules without having any say over them. Maintaining our current status in the customs union would mean not having the ability to strike our own trade deals. These are issues on which the British people made their views quite clear, and doing as the noble Lords suggest would mean not leaving the EU.
Secondly, our European partners made it perfectly clear, before and after the referendum, that the four freedoms are indivisible—a point my noble friend Lord Tugendhat made. We respect that, which is another reason why the Government are taking the approach set out in the White Paper.
However, this Bill is about the process of our leaving the EU. It is not about the shape of the negotiations to come, nor the Government’s approach. I will happily debate these matters with your Lordships, and I am sure that there will be other occasions on which to do so over the coming months and years. But as the other place has shown, and as my noble friend Lord Hunt said, the Bill is not the place to put constraints on the Government’s negotiating position.
A number of your Lordships—the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, the noble Lords, Lord Empey and Lord Murphy, and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, to name just four—raised the matter of the island of Ireland and Brexit. They are entirely right to highlight the challenges we face. I can assure your Lordships that the Government are fully committed to the Belfast agreement and its successors. Nobody wants to return to the borders of the past, so we will make it a priority to deliver a practical solution as soon as we can. I can also assure the House that we are consulting closely with Ministers in the Republic and Executive Ministers in Northern Ireland.
I further assure the noble Lord, Lord Empey, that the comments he raised about the border have been clearly heard in government. As he knows, the open border for people and businesses has served us well. We had a common travel area between the UK and Ireland long before either country was a member of the European Union. We will work to deliver a practical solution that allows the maintenance of the common travel area with the Republic while protecting the integrity of the United Kingdom’s immigration system.
Over the last two days, inevitably attention has focused on what divides us, so finally I will focus on what brings us together. First, we agree that in this debate everyone in this House, no matter what their view, should be heard and respected. We are all here because we want to help our country prosper and thrive in the future. To question and scrutinise is certainly not a sign of being unpatriotic. We can all agree that this House has a clear and proper role in scrutinising the Bill. It is equally clear that, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay,
“it would not be proper or correct for this House to frustrate the triggering of Article 50”.—[Official Report, 20/2/17; col. 102.]
Furthermore, at the end of the negotiations, we all agree that the United Kingdom will still wish to co-operate with the European Union and work with our European partners to tackle the challenges we all face.
Finally, whether one voted to leave or remain, we can all agree that, after 20 hours of debate, it is time not to remain but to leave this House and to go to bed.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.