Motion to Take Note (Continued) (3rd Day)
My Lords, I hope that the rest of the House found the previous half hour as life-affirming and helpful as I did. If so, if there is a mass exit to the bar, noble Lords have my complete endorsement and understanding.
I had the privilege of speaking on the second day of the last iteration of this debate, so I shall try to be brief. At the conclusion of my contribution, the speaker from the Government Back Benches who followed me suggested that my observations proved,
“he is not a politician. His view of politics is highly idealistic”.—[Official Report, 6/12/18; col. 1196.]
As a Cross-Bencher who first entered your Lordships’ House in 1982, I am inclined to take that as more of a compliment than a rebuke.
We are in uncharted waters. On the Cross Benches, we are privileged to have colleagues who possess an extraordinary array of talent, experience, intellect and knowledge of government, law and international affairs. Whether they are inclined towards leave, remain or any shade in between, they are more concerned and worried about our current state of uncertainty and national embarrassment than at any point in their collective memories.
Our dilemma was outlined in painful clarity by our ex-ambassador to the EU, Sir Ivan Rogers, in his speech at Liverpool University last month. I commend it to all of your Lordships with a taste for the kind of enervating entertainment offered by my noble friend Lord Lisvane to his maiden aunts. It is like a bucket of powerful paint stripper being applied to a canvas by a highly skilled diplomatic artist. What is depicted on the canvas is nearer to a Francis Bacon triptych than to “The Monarch of the Glen”. Sir Ivan depicts our fundamental misreading of how the EU operates and the weakness of our negotiating approach. He also inflicts richly deserved pain on so many of us:
“Both fervent leavers and fervent remainers as well as No 10 seem to me now to seek to delegitimise a priori every version of the world they don’t support”.
Where do we go from here, assuming, as seems very likely, that tomorrow’s vote in another place rejects the Prime Minister’s deal? Do we relinquish what vestiges of control we still possess, and accept the glorious defeat offered by departing without any deal at all? I have been doing my homework on the speakers in the two days of the debate last week; of the 19 Conservative Peers who spoke, 50% are in favour of no deal, and only 24% are in favour of the deal on offer. We live in strange times. Or do we—and I refer primarily to our elected representatives in the other place—wrest back control from the embarrassingly inept hands of Her Majesty’s Government and from their unworthy challenger, the equally inept and opaque Labour leadership?
Last Wednesday evening, my inner masochist turned on the television, and I found myself listening—much to my surprise—to a voice of sanity. It came from a fellow Cross-Bencher and an ex-Archbishop of Canterbury —my noble and right reverend friend Lord Williams of Oystermouth. Apart from being reminded that he possesses a set of eyebrows rivalled on the Cross Benches only by my noble friend Lord Lisvane, I was struck by the way he listened and thought carefully before any of his responses to a series of difficult questions about our current impasse. He gave no soundbites, no pre-rehearsed mantras, no entrenched and intractable points of view, just thoughtful, sensitively phrased and carefully considered responses that acknowledge the difficult decisions that we face.
I find myself agreeing with his reluctant but carefully thought through conclusion—that we should follow the advice of my noble friend Lord Armstrong of Ilminster last Thursday, and revoke and withdraw Article 50. We must acknowledge that swallowing our pride and admitting our failure to have defined, negotiated and then enacted a departure from the EU which is acceptable to a majority of our elected representatives requires us to return to the drawing board. No deal will not do. Extending Article 50 will not do. It will simply create yet another deadline, and allow us once again to kick the can temporarily down the road. No more.
Last month I reminded your Lordships of the surreal but uncomfortably pertinent Monty Python scene in which the characters debate their dislike of Rome—for which read the EU—while having to acknowledge a longer and longer list of the many benefits it has brought. Today I am reminded—with apologies to Scottish, Welsh and Irish noble Lords—of the agonised words of the character played by John Cleese in the film “A Fish Called Wanda”:
“Do you have any idea what it's like being English? Being so correct all the time, being so stifled by this dread of … doing the wrong thing … we're all terrified of embarrassment”.
We have embarrassed ourselves—and our many friends abroad—enough. Let us stop the clock, recover our mental faculties, nurse our emotional dissonance and seek a way forward that does not preclude any eventual outcome, and which prioritises understanding and acting quickly to remedy the deep economic and social divisions which the last two and a half years have laid bare. Let us cease and desist, and face up to our failures and responsibilities.
I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool. I declare my interests as having practised European law in Brussels, having advised MEPs in the European Parliament and having been elected as an MEP for 10 years. I also served 18 years as a Member of Parliament, for five years of which I chaired the EFRA Committee.
Let us consider what people voted for in the referendum. Put most simply, they wanted to remain in the common market but not in a political union. They wanted to reduce immigration, and to take back control. Not all immigration is bad. We need to differentiate the needs for the economy, and to recognise the needs of health, social care, food, farming and the hospitality industry. We need to recognise that backbreaking work such as fruit picking, vegetable growing and that of the horticultural industry will no longer be done by students and people already living in this country. We need access to a reliable source of skilled and unskilled labour for farmers, who will otherwise be held back by the lack of access to a workforce.
Let us also look at what our trading relations will be post Brexit with both the EU and third countries. Trading in agricultural produce has huge implications for food and farming. We must legislate for the same high standards of health, welfare and hygiene on leaving the European Union as we currently enjoy. We must recognise the implications of chlorine-rinsed chicken and hormone-produced beef from the US, as well as substandard foods from Brazil and Argentina, which may negatively affect both consumers and home producers alike. There will be an enhanced role for the Food Standards Agency post Brexit, as it will have to check all imports from the EU as well as from third countries.
We must be very clear. Leaving with no deal means leaving on the World Trade Organization’s “most favoured nation” rules. We will have to treat all countries the same, so we can show no preferential treatment in exports or imports. However, “most favoured nation” means delivering equal treatment to all countries on the principle of non-discrimination; we cannot simply treat our erstwhile EU partners more favourably than any other trading nations in the circumstances of no deal. What a pity that the ardent proponents of no deal do not explain that in such stark terms, particularly the implications for the Irish border explained so eloquently and simply by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern.
Potential tariffs on livestock could reach 40% on beef and lamb in particular. That is the greatest threat to hill farmers across the four nations of the United Kingdom. These farmers, whom I grew up with and then represented for a number of years, play a key role in feeding the nation and delivering the biodiversity of the countryside. They could never be replaced. The most drastic change we would see on leaving on World Trade Organization terms would be border checks on paperwork and the application of tariffs and non-tariff barriers. Let us consider nomenclatures for a moment: that means we have to identify every item in every individual product. We have to describe it and recognise and state the provenance and its content. Only then can we attach the appropriate tariff to the finished product.
The impact is not just of tariffs but of non-tariff barriers and other regulations, such as paperwork. I remember when the 120 pages that used to be issued in the European Union were replaced by one page with 120 boxes—what had actually changed? These checks could result in delays at borders, which could destroy perishable goods such as foodstuffs.
In considering the options before us today, in my view, the Prime Minister’s deal is preferable to crashing out without a deal, to a second referendum and to a general election, which would probably return a similar result to now, with no overall majority.
In the long term, we should seek the closest possible relationship with the EU that delivers frictionless trade, such as is enjoyed by countries who are members of the EEA and EFTA, leading to access to the single market but with the added benefits of a customs union to be negotiated through a separate protocol. In the short term, if the Prime Minister loses the vote on the deal, I see no alternative but to apply for a short pause in the Article 50 process. The elections to the European Parliament are an issue, but we could apply for observer status for those British MEPs, or at least some of them, currently serving there. They could then oversee the arrangements in the intervening months.
A second referendum holds no attraction for me. Why repeat the exercise when the last one was so divisive and inconclusive, and resulted in the murder of an MP, Jo Cox? The final say has to rest with the House of Commons and the democratically elected representatives of the people. The House of Commons must be allowed to vote on each of the options available; you simply cannot expect the electorate to enter into the minutiae of policy detail. What else would taking back control really mean, other than restoring parliamentary democracy?
My Lords, I want to make three points. First, the reality is that the Prime Minister’s deal is dead. The majority of MPs and probably the majority of your Lordships’ House, from all sides, simply do not support it. In the country, both leavers and remainers are quixotically united in rejecting it. The PM’s deal is definitely dead.
Secondly, there is no real mandate for leaving the European Union: 17 million people voted to leave, 16 million people voted to remain and 13 million people did not vote at all. So the “expressed will of the people”, as the Brexiteers like to call the outcome of the referendum, was the expressed will of only 37% of the electorate, and the polls tell us that these figures are shifting further in the direction of remain, particularly among young people eligible to vote for the first time—the very people who will inherit this mess.
It is not just a numbers game. All the political parties, with the exception of the Liberal Democrats, are radically split on the issue. Today in the House, even the Bishops have confessed—if that is what Bishops are allowed to do—that they are split. The normal machinery of politics simply does not work where Brexit is concerned. In any other walk of life, no sensible leader would attempt something as complex, heroic and contentious as unravelling 50 years of close partnership with no real mandate, no overwhelming support in the country and with their party split and unable to offer support. It simply would not happen.
Thirdly, if the PM’s deal has no support, no deal is even more catastrophic and must be absolutely ruled out. It would be equivalent to the closing moments of the road movie “Thelma & Louise”—one of my favourite films—when the two main characters, cornered by events and the law, drive spectacularly and with huge élan off a cliff. Driving off a cliff never has a good outcome, and let me give your Lordships just one example of the risks of a no-deal Brexit which has not been highlighted completely so far.
Brexit is a pivotal challenge for the environment. Some 80% of our current environment law stems from the EU and a no-deal Brexit would sweep away the current effective systems of enforcement of environmental law, and the existing rights of the public to environmental information, to public participation and to access to justice. With a no-deal Brexit there is a real risk that, as part of a desperate scramble to sign trade deals, the UK would be pressurised into a post-Brexit bonfire of environmental standards. As my noble friend Lord Whitty outlined, the Government have promised a whole framework of primary and secondary legislation for the environment, but none of it can come into place quickly, if at all, under a no-deal Brexit. This is simply one area that I have knowledge of where black holes will open up under no deal. We must avoid a no-deal Brexit at all costs.
I believe that your Lordships’ House must be the voice of sanity. We should vote vigorously against the Prime Minister’s deal and stop a no-deal Brexit. We must not be like Thelma and Louise, heading off a cliff, intoning, “It’s the will of the people”. I would go further than our Front Bench and ask the other place to revoke the Article 50 notification. Some say that resiling from a Brexit that looks highly unpalatable under closer examination, and which has in reality proven politically unachievable, would destroy faith in the political system. But there is no faith in the political system. Many of those who voted to leave did so because they felt politics had not delivered social and economic results for them, and because they had already lost faith in the political system. The time has come for men and women of good will across the parties to abandon this Brexit, which will impact particularly on those who are poorer and less able to cope, and focus on forging a national engagement and agreement to address the real issues of the day: future prosperity, economic and social inequalities, and the safeguarding of peace.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my titular neighbour, the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone.
As someone with no dietary requirements, on any cafe or restaurant menu there is invariably for me more than one right answer. On the Brexit menu before us today, however, there is less than one right answer. Thus I find myself in that same maze that my noble and learned friend Lord Hope of Craighead described in his speech of 5 December, which has been referred to many times in our five days of debate. Other than accepting the deal on offer, I agree with him that there are three ways out of the maze: no deal, go back to the people or seek to renegotiate. Having spent a career assessing risk, I naturally look at each of these three routes through those spectacles.
The EU Select Committee examined the no-deal option in exhaustive detail and published a report in December 2017. Our report was unanimous and concluded that the outlook following a no-deal Brexit was full of risk. I do not have time to develop the point as others have done in our five days of debate, but, to me, this route looks to represent an unacceptably high risk of significant economic damage, particularly for the trade-in-goods part of our economy. In saying that, I accept there is a line of logic that suggests that mini deals would be done in a no-deal situation to ameliorate matters. That can, and does, reduce some risk, and I feel I have taken account of it in reaching my conclusions.
The second way out of the maze is to go back to the people. As a Scot, I am a veteran of two recent referenda. They are deeply divisive of our community and fraught with bad behaviour on the part of the campaigns themselves and their supporters too. In the Scottish referendum, there was much low-level criminal damage, intimidation and dreadful cyberactivity, to finger only some of the unsavoury elements. In the EU referendum, feelings also ran very high, with many families and friendships riven.
In his speech on 5 December, the most reverend Primate talked of the importance of healing, and last week spoke of the need for reconciliation. In both instances the whole House agreed with him. I fear that another referendum stands a substantial chance of seeing considerable unrest and the opening and reopening of many awful wounds—Anna Soubry MP got a personal gypsy’s warning of this, which reached the front page of the Times last week. In any event, I agree with the many noble Lords who have suggested that such a referendum is unlikely to settle the issue permanently.
The third way out of the maze is to seek to renegotiate. At the start of November, the Select Committee visited Brussels for two days, immediately before the announcement of the potential deal. As ever, we met substantially all the various interlocutors whom we had got to know through the process. I had the strong impression that both sides were at their limits and that the appetite for further negotiations was very low. In addition, the apparatus that the EU negotiates through is very clunky. Behind Monsieur Barnier is a committee structure which involves all the EU 27. We sat through a lengthy meeting with that committee’s secretariat and learned through practical examples of the great difficulties and sheer length of time it takes to achieve consensus on even small issues among the EU 27. We are, therefore, out of both negotiating time and negotiating appetite. Accordingly, there is a strong likelihood that an attempt at a substantial renegotiation will make little, if any, significant change and push us towards no deal.
However, during that same Brussels trip I was much encouraged by our lengthy visit to the Canadian embassy. They told us how they were already making small incremental and mutually beneficial changes to their brand new treaty agreed only in 2017. We had a similar report from a very senior Swiss official at an informal meeting in London the following week. Both commented that concluding a treaty was not the end of the matter but the start of a conversation. I fear the backstop less than many because of those two sessions. Thus, at the start of December I felt that the correct route was to accept this pretty unpalatable deal. It represented the lowest risk to the UK, our fellow citizens’ lives and jobs and the 3.5 million EU citizens living among us. But the Prime Minister seems likely to face defeat tomorrow so, accordingly, I will comment briefly on how one might conduct a renegotiation which stood some chance of succeeding.
It seemed to me in early December, and still today, that there would have to be a strong body of agreement among MPs on the ask—and that that ask must be simple. In cricket, or at least junior cricket, the wicket-keeper is covered by the backstop. The backstop is covered by a longstop, the date after which the backstop would fall. I am sure a winning, simple ask might be found in that thought. In this, I am encouraging the Prime Minister to have another go following today’s exchange of letters. I would also say, just out of interest, that most insurance policies that I have ever been involved in have had a cancellation provision.
On a serious point, I would submit to the EU that in a no-deal situation the economy of the island of Ireland would have a very high risk of significant damage; that would itself threaten the Good Friday arrangements; and that, accordingly, such a longstop was thus more consistent with the Good Friday arrangements. Going into any negotiation, however, is still jettisoning the bird in the hand, and from the menu with less than one right answer I think we should take this deal.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow a thoughtful speech from the noble Earl.
The Prime Minister claims there is no alternative to her deal—but there is. It is not mine, not Jeremy Corbyn’s—whatever that is—but Donald Tusk’s Canada-style free trade deal he offered in March and repeated in October. As he said, that is the only deal compatible with leaving the customs union and single market, as promised in the referendum and in the Conservative manifesto. It must cover the whole UK, which means replacing the backstop by a commitment by Ireland, the EU and the UK that we will all retain an invisible Irish border, as we have all pledged to do if there is no withdrawal agreement. Under Article 24 of the WTO, if we agree such a deal in principle we can continue to trade with zero tariffs after 29 March while fleshing out the details.
To get such an agreement we must be ready, and be seen to be ready by the EU, to leave on WTO terms. As Trade and Industry Secretary, I helped negotiate the WTO to provide a safe haven for trade and I also implemented the single market programme. I predicted that both would boost trade—wrongly in the case of the single market, to which our exports have grown by a miserable 18% over 25 years, but rightly for the WTO as our exports to the rest of the world have grown by 72%.
If we leave on WTO terms there would be four obvious pluses. First, far from crashing out, we will be cashing in, as my noble friend Lord Hamilton, predicted I would say, and we will keep £39 billion. Your Lordships’ own committee concluded that:
“Article 50 allows the UK to leave the EU without being liable for outstanding financial obligations”.
To show good faith, we should confidently submit the issue to international arbitration. Secondly, it would end corrosive uncertainty—economic and political—which would continue for over two more years under the PM’s deal. Thirdly, both sides will have to solve the Irish border issue by administrative measures without border posts, as they have promised if there is no deal. Mr Varadkar has said:
“In … a no deal scenario … we won’t be installing a border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and everyone knows that”.
Mr Junker reassured the Irish Parliament that:
“If negotiations fail … the European Union will not impose a border, customs posts or any other kind of infrastructure on the frontier”.
And Britain has said it will not,
“require any infrastructure at the border … under any circumstances”.
We already tackle smuggling of tobacco, alcohol, red diesel and drugs without border checks, so the UK can certainly stop illicit trade in Dyson vacuum cleaners if our regulations deviate from those of the EU. Finally, once we all resolve the Irish border issue administratively, we can take up Tusk’s offer of a free trade deal for the whole UK.
Not one of the noble Lords who has railed against no deal in these debates has addressed these benefits of a WTO Brexit, even to refute them. More remarkable, only two or three noble Lords have spelled out specific concerns about a WTO Brexit. The others simply demonised it with a lexicon of lurid adjectives which were last deployed to warn against leaving the ERM, not joining the euro or the millennium bug.
Let me address the specific concerns that a couple of noble Lords have raised. The first was given by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, opening the debate in December, who said, “Planes will be grounded”. She was apparently unaware that on 13 November the European Union Commission had already promised legislation allowing air carriers from the UK to fly over, to and from the EU provided the UK reciprocated. The Commission also announced that hauliers will continue to get licences, that Airbus can export its wings, that the UK will be swiftly listed as a safe country to allow entry of live animals and animal products from the UK, and more.
The other concrete concern came from the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. While temporal Lords have been demonising a WTO Brexit with odium theologicum, it took a Lord spiritual to bring us down to earth with the request for proof that it would not have a significant negative effect on people in his diocese, such as when Operation Stack has been in force. Of course it is impossible to prove a negative or that Operation Stack will never be necessary regardless of Brexit, as it has been invoked on 211 days over the past 18 years, although without any archiepiscopal moral censure of those responsible.
I can explain why Brexit should not add significantly to such delays. First, HMRC expects roughly the same number of physical checks of vehicles at Dover as at present because its checks are based on risk, notably of smuggling tobacco, drugs and illegal immigrants, none of which will increase because of Brexit. Moreover, HMRC promises to prioritise flow over compliance. That means waving lorries through even if their declarations are incomplete.
The concern in the past has been not about Dover but about Calais. However, the good news, brought to the most reverend Primate’s attention by my noble friend Lord Forsyth, is that the chairman of Calais ports says that they too will have no more checks than at present. They are determined and confident that traffic will flow freely—not to be nice to Britain but to avoid losing trade to Zeebrugge, Rotterdam and Antwerp. They are installing three extra lorry lanes, an inspection post for animals away from the port and a scanner for trains moving at 30 kilometres an hour. Monsieur Puissesseau was indignant that the British Government were—quite unnecessarily in his view—hiring ferries to take trade away from his port to other ports.
Problems one prepares for rarely happen, as we discovered with the millennium bug. The Government are now being rather coy about how advanced their preparations are for leaving on WTO terms because they want to frighten MPs into voting for their deal, but I am confident that if we leave on WTO terms on 29 March events will be far closer to a damp squib than the apocalypse. That may disappoint some fanatical remainers in this House, but they will get over it.
My Lords, in this long-running crisis last week Mr Speaker Bercow made a ruling in the House of Commons which makes an already unpredictable situation even more unpredictable. The long-run consequences of that ruling have yet to play out because I cannot see Parliament giving back the powers it has just gained, and we might well see more cross-party deals if the negotiations on the political declaration continue—as I think they will, and I will say more about that in a moment—over the next few years. This will not be quick.
Before I get on to that, I want to say that, unlike most of my colleagues, I am strongly opposed to another referendum. Another referendum would be a failure, and as a desperation measure it would still probably not solve the problem. I am against another referendum because it would probably produce a very similar result to the one we have already had. This needs to be said very often in this place because the majority of people here voted remain and strongly support it. I voted remain. I think it would have been better if we had stayed in but, as the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, said, it is a profoundly serious mistake to assume that the other side of that argument is a weak argument. There are a lot of people on the Brexit side of the argument who feel passionately that we must be out of the European Union. They do not feel that just because of immigration or bureaucrats or whatever; they feel it because there has been a long-running belief in Britain that we should join an economic market, not a political one.
This goes back to the 1957 treaty of Rome with ever-closer union. The British people did not see a political need for that, but the continental countries did. Why? It was because in the past couple of hundred years all of them without exception had had their borders changed by force and had been defeated and occupied. They see the EU as a peacekeeping mechanism, and they are right. Britain does not see it that way. The last time we had a war on our soil was 380 years ago, and it was a civil war—it worries me to say that perhaps we are running up to another one right now on Brexit. Do not treat the continental countries’ argument as trivial and do not think they will change their view just because the economics of this look bad. For them, the political side is very important. The majority of British people saw themselves joining an economic supermarket not a superstate, and that makes a fundamental difference.
If there were a similar result as before, we would be no better off than we are now. If the result were marginally the other way for remain—this point has already been made, so I need not labour it—there would be more people coming back for yet another referendum. Just look at the SNP’s arguments on this: it always wants another referendum. It would have one a week until it won, and that will happen with both sides of the Brexit argument if we are not careful. That is why I see another referendum as a last resort. It may have to happen if the House of Commons cannot get on top of this and sort out an alternative. I would also be worried about what the question or questions would be and how quickly it could be got through the House of Commons and how quickly it could get the approval of the Electoral Commission, which has to agree to it. At the end of the day, Burke was right. Britain works best with representative democracy. Do not have referendums. One thing that got us into this mess was a referendum when the Prime Minister of the day had not worked out what he would do if he did not get the result that he wanted.
That brings me to the major point I want to make, which is about the political declaration. I see it as the long-term way forward. As many people have said, the political declaration is fairly woolly. Of course it is woolly. It should have been produced about two months after the referendum. Had it been produced just after the referendum, it would have been a negotiated document, and we would be in a rather better position than we are in at the moment. If we can get to a situation where we have a deal with the European Union—and I do not know whether we can and make no predictions about it as the crisis is too serious and unpredictable—then we can use the political declaration to build up that ever-closer relationship which we need. As the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, said in a speech I agreed very largely with, Europe not just is but needs to be travelling at more than one speed so that those who are going for ever-closer union continue to do so.
I would like to see the development of a single state on the European continent, however defined, federal or whatever. It is necessary, not least for defence and foreign policy issues, where it is daft that 450 million well-educated people in the modern economies of Europe cannot stand up to 150 people in the corrupt and despotic regime in Russia without the help of the United States, which will not be there for ever. Although I do not want to see the end of NATO or the EU, bear in mind that what is happening in Europe is long term. We have to be part of it. We cannot be right out of it, but right now we cannot be right in it. Whatever happens in the House of Commons—and it has to decide, not us—we should use the political declaration to move things forward.
Finally, I was delighted to see, in that document and in the agreement, recognition that we need close development between the two Parliaments. That is a proposal I made in this House about two years ago, just after the referendum. If the Minister will stand up and say that we will do that and will get on with it as soon as we have the immediate situation under control, I will buy him a drink.
My Lords, I have spoken before in this House on the economics of Brexit, but in many ways the political arguments are still more important. My father, a refugee from Hitler’s Germany, experienced directly—like so many others of his generation—the consequences of extremism and conflict in Europe. For all its faults, the EU has brought Europe together and made both Europe and the world more secure.
Internationally, our country has already suffered serious reputational damage from our Brexit convolutions. There is now less confidence in the UK as a rational, reliable and serious player standing for enduring values in the world. This was made crystal clear by the distinguished contributors from five major countries in Neil MacGregor’s outstanding Radio 4 programmes “As Others See Us”, and it is the experience of so many of us who work internationally.
Brexit, particularly a no-deal Brexit, will weaken the shared European voice in an increasingly challenging world at a time when international collaboration, democracy and human rights are under increasing threat. I have seen at first hand, in climate negotiations on the 2015 Paris agreement and beyond, how effective the UK within the EU can be on the international stage.
Brexit, particularly a no-deal Brexit, would damage our universities and research because we would lose some of the outstanding staff and students who come to us from the EU. They, and those from outside the EU, see growing hostility to perceived outsiders and worry about the kind of society we may become. Those of us who work in universities are seeing this now. We could lose access to crucial research funding and vital research collaborations. All this would put at risk one of our most precious assets in a competitive world where skills, innovation and research will become ever more important.
We also risk deep damage to other institutions right across British life, including our National Health Service, which relies so much on European staff over the whole range of its activities. The head of the Met has emphasised strongly the risks to our security from no deal.
On the economics, while I am an economics professor at the LSE and president of the Royal Economic Society, I stress that I speak personally, not on behalf of those institutions. I shall focus on the medium term. The markets have spoken: since the referendum in 2016, the exchange rate has been around 15% lower, indicative of a perceived weakening of medium-term prosperity. Business has described no deal as a wrecking ball. Serious economic modelling whether in international institutions such as the IMF and OECD, our own Treasury, the CBI or in research institutions and universities, has indicated medium-term losses—that is 10 to 15 years from now—from a no-deal Brexit of 5% to 8% or more of GDP. Of course, we cannot predict with certainty, but the evidence points overwhelmingly one way.
The losses arise in large measure from the new barriers—both non-tariff and tariff—erected by such a Brexit to our trade and investment with our major partner. The losses from the barriers embedded in the PM’s proposition would also be large, albeit somewhat less. Let us be clear: the losses are likely to be most severe for the poorest people.
Markets, business, economic analysis and, common sense all point the same way. A no-deal Brexit produces great harm in the future and still more harm for decades to come. It cannot be a serious option. The best we can say about the PM’s proposition is that the damage is a bit less.
We are British, of course, and we would, I hope, keep calm and carry on, and make the best of it. But what is the point of self-harm? Some appear to think that the substantial short-term damages from no deal would just be uncomfortable initial steps on the road to some sunny uplands. It is remarkable that hardly any credible analysis is offered for such a story. It is just bluster, embellished by the odd confused number or modelled argument.
For example, we are told that £10 billion or so in saved net EU contributions would cover any costs of a no-deal Brexit. That is nonsense, when potential medium-term costs of 5% plus of GDP could be £100 billion to £150 billion a year or more. We are told, probably correctly, that other markets will grow faster than the EU. However, there is little evidence that trade with those markets would be enhanced by being outside the EU. Indeed, investing in and trading with the UK is much more attractive if we are inside the EU and a gateway to its markets.
A rational, analytical assessment of the evidence leads inexorably to these conclusions: no deal is deeply damaging; the Prime Minister’s proposition would diminish us economically, politically, socially and internationally; both are greatly inferior to what we have within the EU. Given that the people voted in a referendum in 2016, given that we now have, as we did not have then, a specific proposition, and given that we now know so much more, we must, as a matter of responsible, open and informed democracy give the opportunity to the people of the UK to vote on the Government’s deal versus staying in the EU.
My Lords, I shall be brief because I spoke in December. I put my name down in this case to speak if something came up, and a couple of things have come up. The first is a small point: in his opening speech, the Minister answered a lot of points made in December, but I do not think he answered mine. I asked: which of our preparations for leaving on WTO terms need EU co-operation at this stage and is that co-operation forthcoming?
Secondly, I was in the Chamber last Wednesday when the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, said:
“I do not buy the apocalyptic predictions”.—[Official Report, 9/1/19; col. 2270.]
A little before that, the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, said:
“I do not for one moment believe the scaremongers”.—[Official Report, 9/1/19; col. 249.]
I thought, “Hurrah, at last, agreement. People are starting to realise that these scare stories about no deal are hugely exaggerated”. But no, they were talking about different scare stories: those about the risk of delaying Article 50 and holding a second referendum—the uncertainty that would persist; the anger that would erupt; the civil unrest; the delayed business investment, referred to today by the noble Lord, Lord Curry; the risk to democracy itself; and, above all, the risk of a Marxist Government.
The remainers who dominate this Chamber do not believe those scare stories but they believe, magnify and exaggerate every scare story about leaving with no withdrawal agreement and going on to WTO terms. No mad fear about Mars bars and insulin, water and sandwiches is too absurd to repeat. Why this double standard about risks in the future?
In one of the most colourful images used in the debate so far, my friend the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, described people like me as being so insouciant that even if we were told that the four horsemen of the apocalypse had asked for landing rights at Heathrow, we would not be worried. I took the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, aside an hour or so ago and said, “For a man of your erudition, Peter, are you unaware that the four horsemen of the apocalypse are entirely fictional characters?”. They are figments of the imagination of St John the Evangelist, who was having a psychedelic dream at the time, as far as we can tell. I am looking to the Bishops’ Bench for confirmation of what exactly happened. I am blessed. Just as many of the other fears are fictional.
We face a balance of risks and opportunities whichever way we go. I judge the risks to this country of delaying Brexit—the uncertainty, the anger, the disillusionment, the polarisation, the constitutional crisis—to be greater than the risks of leaving with no withdrawal agreement in place and arranging for WTO terms. I do so mainly because we can mitigate the latter risks with preparation, as we are doing. We can listen to people such as Sir Rocco Forte, my noble friend Lord Bamford, the head of HMRC, the chief executive of Calais, as my noble friend Lord Lilley mentioned, whereas we will struggle to mitigate the risks of the other course of action.
I venture to suggest that what most people in this Chamber—the remainers—are really scared about is that no deal might be a damp squib. It might all happen with only minor problems. I think that is really what keeps them awake at night.
My Lords, I have worked in the north-east with the noble Viscount and his father over many decades and it is a pleasure to follow him. However, I fear that on this issue we are on opposite sides of the fence. Maybe, if we get together some time in the future, we will find a way of reconciling our views, but I fear not.
I want to talk a little about the referendum, because the one way of bringing reconciliation after a dispute is for the victor to be generous in attitude to those who have been defeated. I do not think the inflammatory and gross exaggerations about the outcome of the election by some of the Brexiteers have in any way helped to bring about that reconciliation. We have heard a great deal about the mandate from the 17.4 million people in the country who voted in favour of Brexit. We have heard very little about the 16.1 million who voted to stay. That amounts to 34.7% of the electorate.
I remember in the other place, back in 1979, we had great debates over the referendum on Scottish devolution. George Cunningham proposed an amendment that there should be a threshold of 40% of the electorate voting in favour of the legislation for it to go through. Of course, it did not reach the 40%—a very modest threshold—needed for that legislation to go ahead. In my experience, most clubs, institutions, businesses and all types of organisation have a threshold above 50% if they want to change the constitution or make an amendment. It is not 50% plus one, it is anything up to 75%, or two-thirds, before the vote becomes legitimate.
The language that people, including the Prime Minister, have used—talking about catastrophic betrayal and people being let down, with Members of Parliament saying that they have been instructed by this referendum when it has been so close and that they have been ordered what to do—really has not helped. Do MPs not have minds or judgment? Are they just going to accept the outcome of such a narrowly based referendum? If there is to be reconciliation, I hope some Brexiteers will start paying attention to the 16 million who voted to remain and seek to reconcile the differences between the people. The 40% threshold would, in effect, have ruled out the result of this referendum and I believe that we should move towards another vote on this deal.
Other dangerous myths and distortions have been introduced into this whole debate and we have heard some of them in the contributions in this House. The whole business of Project Fear and attacks on experts is deeply damaging to our political debate. I was very interested to see in last week’s Sunday Times that David Smith, the economics editor, had analysed different forecasts from the experts. Almost at the top of the list came the Office for Budget Responsibility, which got 10 out of 10 on all the points that it had forecast for 2018. Second on the list came the much maligned—from the Brexit side—CBI, which got nine out of 10. Just out of interest, who came bottom on the list? It was one Patrick Minford, of the Liverpool Research Group and founder member of Economists for Free Trade, who got three out of 10 for his forecasts for 2018 and had a similar result in 2017. Many things have been said but this attack on policy by evidence-based activity is deeply damaging to British politics and government, and I hope the attacks on experts will cease.
Another issue—which I regard as largely mythological —is covered by Clare Foges in today’s Times. She talks about the left behind and refutes the suggestion that they voted in protest against the metropolitan elite. It is very amusing that the metropolitan elite making this accusation have been educated at Eton, Dulwich College and other such places, yet they have the brass face to attack Members of the other House and this place for being elitist.
The fact is that over decades Governments of all parties have poured in money through development corporations. The noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, has probably done more than any other person in this country to try to help the areas hit by industrial change and the wind-down of the old industries, not just in Liverpool but everywhere in the country. It is simply not true to suggest that people have voted against the EU just because of 30, 40 or 50 years of decline in those areas; the issue is much more sophisticated and subtle than that. A great deal has been done and they should not be described as the left behind.
The noble Lords, Lord Skidelsky and Lord Soley, referred to the powerful arguments that Brexiteers have mounted. Some of us, including me and many on these Benches, take the view that this is not just about the cost of customs. We have an internationalist view of the world, in which we believe that co-operation between countries is the best way to solve the problems facing us, and such co-operation is needed now probably more than it ever has been. That being the case, we believe in co-operating with others through institutions such as the EU. That is the basis of our commitment to the EU. It is not to do with the price of exports and the market; it is about people working together.
My Lords, I believe that in 2016 the people of the United Kingdom gave a clear instruction to their elected representatives that the UK was to leave the EU. Under that democratic mandate, our Government entered into negotiations with Europe, seeking an honourable settlement that would action the will of the people. However, we know that since that time there have been those who have sought to deliberately thwart the will of the electorate—much to the delight of those in Europe, who have for years reaped the benefit of the billions that have flowed from the British Exchequer.
A few weeks ago, we anticipated that we had arrived at decision time regarding Brexit, but in the middle of our previous debate the Prime Minister pulled the vote, knowing that Parliament would not accept her deeply flawed deal. From the beginning, the DUP’s position has been consistently stated, publically and privately. When we entered into the confidence and supply arrangement with the Government, it was known that the DUP desired a sensible exit from the EU that strengthened the union and benefited all parts of the United Kingdom. Our genuine endeavours have always been to secure a workable withdrawal agreement with the European Union that would provide security and stability for all—but we made it abundantly clear that we would not agree to a new border in the Irish Sea that would undermine the integrity of the United Kingdom and threaten our precious union. Indeed, that was the position of the Prime Minister as well at the time.
We insisted that no new regulatory barriers would develop between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK and that Northern Ireland business must enjoy the same unfettered access to the whole of the UK internal market. Although the Prime Minister and her negotiating team were aware of those demands, the Government allowed themselves to be pushed around by Dublin and the rest of Europe, and they are presenting a withdrawal agreement that would place a regulatory border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, contrary to the explicit pledges given by our Prime Minister.
The backstop arrangement that the EU has demanded leaves the entire UK trapped until the EU decides to release it. It is claimed that the backstop is necessary to prevent the erection of a so-called—fictional, we now find—hard border. However, in reality, the notion of a hard border was only a negotiating ploy on the part of the EU to secure its aims in the negotiations, encouraged and at the behest of the Irish Republic.
Now we are being inundated with letters and assurances that Europe hopes will help the Prime Minister get her flawed deal over the line. If passed by Parliament, the withdrawal agreement becomes a legally binding international treaty. Therefore, only changes to the legally binding treaty can deliver the assurances that any true unionist could accept. From our experiences with successive Governments, we know only too well that letters of comfort or promises are often meaningless, because in effect an international treaty supersedes and overrides any contrary domestic legal provision. Sadly, promises and assurances can be swept away at the whim of any Prime Minister to suit the political survival of the Government in office at the time. So I make it clear: the Democratic Unionist Party will not support an internationally legally binding withdrawal agreement that does not protect the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom.
The DUP has been challenged that we do not represent the views of the electorate of Northern Ireland. Let me face this. We are often reminded that 56% of the electorate in Northern Ireland voted remain and that 44% voted to leave—but let us scrutinise those figures. In actual fact, of that 56%, we find that 88% of all nationalists, many of whom have for years worked for the destruction of the United Kingdom, voted to remain, while 66% of unionists voted in the referendum to leave the EU.
Of course, the question asked was whether the UK as a whole should remain in or leave the EU, but in this agreement Northern Ireland is to be economically and constitutionally separated from the rest of the United Kingdom and trapped within the EU while the rest of the UK has the possibility of leaving. No unionist worthy of the name could accept such a proposal, and certainly my colleagues in the DUP will, without apology, vote against it.
On 9 January the Government published so-called assurances, but paragraph 44 says:
“This paper has focused particularly on the role that the Northern Ireland institutions will play in any scenario in which the backstop would take effect”.
They do not seem to get it. We reject the backstop. Those assurances merely allow for consultation, and that consultation with the Northern Ireland Assembly will have no ultimate bearing on the decision taken by Parliament because paragraph 17 says Parliament will have a decisive role in the decision.
After the letters come the threats. The Secretary of State raised the threat of a possible border poll and the UK Government’s commitment to peace funding after 2020 now seems tied, by Karen Bradley, to ratification of the withdrawal agreement. The resorting of the Secretary of State to such scaremongering and threats is to be deplored and proves only how threadbare are the arguments in favour of the Prime Minister and her deal. Instead of the cast-iron guarantees previously promised when the vote was delayed in December, we have the wheels of Project Fear furiously turning.
The mandate from the electorate was clear: the UK leaves the EU. Leave means leave. We do not need a dictionary to help us to understand what that means. Let us honour our moral obligation and leave on 29 March. We joined the EEC together and, as one, we should leave the EU together.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for enabling this debate and for his careful consideration of all the contributions from both sides of this House. We know that emotions run deep and that, with divisions in every party clearly manifesting themselves, this has ceased to be a party-aligned issue, but I hope to add my voice to those who are conscious of the enormity of this historic moment.
Some have argued that the future holds nothing but economic ruin, some fear an economic flatlining or stagnation, and others still believe in the sunlit uplands of global trade if only we could get to the other side of Brexit. The reality, if we are honest, is that none of us has walked this way before and no one really knows what will happen when we leave the European Union. But most of us know this is a path we need to walk in some way, shape or form and that all our debates are focused on finding the best way possible that delivers continued social and economic prosperity for a nation with such a remarkable history.
The vote to leave the European Union was a bold, surprising and unequivocal statement by millions of people who wanted to change the political, economic, and social status quo. It was a moment in time, as far as they were concerned, a rational choice, when those who had not felt heard by the establishment, or by many of us even in this Chamber, expressed their desire to take back control: control of their wages, public services and borders and of this nation’s sovereignty. I am afraid that I have to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Wrigglesworth.
The events of 23 June 2016 should have kick-started a national debate aimed at understanding and reconciling the deep divides surfaced by the referendum in our nation. How can it be that two halves of the UK see the same country so completely differently? This should have mattered to us. What can actually be done about it? This should have been our overwhelming focus and priority. Instead the debate that was kick-started has tragically driven divisions even deeper and left many feeling that the establishment has continued not to hear them.
For many, the debates we have here about all that could be lost hold little or no sway. As far as they are concerned, much has already been lost. It is important that we take time to hear and understand these perspectives and that our withdrawal agreement honours their concerns—about their wages, the security of their homes and access to public services. This was not a minority group; it was 52% of those who voted and we have to hear their concerns. The withdrawal agreement needs to be right for the whole country: honouring the concerns of those who voted leave and those who voted remain, and delivering a strong foundation for economic and social prosperity for future generations. The Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement addresses a number of the structural and economic issues raised by the vote. For these reasons it achieves some of the Brexit objectives, so I will support it, although I suspect that a final step may still be needed if it is to pass in the other place.
But there are issues that the withdrawal agreement cannot and does not address; there is a deeper malaise to be treated, deeply linked to job insecurity, and access to housing, education and healthcare. If we are truly to change how people’s lives feel to them at present, while leaving the EU is a critical first step, the vote must also trigger wider reform, a better and clearer vision of social justice and significantly greater social cohesion. These issues should be as strongly and as passionately debated by Members of this House as any withdrawal agreement.
In light of the Brexit vote, we have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to reshape public policy so that it genuinely helps those who feel they have little stake in society, and to respond directly to the concerns that surfaced in the referendum. In years to come the EU referendum will be seen as a turning point in Britain’s long history. Depending on what we do next, it could simply be remembered as the moment we finally agree a withdrawal agreement and progress towards exiting the European Union: a moment of political process, a technical adjustment to the UK’s relationship with Europe. If that is the case, we will have failed. Instead, we must listen with compassion and humility to those who desperately wish for another way. As political leaders, our duty is to provide the wisdom and courage required to move towards a new settlement for Britain, not to keep alive old and current divides; there is then the hope of prosperity and social justice for all, and of a United Kingdom.
My Lords, we are living through a political crisis without equal in our post-war history. Labour’s Front Bench in the Commons has to play a decisive role in the outcome. Without its support it will be difficult for any option to carry. Yet its present stance comes across as a supine unwillingness to declare its hand. This will be the focus of my remarks.
Jeremy Corbyn wants a general election but for weeks we have been waiting for the Motion of no confidence. For him, such an election would be as much about issues of class and inequality as it would be about Brexit. He aims to unite working people on a mandate to negotiate a “jobs-first” withdrawal. If his effort to force an election fails, he would still prefer a negotiated Brexit to a people’s vote. A Labour Government could of course abandon the red lines that have so unnecessarily and counterproductively constrained the Prime Minister. Listening to Sir Keir Starmer, with his unequivocal commitment to a customs union and full participation in the single market, might suggest that such a decisive shift would be entirely realistic. However, Mr Corbyn and those closest to him in his office favour a more qualified policy. In their customs union, Britain and the EU would have an equal say on future trade deals. For them, the single market avoids border barriers, except that they want to break free of the competition and the state aid rules which are fundamental to the whole concept of a level playing field.
There would be no willingness in Brussels to entertain what for the EU would be an extraordinary set of propositions: to give a non-member state a veto over the Union’s autonomous trade policy and to license Britain to act as a competitor rogue state. In practice there will be three and a half alternatives to no deal after tomorrow’s Commons vote. The half-choice is full membership of the customs union; it is only a half-choice, for without alignment of single market regulations there will need to be a hard border in Northern lreland. The WTO rules will require that. The customs union therefore requires a Northern Ireland backstop of some kind to be permanent. Norway, or Common Market 2.0 as Nick Boles now calls it, is highly problematic. It requires a level of trust on the EU’s part that Britain has squandered in the last two years. The EU fears that Britain would not behave responsibly like Norway but, as a much larger competitor outside the EU, would constantly push against the limits and loopholes of the EEA rule book. Domestically, for how long could a great nation such as ours live happily as a rule-taker?
The third possibility is that, without decisive progress towards a comprehensive alternative, Mrs May’s deal staggers on, on life support, in the hope that someday, sufficient Labour Back-Benchers from strongly leave constituencies, in fear and fright of no deal, will eventually back her deal as the only option available. This would be a disaster for my party. Whole swathes of progressive opinion would never forgive us for the betrayal of their European commitment. To avoid this, Labour must move decisively to back a people’s vote. Some argue that Labour cannot be seen to betray Labour supporters who voted leave. Frankly, it is the leadership of the leave campaign that has betrayed those voters, with its extravagant promises and lies. Support for remain has strengthened significantly among 2017 Labour voters since the referendum.
In my view—I am sorry to say this—the obstacle to a shift in Labour policy is a different one. The leadership group around Mr Corbyn has an outdated view of the EU as an instrument of global capitalism and United States imperialism. Their political economy is stuck in a 1970s ambition for “socialism in one country”. Unfortunately, I was alive then. It did not work then and it certainly will not work half a century later.
The EU has many faults and needs much reform. But uniquely in the world, and however imperfectly, it offers a means of structured co-operation between countries that can be used to promote progressive values: to promote human rights and democracy; to work for peace; to advance economic justice for poorer nations; to tackle climate change; to not just manage migration but address the injustices that drive its fundamental causes; to ensure that big corporations pay their fair share of taxes; to bring the digital monopolists to heel; and to prevent a race to the bottom in workers’ rights and consumer and environmental standards, which is crucial.
There is a way forward. Labour must back a people’s vote now and must listen to the overwhelming view of Labour members and supporters. We must gain the courage to come out for remain.
My Lords, as ever, it is a pleasure to follow my Cumbrian neighbour and friend, the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, even though I do not imagine he would necessarily describe me as progressive.
The first time I heard the phrase “Brexit means Brexit”, I thought it was a snappy, purposive soundbite, but I have now come to the conclusion that it is probably at the heart of our nation’s present discontent. As others have said, the politics of the referendum nearly three years ago was about the kind of United Kingdom we wanted for the next generation, or possibly even longer. Those who wanted change went through the portal called Brexit, and beyond was the brave new world. Not merely were there two main campaigning organisations, with rather different emphases, there were in fact at least two somewhat hallucinogenic visions of Shangri-La on offer, and they are mutually incompatible. As we can see now, the real question facing this country is: do we want to remain in the European solar system, if I can put it that way, or do we wish to board starship “Enterprise” for a different galaxy? These are mutually incompatible destinations and they cannot be triangulated, because the best way to bring about one interferes with effectively delivering the other.
As long as Brexit was not precisely and properly defined, the Government and supporters of leave could more or less coalesce. However, it is now clear that different members of the Government, like voters in general, have fundamentally different views of what they were voting for. Because of this internal contradiction, there can be no agreement on which of the outcomes the referendum delivered. That is the crisis of now. The reality is that the Brexit of the referendum is an impossibility, in exactly the same way as William Pitt the Elder, Earl of Chatham, explained to your Lordships about 250 years ago, telling us, rightly, that it was impossible to conquer America. Since it is an impossibility, it cannot be mandated or brought into being, and so the Government cannot deliver it. Let us be clear: that is not the Government’s fault. The Prime Minister has clearly striven mightily, albeit changing her own personal picture of Brexit as she goes, but what is on offer in her negotiated deal is not the Brexit of the referendum; it is a changeling.
Based on my own experience and expertise—I draw attention to my entry in the register—I am sure she is right that her deal is better than no deal. However, I do not think either deal is good enough, or delivers the referendum; as I said, this is an impossibility. Each will be a precursor to years and years of acrimonious wrangling. I do not think anybody wants that, but we need to be clear that that is the likely eventuality. Furthermore, I cannot see either of these two options delivering an especially deep or special relationship.
The problem is that those who voted remain feel cheated by the shenanigans and cheating that surrounded the referendum, and those who voted leave are worried they will be cheated out of the outcome, either by remainers or by advocates of a version of Brexit incompatible with their own. It is a terrible mess. Just as politics is the art of the possible, so Brexit has become the crisis of the impossible. It is not a question of taking back control; it is a matter of getting it under control. If nobody else can do it, Parliament— that is to say, the other place and your Lordships’ House together—must do it, because we cannot go on like this.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow my good friend the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood. I would like to begin by drawing attention to my entries in the register and reminding Members, if they needed reminding, that I am a strong advocate of remaining fully involved in the EU.
During this debate, a number of people have said that this is a great turning point, as though this has never happened before. I will start with some history, and draw attention to the fact that it has happened before. In the early 1930s, we had the Peace Ballot. That destroyed politics in Britain, right up to the Second World War. It shaped our attitude to the League of Nations; it made us cowards in the Rhineland; it distorted our policy in Abyssinia, which led Italy into its adventures there; and, overall, it was a disaster, compounded by regular voting against the Defence Estimates by the Labour Party and a failure of the Conservative Party to face up to its international duties. We face doing that again. This Government are in danger of being complicit in an act of monumental moral cowardice, which is where we are today.
There was never a possibility that we would get away without paying our bills. The £39 billion, which is being talked about as though it were some donation, is in fact the sum total of the liabilities we have contracted by sitting round the table in Brussels over many years. It contains all of the decisions that we have been complicit in taking. We cannot get away without paying it, unless we want to be international debt welchers, who will be taken through every court in Europe. We would also be distrusted by any international civil servants, because they will say that if we can abandon our contribution to the European Union, we could abandon it to the UN, UNESCO or any one of the international bodies we belong to. We would become international pariahs, and that is not on.
It was also inevitable that the final deal would be fashioned in such a way that no other country would be tempted to follow us. For the EU 27, the terms had to be substantially bad enough for others to decide not to leave. Allied to this, it has enabled a few outstanding grudges to be sorted out. Britain has blocked European defence for years, and now Germany and France can go ahead. We have been excluded from projects such as Galileo, and as the able former Minister, Sam Gyimah, said, we have “no voice, no vote, no veto”. We are told we will be consulted to the degree necessary. We might be, but our voice will only count if it suits the people who are listening to it. We will not be in the room. We will not have the voice, the vote or the veto. We will be outside the room.
On the practical details, when we, as Conservative Members, met Gavin Barwell, he drew attention to the non-regression clause on workers’ rights. When I challenged him, he said, “Oh, no, I am sorry, it isn’t enforceable”. I want to ask the Minister not to reply tonight, because it is too complex for his time in summing up, but to place in the Library a letter detailing what he intends to do about protecting employment rights within that non-regression commitment, particularly those covering paid holidays, rights for part-time workers, time off for working mothers and fathers, equal pay for women and limits on working hours, including a commitment to maintain the protection afforded by the working time directive. The noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, wrote me many letters when I was a Euro MP, asking me not to endorse the working time directive. I feel I am entitled to ask this Government whether they will endorse the working time directive.
If I could finish, and possibly upset a few more people on the way, I would counsel the Government not to do the politics of fear. It is not playing in the galleries. I live in Cambridge, and over the Christmas holiday I talked to many people. Their general reaction was, “We heard all this before. You said this in the run-up to the referendum, and nothing happened, so come off it, Richard, get real”. The argument for Europe is not about the price of carrots; it is about the future of this country as a player on the world stage and as a country which gives leadership and example by the values it believes in and projects. The amount of money we send to Brussels, which people carry on about, is frankly the price of a packet of peanuts compared to what we can do to make this world a better place. Please, stop the Brussels bashing and start realising where our future can lie. And do not make the mistake of the 1930s again.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow such a strong speech in favour of remaining. It is also a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, who—to my disconcertion—has made my speech, almost verbatim in some respects, because what I wanted to offer the House was the thought that the task which the Prime Minister undertook two and a half years ago was probably impossible. She could not deliver it, but she has done the best she could. It is not a deal which protects the interests of this country well enough. The price is too high. In the first half of my speech on 5 December I said that I could not recommend to my children or grandchildren a deal which left this country economically poorer, politically weaker and, arguably, less safe in the world. Nothing that I have heard in our three days of debate has changed that view. However, I want to add a point about the divisiveness of the debate.
We have been told that if we have a people’s vote—a second referendum—it might unleash strong passions, and that we should not do so because it is undemocratic. On the undemocratic point, I long for George Orwell’s comments on a criticism of asking the people what they think as being undemocratic. It is doublespeak of a kind which is quite hard to understand.
On the division, we have to recognise that the problem lies in a lack of clarity of thought about what Brexit was meant to achieve. I am not a politician, but it seems to me that the Brexit campaign, by vagueness, managed to unite some very disparate, different groups. For many years I worked for Ministers of different Governments, and in both the Labour and Conservative parties, there has been a strong streak of deep, visceral dislike of Europe. For one-third of my career I worked for Ministers who felt strongly against the Union, even though they were in Governments who supported it. I recall being told by Tony Benn, for whom I worked for four years, that I was a member of the politico-military establishment and that the EU was part of a global capitalist plot. He did not put it quite like that, but that was the essence of what he meant. I can also remember Mrs Thatcher passionately telling her Cabinet that the British people consented to join the Common Market but never consented to join a political union. The roots of Brexit in the Conservative and Labour parties, although they are strange bedfellows, are very deep.
Political movements succeed only when they resonate with the dreams, unhappiness, disappointments or ambitions and desires of the public. What did Brexit resonate with? Through its vagueness, it resonated with all sorts of different groups who wanted someone to blame and who had been encouraged, perhaps by an anti-European press—fairly or unfairly, usually unfairly—to blame Brussels. Those groups were disappointed, perhaps by austerity or the financial crisis. We should remember that financial crises ripple through the decades that follow them and have political effects 10 years later. It also fed into the north/south divide, resentment at not sharing in the prosperity which Europe has generated, and an unhappiness about the speed at which immigrants were coming to this country. Those are all very different grievances, and you cannot find one deal that meets all those problems and needs.
So, where are we now, on the eve of a big political crisis? We have only 10 weeks until the leave date. There are not many options left to be established on such a big issue in 10 weeks. The essence of where we are was summed up by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, when he said:
“When you’re in a hole, stop digging”.—[Official Report, 10/1/19; col. 2341.]
We need to stop for a moment; we need clear thought. Unless you know where you want to get to, you are not going to be able to get there. Unless you can agree your destination your path will be confused and muddled. It is a political process that can be solved only in the Commons. If the Commons accepts the deal before it, that settles it. We all have to accept that. If the Commons disagrees with the deal, it then has to consider no deal. For reasons I will not go over, that is far too risky and unacceptable. We cannot gamble with the fate of this country.
The question then is: are there any other options? Time is very short to explore that. The need for an extension of the deadline is almost inescapable. The question then becomes whether we have a referendum. If people say that it is too divisive to have a referendum, all I would say is that whatever we do, whether we remain or leave, our relationship with Europe will be divisive. It will go on only until we have clarity about the destination we want to reach and what sort of country we want to be. It might go on until we are all exhausted, or until a younger generation takes over. The young are the solution to the problem we are in. I believe the future will sort itself out only when they have the chance to take command. If we leave, I will simply drink a toast to the young, under whose leadership, in 30 or 40 years’ time, we will almost certainly apply to rejoin the Union. Until then, I shall vote for the noble Baroness’s Motion.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure and privilege to follow my Cambridge colleagues, my noble friend Lord Balfe and the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Dinton. As my noble friend said, when one is in Cambridge one gets a different view of the British people’s attitude. I think that what we learn from talking to people in Cambridge is that the more the diversity and migration to this country for economic purposes that there is, the more we have benefited from it. When I look at my area, I am reinforced in my reasons for voting remain in the referendum. In passing, I should draw attention to my interests in the register.
More than 20 years ago I managed the European Parliament elections for the Conservative Party. We fought the campaign, which we won, as my noble friend Lord Callanan might recall—he was one of the successful candidates—on the basis of “In Europe, not run by Europe”. I do not think my view has ever changed. It is reflected in some of the contributions to the debate. The British people want to be in the common market, which is exactly what Margaret said and what my noble friend Lord Tebbit used to tell me time and again when I worked for him: we voted for a common market and we would like to have one. We did not vote for a political union and we do not want one.
The issue is how we can give the British people what they voted for in the referendum. My successor in Cambridgeshire will probably vote against the withdrawal agreement tomorrow. She does so in pursuit of a second referendum. To do that and to reject a solution that the Government have derived to the question of what our objective through Brexit is on the grounds that we did not like the result of the referendum—which I certainly did not—is morally bankrupt. We have to start by trying honestly to achieve the result the British people voted for in the referendum.
You can say that the agreement is not quite right, which I think the Labour Party is doing. The Labour Party might be politically motivated—it is for it to say or to deny—by the idea that if you pull the pillars down in the temple maybe the resulting disaster enables a general election or a referendum and the Labour Party will not be blamed for the catastrophe that follows. The Labour Party should take responsibility too. It was elected to this Parliament on the basis that it would implement the result of the referendum.
I want to emphasise this in the couple of minutes available to me: there is a difference between the Government and the Labour Front Bench that might point to where one needs to go in the event that the withdrawal agreement as proposed is not accepted tomorrow, which is into a permanent customs union. I remind the House that, during the passage of the withdrawal Act, the largest majority against the Government’s position was in pursuit of a customs union. The fact that that is the Labour Party’s one evident policy raises the question of whether the response tomorrow will not be, “It must be remain versus no deal”, but may be, “Perhaps we can adapt the withdrawal agreement further” and create what is, in effect, a customs union—a single customs territory—obviating the need for a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to a large extent, and, frankly, creating the possibility of a common market in goods while making sure that we do not become rule takers on services, which is the principal objection to any kind of EEA/Norway solution. We will predominantly be a services economy in future. That will allow us to undertake independent trade policy relating to services, investment, and the regulations and rules that are the meat and drink of modern trade negotiations. It is not about tariffs, but those rules and regulations.
I urge those in the other place looking at what I think of as the meaningful debate—even if we do not get the meaningful vote—to read and think about what we have said. They might reflect that, whatever their personal views, they have a responsibility as parties and as members of parties to deliver on the Brexit referendum; and, in the Conservative Party, to support the Prime Minister. That is one thing that has happened since the debate in December, which I did not have a chance to take part in: the Prime Minister has secured a further mandate from her own Members of Parliament to take forward her position. We should do that.
The day after the referendum, friends of ours from central European countries sent an email, not to us but to our children. Their children are a bit younger than ours. They said, “We are really sorry this has happened, but we want you to know that, whatever happens in the future, you are Europeans and you are our friends. We want your children to know that for the future, too”. We should absolutely put that at the forefront of our thinking. We are Europeans, we are friends, and it is on that basis that we should conduct our negotiations and, I hope, bring them to a successful conclusion.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. I see the latest exchange of letters between the EU and the Prime Minister, and the advice from the Attorney-General as just window dressing—aspirational, but having very little meaning. I compare it to a vision of Neville Chamberlain coming back from meeting Hitler, saying, “Peace in our time”. It was peace in our time, but it just delayed things for a bit longer. This is what we have now—just delaying things for a few more years. Today and on other days we have discussed endlessly the question of Northern Ireland and southern Ireland and where the frontier is. If we have a different single market and customs union between us here and the Republic, we will have a frontier somewhere. It may be in the Irish Sea; it may be between Northern Ireland and the south. But it will be somewhere, unless we somehow integrate. We should be told, if we are not having a hard border, what are we going to have? It is pretty fundamental.
What did the public actually vote for in the referendum? To leave the EU. It seems that the Prime Minister and her Cabinet have since added several red lines that are very unhelpful to the economy and people’s understanding of what may happen. I do not think it is what the people voted for in the referendum. To give a couple of examples, there is a continuing obsession with immigration, and an inability to separate asylum seekers—enormous numbers, coming in the shape of 20 people in one boat—from the hundreds of thousands who come from other parts of the EU to work here, very hard and very well, most of them sending money home to help wherever they come from. The NHS, agriculture and the hospitality industries spring to mind. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, talked a lot about the agricultural sector. But considering that something like 90% of the workers in slaughterhouses come from Bulgaria, who will replace them? Who will pick our fruit and veg? I think Michael Gove, speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference last week, said that it will be all right because everything will be automated. I am not sure how you pick raspberries with an automatic machine—maybe somebody can—but we need these people. Unless we are going to instruct unemployed people here to do particular jobs, we are lost. I lived in Romania in the communist era in the 1970s, and watched the way local people were forced to do jobs. If they wanted to live somewhere—to have a flat—they had to work. It was not pleasant, because the people who did not work did not have anywhere to live and sat begging in the streets. I suspect that the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, is calling some of us on this side Marxists or communists. I am not one of those, but we should be free to choose what job we have. But we have to encourage people to come here, work, and work hard.
My second example is the single market and the customs union, about which many noble Lords have spoken. Queues will form at frontiers, not just at Dover but in other places and on the island of Ireland. We have all been working on it and have seen what has happened. There will be queues because there are controls, and you cannot do anything about the controls—it is not only about customs and so on, but also about controls such as the phytosanitary ones. Then there is the consequence of big and small companies leaving the UK because they cannot get their goods in and out. We all read about the motor manufacturers, but SMEs are equally important. I have a friend in Cornwall who runs a company with eight employees who has already moved to the Netherlands because he cannot cope with the problems that are likely to happen after Brexit.
Very briefly, and as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Liddle, the third example is competition and state aid, which are very important. I know that maybe the leader of the Labour Party thinks we want to abolish state aid rules so that he can give lots of government grants to his friends, but the Tory party has got there first, giving a £13 million contract to a new ferry service to go from Ramsgate to Ostend without seeking competitive tenders or saying what it is for. We all need the state aid legislation and I hope it will continue.
Where does this lead us? Many noble Lords have spoken about this but Parliament has to honour the wishes of the people in the referendum two and a half years ago. Would Parliament do that five or 10 years ahead? I do not know but surely in a parliamentary democracy it is for the Members of Parliament to make the final decision. It seems that the only solution, if we are to increase our prosperity and retain jobs and business, is for the Members of Parliament to make a decision themselves. Why should they not do that on a free vote? I am sure that those who have been in the House of Commons will tell me that is completely impossible but why should they not? They are quite sensible people—most of them, anyway—and probably much better at making a decision than the general population.
I hope that we will see sense. I will fully support my noble friend’s amendment tonight but let us remember that while we have been in Europe for 40 years for many reasons, the most important thing is to have preserved and retained peace. We must continue to do so.
My Lords, listening to this debate criss-crossing the Chamber, with not all the speeches on one side going one way or the other, has reminded me of a story that Denis Healey used to tell in the 1960s when he was Minister for Defence. A man came to him saying that he had the answer to the Russian submarines patrolling undetected in the North Sea. His solution was to boil the North Sea and, when the water evaporated, the Russian submarines would be left high and dry for all to see. “But how do I boil the sea?”, asked Denis. “Look here, Mr Healey”, said the man, “I have given you the solution. It is up to the Government to work out its implementation”.
After three Brexit Secretaries and the abandonment of numerous red lines, we are left with a compromise which no one defends as anything but the least worst solution. As the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, indicated, what the Prime Minister has been trying to do so valiantly over the last two and a half years is to boil the sea. The mandate which the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, and others have claimed because of the impressive 17.4 million votes ignores the fact that the vote was spread across a wide range of opinions. It goes from Sir John Redwood’s plans for a light-touch, small-state, buccaneering free-trade country to the socialist utopia that those such as Len McCluskey want. It was not a single mandate to achieve a single objective—hence the problem that the Prime Minister now faces.
It is becoming abundantly clear that the Prime Minister’s compromise offers only the prospect of us stumbling out of Europe with jagged edges and a mass of unfinished business, satisfying no one and ensuring—let us have no doubt—that the civil war in the Conservative Party will continue. In the circumstances in which we find ourselves, I do not see it as an outrage to give the people an opportunity to take stock in the light of the realities that have been exposed over the last two and a half years. The great benefit of living in a democracy is that there are mechanisms which enable people to change their mind. This is not the Charge of the Light Brigade, where we follow orders regardless of the knowledge that someone has blundered. Nor are we, like Macbeth,
“in blood Stepp’d … so far … that Returning were as tedious as”,
going back. We are a parliamentary democracy, with all the freedoms and maturity that that term implies. If ever there was a time to take back control, now is the moment.
I will be followed in this debate by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, and I am sure that we will once again be presented with his particularly dystopian view of the European Union. I have been in here for nearly 25 years and I will give him full marks for consistency. What would worry me if I were a Conservative is how, over those nearly 25 years, the views of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, have moved from being those of a rather eccentric voice on the Back Benches to being at the heart of the Conservative argument for where we go next. So let me repeat the view that has motivated me since my student days, reinforced by 50 years of working with and in the European Union. The European Union is the most successful example of multinational co-operation that the world has yet seen. It has set an example to the world of how old enmities can be replaced by fruitful joint endeavours, and it has massively helped to increase Britain’s influence and prosperity.
Recovering from the last two years will be no easy task. It will need Parliament and parliamentarians to regain the confidence to make decisions in the national interest. If, as I hope, that means giving the people the opportunity to have their own meaningful vote, those of us who will be campaigning to remain will have to address the fears that the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, and others drew attention to, which were so successfully exploited in 2016. We will have to renew our commitment to a Europe of peace and prosperity, underpinned by human rights and the rule of law. This is a once in a generation decision which every parliamentarian must take individually. It is the Corn Laws; it is the Norway debate; it is our opportunity to learn the lessons from this ghastly episode and say to the young people who will have to live with the consequences of it, “Here is your European future. The hope lives on, the dream will never die”. I will be voting for the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, when the House divides.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, for his generous comments. I refer students of the Brexit saga to what I said in your Lordships’ House on 30 January, 16 May and 20 November last year, and indeed on many occasions over the past 25 years. The burden of my recent song has been that our politicians and bureaucrats have never done a commercial deal in their lives, so do not understand the strength of our hand in Brussels or how to play it. I have recently come to see that our political media suffers from the same disability, so all three are now joined together in a lengthy cacophony with which our real people are getting very frustrated and angry.
Much of this noise is now directed against the supposed horrors of leaving the EU on 29 March without a deal, but I should have thought that the speech here today from the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, and the paper he published via Global Britain and Labour Leave on 7 January entitled 30 Truths about Leaving on WTO Terms, together with yesterday’s paper from Economists for Free Trade, No Deal is the Best Deal for Britain, should comprehensively close all that nonsense down. If those who, in truth, want to reverse the referendum result do not agree with those papers, perhaps they would publish a rebuttal, point by point, author by author. I look forward to reading it—not very hopefully, because they cannot.
No deal is fine but I come back to a concept which is even cleaner and simpler: the Government should accept that they will never get a deal out of the Commission which respects our referendum result, because the Commission’s main aim in life is to keep its project of European integration afloat, and if we break free and make a success of our restored independence, that aim will be even more damaged than it is already. So we should resile from clauses 2 to 5 of Article 50, cease dealing with the Commission and make a generous offer to the real people of Europe, through the Council of Ministers. Those real people are, after all, our friends, whereas the Commission is not.
We should offer them reciprocal residence for a period to be agreed, our continuing security support from GCHQ and our membership of Five Eyes, and continuing free trade together but under the WTO rather than the Luxembourg court. That offer would be generous because there are some 3.5 million EU citizens living here and only some 1.2 million of our people living there, and because if our offer of continuing free trade is not accepted and we are forced to trade on normal WTO terms, their exporters will pay us some £13.5 billion in new tariffs and our exporters will pay Brussels some £5.5 billion, a profit to us of some £8 billion—those figures were confirmed by Civitas this morning. The WTO would allow us to subsidise any of our exporters hit by the £5.5 billion out of their £8 billion profit. If our offer is accepted, we go on in free trade with our customers in the EU just as we do now: nothing changes and the vastly inflated problem of the Irish border disappears.
Your Lordships will be aware that I have floated the suggestion several times in the last year, but the Government have always replied that they cannot follow it, because “we are a law-abiding nation”—by which they meant that we cannot resile from clauses 2 to 5 of Article 50, because that would be breaking the EU treaty. However, the Luxembourg court has now confirmed that we can indeed resile from Article 50 unilaterally if we want to. That was agreed with me and my advisers. I also received a helpful Written Answer from the Government on 27 November, saying that:
“The UK has unilaterally withdrawn from 52 treaties since 1 January 1988. All of these have been multilateral treaties”.
So why not this one? Of course, if our offer is not accepted by the Council on behalf of its people, we should not pay any money at all to Brussels after 29 March—as indeed we should not under no deal. If it is accepted, we can be generous about that too.
I do not know whether the Government are taking advice from businessmen who know how to do deals and understand the EU, but I fear not. If they did, those businessmen would tell them that the most obvious madness in the Government’s approach to these negotiations has been to allow the Eurocrats to put the question of any leaving payment up front, instead of taking it last. When the Minister replies, will he say whether “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” still applies in this respect?
I will end by underlining the warning from several noble Lords that, if the referendum result is not respected, thanks to the obvious and bewildering incompetence of our political and bureaucratic class, we may sow the seeds of civil unrest. Already, many of our white working class are simmering with anger at the way those in authority have turned a blind eye to the grooming gang scandal. It would be foolish to provoke them further in this sorry matter. The deal is not a deal at all: it is an abject capitulation. If it is voted down in the Commons tomorrow, I invite the Government to at least consider my proposal. If they have not the vision or political will to do that—and I fear that they may not—then let us embrace no deal and the WTO, and go forth into the world with good cheer.
My Lords, I never thought, just over 20 years ago when I came to your Lordships’ House, that this evening I would be debating withdrawing from Europe. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, is right. Previously, many thought that the noble Lord who has just spoken was not really on the ball—but he clearly is on the ball in relation to the challenges we face today.
I make it quite clear that I voted to remain. I had the privilege of working overseas for five years of my life—most of it in south-east Asia, although there was a period in Canada. I am used to trading and exporting; I am certainly used to negotiating with Indians in India; so my background is of someone who understands industry and commerce. I was a founder member, I think, of the young European managers’ association in the 1960s. I was an active member of the council of the European campaign of the Conservative Party. My heritage in relation to Europe is there even in my second name: Wolfgang. I think that that says enough for most people in the Chamber: it is in the genes, as they say. Yet I stand before you deeply worried about what is happening today.
In a sense, I have suffered for the cause. My noble friend the former Speaker of the House of Commons knows that I was her Deputy Speaker—and, more relevantly, chairman of Ways and Means. I took the whole of the Maastricht treaty. To remind your Lordships, that created the European Union, set up the euro and set up the ability for families to locate somewhere within the European Union. Some 25 days on the Floor of the House of Commons; four all-night sittings—and all it was, was four clauses and the Title. At the end of the day Tony Benn MP came into my office and said, “I am moving a vote of no confidence in you, Mr Chairman of Ways and Means”. I said, “What have I done?”. “You have done it far too well”, he said. “We have not really managed to persuade the Government to change”. I said, “That is all very well”—but at any rate we saw him off and the majority I got on that fateful evening of 27 April 1993 was 367.
So my commitment is there—but when I look at what may happen tomorrow in the other place, I am deeply worried. Because I deeply believe in what was the European Union as far as we were concerned, I do not think that my friends in the Commons face an easy decision. The suggestions that have been put before them are difficult to vote on. We all know—perhaps we do not all know but certainly I believe—that the methodology used to negotiate leaves much to be desired, not least the change of management on the way through.
So I am deeply concerned, but it is for those in the Commons to make their decision. I sat in a marginal seat, with majorities initially of 179 and 142—it improved a bit over time. When you sit in a marginal seat, you listen to what people are thinking. It was quite clear—was it not?—to all of us in the referendum that the majority of our citizens wanted to leave the EU. That is there in black and white. Unfortunately, the then Prime Minister did not quite decide whether or not it was binding. But they made that decision and we should respect it.
If tomorrow’s vote goes against Her Majesty’s Government, they will have to think really seriously about no deal. I made some calls over the weekend to hauliers in Northampton. “What will happen?”, I asked. “Are you going to be stuck at Dover or Calais?”. “No”, they said. “We have known it was coming. We have made preparations. We have altered the software. No lorry will leave Northampton to go to the continent unless it has clearance”—and they are totally confident that they can get that in a few weeks. I talked to other industrialists. Look at the City of London. It has invested in micro-offices throughout the 27 countries. This is happening up and down our country today. It has happened. Yes, the small businesses will face problems, and Her Majesty’s Government are supposed to be doing something about that.
At the end of the day, we all have to face up to our responsibilities. If the great British public want to come out of the EU, and if MPs do not vote for the Government tomorrow, in my judgment we will have to look at a hard deal. It is a deal. It is a challenging deal, but we need some leadership and some nerve. But the opportunities are there. Our trade balance with the EU is not that smart. We are in deficit and have been for years. We have never really looked at the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth has two and a half times the number of people there are in the EU. There is an ageing population in Europe and a young, thrusting population in the Commonwealth. I believe that the opportunities are there and it all depends on tomorrow evening. If the Government get their majority, so be it—good. But if they do not, I will not be afraid to stand up and accept that no deal is the way forward.
My Lords, at the start of this debate, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury expressed two objectives. The first was, rightly, that there should be proper regard for real facts on the ground. He cited east Kent and elsewhere. The second, also right, was a desire to see a deeply fractured nation drawn back together by some form of reconciliation.
In my view, the worst thing about the Cameron referendum was arguably not the absurdity of trying to take so complex an issue to a conclusion by that lamentable route, or his palpable fear of Farage, or that he scuttled away after his failure; it was the deep divide that he bequeathed the people of the United Kingdom. While I hope for reconciliation, I do not pretend that it will happen anytime soon. The noble Lord, Lord Patten, was certainly right: we will not be divided by what happens in the near future because we are already deeply divided. I know that I cannot be reconciled to the atavistic nationalism expressed by some Brexiteers and I know full well that they cannot be reconciled to my instinct for internationalism and modernity. The much-researched social divisions in the United Kingdom may not be reconciled for a generation or more—certainly not by clustering around the Prime Minister’s unacceptable proposals. She never grasped what is involved in reaching out in a mature manner to all sides of Parliament.
The fault line between embedded nationalism and modern social democracy should not surprise us; it is visible in the United Kingdom, many parts of Europe and the United States. It has constituted the basis for turmoil in Europe for centuries. It has never gone away. Victories for nationalists have scarred Europe more than any other experience, yet we never seem to learn fully from such disasters. Where institutions build peace and security, we still seem to pull towards chaos and crisis. Nationalistic populism still has broad appeal, especially when it is focused on foreigners—people not like us who can be blamed for a failing economy that leaves people and institutions struggling, for austerity and for feeling humiliated. Those sentiments must be addressed fully and properly.
When was our politics more toxic? With the miserable negativity of the remain campaign, the mind-staggering mendacity of the leave campaign and its funders and the brutality of the language that is now common, have we ever known worse? I cannot be reconciled to that kind of world view. Brexit is not the cause, of course, but it picked the scab open. Hate crime, xenophobia, rhetoric about the “citizens of nowhere” and a hostile environment for the people who wish to live here make us an uglier society by the day. Across the street from us, fascists scream at MPs. I cannot speak at first hand of the place where either of our most reverend Primates celebrates his religion, but what has happened when my place of worship must be surrounded continually by large numbers of guards? Is this what we must live with now? I would rather face the struggle against nationalism because we cannot run from it, but I offer a sincere challenge to those who say that conciliation is possible; the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, made a similar point.
It is plain that, until the last few days, the Prime Minister has not tried to reach out to others, and has then tried mainly to frighten them; nor has the leader of my party reached out to anyone. Our calamity has not found our Churchill and Attlee. We do not seem that grown up. Perhaps someone with the moral authority to do so can take the kind of approach taken by Desmond Tutu: to convene urgently an effort to find common ground, hopefully with the broader and more deliberative discussion advocated by my noble friend Lady Armstrong, between crashing out and rebuilding a decent, united United Kingdom. There is little time and I see no sign of the Commons Front Bench doing it. Were the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury here, I would ask him—I will have to ask the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York instead—whether the Church is up to the challenge of carrying out reconciliation, not just calling for it.
I support my noble friend’s amendment in these critical circumstances. It recognises the dangerous shortcomings in our security profile, about which my noble friend Lord Browne warned us on Wednesday. It is an astonishing position for a permanent member of the Security Council to find itself in as a nation. There must be a moment when the weight of economic and commercial evidence is acknowledged by Brexiteers, although I note that on 16 December Jacob Rees-Mogg said that crashing out will boost the UK’s economy by more than £1.1 trillion. What world is he in? Goodness knows, in his case. I have gone back over previous rounds of major European venture financing decisions—the sort of things that businesspeople study to see which way the investment wind is blowing. It is a discouraging picture: only one of the top 10 capital raises was in the United Kingdom. The picture for higher education and culture is equally ugly, as others have said. I do not buy shares in the crash-out sunny uplands myth peddled by the hard right. Those saying it—except perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Lilley—cannot truly believe it either. Mr Rees-Mogg and his colleagues want to convince us that we will enjoy a soft landing. What they always omit to tell us is what we will be landing in.
What worries me most, and I conclude on this point, is the failure to focus on the prospects of young people, who took no part in the decision and who have been ignored by Jeremy Corbyn among others. They have a say every few years in general elections—nothing is set in stone—and here we are trying to bind them more or less indefinitely to a decision which all the evidence shows they abhor. Few mistakes are more dishonourable than damaging the future of our children and their children. We will rely on them as the architects of the future. Let us give them a decent start.
My Lords, I was never very good at maths, but I think I am speaker 237 on this subject, if we take the debates before Christmas into account. Therefore, the chances that I can say anything original, or something which has not been better put by someone else, are slight. There are, however, three things that I want to say.
The first is about science, amplifying what my noble friend Lord Stern said earlier this afternoon. I declare an interest as chair of the Wellcome Trust. Science done in the UK—note that I do not say UK science—is critical for our economy. It delivers 25% profit in perpetuity on every pound invested. It is key, as my noble friend Lord Krebs said before Christmas, for addressing our medical, societal, environmental and other problems. It is a fundamental part of this Government’s industrial strategy. Science depends totally on international collaboration, and the easy movement of researchers is vital to that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and my noble friend Lady Masham said.
I have visited many labs in the United Kingdom, and I am extremely excited by some of the science being done there. I have never been into a lab staffed only by British citizens. They are staffed by citizens from all over the world, but many from Europe are leaving. Others are not coming. At the Sanger Institute in Cambridge, which is probably at the moment—it may not go on being so—the world’s leading genomics institute, discovering genetic causes of disease on a weekly basis, there has been a 50% drop in those from Europe wanting to come and work there. Why? They feel unwelcome in the narrowly nationalistic country we risk becoming. I fear the gradual diminution and weakening of our science, and that concern is shared by all the scientists I have spoken to. That fear will increase in the event of no deal.
Wellcome currently spends about £1 billion a year, mainly here, on medical research. To that extent, we are a major supporter of science done in the UK—I should also add that we fund in 70 other countries—but that support is not unconditional. If the excellence of science here diminishes—and we will do our best to prevent that happening; it is not an outcome any of us would want—we shall invest elsewhere.
As noble Lords might expect, my next subject is security. The intelligence work of my former colleagues in MI5, MI6, GCHQ and comparable European organisations is outside the treaties, and will always remain so. No nation is willing to contemplate delegating such critical powers to the EU—indeed, suggestions that they should are usually rebuffed by our partners.
It has never been the case, as one current Cabinet Minister asserted in the run-up to the referendum, that the EU determines who we share intelligence with. That is a national decision. So this suggestion is nonsense. As is, I am afraid, the suggestion made last week that the withdrawal agreement and the political framework somehow jeopardise our national security by putting it under EU control. The words do not say that, and it would be completely against the tradition of the past 30 or 40 years.
Also nonsense is the suggestion that it will somehow upset the Five Eyes community. Let me remind the House that that in-house speak refers to the Americans, the Canadians, the New Zealanders, the Australians and ourselves—the English-speaking intelligence world. There are other groups, including the European and Commonwealth groups, and the Five Eyes community has always valued our link to the EU. The threats we face are global and we need the closest collaboration with all, not to have to choose between Five Eyes and Europe.
I wish to acknowledge here our gratitude over many decades to the security and intelligence services of Europe. They have given us unstinting help, saving British lives and working in close trust with us. We have always endeavoured to be generous in return, and I strongly endorse what my noble friend Lord Ricketts said on this subject before Christmas.
Security and intelligence are integrated increasingly with police work. Of real concern to me is what would happen in this area with no deal, as in science. The noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, laid out the issues, and the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police has been explicit about the dangers to our citizens if we leave the EU without a deal and without addressing the effects of rupturing the links that bind us on security—one example of which is the European arrest warrant, which others have mentioned. I also feel pretty queasy that Mr Putin is so much in favour of what we are trying to do.
Finally, I turn to language, which the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, mentioned. This matters, as it creates an impression that no fine sentiments or lofty aspirations can dispel. We all deplore the abuse hurled on College Green at a Member of the other place. However, I have not forgotten, and am deeply ashamed, that our previous Foreign Secretary compared the EU to Nazi Germany, while the current one chose instead the Soviet Union, thereby insulting our long-standing friends, many of whom are our closest allies in NATO, which was created after the collapse of Nazi Germany to address the threat from the Soviet Union.
I have run out of time. Whatever the outcome tomorrow, and from what follows, I hope we will listen to the most reverend Primate and try to heal our nation. To do that, let us stop abusing and stick to the arguments, the reality and the evidence, not the myths, the lies and the magic.
My Lords, it was with some trepidation that, as one of my first actions on returning to the Back Benches, I put my name forward for this debate. However, my experience as a Minister over two years, including leading on Brexit preparations for the Department of Health, has compelled me to speak for the merits of the Prime Minister’s deal and to highlight the deep problems that exist with both a no-deal outcome and remaining in the EU. At the heart of it, those are the three options before us, and that is how Parliament must choose.
On 23 June 2016, I voted to leave the European Union because I do not believe that it is in the long-term interests of this country to remain a member. As we know, the leave campaign won that referendum, a decision that the two main parties pledged to honour both at the time and in the subsequent 2017 general election, as my noble friend Lord Lansley reminded us. Having made that commitment, it followed that the UK would leave under one of two possible circumstances: either having struck a deal with the EU or with no deal in place. Parliament agreed with this logic and, by triggering Article 50 and subsequently passing the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, made sure that the default position is that we leave the EU on 29 March this year—deal or not.
Throughout the past two and a half years, therefore, I have been prepared to countenance leaving without a deal, as indeed should have any parliamentarian who voted to honour the referendum result. Those now attempting to renege on their previous commitments by passing fatuous anti-no-deal Motions, with no alternative in place, are guilty of empty virtue-signalling that would bring us no nearer to a solution.
However, it has become clear to me that there are very grave risks involved in leaving without a deal. It is absolutely right that the Government continue to prepare for this eventuality—after all, Parliament has passed this outcome into law, and failing to fulfil that obligation would be unforgiveable. But given the risks to the continuing supply of essential goods on which our health and livelihoods rely—not Project Fear but Project Reality—I cannot join those who positively support a no-deal outcome. It may yet happen—I hope not—but to blithely embrace this option without acknowledging the concrete short-term risks is reckless in the extreme.
The second option is that we remain in the European Union. The Prime Minister has outlined today the political ramifications of such a decision—which in my view would turn what has been a divisive but largely peaceful political process into something more sinister. But it is at least an honest and transparent policy, unlike the so-called people’s vote. There are such obvious and fatal practical problems with the proposal. What would the question be? How would the process work within the time available? I have asked many proponents and never received a straight answer. But those pale beside the profound flaws in this idea.
First, the people’s vote is supported only by those who lost the first time round. It is precisely the kind of “the people got it wrong, let’s ask them again” referendum that we used to rightly chastise our European neighbours for staging under pressure from the European Commission. It needs to be understood that the proponents of the people’s vote are not interested in earnestly seeking the people’s views in order to find a way forward. They only want a referendum so that voters can be told to stop being so stupid and agree at last with the so-called rational people who believe they know better. It would be more honourable if the people’s vote lobby just said what they really think: “Hang the referendum. Let’s just stay in”.
Secondly, are we honestly supposed to believe that if the answer came back again “leave”, the proponents of a second referendum would accept this decision? Quite. If 17.4 million votes last time was not enough, why would next time be any different? People are not stupid and a second betrayal would be too much for our politics to bear.
So we come our third option: the deal. Winston Churchill said that:
“Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”.
I know that some colleagues apply a similar logic to the withdrawal agreement. I am rather more positive about it, and this is why. In negotiating Brexit, the Prime Minister was tasked with achieving two seemingly opposing goals: ending the free movement of people while maintaining free and frictionless trade with the EU. That is precisely what she has done. Under the withdrawal agreement and political declaration we will end free movement, end large and compulsory annual payments to the EU, leave the common agricultural and fisheries policies and finally escape the Commission’s relentless march towards political integration. At the same time, we would maintain alignment with the EU on goods—critical to our consumers, including NHS patients, but a decreasing part of our own economy and future trade prospects. Critically, we keep open the Irish border, honouring the Belfast agreement, boosting the Northern Irish economy and keeping our union intact. If we were to move into the backstop after the transition period, this cherry-picked arrangement would become our ongoing relationship. And that is supposed to be the worst-case scenario.
It is true that the deal has its flaws, but the idea that there is a totally different deal out there to be had is the stuff of fantasy and unicorns. By reconciling the apparently irreconcilable and, in doing so, forcing the Commission to pull apart its supposedly indivisible four freedoms, the Prime Minister has secured an historic agreement. It is now time for every parliamentarian who pledged to honour the referendum result in this House and, more importantly in the other place, to look to their conscience and support this deal.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, on his skilful speech but, speaking as the last opposition Back-Bencher in this marathon debate, I hope the House will forgive me for a brief personal view of what has happened and where we are now.
For me, the referendum result was a great blow. I had been a committed European since I was 18, but what made the remain defeat even harder to bear was the reaction of one of my 10 grandchildren. With tears in his eyes, and in words I shall never forget, he cried out, “You do realise, grandpa, that your generation has just ruined my life”. Perhaps that was a bit over the top, but it made me determined to devote what was left of my political career to doing what I could to ensure that the lives of my children’s and grandchildren’s generations were not blighted by the referendum result. My speech this evening is for them.
Speaking in the first Lords debate after the referendum, I accepted the result, but I argued that it was essential that leavers and remainers should get together to work out strategies that were in the national interest and, above all, to retain access to the markets of the EU. I also said that we should not trigger Article 50 until we had worked out a proper plan, and I stressed the crucial role of Parliament in bringing the country together, which I believe was and is essential,
The new Prime Minister said that she saw her task as being to take the UK out of the EU, but the unanswered question was how she was going to do it. Would Mrs May come down on the side of the hard-line Brexiteers and go for a hugely risky hard Brexit, or would she decide to be a pragmatic national leader and reach out across party boundaries to pursue the best possible deal for the country? Let us not forget that the UK’s recent prosperity has been based on our trade with other member states and on highly successful inward investment from outside the EU. We should also not forget that being a member of the EU has benefited the UK in a number of other crucial ways: in improved environmental and social protection; in research and education; in security and defence; and in our influence, power and prestige in the world.
The obvious Brexit strategy should therefore have been to mitigate the loss of these great advantages by remaining as close as possible to the EU. Instead, in her January 2017 Lancaster House speech Mrs May took a disastrous wrong turning. She laid down red lines which could have been lifted straight from a Brexiteer pamphlet: no single market; no customs union; no deal is better than a bad deal. By short-sightedly trying to please the Brexiteers she made it almost impossible to arrive at a deal which was in the overall national interest.
Over the two and half years since the referendum, Mrs May has twisted and turned as she has vainly attempted to reach a settlement with the EU which was acceptable not just to business but to the nation as a whole. First, we had the Chequers White Paper; then, after that was rejected by the Brexit hard-liners, we were presented with the withdrawal agreement and the political statement which Parliament is now debating. It seems likely that, despite Mrs May’s undoubted persistence, the latest example of which we saw this afternoon, her deal will be defeated in the Commons, partly because of the unacceptability of the Irish border backstop to the DUP and the Brexiteers, and also partly because the agenda set out in the political declaration is too vague and would take years to negotiate.
If the withdrawal agreement is defeated tomorrow, it is anybody’s guess what happens next. It would be an unmitigated disaster if the no deal that Brexiteers are so enamoured of—we have heard some of them this evening—was not also decisively voted down. The leavers never told us that our motorways would be gridlocked and that there would be shortages of critical medicines and other essentials. The leavers never told us that a no-deal Brexit would lead to the violent dislocation of virtually every legal arrangement between the UK and the EU. So instead of a so-called smooth glide path into a new relationship with the continent, Britain would be in freefall.
Mrs May could, of course, try to seek other options, including further tweaks to her withdrawal deal or, as a last gasp, going for something which she ought to have considered much earlier—Norway-plus, for example—but these options suffer from disadvantages, above all the lack of time and the uncertainty of a parliamentary majority for them. There is, of course, the possibility of a general election, but it is far more likely that because there are no other real alternatives we will be forced into a second referendum.
I am aware of the possible dangers of a second referendum. We have heard some eloquent ones from the most reverend Primate. However, if there is no parliamentary majority for any proposal, it could be necessary to consult the voters again on the options, including remaining in the EU. In order to make sufficient time for such a referendum, we should also have to ask for a delay in the implementation of Article 50.
None of us can predict the future, not even some of the clever people we have heard from today. However, I am convinced that as time goes by, the difficulties of leaving the EU and the advantages of membership will become ever clearer. Above all, I am convinced that generations of my children and grandchildren will not stand for a disastrous no deal or a half-baked arrangement which will not only leave our country poorer but separate us from our close continental neighbours who should be our natural partners. They will decide to remain a member of the Union which has provided Europe with peace, stability and prosperity for the last 60 years. I support the Motion.
My Lords, we should be very proud of the last three days of this debate. I think that there is no legislative assembly in the world that could have had a debate such as this, with such range, variety, knowledge and eloquence—all without rancour. That should be a lesson to the other House.
The House will have noted slightly different voices from the Conservative Party. That is reflected by my friends on the Front Bench. We have known each other for 20, 30, 40 and in one case 50 years and we have different views. My noble friends Lord Forsyth, Lord Lamont, Lord Lilley and Lord Hamilton made passionate speeches arguing for a no deal. They are bemused that I can still support the May package. I think that the kinder ones hope that it is not an early sign of senile dementia.
But I have my memory and I remember the debates in 1972 in the House of Commons. They were all about trade—about New Zealand and Australian butter and lamb, sugar from the Caribbean and exotic fruits from our ex-colonies. We voted for a common market. We voted again for a common market in 1975. The Europe of then and the Europe of now are two totally different communities. The people who recognised that were the two best speakers in those debates: Michael Foot and Enoch Powell. They forecast what would happen through the loss of our sovereignty and the increasing power of the centralising forces of Europe.
I realised that when I became a Minister in the Thatcher and Major years and went as Home Secretary to meet the other local Ministers of Justice. When we first got to know each other, we had to get their names and countries right and try to remember who they were at the next meeting. But they often changed; they were birds of passage. Some got promoted, some got sacked and in our case one got arrested—and they constituted the body that was meant to control the power of the Commission.
The Commission sat at a great long table, always the same people month after month, year after year. It was extraordinary. We never really managed to cope with them. We had a pretty motley crew as Ministers of Justice. The Irish Minister of Justice had to resign because he fiddled his election expenses, the Italian Minister of Justice went to jail for a massive fraud in Naples and the Spanish Minister of Justice got the jackpot prize: he went to jail for murder.
This did not entirely make me love Europe more. For me, 29 March is almost sacred because it is the day when we do not have to bother any more about the European Commission or the European Parliament or majority voting or being told by officials what to do from Europe. We gain the power to make our own laws, in our own way, in our own Parliament, for our own people, in our own country. We get back our constitutional sovereignty as an independent nation state. That is why I voted for Brexit. It was a political decision—the noble Lord, Lord Soley, talked about political and trade decisions.
I know that we will not get all our freedoms back in one day. We have freedoms on fishing, agriculture and free movement, but not on trade. I am glad that we will not get freedom on trade back in one day, because it will take at least two or three years. Whatever happens in the other place, they will need a period of transition to negotiate a deal—and they will. It is possible to do a deal on trade provided that both parties want it, and we will get a satisfactory deal, but we have to be patient and to wait. At times in all political life you have to be prepared to wait and to be patient. It is difficult at times for politicians to be patient, and certainly the Brexiteers are not very patient, but they must learn to wait. As Milton said—I have forgotten what he said, although I shall remember once I have sat down.
There is clearly not a majority for no deal in this House and I do not believe that there is a majority for it in the country. The details around no deal are very problematical, as was evidenced in the speech of a strong non-Brexiteer on our side, my noble friend Lord Bridges. He said that when there are so many unknown features around it and the decision is of such magnitude, you cannot depend on, in his words, “maybe” and “cross your fingers”. So I believe that no deal will not happen. However, as many noble Lords have said in this debate, the date might be moved from 29 March to 1 July. Personally, I would oppose that because I think it would be the end of Brexit. In those three months, the campaign for a second referendum would gather pace and roar ahead.
The party that is cheering is the party that is falling in the opinion polls—but never mind. A second referendum would be bitterly divisive in our country, politically and socially, and the campaign would be incredibly bitter. One thing that we have learned from Brexit is that civility is driven out of political debate and discourse. MPs get death threats and are abused as they go to the House of Commons. There is venom and hatred, and a second referendum would be so passionate on both sides that there would almost be a civil war. The one thing that would win in a referendum would be populism. The major parties would certainly divide, populism would arise and we would enter the dark age of populist politics. That would be the consequence of a referendum.
Finally, I will say this to Boris and Jacob. They have barely been mentioned in this debate but they are quite important people in this matter. They have a sense of history and I say to them both: reflect on the fact that the liberties that we enjoy and which make this country such a wonderful place to live in and a magnet for many other people did not arrive in one day, one week, one month, one year, one decade or one century; some of them came creeping slow. But they had one characteristic difference: they had a start day when somebody in the past said, “I want the right to vote”, “I want the right to speak freely”, “I want to have the right to march and protest” and “I do not want to be arrested in the middle of the night”. These things come slowly.
Finally, I remind Jacob and Boris what the poet Oliver Goldsmith said of their great hero, and mine, Edmund Burke in the 18th century. He said that Edmund Burke was,
“too fond of the right to pursue the expedient”.
The Brexiteers are too fond of the right to pursue the expedient—and tonight I shall be voting in the expedient Lobby. It is not the most romantic Lobby, but it is the only one that can secure Brexit for Britain and I commend it to your Lordships.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Baker and congratulate him on his wit and wisdom, but I cannot agree with his diagnosis. I am disappointed that the Motion in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, contains the words,
“a no deal outcome … must be … rejected”.
As I see it, and as has been articulated by many who have spoken today, the reality is that the WTO arrangements facilitate the best outcome for Britain where otherwise we are potentially in a dangerous constitutional mess. We have a bad deal in which we would remain a rule-taker under an ECJ jurisdiction covering large areas, with no influence on drafting EU laws; we could not negotiate our own trade deals; and, as we are well aware, the deal creates unacceptable border problems in Ireland. I commend in particular recent contributions of my noble friends Lord Lilley and Lord Bamford, and express my agreement with what my noble friend Lord Ridley said this evening.
My noble friend Lord Lilley was, as I think everyone knows, the Trade and Industry Secretary involved in setting up the WTO. I urge those who remain concerned about a WTO deal to talk to the noble Lord and get the views of a professional on what are and are not serious problems. He has no fears of our operating under the WTO and cites 30 reasons to embrace it. This would end uncertainty and provide a clean break. It would provide a safe haven for businesses and consumers. Moving to WTO rules also makes it easier to take up Tusk’s Canada-style free trade offer, under which we could control how we trade. In short, WTO is the correct and positive response to the referendum vote and to the position in which we now find ourselves.
My Lords, normally I would try to reflect speeches from across the House in my winding-up, but this evening I will concentrate on the Liberal Democrats. This is partly because the loss of our late colleague Lord Ashdown is much on our minds. Obviously the primary grief is felt by Jane and the family, but we too, his political family, are nothing short of devastated. We badly miss his voice. Tweets of Paddy’s from two months ago remain online; I am afraid they are not complimentary about the governing party, saying,
“and so our beloved country is once again held to ransom by squabbles in a Tory Party who give rats in a sack a bad name”,
“the great unravelling begins. If you want a playbook for what next, look to the Tory civil wars of the Com Laws in 1846”.
The fact is that, unlike Liberal Democrats, whose hallmark is openness to the world, Tories have long been split between international and insular tendencies; that continues today. Some talk, admittedly, about “global Britain” but this seems more about resurrecting the Empire—or at least the Anglosphere—than a true spirit of international and multilateral co-operation. Modern Liberal Democrats can still subscribe to the words of the radical Liberal Richard Cobden, who cited among the benefits of repeal of the Corn Laws that,
“it would introduce through mutually advantageous international trade a new era of international fellowship and peace”.
That sentiment endures, both as the rationale for the European project after 1945 and in the DNA of the modern Liberal Democrat party; no wonder the two are so well-aligned. As my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire said last week, a global Britain should be within, not against, a global Europe. Hence one of Paddy’s successors, my noble friend Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, insisted in this debate last Wednesday:
“I am passionate about remaining in the European Union. I venture to observe that I am just as passionate about remaining as those who are passionate about leaving. I respect their passion and, in turn, I expect them to respect mine”.—[Official Report, 9/1/19; col. 2281.]
Another previous leader, Jo Grimond, in his book The Liberal Future 60 years ago, wrote:
“Liberals dissented from the original decision not to take part in the Iron and Steel Community. A Liberal foreign policy towards Europe would be based on the firm belief that Britain is a part—a leading part—of Europe”.
But it was not just Liberals in our Liberal Democrat heritage who carried the flame for Europe. My noble friends Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank and Lord Taverne came via the Labour Party and the Social Democrats. They reminded us in this debate how they were part of that brave contingent of 69 MPs who defied the Labour leadership and its three-line whip to vote to join the then European Community in 1971. My noble friends Lord Wrigglesworth and Lord McNally, also once SDP, stressed internationalist principles too. They were led by Roy Jenkins, later our Liberal Democrat Leader here in Lords. In the epilogue to his European Diary as President of the European Commission, Roy recounts the formation of the SDP, noting simply and unremarkably that,
“the SDP and its Alliance partner maintained a wholly committed European position”.
Roy Jenkins also harks back much farther in our political roots when, in his biography of William Gladstone, he quotes from Gladstone’s Midlothian campaign, when he was much concerned about atrocities in the Balkans against Bulgarians and Montenegrins. Gladstone, he records, spoke of a,
“nation called to undertake a great and responsible duty”,
in regard to “the peace of Europe” and the need for,
“right and justice to be done”.
These are uncanny echoes of Paddy Ashdown’s insistence that we had to take an interest in the Balkan wars of the 1990s and take on a responsibility to protect in particular the Kosovars and Bosnians being subjected to ethnic cleansing on our continent.
In her very generous comments about Paddy Ashdown in her debate on the western Balkans last Thursday, the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, said:
“During the Bosnian War in the 1990s, most politicians, including some from my own party, pontificated from a distance. Lord Ashdown went in and out of Sarajevo during the longest siege in modern history, across a risky mountain route and through a tunnel burrowed into the city”.—[Official Report, 10/1/18; col. GC 265.]
Hence, when my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire wrote a slim Penguin tome for the 1997 election called Why Vote Liberal Democrat?, in words he could repeat today, he wrote:
“Nostalgia for an imperial past, combined with hostility to closer cooperation with Britain’s neighbours, offers no credible way forward ... Liberal Democrats are internationalist by instinct and by intellectual conviction ... We believe that Britain can achieve more through sharing sovereignty and pooling power than by standing alone ... Britain is a European country. Our international interests and responsibilities start with our concern to promote peace, stability and prosperity within Europe, in partnership with our European neighbours”.
Another consistent theme of the Liberal Democrats is social justice. My noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood, yet another former party leader, said in this debate:
“In the light of the last referendum result, the Government should also pledge themselves to remedying the real grievances in parts of the country that have felt neglected over many years”,—[Official Report, 9/1/18; col. 2249.]
while 25 years ago, in his book Beyond Westminster, Paddy observed how Britain—like now—was in,
“a profoundly depressed and bewildered state”,
“a sense of hope that has died and a leadership that has failed”,
“a dangerous mood of fatalism—a loss of national self-confidence and even self-respect”.
That is why on these Benches we insist not only that there is a better option than any kind of Brexit, which is to remain, but that British politicians should then turn our energies to remedying through our domestic efforts the grievances, loss of hope and anger at being neglected that Brexit will make worse.
We are outraged not only by the shabby treatment this Tory Government are meting out to the 5 million EU and UK “free movers” but by the extraordinary way the Prime Minister has trumpeted as her number one achievement that free movement will end. She seems totally unable to appreciate that she is tearing away from Brits, young and old, one of the greatest benefits of the EU: the ability and freedom to move around Europe to work, study or retire. That is, unless they are rich enough to purchase residence or a passport in another EU country, as perhaps some in this House are.
Liberal Democrats make no bones about it. We hope that in a people’s vote—a final say—the British people will choose to remain, with all they know now three years on. This party, our predecessors, our leaders and our members are united in believing passionately, as we always have done, that nothing can be as good as EU membership. To hijack Martin Luther, we cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here we stand, we can do no other. Indeed, we can do no other than support the Motion in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon.
My Lords, the Motion in the name of my noble friend Lady Smith, first, acknowledges the Commons’ responsibility for deciding whether the deal is ratified, a decision echoing that of 28 October 1971, referred to earlier, when the Commons, including our Lord Speaker and 19 other current Members of your Lordships’ House, voted to enter the Common Market—albeit another 13 voted no. Our role—indeed, as my noble friend Lady Ramsay says, our duty—is to offer our advice, which is what we do today.
Secondly, the Motion rejects no deal. That inane slogan,
“no deal is better than a bad deal”,
was voiced before the Prime Minister understood what no deal meant. We know now: food and energy prices up; fresh produce down, even rationed; fewer medicines, although they are going to be safe in Matt Hancock’s new fridges; ports jammed; manufacturing damaged; and checks and delays clogging just-in-time supply chains. Have the Government never listened to Toyota, Jaguar, Honda or Nissan? As for the economy, the value of the pound would fall and we would have perhaps the steepest slump since the war. The CBI has warned of profound economic consequences, with GDP cut 8%. Our security would be jeopardised: no deal would have a real impact on the Government’s ability to protect the public. Virtually overnight, a million UK citizens across the EU would suddenly be in limbo. To those who say we are crying wolf, may I remind them that that four-legged beast did turn up? It is no wonder that the Civil Contingencies Secretariat briefed the Privy Council on no deal. The ABI begs Parliament to avoid crashing out. The City of London says it would,
“undermine financial stability, disrupting services … to households and businesses on both sides of the channel”.
The Business Secretary labels it a “dire prospect” causing “incalculable damage”, even as his own Government spend £80 million a week and redeploy 4,000 civil servants just to minimise the resulting disruption. That is what would happen, but even for those who want to go out on WTO terms, no deal means doing that with no transition. Therefore, no deal must be emphatically rejected.
The third arm of the Motion regrets the agreement’s damage to our prosperity, security and global influence. The majority of the 240 speeches over five days voiced deep anxieties about a deal which, even the Chancellor admits, will make the country poorer—a poverty, as we have heard from the Bishops’ Benches, borne largely by the poor.
On Northern Ireland, the deal’s shortcomings were exposed by my noble and learned friend Lord Goldsmith, my noble friend Lord Murphy and the noble Lord, Lord Bew, in December. Since then, and just as we restarted this debate, the Government issued 47 new paragraphs on Northern Ireland, evidence of their absence from the agreement itself. The document raises problems, not just because it requires primary legislation, in addition to the seven other Bills we have to do before exit, but because, as the Prime Minister said today, the Assembly could have,
“a seat at the table on the joint committee”.
But she made no mention of the same for Wales or Scotland. Interestingly, the document gives the Assembly a right to consultation on extending the transition, although, as we were warned by our EU Select Committee:
“It is far from clear … what role Parliament would have in approving any such extension”.
We might also note that the joint committee’s decisions, despite having the same legal status as the withdrawal agreement and being able to amend the withdrawal agreement, require no parliamentary approval. Meanwhile, as my noble friend Lord Griffiths noted, there is no mention of Wales or Scotland at all in the agreement, and nothing about improving the joint ministerial arrangements dealing with powers repatriated to devolved Administrations. So it is no wonder that the Welsh Assembly rejected the deal and asked the Lord Speaker to make that known to this House.
Perhaps most seriously, the political declaration is dismally inadequate as the architecture for our future relationship. It really is what the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, called a gangplank into thin air. It fails to foster trade and prosperity through a permanent customs union, even ruling this out by restating that independent trade policy red line. It ignores our wealth-generating services: the legal, accounting, financial, education and creative sectors. It fails to guarantee environmental, food safety, employment or consumer protection, while the loss of EU workers threatens food production, health and social care, SMEs, the cash-strapped start-ups and, of course, young people, with a £30,000 threshold for entry confusing pay rates with skill. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, who knows a thing or two about talent, said:
“Salary levels are not a proxy for skills”.—[Official Report, 5/12/18; col. 1074.]
Furthermore, the framework’s lack of certainty means that businesses cannot now begin to adjust to an unknown landing place, while the absence of assurances on civil jurisdiction leaves companies unable to plan for continued EU activity because, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, warned, cross-EU civil enforcement would end.
Meanwhile, there would be weakened ability to use EU competition law when cartels are taking advantage of us, and there is nothing about staying in the EU Intellectual Property Office, meaning that trademark protection would have to be duplicated. The mere 26 pages offer little comfort to services, including financial services—some 10% to 15% of our GDP—where exports to the EU could halve.
On science, scholarship and medical advances, we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, my noble friend Lady Thornton, and now the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, that all of these would be undermined in the plans that appear before us. Accounting, auditing, design, education, culture, business and legal services are all just cast adrift. Worse, perhaps, is what the framework allows. Without a guarantee of being in a custom union with a strong single market relationship there would be no stopping the PM continuing to appease her ERG minority, with all the collateral damage described by the noble Lord, Lord Patten.
The framework should be more than just a bucket list, because Article 184 of the agreement requires the parties to negotiate an agreement in line with the political declaration. So what is in it matters, but it does not provide confidence regarding the continuation of our trading, diplomatic, security or cultural links with our close allies, near neighbours and long-term friends. It is written to favour trade deals with third countries—a mythical future ignoring the protectionist “America first” tendencies of the US President. The PM wasted two years negotiating with her own party. She put blinkered Brexiteers in charge, who rejected all evidence at variance with their ideological obsession. Labour’s alternative—we have spelled it out—is a customs union.
It is a customs union!
It has been on offer—and had it not been ruled out by that short-sighted red line, we might indeed have been talking about it.
The Government claim the deal will protect security, but outside the European arrest warrant and intelligence exchange this is simply not the case, as the head of the Met has warned. These are serious, precarious times as storm clouds gather, as the noble Lord, Lord King, described—but this deal, with its dangers for our economy, security and international relations, will lessen our voice in that troubled world as we face US antics, climate change and international security: we know the list.
The deal jeopardises our security and economy. That might keep the Tories out of office, as the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, warned us in December. But that is little comfort, not just because Labour would have to rebuild the economy but because of the damage to public trust in democracy, especially among leave voters who genuinely believe Brexit would improve, not damage, their families’ lives and futures, as my noble friend Lord Liddle suggested.
The deal fails to unite the country, and that is the result of the Government’s refusal to engage with the 48%, the trade unions, business, consumers, Parliament or the Opposition. The duty of the Commons, as my noble friend Lord Brennan said, is to direct the Government. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, agreed that,
“if this deal is not accepted, the… question”,
“what to do next… is for Parliament to answer”.—[Official Report, 26/11/18; col. 507.]
He also said that,
“if Parliament cannot solve this”,
we should call the whole thing off and,
“propose a Motion that we stay in the European Union”.—[Official Report, 21/11/18; col. 236.]
That other dangerous radical, the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, similarly suggested that if the agreement is defeated, the Prime Minister,
“should, without further delay, revoke the notice of withdrawal”.—[Official Report, 10/1/19; col. 2340.]
This evening it is in the national interest for us to say that the deal is not acceptable for the future of our country. Even those who have given it their begrudging support describe it as “imperfect” and the “least worst”, “least bad” option. That is not sufficient for my grandchildren, your grandchildren or my noble friend Lord Radice’s grandchildren. Hence our Motion: no to no deal, and this deal will not do. I urge the House to support the Motion moved by my noble friend Lady Smith.
My Lords, I am pleased to close this debate on behalf of the Government. I thank noble Lords on all sides of the House for their contributions to this debate. It is a mark of the role of this House that even at this hour, the House is in its present form and so full as we conclude such an important debate on such a fundamentally important issue.
Trust and compromise. If we do not trust those with whom we engage, there really can never be room for compromise. If we have no means to compromise, we will find it impossible to achieve consensus. Trust and compromise. I am not a supporter of the idea of referenda. Like the noble Lord, Lord Stephen, I experienced at first hand the referendum on Scottish independence. It was attended by division, exaggeration and overstatement, and was immediately followed by demands for a second referendum that have persisted ever since. But this Parliament decided that the question of whether or not we remain or leave the EU should be put to a referendum. No one forced parliamentarians to do that. They passed an Act for the referendum by an overwhelming majority. They did not concern themselves overly at the time with the precise terms in which they were going to put that to the people—they were simply determined that it would go to the people.
Then they went to the people in a general election, and both principal parties put it forefront in their manifestos that they would respect the result of the referendum. Thereafter, this Parliament passed an Act to authorise the Executive to serve the Article 50 notice, which under international law would determine our membership of the European Union. Then, this Parliament passed the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, which defined the exit date for us to leave the European Union as 29 March 2019. So it was this Parliament which determined, both at the level of international law and in domestic law, that our exit from the European Union would take place on that date.
There followed two years of negotiations. In some places I hear those negotiations belittled. They were carried out by officials working to their instructions and performing to the best of their ability. Perhaps some would be prepared to acknowledge that, whatever the outcome of their actual negotiation. Without the withdrawal agreement I simply remind noble Lords that we do, under the law that this Parliament made and implemented, leave the European Union on 29 March of this year. That should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
We have heard reference to alternatives and mention of Labour’s six points. I was going to refer again to the lucid explanation of those points given by the honourable Member for Brent North, Mr Barry Gardiner, who is still the Front-Bench spokesman for Labour on the matter of trade—but I do not think I really need to repeat it. The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, gave a very adequate summary of Labour’s position on this. I would merely mention that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, alluded to a customs union which, as described by Labour, would be directly contrary to Article 1 of the treaty of Rome and would effectively confer upon the United Kingdom, were the EU ever to accept it, a veto over the EU entering into free trade agreements with third-party countries. It is admirable in its breadth but hopeless in its intent.
Of course, the Liberal Democrats did not go into the general election with a mandate to respect the outcome of the referendum and their position, as I understand it, is that they are determined to keep the United Kingdom in the European Union by any legitimate means. I see them acknowledge that and I understand it.
Legitimate means and democratic means—let us put it that way. They went to the country in the general election as well and returned with 12 seats in the House of Commons; the Scottish Conservatives returned with 13 seats in Scotland, a part of the United Kingdom that voted to remain. But then perhaps people had intelligently understood that the outcome of the referendum should be respected and that they should support those who were prepared to respect it.
We see reference to a second referendum. That would be seen by many as a constitutional outrage. The United Kingdom voted, by a majority of about 1 million people, to leave the EU. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, touched upon this point: people such as myself from north of Watford understand the meaning of “leave”. It is not a factual question; it is more philosophical. Their reasons for voting leave cover a spectrum, from the sublime to the ridiculous and from the laudable to the laughable. But it was this Parliament which decided that that was how the issue should be determined, so look to yourselves.
A democratic decision can be reversed. If you choose a party in a general election, you may decide that you are not entirely impressed by it and, at a second general election, decide on a new party of government.
I hear the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, saying that that is a good idea, but of course it has no comparison with the present situation, if we want to reverse the decision made in a referendum when it has never even been implemented. That is why people would regard it as something of an outrage.
As my noble friend Lord O’Shaughnessy observed, there are issues with the call for a second referendum. Indeed, many people would regard it as a charade, because those calling for it, or at least many of those calling for it, do not want the people to decide. They want the people to give them what they regard as the correct answer, because they did not give it last time. And there is no reason they would not ignore a second leave vote just as readily as they ignored the first leave vote. Of course, they seek to dress it up as the “people’s vote”. Who do they believe voted in the first referendum—sheep? It was the people’s vote.
I come back to the issue of trust. We have the withdrawal agreement and the backstop, which are and are intended to be temporary means for us to actually exit the European Union and do not, by themselves, determine our future relationship. That is outlined in the political declaration. If we do not trust the party with whom we are engaging, then all forms of agreement and negotiation are simply worthless. At the level of international law you cannot—short of war or gunboat diplomacy—force a nation or an international body to implement a promise or obligation if it decides not to do so. Whether it is an oral promise, a written assurance, a solemn undertaking, an international treaty or something written in blood on vellum, if they are determined to lie to you, to mislead you, to change their minds, you are simply going nowhere.
We hear references to the EU wishing to punish us, wishing to put us into a triple lock, wishing to hold the backstop in perpetuity. Yet the European Union says, entirely candidly, that it wants a fruitful future economic, security and social relationship with the United Kingdom, so why would it want to punish us? It does not want to enter a backstop and if it does, it wishes to do so for the shortest time possible. Nobody appears to have acknowledged that, in fact, great advances were made over the backstop in the negotiations. It was proposed originally for Northern Ireland only, which would have had the most profound consequences for our constitutional situation in the United Kingdom, but that is no longer the case. It embraces the entirety of the United Kingdom and by doing so it breaks the four freedoms that the European Union said would never be broken and produces the very cherry picking that it said it would never contemplate.
In addition, the European Union has made it clear that it wants to implement the terms of the political declaration as soon as possible. If we do not believe it, we should stop now, but if we trust it, then we can place faith in these expressions, whether in a formal treaty, a written declaration or correspondence from the President of the Commission and the President of the Council. If we trust the integrity of our interlocutors, we may better understand the motives of those with whom we negotiate and the extent to which they are truly willing to compromise. We often see the European Union as concerned with economics, social policy and politics, but in reality I suspect that it considers its priorities to be political, social and economic. That is one reason so many people in the United Kingdom chose to leave: they were against the notion, that underpins even the original treaty of Rome, of ever-closer political union.
The withdrawal agreement and political declaration have to be read together and in good faith. We have to trust the promises that are made in good faith and understand the need for compromise on both sides.
Looking to ourselves, we perhaps need to remind ourselves that the referendum was not a choice between good and evil or between ruin and redemption. My noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean suggested at one point that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury had implied that all those who voted leave would go to hell. I do not believe that he suggested any such thing.
I was going to say that, even if the most reverend Primate had contemplated such a thing, he would have left room for repentance.
If we can again trust and comprehend the art of compromise, we can tell the other place that the time has come where the alternatives are worse, that we must respect the decision of the people given in the referendum and that we must proceed with the withdrawal agreement.
I shall touch on some of the observations that were made during the course of this debate. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, referred to the attempts to secure mutual recognition in the context of judicial issues. I acknowledge that steps were taken to achieve that and that it has not yet been achieved.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, referred to the idea of participation in European Union programmes going forward. That is something that is reflected in the political declaration.
The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, talked about the need for reciprocal mobility in the areas of science and research. Again, those are matters that will be the subject of negotiation going forward.
The withdrawal agreement is our means of leaving the EU; it is not the determination of our future relationship. That is why, in the context of the future of services, and in particular, financial services, the political declaration includes commitments to co-operation on regulatory and supervisory matters.
In relation to security, the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, pointed out how that is preserved going forward, albeit there is the issue of police co-operation, which is so important, but which is maintained beyond the EU by reciprocal arrangements—for example, in the case of Norway and Iceland, which are not within the EU but still are able to maintain the sort of relationship that we would intend to have going forward. In all those areas, we are able going forward to contemplate a partnership with the European Union that will reflect our standards, our concerns, our security and our common interest in these areas.
Can I come on, though, to the Motion that has been tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith? The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, touched upon that Motion. I will come on to that in a moment, but in doing so, she also referred to the fact that in recent times we have seen a devaluation in the pound that is without precedent since the war—she mentioned the war. I think she will find that Harold Wilson, with Denis Healey as his Chancellor, devalued the pound/dollar rate from four to 2.8—which was rather more severe than anything we have experienced in the recent past.
Can I come on—
I think that noble Lords will find, if they check the timings, that I am within my time, but even if I am without, I am going to make an observation about the noble Baroness’s Motion.
May I turn to the Motion, in particular its third part? I remind noble Lords of the terms, because they are important. The Motion regrets that,
“withdrawal from the European Union on the terms set out in the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration laid before Parliament would damage the future economic prosperity, internal security and global influence of the United Kingdom”.
Of course, it has been most carefully drafted by the noble Baroness and the ambiguity inherent in it is no doubt deliberate.
We have a situation in which some noble Lords take that third part of the Motion and say, “I think the withdrawal agreement is less than it should be. I believe the withdrawal agreement is not perfect and therefore I can support this part of the Motion. But of course I believe that the withdrawal agreement should be approved in the other place because it is the sensible way for us to go forward and leave the European Union”. There are those of your Lordships who have indicated that that is their understanding of the third part of the Motion. Yet there are others—and I note that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, is one of them—who take that third part of the Motion to say, “The withdrawal agreement is damaging in the following ways and as a consequence I do not support the idea that the House of Commons should approve it”. So there is a clear ambiguity built into the third part of the Motion, when what we really want to send to the House of Commons is a view about what it should do with the withdrawal agreement, not the result of an ambiguous Motion, which would draw some people into approving it because they believe that the withdrawal agreement should not be approved, and others to say, “The withdrawal agreement is less than perfect but it should be approved”. I ask all noble Lords to consider whether they want to be party to such an ambiguous statement.
It is in these circumstances that I thank noble Lords for their attention and invite them to consider carefully whether they are prepared to approve the Motion that is about to be moved.
Baroness Smith of Basildon’s Motion10.01 pmMoved by That this House, while noting that it is for the House of Commons to determine the matter, considers that a no deal outcome to negotiations under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union must be emphatically rejected, and regrets that withdrawal from the European Union on the terms set out in the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration laid before Parliament would damage the future economic prosperity, internal security and global influence of the United Kingdom.
House adjourned at 10.19 pm.