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Brexit: Cross-party Discussions

Volume 797: debated on Thursday 16 May 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they expect to report to Parliament on the outcome of discussions on Brexit with the Official Opposition.

My Lords, the Government and Opposition are continuing discussions to try to find a way forward on EU exit that could command a majority in Parliament and which would allow for the UK’s smooth and orderly exit from the EU. Meetings with the Opposition have been constructive, with many areas of consensus. The Government have committed to bringing forward the withdrawal agreement Bill in the week commencing 3 June.

Did the Minister notice the huge dismay that greeted Theresa May’s astounding proposal to prolong the Brexit agony—a dismay which was led by her own MPs? Rather than leading this miserable and unhappy country through further parliamentary nightmares, is it not high time that the Prime Minister had the wisdom to restore national morale by promising either the revocation of Article 50 or a people’s vote with the Electoral Commission in charge?

As I have responded to the noble Lord on this issue a number of times, let me repeat that we are not in favour of revoking Article 50 and we believe that any second referendum would be divisive without being decisive.

My Lords, could my noble friend remind those in the ERG and those on the opposite side who say that they want to see some kind of Brexit enacted that there is a golden opportunity—half a loaf is better than no bread—by voting for that Bill when it comes before the other House?

I totally agree with my noble friend. I am sure that they are taking careful note of his words.

My Lords, democracy is a dialogue and it requires Governments to carry their public with them and to continue to explain the rationales for their policies. Part of the problem we are now in is that we are getting from different members of the Cabinet a range of different opinions. We are not getting any clear message about what is and is not possible in getting out of the hole we are now in on Brexit. When can we expect the Government to return to Parliament and explain what they think is or is not a possible exit from where we are?

What we think is possible is the agreement that we have negotiated. The EU has said that it is the only agreement possible. I know that the noble Lord’s party do not believe in respecting the result of the referendum, but we do, and if we want to implement it the agreement that we have negotiated is the best way of achieving it.

I remind the Minister that the Question asks him about reporting to Parliament the outcome of these deliberations. Once again, he is avoiding the Question. He is answering questions from his imagination and not the Question that Parliament wants an answer on. When will he learn his responsibility to Parliament—the Parliament that held a referendum, in which his side argued that we must take back control?

Like the Opposition, we want to respect the confidentiality of those talks. I am sure that when and if we reach an agreement, both sides will want to report back to Parliament in full on it.

The noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, makes a statement from within Parliament which we all understand and we see the complexities of what is going on. However, it is important to remember, is it not, that from the outside what people see is that the population voted to go out of the Union and Parliament is vigorously obstructing it? That is not democracy and it will bring the whole organisation down fairly quickly unless we get into tune with the population that the House of Commons is supposed to represent.

As ever, my noble friend speaks wisely on these matters. I agree that not implementing the result of the referendum would be disastrous for our democracy. It must seem to people outside—going back to a previous answer from my noble friend Lord Gardiner—that leaving the EU is as difficult as eradicating Japanese knotweed.

My Lords, it is not the question of whether we leave that is in front of us, but the question of how we leave. As we have kept saying, the withdrawal deal is not the right one to bring us out. We have now heard from Mr Fox, for example, that the deal we have in front of us at the moment has to involve checks at or near the Northern Ireland border, so the question is not whether or not we respect the referendum but that the Government have not come forward with a deal that is acceptable to most of his party or to mine.

I thank the noble Baroness for the implication in her question that Labour respects the referendum result. Obviously, I totally agree with that. If that is the case, it is beholden on the Labour Party to tell us which bits of the withdrawal agreement it does not like. Is it the citizens’ rights protections, the financial settlement, the implementation period or the Northern Ireland protocol? Which bits does it not like?

How do the Government respond to the concern that any potential agreement is likely to be repudiated by any successor to the Prime Minister?

I think the noble Lord is getting ahead of himself. The withdrawal agreement has been negotiated by the Government. We stand by that. The EU has made it clear that it is the only and best agreement available, and that will be reflected in the legislation that we bring forward, which I hope Parliament will consider in all seriousness.

My Lords, everybody knows that the withdrawal agreement Bill stands no chance of passing its Second Reading in the House of Commons so, first, why are the Government bringing it forward anyway and, secondly, when they have lost that vote, what do they plan to do then?

The noble Lord is asking me hypothetical questions. I remain confident that Parliament will want to reflect the result of the referendum, that it will see the messages that are being transmitted by the electorate and that it will want to make sure that the referendum result is honoured and that we leave the EU in a smooth and orderly manner.

I wonder whether the Minister can confirm that the Brexit shambles is one of the few fiascos that we cannot blame on Chris Grayling.

I worked very closely with Chris Grayling in the Department for Transport and I disagree with the noble Lord. I think Chris Grayling is doing an excellent job as Secretary of State for Transport.