Power to notify withdrawal from the EU

Part of European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:30 pm on 13th March 2017.

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Photo of Nick Clegg Nick Clegg Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International trade), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union) 5:30 pm, 13th March 2017

I must make progress; there is very little time.

Turning to the other, perhaps more meaningful amendment, the double standards that we have just heard about red tape are duplicated several times over by the double standards of Brexiteers saying, “We should free ourselves”—at any cost—“from the lack of democratic accountability in Brussels,” when the first thing they do is undermine and weaken the principle of democratic accountability in this House. I have listened closely to the Government’s case for rejecting that amendment, including today, and there is no first principle argument against it, because they concede to the principle of a vote; they just do not like us having the freedom to decide what that vote should be on.

The Government have come up with laughable arguments, which we have heard repeated here today, including that if we have just the bog-standard, plain vanilla accountability exerted by the House of Commons and the other place on any announcement made by the Prime Minister in two years, that will serve as an incentive for the EU to give us a bad deal. By that logic, the only Governments that can successfully negotiate good international agreements are dictatorships. They are not; they are democracies. Democracy can co-exist with good international agreements.

I have come to the conclusion that the reason the Government are digging their heels in as stubbornly as they are is that they somehow think that they will strut their stuff and impress our soon-to-be EU negotiating partners by indulging in parliamentary and procedural machismo here. Who do they think they are kidding? Do they think that Angela Merkel has put everything aside to look at this debate this afternoon? Do they think that she has said, “Oh, look at the way that No. 10 unceremoniously evicted Lord Heseltine and other venerable parliamentarians from their jobs. We had better give them a good deal.”?

Does the Secretary of State think that Michel Barnier, whom I know well and know the Secretary of State knows well—a hardened EU negotiator if ever there was one—is saying, “Oh well, we’d better lower the price tag because they are being so tough with their own people”? It is a ludicrous assertion. So I simply say to Government Members, at this last, 59th second of the eleventh hour of this debate on these amendments: stubbornness can be a sign of suspicion and weakness, not strength; rejecting the rightful, conventional role of the House of Commons and the other place to apply democratic accountability to the actions and decisions of the Executive can be a sign of weakness, not strength; and this specious argument that condemns the lack of democratic accountability in Brussels while undermining it here, in the mother of all Parliaments, is a sleight of hand that should not be lightly forgotten.