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Queen’s Speech - Debate (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:02 pm on 23rd May 2016.

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Photo of Lord Robertson of Port Ellen Lord Robertson of Port Ellen Labour 6:02 pm, 23rd May 2016

My Lords, I start by congratulating two noble Baronesses who have spoken today, one for the last time and one for the first. The noble Baroness, Lady Perry, has a very distinguished record, and it was interesting to note that she apparently once whipped the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, a prospect that most people in Scotland would find very entertaining. My noble friend Lady Jowell made a speech that was patriotic, optimistic and inspirational. It is clear that she is going to make a big contribution to the House, as she has done in politics up to now.

I would like to use my few minutes to remind the House of two letters that were published in the Times and the Daily Telegraph two weeks ago. One was from former Secretaries-General of NATO, including me, and the other is signed by a series of senior American defence experts. They speak volumes for what the referendum on 23 June is all about and why it matters to this country and to the Atlantic alliance. The letter from the Secretaries-General is signed by: the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, the last surviving member of the Churchill Government; Javier Solana, once a Foreign Minister of Spain; Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, a former Foreign Minister of the Netherlands; and Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former Prime Minister of Denmark. We said:

“As former secretaries general of Nato, we have followed the EU referendum debate carefully and with growing concern. Given the scale and range of challenges to peace and stability we face collectively, the Euro-Atlantic community needs an active and engaged United Kingdom.

The European Union, with its 500 million people and significant economic power, is a key partner for Nato. The imposition of sanctions on Iran and Russia, led from within the EU by Britain, has been a striking example of the importance of this union for our security. So has the work the EU is doing in the Balkans, in tandem with Nato, to help stave off instability in that region.

“At a time of such global instability, and when Nato is trying to reinforce its role in Eastern Europe, it would be very troubling if Britain ended its membership of the EU.

“While the decision is one for the British people, Brexit would undoubtedly lead to a loss of British influence, undermine Nato and give succour to the West’s enemies just when we need to stand shoulder to shoulder across the Euro-Atlantic community against common threats, including those on our doorstep”.

These are the powerful views of those of us who have had stewardship of the alliance in the last decade and more.

The letter published in the Times is signed by seven White House national security advisers, four US Defence Secretaries and two Secretaries of State. It also sends a powerful message, especially since the signatories come from all political parties in the US:

The United Kingdom and the United States have a special relationship and longstanding friendship. Having worked closely with the British government in our different capacities, we are loyal friends of the UK. While fully respecting that this is a decision for the British people, we feel it is our duty to articulate our views as to some of the likely consequences of a Brexit vote.

“The world needs a strong and united Europe to work with the US to address the many geopolitical and economic challenges we face. The strong bonds between the US and Europe are rooted in shared values, shared interests, and common history. The United Kingdom has played a key role in strengthening the transatlantic alliance. But we are concerned that should the UK choose to leave the European Union, the UK’s place and influence in the world would be diminished and Europe would be dangerously weakened.

“In our globalised environment it is critical to have size and weight in order to be heard. The special relationship between our countries would not compensate for the loss of influence and clout that the UK would suffer if it was no longer part of the EU, a union of 28 nations with 500 million inhabitants … the large economic bloc in the world. This would be true in foreign policy, defence policy and international trade matters, and other areas where the EU is a significant voice.

“The decision that UK citizens will make on June 23 is of critical importance. All involved must weigh carefully the consequences of the decision not solely from the perspective of domestic economic interests but from the broader perspective of the impact on the European and international geopolitical landscape”.

The names of Robert M Gates, George Shultz, William S Cohen, Madeleine Albright, Bill Perry, Jim Jones, Leon Panetta, Steve Hadley and others are at the bottom of the letter, and I think that the British people, this House and others should pay heed to its wise words.

A previous wise person once said that some decisions are so important that future generations should have a vote. I hope that the people who vote on 23 June pay due regard to those future generations.