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Queen’s Speech - Debate (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:08 pm on 23rd May 2016.

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Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench 6:08 pm, 23rd May 2016

My Lords, as several noble Lords have said, this debate is taking place exactly one month before the 23 June vote on Britain’s membership of the EU. It is the most significant strategic choice that this country has faced for many decades. No one should delude themselves that it does not much matter which way the vote goes; it does. A decision to leave the EU would reverse all the tenets of British foreign policy over the past 70 years, adversely affecting relations not only with our closest European neighbours and partners but with the United States, NATO and leading members of the Commonwealth, while undermining our own capacity to play an effective and influential role in the major multilateral organisations to which we belong: the UN, the IMF and many others. So I have no hesitation about devoting my remarks to that aspect.

Every single sounding of opinion around the country comes up with a common concern, a complaint that individuals need to know more about the basic facts before they make up their minds how to vote. It is understandable that they do not have total confidence in all the facts provided by the two campaigns—all the more so when one of the leaders of the leave campaign is travelling around the country on a bus emblazoned with the figure for Britain’s contribution to the EU budget that is nearly twice the amount of our actual net contribution. That is before we come to nonsensical claims about teabags and bunches of bananas.

However, the Government, responding to requests made by Parliament, have in every case provided a large amount of factual material—to my count, six major studies on different aspects of our membership. The leave campaign’s sole response to these documents is to belittle them as dodgy dossiers, which they are not, or to say that Treasury forecasts are always wrong. These are members of the Government whose Treasury it is that has made the forecasts. It is a little odd to describe it as always wrong. That really will not do if we are to have a decent national debate on this. I fear that the fact that the former Mayor of London has now deserted history after his brush with the ghost of the Führer to futurology in today’s Daily Telegraph does not give me a lot of confidence that this debate is getting more serious.

A lot is said about what is called Project Fear, at least when the risks of leaving are raised by the remain campaign. Eurosceptics should know plenty about that, because they have been running a Project Fear of their own on pretty well everything the EU does for the past 40 years. But risk analysis must surely be part of any major policy decision of the kind the electorate is being asked to take. No business would think it responsible to take a leap in the dark without such an analysis. Of course, that has to include the risks attendant on remaining in the EU. The remain campaign has no reason to fear such an analysis and is not in a position of doing so.

Clearly there has to be—and here I do feel that some of the criticisms of the remain campaign have some force—a strong, positive side to the campaign to stay in the EU, as well as the arguments on the risks of leaving, fundamentally important as those are. Here are just a few of the positive sides with which I think all those in the remain campaign would agree. They are: competing with the common market in services—that is nearly 80% of our economy; creating a level playing field for the digital economy throughout the EU; building up an energy union and a capital markets union; switching the emphasis of the EU budget spending further towards research and innovation, at which we excel and which Europe needs; bringing freer trade negotiations with the US, Japan, India, Australia, New Zealand and Mercosur to a successful conclusion; strengthening the aspects of EU security policy that are complementary to NATO’s, and working to maximise co-operation between the two organisations; ensuring that EU countries lead in implementing the UN’s 2015 sustainable development goals and the Paris climate change commitments; working more effectively with our EU partners to combat serious organised crime, including in particular terrorism, cybercrime and human trafficking; and facing up together to the challenges from Daesh and from an assertive Russia. That, surely, is quite a list—quite a bit to be getting on with, apart from those unforeseen events, so many of which we are more likely to be able to deal with and cope with effectively in concert with the other Europeans than acting on our own.

All that will be on the table in June, and much else as well: for instance, whether the electorate’s decision then will strengthen or weaken our own union within these islands—a vote to leave carried on English votes against any or all of the votes of to remain in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would, I believe, inevitably weaken our union; whether or not we will put the people of Gibraltar at risk by leaving them more exposed to Spanish unilateral action; whether or not we will undermine the Good Friday agreement in Ireland, and perhaps also the common travel area arrangements; whether or not we will increase intergenerational tensions within our own society if the older half of our population with a higher propensity to vote imposes an outcome on the younger half who will have to live a lot longer with its consequences. Well, that is plenty for one day. I just hope we get it right.