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Queen’s Speech - Debate (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:33 pm on 23rd May 2016.

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Photo of Lord Low of Dalston Lord Low of Dalston Crossbench 7:33 pm, 23rd May 2016

My Lords, I certainly have no intention of going on for nine minutes or anything like that. The thought of upwards of 60 people lining up to give their views on the referendum is rather deadly, but I fear it can hardly be avoided for now is surely the time to stand up and be counted. I am for remain, but I shall try to make the case on a ground we do not hear too much about—namely, the interests of disabled people.

Before I do that, however, I shall try to tot up the score on the grounds we hear all too much about. I say “all too much” because a lot of the advocacy tends to be self-cancelling. That in itself suggests that the arguments are not clear-cut and the ultimate decision must be on a balance of advantages. That said, I believe the balance is clearly in favour of remain. I shall examine the arguments under five heads.

On the economy, as the noble Lord, Lord Davies, said, remain appears to be winning hands down. Even leave admits that there would be an economic shock in the short term, and remain has a veritable alphabet soup of heavyweight endorsements from the IMF, the OECD, the WTO, the G20, the IFS, the OBR, the CBI, the LSE, the MPC, the World Bank, the Governor of the Bank of England and eight US Treasury Secretaries.

Next, there is the disruption to trading relationships. Leave used to believe that we could have all the benefits of the single market without any of the burdens, but it has been forced to abandon that argument. It is thus now in disarray on the single market. On the whole, it seems now to say that we can do without it, but then the claim that there would be little disruption to trading relationships implodes. Everyone, except leave, agrees that renegotiating bilateral replacements for all the trading relationships vacated by our withdrawal from the EU would be a long and far from straightforward process.

On sovereignty, again remain has the better of the argument. Whenever you go into a collective arrangement, you share some of your sovereignty, but in return you get the benefits of the collective arrangement. If the complaint is that the European Court of Justice sometimes finds against us, it is not a very edifying stance to say that we will accept the jurisdiction of a court only if it is guaranteed never to find against us. On security, the camps may be more evenly matched, but one should not take lightly the warnings of five Secretary-Generals of NATO and a dozen or so US defence and security chiefs. On ability to control immigration, leave probably has the edge, but the weight of this argument depends a lot on how dim a view you take of immigration.

I make that about three and a half to one and a half to the remain campaign, but I do not think the matter should be determined by a sort of accountant’s calculus. Ultimately, it is a question of philosophical orientation and whether you think that in a globalised world you can turn your back on collective arrangements and go it alone in a little England backwater at the edge of the world. I am an internationalist, and I do not think you can.

I said I would say something about disability. The lives of disabled people and their families in the UK have been significantly improved through our membership of the European Union. Many positive changes in our laws and policies over the past 20 years owe their origin to European initiatives. For example, the 2000 directive on equal treatment in employment strengthened the law on discrimination in the workplace to the benefit of disabled people, among others, in the UK. Unfortunately, it is often at national level that we experience difficulty or resistance in the forging of new rights. The British Government were not up for the legal strengthening provided for by the equal treatment in employment directive, for instance. It has been the common experience of disabled people in Britain that we can get advances through the EU that we would not get from British Governments of whatever stripe. Leaving the EU would put these advances at risk, and the EU would no longer prevent UK Governments rolling them back. Leaving the EU would also make it more likely that disabled people in Britain would not be able to enjoy the benefits of new initiatives where the EU is leading and the UK is dragging its feet—for example, over the accessible design of manufactured goods—and it would jeopardise much-needed financial support for disabled people in the UK from EU structural and investment funds which have just been changed to place more emphasis on anti-poverty and social inclusion measures.

The EU’s superior record in advancing and protecting the rights of disabled people is another positive reason for wishing to remain within the EU, and the score goes up to four and a half to one and a half.