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Outcome of the European Union Referendum - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:36 am on 5th July 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal 11:36 am, 5th July 2016

It would be possible for us to go over the campaigns again in detail, to look for ways to re-examine the result or to pose again the question of our EU membership, but in my view that would be the wrong thing for us to do. Not only would it distance us further from many of the people we are here to serve; worse, it would be a missed opportunity to serve them better. Instead, we should take this opportunity to play our part in shaping the way ahead and, as I see it, perform our duty of reassuring people about our country’s future by offering some clear thinking about that way forward.

Clearly, there is further work for us to do in determining our future relationship with the European Union. As the Prime Minister said, we are leaving the EU but we are not turning our backs on Europe. The next steps will not be easy. There will be complex negotiations ahead but we should approach them with the clear guiding principle of ensuring the best possible outcome for the British people. As the Prime Minister has made clear, the nature of negotiations, and the shape of any deal we strike, will be for his successor and their Government. That is why it will be for them to decide when to trigger Article 50.

In the meantime, there is a lot of ground to cover in examining the options available so that, when decisions are taken, we put our best foot forward and maintain Britain’s reputation as an open, outward-looking nation, maintaining our strong partnerships in Europe, continuing to play our role on the world stage, holding fast to our values of tolerance and respect, and showing that Britain remains open for business. That is something that we in Government will do with the input of all the devolved Administrations. It is something that I hope this House will play an important part in as well, for among the membership of this House of Lords we have an unrivalled expertise in EU and foreign affairs. We also have a range of EU committees, whose dispassionate scrutiny is admired here, in Brussels and around the European Union. That means that we are well placed to come forward with ideas to make a future deal a success for all parts of the United Kingdom.

I know that noble Lords will express views and have questions about the nature of further parliamentary involvement beyond that and the precise form that it will or should take. Those are valid questions, and the debate among legal minds has already begun. I know that our Select Committees may also choose to examine them, but those are questions which will, rightly, be for the next Prime Minister to address. I am clear, as Leader of this House, that Parliament should have an appropriate role. However, in debating what that role should be, we should be careful to show that our focus remains on delivering the referendum result and on applying all our knowledge and experience to make our future a successful one for the United Kingdom.

That is an important point and brings me on to the broader responsibility we have to bear in mind as we proceed, particularly as an unelected House. In the period since the vote there has been a lot of analysis and reflection about the reasons people voted how they did. The headline from those who voted to leave was clear: they wanted to leave the European Union. Their reasons will have varied and, for some people, may have developed over many years. However, whatever those reasons, we must take that message away and deliver on the instruction we have been given.

In doing so, we must also consider that the vote reflected something else as well: a frustration with the status quo: a sense that voters felt distant from those who exercise power and misunderstood by the people who make the decisions that affect them. So although we rightly must focus on the question of our place in Europe, as we do so, we must not lose sight of that desire for people to be better understood. If we are able to address the challenges we face with that in mind, we will build public confidence in Parliament and this House within it.

That means demonstrating that our focus is on delivering success for all the people of the UK, whichever way they voted, and on finding solutions that fit with people’s understanding of the choice the country made. If we do not, we will miss the opportunity before us and the gaps this vote highlighted will only become more entrenched between old and young, graduates and non-graduates and those living in our major cities and elsewhere—or, to put it another way, the gap between those who have privilege, power and influence and those who feel they do not.

Noble Lords may ask how we can possibly do all this. That is where we can demonstrate the value of our experience and expertise. I was never of the view that the people are fed up with experts, but I do believe that some of those who feel that gap I have just described may be fed up with experts not understanding them. In times of uncertainty such as these, people rightly look to those of us in positions of leadership to use our knowledge and our understanding of the challenges people face to develop an answer that works for them.

That may be the point on which to conclude because it reflects the essential challenge we now face. The result on 23 June was for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. I campaigned vigorously for remain, as did many in your Lordships’ House, but I stand by the result of that referendum and want to work hard now to implement what has been decided.

As we proceed we must not forget the interests and views of the 16 million other people who voted to stay. In the disappointment many feel about the outcome of the referendum, there may be a temptation to simply leave to others the consequences of the Brexit vote. After all, although the result told us clearly what people were voting against, it did not give us a specific view as to what people were voting for. Yet the public as a whole, however they voted, deserve more. With the referendum result they have asked us to come together and to come up with a solution that works for everyone and achieves the best outcome for Britain on every possible front. It is our duty, as public servants to do just that.

There will be challenges ahead, of that I am sure, but it is for us all to find the way forward to meet them so that the United Kingdom can continue to prosper, as one nation, in the years to come. I beg to move.