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Outcome of the European Union Referendum - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:06 pm on 5th July 2016.

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Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour 1:06 pm, 5th July 2016

My Lords, the Lord Privy Seal introduced this debate. I suppose that we should look on her as the Leader in your Lordships’ House of a caretaker Government who are commitment-light apart from on one thing—her statement that the Government have an instruction to implement the referendum. As I think my noble friend Lord Foulkes tried to intervene to say, the referendum is advisory. We now have a situation in which the campaigners are all gone. We are to have new leader of the Tory party who appears to believe that she has a mandate to leave the EU, but has a blank cheque and few views as to how this should be done and what should be done.

My noble friends Lady Smith and Lord Radice both said—and I agree—that parliamentary approval is needed before Article 50 is implemented. Probably this should be later, when we know the details. It is extraordinary that the Government have not given any information about this. Few people seem to have known what the consequences of Brexit would be and people still do not know, although some are learning fast. Some of those voting to leave in the biggest proportions were the silver-haired generation, like me. I do not support leaving. Sometimes I felt that they were almost fighting the last war. We have to get over this. The fear of migrants is very unpleasant.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, and others commented that the younger generation is being committed to an unknown and fearful future. Of course, the Government managed to avoid 16 and 17 year-olds voting on this, which is their future. They are rightly angry—indeed furious—that a small part of the Conservative Party has inflicted this on them without spelling out the consequences.

Europe has brought peace, as many noble Lords have said. In the 1970s, for several years I lived in Romania and saw the effect of the failure and the lack of free movement of people. I do not accept that Romanians, Bulgarians and Polish people should not be allowed to move freely. They are in the European Union, as I hope we are. It is extraordinary that people can want to go back to a time when there were frontiers and you had to get permission to leave and sometimes, in the communist era, it was a great deal worse. Peace is very important and, as many noble Lords have said, it is essential to retain freedom of movement.

The campaigners for Brexit intentionally mixed up the freedom of movement of people within the EU with the problem of migrants. I am chairman of the Rail Freight Group and do a lot of work looking at how we get freight between Calais and Dover with all the migrant problems there.

What people do not seem to realise is that if we leave the European Union, the French Government have already said that they will remove all their controls, camps and everything else to prevent migrants coming here. They will probably start running ferries of migrants across, because as soon as they land in this country they can claim asylum. Heaven help the Home Office if it has to deal with 10 times the number of migrants coming in because we have left Europe. We must keep separate the issue of migrants—how many should come and how that is done, which I know that the Government are taking forward—which does not apply to people within the European Union, where there is free movement, and make sure that everybody understands the difference.

The single market covers much more than the odd truck going across and the odd manufacturer. It covers most of the things that our businesses do in this country. It covers science research—I declare an interest as a trustee of Plymouth Marine Laboratory—manufacturing, finance, which many noble Lords have talked about, agriculture and rail freight, in which I declare an interest as chairman of Rail Freight Group.

The noble Lord, Lord Birt, talked about uncertainties which are bringing massive changes and job losses. Why does the Tory party seem to think that this is a good thing? In the campaign, some of them said that we will keep the single market and stop migration. It is a naive way of approaching negotiations with the European Union to think that we can impose on it what we want and expect it to accept it. I still spend a lot of time in Brussels on rail freight business. We are negotiating between two equal parties, but some of them are heartily sick of the way we have been changing our mind, having a go at them and trying to get little changes here and there over the past two years, so it will not be easy. As my noble friend Lord Radice said, Angela Merkel has said there will be no single market without free movement of people, so we have to sort this out.

It is not right that Parliament needs to implement this on the basis of a very narrow majority in an advisory referendum for the leave campaign, now demonstrated as being based on flawed information, untruths or worse. I fear that the same reason is there now as a year or two ago: the fear in the Tory party of UKIP, which will force even the most pro-Remain Tory Members to vote for Brexit regardless of the damage to their constituents and the UK. I see this as real arrogance and putting party infighting before the needs of the country. It is breathtaking. What is the solution? Perhaps we should be looking for a coalition of right-minded Labour, Lib Dem, SNP and others—even Tories—to stop this disaster in its tracks before it goes even further.