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Outcome of the European Union Referendum - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:58 pm on 5th July 2016.

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Photo of Lord Lamont of Lerwick Lord Lamont of Lerwick Conservative 1:58 pm, 5th July 2016

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, on one point: we should not turn our back on Europe. I hope we will have co-operation with Europe, but that is not the same thing as leaving the European Union. While I do not share the gloom of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, I confess to a degree of shock on the day after the referendum: shock that the side I had supported had won when I was not entirely confident that it would, and a much greater shock that so many people refused to accept the verdict of the people. There was far too much talk about reversing the result. I was stunned by the intervention of the former Prime Minister Tony Blair, complaining that the result of the referendum had been voted for by only 51.7% of the electorate. This compares with the 43.9% who voted for him, about which he never complained at any time. If we do not accept the result of this referendum, there will be a real awakening of bitterness next time.

I campaigned and voted for the leave side, partly because I have long been sceptical about the allegedly unique benefits we are supposed to get from Europe. More importantly, I am totally opposed to political union, progress towards which seems to me to be going down a blind alley with a dead end. If Europe wants political co-operation, that is one thing, and it should be on an evolutionary basis. It should not be engineered and manipulated by an elite with its own agenda. Europe is an entity without a demos and, thus, it is without the potential for real democracy. Various speakers have referred to their own sense of European identity. Europe has a weak common identity compared with the nation state, which has a strong sense of identity, plenty of life in it and plenty of legitimacy left in it as well.

I agree with the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith; I do not believe the status of EU nationals residing in this country and working in this country ought to be a bargaining chip in the negotiations at all. That ought to have been cleared up already. I also agree with the most reverend Primate, the noble Baroness and others, who have very forthrightly condemned the attacks on Polish and other immigrant communities. This is totally unacceptable and must be roundly condemned. At the same time, it is totally wrong to label people who have legitimate concerns about immigration as racist. That seems to me an extremely dangerous thing to do. If we do not listen to concerns about the pressures of population, the pressures on the housing market and the effects on the lower-paid, we are making a great and serious mistake. It is clear from the referendum results in individual areas that there was a very firm rejection of complete free movement of labour. This issue will not go away and will have to be addressed.

We are where we are. The question is, where do we go from here and what do we do about it? I welcome the unit that has been set up under the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. I hope he and his work will cut through some of the myths that have been accepted uncritically for far too long as conventional wisdom. Myth number one is that the single market has been of unique benefit to the UK. The noble Lord, Lord Birt, repeated that in his speech. But one ought to look at the trade performance of countries that are not members of the EU, such as the United States and Australia, which have managed to increase their exports into the single market faster than we have. You do not have to be a member of the single market to benefit from it.

Another myth is that the UK has free access to the single market. As we pay a budget contribution equivalent to a 7% tariff on all the goods we sell, it is free only in the sense that someone who belongs to a golf club and does not have to pay for every round of golf has free golf: it just is not true. Then we are told that it is impossible to have access to the single market without accepting complete free movement of labour. I was concerned that the Foreign Secretary seemed to accept this. Look at the arrangement that Turkey has. Since 1996, Turkey has enjoyed tariff-free goods access to EU markets with no free movement of people. Turkey accepts the present EU external tariff—about 3%—and there is no restriction on Turkey-EU trade. The important point about the Turkish arrangement is that it avoids the rules of origin. If we set our own tariffs with the rest of the world outside the EU, we would have to accept clearance under the rules-of-origin arrangements, of which there are 9,000 different classifications. This is what Switzerland has to do and there are limits of 30% to 35% placed on the non-Swiss, non-EU content of Swiss goods going into the European Union. The beauty of what Turkey does is that it bypasses all the difficulties of rules of origin. I am not suggesting this should be the final solution or the final arrangement, but it could be an interim one.

Undoubtedly, we face economic challenges. There will be short-term difficulties but, in the medium term, I believe there will be new opportunities. I also believe that what will happen will not be nearly as dire as predicted. Brexit is part of a wider reaction against centralisation in Europe. The Global Attitudes survey released the other day showed that ever-closer union is now rejected by 73% of voters in Holland, 85% in Sweden, 86% in Greece, and 68%, 65% and 60% in Germany, Italy and France respectively. We are not alone. Things that have happened in this country are also beginning to stir in other European countries. Indeed, the impact of Brexit may well be greater on Europe than it is on Britain. We are not alone. The other day, the editor of the Italian newspaper Libero wrote: “The only true functioning democracy is the English one. The United Kingdom proved for the umpteenth time that it believes in the will of the people and that it knows how to respect it with elegance”. We should respect with elegance each other’s views and we should also respect, with elegance, the views of the people.

Sitting suspended.