Outcome of the European Union Referendum - Motion to Take Note (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:04 pm on 6th July 2016.

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Photo of Lord Hain Lord Hain Labour 5:04 pm, 6th July 2016

My Lords, I wish to explore the question raised in this House by the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, on the case for a referendum on the precise terms of Brexit. The referendum on 23 June was unusual, even unique, for 1 million reasons. It was clear what leave supporters were voting against, but nobody knew what sort of alternative future they were voting for. None of their leaders explained this. Boris Johnson, for example, began by insisting that remaining in the single market was essential, then moved to supporting a Canadian-type trade deal. When the deficiencies of that option were exposed, he stayed silent until the Monday after the referendum when he published an article readvocating UK participation in the single market, only for an aide the next day hastily to withdraw that explaining he was too “tired” when he wrote it. So confused were leave leaders that Michael Gove actually suggested we model ourselves on Albania. Is that really the best this great intellectual of the leave campaign could do?

If we end up maintaining a trading relationship within the single market, voters are entitled to know the consequences, such as any, or no, limits on freedom of movement. They should also know the cost consequences. For example, on the Norway model, the net cost to the UK of full access to the single market was estimated by the Library last year at £7.5 billion per annum, compared with a net cost of £10 billion per annum for full UK membership of the European Union. Yes, it is less, but it is still considerable and leaves very little surplus for filling the multibillion pound gaps in subsidies to farmers and areas such as Wales and Cornwall in receipt of European funds which Brexit campaigners airily promised to maintain.

Immediately after the vote, Brexit leaders also began shamelessly reneging on what direct experience from weeks on doorsteps told me was the overwhelming reason for people voting to leave; namely, to reduce immigration—not just to “control”, but to “reduce”. That was a betrayal if there ever was one, as was the brazen denial by the leave leaders after the vote that the “£350 million for the NHS” poster on their very own Brexit campaign bus actually meant that. I know for a fact that people on doorsteps believed that. People are entitled to know and to have their say on all this when the outcome of the negotiations is clear.

Let us consider other referenda sanctioned by Parliament. In 1997 in Wales and Scotland, referenda on a Welsh Assembly and a Scottish Parliament respectively were crystal clear. From the White Papers published beforehand, people knew exactly what they were voting for. The same was true of a referendum on a north-east England regional government in 2004, and in the more recent alternative vote referendum of 2011. But, last month, nobody on the leave side had a clue what they were voting for. That is why there is a strong case for having a second referendum, not to rerun the first one—for the result of that was clear, even if narrowly so—but for the British people explicitly to decide whether they approve of the terms of exit. This is emphatically not some ruse to overturn the result on 23 June, but instead to seek the verdict of the people on the future of the UK, on our trading relationship, if any, with the European Union, and on the implications for our prosperity and migration. This is fundamental to democratic principles.

Perhaps a straw in the wind, or perhaps not, came yesterday with an ITV Wales Welsh Political Barometer poll conducted by Cardiff University. It showed an almost exact reversal from a 53% to 47% leave vote in Wales to a 53% to 47% remain vote. Professor Roger Scully commented:

“When we look at the details of the results … There appears to be a small cohort of voters who voted to Leave, but who may now be experiencing what some in the media have termed ‘Bregret’”.

If, as we might all agree, the Brexit vote was a salutary one of no confidence in the whole political class, will that not be made even worse, perhaps creating a dangerous mood of betrayal, without a referendum for voters to decide whether they support the final Brexit deal?

I turn to some troubling questions over Northern Ireland. John Major and Tony Blair in their joint appearance in Belfast last month were trenchant about the dangers to Irish stability and the peace process if we left the EU, and as architects of the peace process, they should know. The settlement I helped negotiate in 2007 reinforced the Good Friday cross-border institutions which are important to both republicans and nationalists in supporting that process. What exactly will now happen to these, especially since Brexit means that the two parts of the island of Ireland will be on opposite sides of an EU border for the very first time in history? Remember that the UK and the Republic joined together in 1973.

Leave advocates ask why the common travel area, which has existed since the early 1920s, would be threatened when it even survived the Troubles. However, there were tough security checks and border controls between north and south during the Troubles, which under the peace process have been dismantled. The border today is invisible, with substantial cross movement and increasing business, cultural and economic links, which are all to the good. This is especially important to republicans and nationalists, and vital for businesses of all colours.

If we left the EU, that same 310-mile border would be the only land border between the UK and the EU. Surely it is unthinkable in today’s world of jihadi terrorism, mass migration and desperate refugees that it would not have to be made secure. Indeed, after the leave campaign’s pledges for even more stringent border controls, how could they with any credibility allow the current open crossing to survive as a back door into the UK? Surely it is hard to envisage how the common travel area between the Republic and the UK could remain?

I have one other point. EU funding and investment have underpinned the peace process. Over £2 billion will have gone to Northern Ireland in the six years to 2020. Are the Government guaranteeing to replace it? Perhaps the uncertainty over Northern Ireland could also be a case for a referendum on the negotiated final deal of the UK’s exit from the European Union.