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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:42 pm on 6th July 2016.

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Photo of Lord Hamilton of Epsom Lord Hamilton of Epsom Conservative 6:42 pm, 6th July 2016

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow a Liberal Democrat, because they seem to be a little unhappy about the outcome of this referendum. Do I not remember a time when Liberal Democrats were in favour of referenda? Perhaps it is only referenda that go the right way as far as they are concerned.

The noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, made the point that Jeremy Corbyn is no Clem Attlee. All I would say is they share two things in common: they both have immaculate manners and both seem to want to nationalise everything that moves.

My noble friend Lord Ridley is very sad that he cannot be with us today; he is up in the north-east where, no doubt under his influence, the vote was 70:30, I think, in favour of leave. As we know, he knows an awful lot about the scientific community and he believes, as do I, that the EU has increasingly stifled innovation in digital, biotech and financial technology. He feels that it is very important that we are able to recruit experts from all round the world—the Americas, Asia and elsewhere—rather than have to accept less-qualified EU nationals, which we will be able to do if we get control under a points system of our immigration policy.

This has been a sad moment for my right honourable friend the Prime Minister—that his premiership, which I think has been very good, has ended in this rather sad way. I went back and read the Bloomberg speech given in January 2015, when he set out an extremely ambitious programme for reform in the EU. In one phrase in his speech he said that he would join others in looking for a new treaty. I do not know who the others were whom he was joining with. They would not have included President Hollande of France, who always made it quite clear that there was no question of having a new treaty for the simple reason that he would have to put it to a referendum in France and Madame Le Pen would beat him. I suspect that other countries, such as Holland and Denmark, did not want to do that because they have to have referenda on a new treaty. Therefore, I do not know what he was basing his very ambitious reform programme on, but if it depended, as it would seem, on a new treaty, it was not going to happen and is not going to happen now. One of the main problems is that there was not going to be any major reform from the EU. The result was that he came back eventually from the negotiation having set the bar extremely low. He had a serious problem when that renegotiation was met with derisive laughter from a very large number of people.

The other thing that always struck me as rather strange was that you would think, when you are going to hold a referendum on our membership of the EU, that you would look back on the last time it happened in 1975—agreed, he probably was not born then, but somebody must have been able to advise him. He would have found that Harold Wilson was in a very similar position to him: he had a divided party that he wanted to unite; he went off to renegotiate in Europe and came back waving a piece of paper with almost nothing written on it. And then what did he do? Harold Wilson said: “I believe that the United Kingdom should stay in the EEC”—as it was at the time—and then stood well back and let the others campaign for in or out. For some extraordinary reason, the Prime Minister decided not to do that and got totally involved, presumably on the assumption that he could win, and of course it all went wrong on him.

My role in Vote Leave was very low down the food chain. I found myself down in North Devon delivering leaflets; we did not even have enough people to canvass properly, so all we could do was deliver leaflets. At one house I called at, the bloke was just coming out and I said, as I did to many others: “Are you going to vote leave on Thursday?”. His response was: “No, certainly not, you racist”. I mumbled something about control of immigration, and he said: “Goodbye, racist.”. This raises an interesting question, to which I should very much like a response from the Minister when she winds up. Is hate crime extended to people who call old-age pensioners racist for delivering leaflets and asking them if they are going to vote leave on Thursday? Is that a hate crime? I did not bother the Devon and Cornwall Police with the matter, but it strikes me as slightly concerning, whichever way we look at it.

The real problem with this vote is that it was only to some degree about the EU. An awful lot of it was about globalisation and the fact that banks across the Western world are printing money, so everybody who happens to own assets get richer and the gap between rich and poor gets greater and greater. To a large degree, this vote was a protest from the have-nots against the haves. I wonder how many votes were won for the leave campaign by Sir Philip Green and his treatment of British Home Stores employees. We cannot continue to live with the enormous salaries being paid to people running international companies. It is creating a very sharp division in this country, which must be addressed by the next Government.

But whatever problems there are in this country, they are nothing like those of the EU today. There is a very sharp sign of extremism emerging across the continent. The established parties should hold referenda like we have, listen to what the people say and react to it. If they do not—let us take France, for instance, where they say a majority would like to pull out of the EU—if the socialist party and the conservative party say, “No, no, there is no way we can do that, as we must stay in the EU whatever happens”, the only option is to vote for the National Front. I hope that our example will be emulated across Europe and civilised conclusions will be reached as to what is the future.