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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:10 pm on 6th July 2016.

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Photo of Baroness O'Loan Baroness O'Loan Crossbench 8:10 pm, 6th July 2016

My Lords, the referendum is done. No matter the analysis and debate about what was said in the pre-referendum debate, we are where we are. The EU Committee on 4 May last set out graphically the complexity of the consequences and processes of withdrawal and the various dynamics of the environment in which withdrawal will be negotiated—the fact that our future relationship with the EU will be negotiated in tandem with our withdrawal agreement. That individual member states will retain significant control over the negotiations on the future means that we have come to the point at which as the Nobel Peace laureate John Hume used to say, nothing can now be agreed until everything is agreed.

Yes, I know that there is uncertainty about how we exercise Article 50, but we have to face our realities. Perhaps the first reality that we should face is that we remainers need to listen to what the leavers were saying. Many of those who voted to leave were young people who have lost hope in the future because of the place to which our society has come. Their concern is real. Many of them with university degrees cannot get work. They must work in minimum wage jobs for years. The society that we have constructed has enabled the greater division of assets, bringing so much more to the wealthy and so much less to those who have little. Leaving aside the racism that is scarring our society even as we talk, there is deep angst about the nature of our society, about globalisation, about those deepening inequalities, about bailing out bonds that should have been burned. As a Union we did not permit the burning of the bonds, so many of our young people are stuck on minimum wage with no prospects, no pension arrangements and serious emerging mental health issues. School pupils, in particular, are faced with endless pressure to achieve, yet face so little in terms of opportunity in this brave new world which we have created. The political system seems to our young people to be unresponsive and unlistening. Europe is now in a degree of chaos too. In Spain, France, Italy and Greece, we can see what is happening. Jean-Claude Juncker’s recent statements, saying no and leaving the table, do not give rise to hope, but rather to acrimony, dissent and possibly even worse across the capitals of Europe. It was for that reason that the European Community was founded.

I want to say a word about the common travel area which was so important in Ireland as we strove to defeat the men of violence, because it links the non-Schengen UK and the non-Schengen Republic of Ireland. We have a 300-mile border that runs across our little island and when you travel from one place to another on a relatively short journey in the border area, you can cross the border several times. The border meanders through the island. When the UK leaves the EU, will the island of Ireland be divided by a land frontier between the UK and the European Union? The Northern Ireland peace process is built on the understanding that the shared border existed within the European Union. If that is no longer the case, what is to be done? Will Her Majesty’s Government provide any sort of reassurance that we will not be catapulted back 25 years to the days when we had customs checks on the border and when lorries queued for hours to cross it, at huge expense to business on both sides of the border? We remember that and we remember too the security checks, and it can be no accident that 56% of the people in Northern Ireland voted to remain.

Northern Ireland exports to Ireland amount to 37% of our exports to the EU and 21% of our total exports—a very important part of our tiny economy—and our Secretary of State has said there can be no special arrangements for Northern Ireland. We are not looking for special arrangements; we are looking for the protection of the United Kingdom. Deprivation, hunger and isolation were strong nourishers of the Troubles. Can government do nothing to prevent the division that now seems inevitable between the two parts of Ireland and the consequential costs? Research for the Northern Ireland Assembly’s enterprise committee estimates that exit from the EU will cost our economy 3% GDP because cross-border trade and economic co-operation will reduce, foreign direct investment will decline and there will be a loss of economic funding.

In May this year, the Home Secretary said that the dissident republican threat was substantial, giving rise to a risk of a bombing or other attack here in GB—more particularly, I guess, in England. Economics and peace are inextricably linked. If Northern Ireland becomes a tiny part of Ireland, with a diminishing economy, the risk of growing support for terrorism is very real. It happened in the past. We have high levels of youth unemployment: 13.4% as opposed to 11% here, which is roughly one in seven or eight of our young people—ripe pickings for the paramilitaries.

The Prime Minister acknowledged that it is important that the negotiations mandate is drawn up with the involvement of all constituent parts of the UK. We have heard many calls over the past two days for the exercise of power for the common good, perhaps most strongly in the words spoken by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury in this Chamber yesterday. Yet when the Irish Prime Minister suggested an economic forum to address the consequences of Brexit, the First Minister of Northern Ireland vetoed the idea. At a time when there is so much uncertainty, surely the UK should be availing itself of discussions with member states of the EU designed to secure stability. After all, the UK exports more services to Ireland than it does to Germany—£27.86 billion in 2014. Is that not what the Home Secretary Theresa May has called for in the past two days—informal discussions with other states? Our status as part of the UK and the consequences of Brexit are not a devolved matter. Will Her Majesty’s Government ensure that there are proper talks with Ireland in the cause of the common good?

There is a further security element to Brexit. Will there be a hard border along our 300 miles? Are we going to revert to the days when so many of our border roads were impassable for security reasons? Tensions are reduced by invisible borders. I fear that the introduction of border checks may well create intense resentment in some parts of Northern Ireland. It is possible that this might lead to more support for the dissidents. What will Her Majesty’s Government do to prevent that situation and to protect Northern Ireland and the UK from increased terrorism, human trafficking and serious and organised crime? We are losing our involvement in things such as Europol, extradition arrangements and joint European criminal investigations. We will negotiate our way back, but it will take years and much of it will have to be done on a country-by-country basis. Sir David Edward, former judge of the CJEC, said in his evidence to the European Union Committee of Brexit:

“The long-term ghastliness of the legal complications is almost unimaginable”.

We are in the territory of the unimaginable.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK which has a land border with another state. What can Her Majesty’s Government do to ensure that the impact of Brexit on the peace process and on the economy of this battered part of the UK is minimised? Does the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland understand the complexity of these issues and their importance, not just for the people of Northern Ireland, but also for the people of the UK as a whole?