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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:25 pm on 6th July 2016.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Smith of Newnham Baroness Smith of Newnham Liberal Democrat 9:25 pm, 6th July 2016

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, just pointed out that it is conventional to say how glad one is to follow the previous speaker. I am obviously delighted to follow the noble Lord and the previous 112 speakers. I realise that I am one of only two people keeping noble Lords from what they want to do, which is to listen to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, who, along with the Leader of the House, has been in listening mode for the last two days. I thank them very much for that and in particular for taking two days to listen to a set of arguments, many of which have sounded similar, and some of which have sounded similar to every Statement and set of questions we have had since last Monday, when we first responded to the decision taken on 23 June. I apologise in advance to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, because I will raise some of the issues again, particularly the situation for EU nationals resident in the United Kingdom.

We have had an extraordinary debate. We had excursions into the internal workings of the Conservative Party, when the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, asked why the chairman of his party had resigned and who he should speak to in Conservative Central Office. I am not sure whether the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, will be able to assist on that, but it was quite interesting to have the opportunity to find out what is going on in the Conservative Party and to realise that it has lost not only a leader but a chairman. Therefore the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, about leadership and leaders leading is hugely important; at the moment there is a question mark over that.

We had the question of whether we should trigger Article 50 as soon as possible or delay it and whether we want the lawyers to be involved. Mention has been made of divorce. Before the referendum happened I suggested that one of the things we know about divorce is that it tends to be costly and that the people who benefit are lawyers. Perhaps we do not want to hear too much from lawyers debating whether we should invoke Article 50, because hearing from courts rather than responding to the will of the people is probably not the correct way forward.

So far we have not heard anything that has brought unanimity as regards whether leavers or remainers—although we are now all one again—want to remain in the single market or have WTO terms. We have heard different views from both sides of the House on that, so there still seems to be huge uncertainty about where we want to go. Part of the debate seemed to be a replaying of the referendum itself. I listened to a fantastic speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. It was passionate and made the case for remaining in the European Union. Why did we not hear people speaking like that on the remain side during the campaign? If you heard passion, vision and clarity in the debates before the referendum it was on the leave side, which had the advantage because it had passion. Britain Stronger in Europe, with its focus on the narrow economic aspects, missed an opportunity to win over the people of the United Kingdom. The campaign to remain let us all down because it focused on the narrow economic issues and did not allow the passion that many of us have to come through. Those of us who campaigned so long for remain were let down by a campaign that kept us very quiet indeed.

However, we have had the debate. There is no point in rerunning the referendum debate because we are not going to rerun the referendum. Certainly on these Benches, as for most Members across the House, there is a very clear sense that the decision taken on 23 June has to be accepted. We cannot call for a second referendum now. To do that would lead to, if anything, a much stronger vote to leave. It would certainly demonstrate that the political class is entirely out of touch with the voters and we should not go down that route.

One of the things that has also united many parts of the Chamber over the last 24 or 36 hours, and since Monday of last week, is the concern about blatant racism that has come out in various places. One of the things that was most poignant in the contributions from the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and from my noble friends Lord Dholakia and Lady Manzoor as well as the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik, is that we seem to have lost our country and we are hearing things that are not worthy of the United Kingdom. That has to change.

One of the pernicious things about the referendum was how it has divided society, and one of the most important things from the outcome of the referendum is finding a way to bring the United Kingdom back together. Whether we voted leave or remain, whether London or other metropolitan areas voted to remain, whether Scotland voted to remain while other areas voted to leave, we need to find a way of reconciling the country.

The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, got a little excited in his presentation while referring to the Home Secretary as wanting to unite her party, her country and getting the best for Britain and he said “No, no, no”. I do not care whether the Conservative Party is reunited. That is not my concern. I would like our country to be reunited and to be held together. However, the key thing from the referendum and the outcome has to be that the decisions that are taken informally and then formally when Article 50 is triggered are in the best interests of the United Kingdom and of every single man, woman and child in it, and not for the 17 million or the 16 million. That includes EU nationals resident in the United Kingdom. We have heard from right across the Chamber: the Bishops’ Benches; the Cross Benches; the noble Lords, Lord Lawson, Lord Lamont and Lord Howard; Members who were supporting leave; people who have supported remain. We are all united, as far as I can tell—with the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, and the Home Secretary—in saying that UK nationals resident in the United Kingdom who were here on 23 June should have their rights respected. I know the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, is going to have the line that says it is for the next Government and the next Prime Minister to decide. It is a decision for the Government. It is a decision that could be taken before any negotiations start. It is the morally right thing to do. Will the Government please think again?

Some things already reunite us. For most Members in your Lordships’ House and in the other place, there is an acceptance that the referendum has happened—the outcome is that the UK has decided it wishes to leave the European Union. We now need to find ways of reuniting our United Kingdom and ensuring that we do not find our way sleepwalking not just out of the European Union, but to a disunited kingdom. My noble friend Lord Bruce and the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, talked about Nicola Sturgeon and the role of the SNP. She has already been to Brussels; she has already talked to Jean-Claude Juncker and Martin Schulz. It is not in the interests of Scotland any more than it is in the interests of the United Kingdom for Scotland to try to have a separate deal with the 27. It is not possible and it will not happen.

As colleagues have said, it is worth looking at the statistics. There was a strong vote in Scotland to remain in the European Union, but fewer people in Scotland voted to remain in the European Union than voted for Better Together in September 2014. So there is not a strong mandate for Nicola Sturgeon to call another referendum, but to give the siren call to take Scotland out of the United Kingdom and remain in the European Union under our present terms is simply fantasy. We need to ensure that we do not move from the lies, the fear, the hyperbole and the hysteria of the Brexit referendum to more nonsense in Scotland. We need to find ways of holding the United Kingdom together and we need to work together in the national interest. The Liberal Democrat Benches are willing to work with the Government in the national interest but we need to think about the rights of everybody living here, including EU nationals.