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European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill - Second Reading (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:28 pm on 20th February 2017.

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Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Crossbench 9:28 pm, 20th February 2017

My Lords, the great achievement of Europe in the last 72 years has been to change the pattern of history—from constant wars, pogroms and the like to peace throughout western and central Europe. I want to start with a plea to Ministers that when they start on the difficult negotiation that will be triggered in March, they should not for one moment lose sight of the importance of sustaining peace and security in Europe. To me that is far more important than the single market or the customs union, for our very survival depends on it.

I am one of the lucky ones. My father, who was born in 1904, was first a refugee in 1915 when he was evacuated from his native eastern Poland as the Russians laid a scorched earth policy across the territory. He spent three years as a refugee in Vienna. He next was a refugee on 20 June 1940, when a collier carried him from La Rochelle ultimately to Glasgow where he became a refugee in the United Kingdom and remained for the rest of his life.

My mother was a refugee. She defected from her job in the Polish foreign service in 1946 to come to Britain and marry my father. So I have had the great good fortune of my family being treated with great generosity by the United Kingdom—a refugee family which, I hope, has given good service to this country throughout the couple of generations that have followed.

Even before we were members of the European Union—and I do not suggest that our membership is a key to the peace and security of Europe—we helped to establish those institutions, the European Coal and Steel Community and the EEC, which gave Europe the stability that it has had up to this time. I do not think for one moment that we should lose sight of that.

I turn to the technicalities of the Bill. My view has been stated by many others of the 56 noble Lords who have spoken in the debate before me, not least by my noble friend Lord Hannay. I believe that the plebiscite—the referendum—changes the dynamics by which we consider the Bill. We do not just have a Bill, we also have a plebiscite. My judgment is that it would be irresponsible, and even unconstitutional, of the House to refuse a Second Reading. If we refuse a Second Reading, or insist on any significant amendments, we will be creating a turmoil and a challenge between the public and Parliament that will bring it into even greater disrepute than it is already. That is this chapter. In this chapter, we have to allow the Bill to go through, if necessary unamended.

Then comes the next chapter. The Government have given a welcome undertaking,

“that both Houses of Parliament would be given a vote on the withdrawal arrangements and the UK’s future relationship with the European Union before any agreement was concluded”.

That is a direct quotation from a document issued by the Library of the House. I would love to see more clarity as to what it means.

More importantly, if, when Article 50 has been triggered and the negotiations completed, it is the opinion of Parliament that the arrangements are disproportionately adverse to the national interest, that is no longer the responsibility of the referendum of last June. Nor should we ask for a further referendum, which sounds to me awfully like liking punishment and wanting more. If we judge as a Parliament in both Houses that the arrangements agreed are to the detriment of the national interest compared with the alternatives, or if they endanger security in Europe, at that point we will be properly informed as to what has been discussed. We will be properly informed as to what has been provisionally agreed, and we will then be exercising our constitutional role, if it be the case that what is agreed is unsatisfactory, in rejecting it. That seems the correct constitutional analysis.