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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:01 pm on 20th February 2017.

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Photo of Lord Glasman Lord Glasman Labour 12:01 pm, 20th February 2017

My Lords, I am honoured to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, and agree with him about the principle of reciprocity being vital in future relations. But if he really wants to discuss how the European and British left got to the position of supporting free movement and a currency regime which had no flexibility whatever and punished workers, I suggest that we have a cup of tea outside—it could take too long at this hour of the night. I have been told that where you appear in the speakers list is up to the Whips—so at least I know where I stand in that regard. It is also a matter of joy to me, perhaps for the first time in the House, to completely support the political leadership of my party. It is remarkable, but I do. I participated on the leave side in the referendum and witnessed a quite joyous affirmation of democracy around the country. There has been a referendum and now a vote in the Commons, and it is entirely appropriate that we work in the shadow of that, and act in a constitutionally appropriate way.

The real reflection I would make on the referendum is that the people of our country made a distinction between free trade and free movement. It has never happened in the history of the world that free trade has been tied to the commodification and movement of people. This is what the EU has brought about and what has led to its undoing here, because it led to the democratic state having no possible control over the movement of people. That is a fundamental issue that relates to what the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, said. It is a very strange thing for a socialist party not to comprehend fully that people are social beings, tied to the places where they live and to their relationships, institutions and history.

As regards this particular debate, there are three areas of negotiation, including the trade negotiation and the framework agreement, which I mentioned—but this is just triggering the divorce. Divorces are ugly. I recommend that your Lordships read the dissenting judgment in the Supreme Court, which is excellent. It says that there was no marriage in the first place and that it was always a matter for Parliament to make its move. I agree with that. I was very interested in what the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, said about the three couples who got back together again. We mix in very different social circles, but I am very impressed—I know people who are married who do not have that degree of intimacy. But whenever there is divorce, it is entirely appropriate to ask, “What about the children?”. That is a legitimate question. This is triggering a divorce. It is a time-bound issue, it will be ugly and it is about the distribution of property and all those things.

I was very encouraged by what was said by the Leader of the House in the opening statement. There are clearly six areas where we have got to offer deeper co-operation. We have to offer it in the areas of scientific research, universities, police, counterterrorism, workers’ rights and our mutual interest in the environment. We have to go further and deeper, saying that relations with Europe will be based on reciprocity and that we will play our role. When it comes to the military aspect, I think that NATO is the best area to organise that, but it is clear that we will pay for the continued necessary co-operation in Europe.

At that point we can really raise our sights and talk about what I felt was the dominant factor: the yearning in the country for national renewal and a national purpose, and the way that people felt that that was stymied. As I said, I worked overwhelmingly with trade unions for the leave campaign, and there was just this idea that politics did not matter any more—that it was all legal and administrative and was working within that framework. In those terms, I agree that, as has been said, there was a working class insurrection.

In response to that, the Government brought forward the suggestions about workers on boards. I suggest that we really engage with that so there is a genuine sense of embedding the economy in areas, and I commend the idea of pursuing a vocational economy. We need precisely to heal the relationship with the people who feel that they were utterly disregarded by the previous settlement. That is necessary for civic peace, social order and our national renewal. We should move further towards thinking about regional banks so that there can be some capital for people to have access to in the malnourished regions of the country.

To conclude, it is vital that we just get on with this, initiate the divorce—which is never pleasant—and get through it. Within the framework agreement that is in Article 50, I suggest that we make positive and friendly offers to Europe in the areas that I have described, and then we will see how it goes with the trade negotiation. However, we should remember that those in Europe are committed to a very peculiar thing, which is that free trade requires free movement—and that is precisely what was rejected in the referendum.