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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:18 pm on 20th February 2017.

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Photo of Lord Stevens of Ludgate Lord Stevens of Ludgate UKIP 4:18 pm, 20th February 2017

My Lords, the referendum was clear: vote remain or vote leave. The previous Prime Minster said that if the vote was to leave, he would exercise Article 50 the next Monday and we would not be having this debate. Both Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne also said that if we voted to leave, we would also leave the single market.

As we all know, the turnout in the referendum was 72%, which was a record. The leave majority was 1.4 million, a substantial figure. To put that into perspective, if at the last election in the most marginal Conservative constituencies 8,000 voters had voted for the runner-up instead, the Conservatives would have lost 15 seats. Those asking for a second referendum should perhaps be asking for a re-run of the last election.

The referendum was a clear political commitment from the UK Government to act on the referendum result. The Conservative manifesto said:

“We will honour the result of the referendum, whatever the outcome”.

Those of us who were in the majority in the referendum should thank Mr Cameron for bringing about our departure from the EU—even though he did it by mistake.

The Prime Minister, Mrs May, should be congratulated for honouring this commitment. She also said that we would leave the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. Why, therefore, has the UK’s signature to the unified patent court agreement—when this agreement is subject to the European Court of Justice—been put down by the Government as a negative statutory instrument, which would therefore be under the radar? That means that unless an MP objected—fortunately, one did—it would have automatically gone through. I would be most grateful if the Minister let us have an answer to that question in due course.

Will we be subject to the European arrest warrant? At present, all British citizens on British soil may be subject to unevidenced arrest warrants issued by any judicial authority in Europe. The charges may be completely fictitious or based on the flimsiest of clues. No evidence is provided and no British court is allowed to ask to see any evidence. This has led to innocent British citizens being seized by British police under orders from continental authorities. In Greece, Express Newspapers, of which I was chairman, was convicted of criminal libel without even knowing that there was a court case going on. Fortunately, I was not arrested and have not been arrested since. These citizens have waited in foreign prisons, sometimes for months, with no right to a public hearing, while their cases are investigated.

Do we really want to remain in the EU for the next two years? Is it worth the risk? Even the poor old International Monetary Fund, which gets practically every forecast wrong—but maybe not this time—says that Greece’s debts are on an explosive path and the IMF appears unwilling to fund further bailouts. Professor Otmar Issing, the ECB’s first chief economist, said recently that the ECB is becoming dangerously overextended and that,

“one day, the house of cards will collapse”.

He said that,

“the Stability and Growth Pact has more or less failed”,

and that,

“the no bail-out clause is violated every day”.

The ECB holds more than €1 trillion of bonds bought at artificially low or negative yields.

In the light of the parlous state of the Italian economy, the general and increasing discontent of voters in the EU, the terrible levels of youth unemployment in Greece, Italy and Spain, the vulnerability of the German banking system, in particular to all their loans to the southern members, and the crowning glory of Mr Verhofstadt, who recently said that we, the UK, are,

“rats leaving a sinking ship”,

are we not better off leaving quickly, rather than seeking to negotiate? We are serving notice under Article 50 so we can try to negotiate the terms of our future relationship with the EU. If we do so, the EU can drag this out at least until the two-year limit expires. The Government can try for all the best reasons, which one may admire, to negotiate, but to get agreement from all 27 countries will be impossible, let alone from the European Parliament. It would have been better to bite the bullet and get out before the house of cards comes tumbling down.

There are a few main priorities, of which I am sure we are all aware. We should convert all EU legislation into UK law and then amend or reform it as a matter of urgency. We should resolve that existing EU residents can remain in the UK. We should have our own fisheries policy in UK waters. We cannot join the EEA as we have ruled out free movement. We should seek to trade freely with the EU 27 as at present, or go to WTO rates for both sides; or, if the EU 27 do not agree, become a free-trade, low-tax area.

There are many other areas to consider, but we will have opened up our country to some 160 other countries in more rapidly expanding areas of the world, including the Commonwealth, which has stayed with us through thick and thin. As the President of the European Parliament said:

“The British have violated the rules. It is not the EU philosophy that the crowd can decide its fate”.

Well, they have decided. This House should now accept the Bill as presented to it by the elected House and not seek to tie the Government’s negotiating hand.