European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill - Second Reading (2nd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:47 pm on 21st February 2017.

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Photo of Lord Bilimoria Lord Bilimoria Crossbench 3:47 pm, 21st February 2017

My Lords, I am as much a Eurosceptic as any Brexiteer. I do not like the way in which the European Parliament works. Nobody knows their MEP; MEPs have no connection with their constituencies and move from Brussels to Strasbourg every month. The euro is a disaster; one size will never fit all. Thank God we did not join it. I thought that we missed out on Schengen for business and tourist visas, but one of my favourite sayings is that good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment. We are lucky not to be in Schengen. In many ways, we are not affected as much by the migration crisis. From a security point of view it is better not to be in Schengen.

There is no question but that, with our democratic system, we have to accept the result of the referendum, however narrow it was. When the Minister sums up, will he clarify why, when we passed the referendum Bill, this was an advisory referendum? Why was it not set in stone that it would become law straightaway? Why was there no supra-majority, which is normal for something like this? Compare it with the AV referendum, which was very simple. The outcomes were spelled out—yes or no; for or against AV. It was a simple yes or no question. Here, however, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jowell, said yesterday, the question was black and white—remain or leave—but with a technicolour answer.

As several of my fellow Cross-Benchers and other noble Lords have said, we have to accept the result of the referendum. However, because the outcome of the no vote is totally unclear, it is not that simple. People voted to leave for a number of reasons. Many, sadly, believed the figure of £350 million a week to save the NHS. No one put it to them that this was despite its being a gross figure and despite the fact that the £8 billion to £10 billion of our net contribution is barely 1% of our Government’s annual expenditure per year. I have met people who voted for that reason. People voted to take back control of EU laws. When I have asked people who did this to name any EU laws that affects them day to day, they cannot name one. I built Cobra beer from scratch over a quarter of a century and I have not spent one hour of one day worrying about EU legislation. EU law, the law that is made in this country, is predominantly made by us in this Parliament, whether it is about taxes, planning or business rates.

The biggest issue of all was immigration. How badly this subject has been portrayed. These 3 million EU citizens, many of them leaving homes and families thousands of miles away, not knowing the language, come over here, work hard in an alien culture and put in five times more than they get out in taxes and benefits. Are we grateful to them? If we are grateful to them, right now, without legislation, we should be guaranteeing that they should be allowed to stay here. The Government should confirm this and I ask the Minister to do so. Far from being a burden on our country, these people work in our public sector. In fact, many parts of our public sector would collapse without them. Some 160,000 work in our NHS and care sector. Sajid Javid wants to build more homes: 250,000 people from the EU work in our construction sector. We have less than 5% unemployment, the lowest in living memory. We have the highest level of employment in living memory. What would we do without these people? We would not be the fifth largest economy in the world.

I am chancellor of the University of Birmingham and I chair the advisory board of the Cambridge Judge Business School. Some 20% of our academics come from the EU. I am president of UKCISA, the UK Council for International Student Affairs. We have 450,000 foreign students, 180,000 of them from the EU. It is not just about the money that comes for research. As the vice-chancellor of Cambridge said, more worrying than the loss of revenue is the damage to the networks of collaboration on which world-class science depends today. The Indian high commissioner gave an interview just this week in which he said, “Yes, we can talk about free trade agreements, but we also need to talk about visas and immigration”. Does the Minister accept that we should stop including international students in our net migration figures? They should be removed at once.

When these facts are made clear, when we move away from going back to hate crime and racism thanks to this wretched referendum, then people will have every right to change their mind. After all, the Prime Minister changed her mind; she was a remainer. Phillip Hammond changed his mind. Our court jester, Boris Johnson, was emphatic to remain just a couple of years ago. We are respecting the will of the people but not accepting that the people can change their minds. Look at the hypocrisy of it. It is said that countries such as the United States of America, China and India do not have trade deals with the European Union but they still deal with the European Union and that Brexit means that we are unleashed to do deals with the whole of the rest of the world, but we are going to give up the biggest deal on our doorstep—50% of our trade. What hypocrisy. Keynes said, “When the facts change, I change my mind”. Here, the facts may not change but people will wake up to the facts and then they may want to change their minds.

I think it is wrong that this House of Lords has been threatened. I think it is wrong that people are told that they are not patriotic if they are not for Brexit and that they are not for Britain if they are not for Brexit. That is wrong and it is disrespectful. The attitude of this Government, who have had to go to the High Court and the Supreme Court and have produced a White Paper only when pressed to, is neglecting government. If we want to negotiate now we will have to negotiate with many different countries, yet the Government are saying that no deal is better than a bad deal. Leaving the single market and ruining our economy would be a bad deal. To emphasise what the noble Lord, Lord Butler, said, logically, because of the nature of this question, there is no way we can respect the will of the people if we do not go back to them with the deal that we have and ask, “Are you now happy to leave on this basis?”.

Where sovereignty is concerned, I conclude by saying that we have our sovereignty. We measure our roads in miles and our petrol in litres. I pour my draft beer in pints and sell it on the supermarket shelves in litres. No one can force us to join the EU army or force us into further integration. As the noble Lord, Lord O’Donnell, said, there will be complications for the Civil Service. There are 38 countries and regional assemblies that we will have to negotiate with—six in Belgium alone. The majority of the youth of our country voted to stay. We have to think of the youth of our country. I conclude by quoting Professor Deepak Malhotra of the Harvard Business School, a world expert in negotiation, who said, “Karan, read a book called The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman about the beginning of the First World War”. We are currently commemorating the centenary of that unnecessary war that sacrificed millions of lives. He said, “Reading that book is like watching a train crash in slow motion”. That is what we are watching right now.