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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:55 pm on 21st February 2017.

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Photo of Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Labour 4:55 pm, 21st February 2017

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in what I suppose will be described as this great debate. I am particularly grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, who, regrettably, is not in his place at the moment. I felt that he raised some fundamental issues yesterday. He posed questions to the Minister; I subsequently had a word with him and said that I hoped that he might table amendments himself. He mentioned that he had friends who might do the same, so I look forward to the possibility that the Cross-Benchers, who can make such a big impact on our deliberations, will probably come forward with amendments—not a lot of them, but fundamental ones. Can the Minister please give me an assurance that he will give a reply to the questions from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, the noble Lords, Lord Kerr and Lord Butler, and—again, she is not in her place—from my noble friend Lady Symons, who raised a particularly pertinent point this morning on the legal position?

I will be broadly supportive of the Government, which might come as a surprise to some and may upset some of my colleagues around me. However, as an old negotiator, I have some fairly simple approaches: know your red lines; keep them to yourself; keep your cards to yourself; and do not give much away in advance before you start the negotiation. We are in a mess, and my role here today, along with others, is to try to pull ourselves together as best we can. We are a divided nation, we are in bits and pieces all over the place and so I look to be as constructive and helpful as I can rather than spending my time looking backwards. I was a remainer, I regret that we lost but I see no point in saying that today. I am in the moment, and we have to move forward. We should come together in any way we can and in doing that help the Government to protect the majority in the country—not the Brexiteers, not the minorities or anything—and try to get them behind the Government. It will not be easy.

I come back to the point the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, made. A price will be paid at the end of this exercise; we will be weaker in security and defence, and so will Europe, and we will be weaker in terms of trade for quite some time. However, if the only alternative, if we pull away, is a deregulated, Singapore-style environment, with no protection for workers, which some people would like, the Government should reflect that life is very much on a knife edge these days, particularly with social media and with the kind of press we have at the moment, and that as recently as 2011, when we were pushing hard cuts—there may be cuts to come—we had riots in London and in cities around the country. They started on the pretext of a dispute with the police, but there were underlying factors behind them. These days people can very quickly communicate, bring great numbers together and create great disturbances, so let us not forget that when we talk about a hard-line Brexit. I do not want that, and I do not believe that any of us want that, so we need to look for an alternative, too, in the event that in fact the negotiations that Mrs May brings back are not satisfactory. Maybe we should look for a halt or a delay or for more time, or perhaps even a different approach entirely, which might involve going back out to the people. We have to be as flexible as we can in trying to deal with what is a quite extraordinary, difficult situation.

So I give a view as an old negotiator, and I back the Government there: get on with it as quickly as you can, and come back as quickly as you can. We should try to encumber them as little as possible. The judgment will then be made when Mrs May returns. It is at that point that I rather sense the House is trying to find some additional mechanism which is needed within Parliament, whether in the Commons or here, or out with the people, whereby a further check can be made on what is being delivered to find out whether it is acceptable to the people.

The other day the Minister persuaded me to be more patient in response to another issue on the industrial strategy. I have listened to his words; I am being patient. I give the Government the chance, but they must listen to all that is being input and answer in particular the searching questions on the legal side and about where we stand on the constitution. Also, they should think about how they themselves can lead the initiative to present the outturn of the negotiations in a way that will find good support in one way or another rather than simply saying that it is “Take it or leave it”.