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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:38 pm on 21st February 2017.

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Photo of Lord Lennie Lord Lennie Opposition Whip (Lords) 6:38 pm, 21st February 2017

My Lords, we voted to leave on 23 June and the consequence is leave we must. No thresholds were in the referendum Act: it was in or out and we voted out. The public would not have it any other way. Some are frustrated that we have not already left, while others think that we have already left. We voted to leave after years of Tory public dissatisfaction with the EU. It does not matter how I voted; we are to leave the EU.

A family anecdote shows in microcosm what was going on, relating to what my noble friend Lady Armstrong said yesterday about the disconnect between the EU and those who can benefit from it. I will try to conceal their identities, but it involves a young, twentysomething snowboard instructor, living and working in France, speaking to his grandfather. It went like this: “Did you vote in that referendum, Grandad?” “Yes, I did. I voted to leave”. “Why?” “It was those Albanians”. “Where are they?” “They’re in Albania”. “What’s the problem?” “They’re going to come over here”. “How do you know?” “It was in the paper yesterday, so I voted to leave the EU”. People do not see the connections between the EU and their or their families’ lives.

This House seems to be full of emotion. Some have described a grieving process taking place and seem to have reached the anger stage, while others are in reflective remembrance of things past. But exiting the EU must be a calm, considered and orderly process, as the noble Lord, Lord O’Donnell, advised us yesterday. We are asking a huge amount of those whose job it will be to negotiate on our behalf over the next two years and to get us as close as they can to the Government’s 12-point wish list. Is it doable? I doubt it, but we will see. If it is not achieved, an interim future beckons. As the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, reminded us, the debate would not be taking place but for the bravery of two citizens who took on the Government and won in the Supreme Court. He and they deserve our thanks.

The Government started this process without a plan. The former Prime Minister was gone, the emperor’s clothes were reassigned and the present Prime Minister bought time to get her house in order by declaring, “Brexit means Brexit”. But what did it mean? The Government came to the strategic conclusion that controlling immigration trumped everything else and from that conclusion everything else would follow: no running commentary, no White Paper, no need for parliamentary approval and no need for a vote in Parliament to approve or reject an agreement. All of that has been overturned. Our role now is to scrutinise and make the Government accountable for what will happen. It is not enough to say that Parliament will get a vote at the end of the process. That must be on the face of the Bill.

What about the EU and EEA nationals living here? What about the promised vote at the end of two years being in the Bill? What will our relationship be with Euratom and myriad other agencies working in the EU? What will be the impact of withdrawal on the economy of the north-east? What about environmental safeguards and equality? Where are the impact assessments for those? What about open borders in Ireland? These issues are to be debated next week and must show the House of Lords doing its job.

This is a procedural, not a substantive Bill. It gives the Government the right to begin the process of negotiating our withdrawal from the EU. That they will get. I fully accept the primacy of the elected over the appointed Chamber, but it is our responsibility to ask the Government questions and to reconsider when we feel that it is necessary for them to do so. The amendments will show that, where things require to be reconsidered, we should send them back asking for change through probing and seeking clarity. That is what we do.