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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:54 pm on 21st February 2017.

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Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative 6:54 pm, 21st February 2017

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster. He gives wise counsel, as ever. I have respected and valued his judgment ever since 30 years ago he gave me a box 1 marking when he did my annual appraisal at the Cabinet Office. I draw attention to my interests as recorded in the register, particularly in relation to Low Associates, which has contracts for event management and other services with the European Commission.

I was a member of David Cameron’s Cabinet when he first promised a referendum on our membership of the EU. I campaigned to remain. I regret that we lost but I respect the result. I therefore support the Bill and I will not back any amendments to it. The Bill is specific in empowering the Prime Minister to trigger Article 50—no more and no less. Any amendment to the Bill is seeking either to fetter that power or to anticipate issues that should properly form part of the discussions on future legislation to implement withdrawal or to establish our future relationship. That legislation should be debated; indeed, probably a year from now we will be debating the so-called great repeal Bill. That will happen while negotiations are still under way.

The Government did not want this Bill but, rightly, were required to bring it forward. I pay tribute, as have others, to those who initiated the case before the Supreme Court. The Government’s mandate to leave is of course in the referendum, but their authority to do so, and the authority for the future agreements with the European Union, will derive from this Parliament. We must exercise that authority at the right time—that is, before the die is cast. Of course, the Government promise a vote on the final deal, but that is not good enough. Parliament must be fully engaged with, and party to, the potential outcomes before that happens. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, was quite right to illustrate how Parliament could be engaged properly in that negotiation, and about the potential value to the Government of Parliament being engaged in that negotiation.

One of the most alarming statements among many being made recently about Brexit is that “no deal is better than a bad deal”. I share the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, about that statement. “No deal” is a bad deal; it is potentially the worst deal. It would be a disorderly exit. It is a cliff edge, if not so much for trade in goods then certainly for services and reciprocal arrangements for health, benefits, accrued rights, research and scientific collaboration—and issues such as policing and justice, as the noble Lord, Lord Blair of Boughton, reminded us. I therefore do not share the inference of the noble Lord, Lord Lawson of Blaby, that a good deal for us is a bad one for the EU and vice versa. There are many areas, such as health, science, the environment, policing and security, where continued close collaboration is of mutual benefit. Even in relation to trade and migration, it remains true that open markets deliver growth for both parties.

Open markets, like competition, are a tide that lifts every boat. If we are true to our championing of free trade, our approach to the future relationship with the European Union must be built on the expectation of continuing freedoms to trade and for investment, freedom of capital movement and indeed freedom of movement for skills. There is ample evidence that the British people understand and accept this. I am reminded that my former boss, my noble friend Lord Tebbit, quite often said, “We voted for a Common Market and we’d like to have one”. We still want one.

As the noble Lord, Lord Green of Deddington, said, Britain has long advocated the economic benefits of European Union membership, including Conservative advocacy of the single market, but our enthusiasm has been progressively eclipsed by the political drive for ever-closer union, which this country has never accepted for itself. There are many across Europe who, recognising our increasingly semi-detached nature as a consequence of our EU membership ever since Maastricht, concede that a new relationship, with a comprehensive economic free-trade agreement and continued collaboration on that wide range of potentially beneficial issues, could enable the variable geometry of Europe to be realised in a way that EU membership could not accommodate.

I am being optimistic. There are many obstacles, although the worst are not in the enormity of the technical issues but in the politics. European politicians accept that we are leaving but want us to pay a price, including a budgetary price. They want to deter any future secessionist tendencies. They deeply resented the anti-EU rhetoric and perceived misrepresentations of the leave campaign, and they see too much of it being replicated in the Government’s approach prior to the negotiations. They will not accept a have-your-cake-and-eat-it outcome.

So tough decisions are ahead. I sympathise with my noble friends Lady Altmann and Lady Wheatcroft in their anger at what is potentially being done to the future prospects of this country, and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay: this is not what I, my children or indeed my former constituents—who voted 62% to remain—wanted. The response, however, should not be to deny democracy but to use our parliamentary democracy to build a new settlement. To achieve this, our starting point must be to reject anti-EU rhetoric and to respect the decisions of other member states and their commitment to a European ideal as much as we are committed to our own path. Our offer should be to be the closest friends and partners of our European neighbours, to see working together as a natural approach and to be prepared for compromise, including through transitional provisions, regulated co-operation and the orderly unwinding of the budgetary settlement.

Shortly after the referendum, an Austrian friend of our family emailed us a picture of his children, with the accompanying text, “Whatever happens, our children will still be friends”. That is how it must be.