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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:15 pm on 21st February 2017.

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Photo of Lord Howard of Rising Lord Howard of Rising Conservative 7:15 pm, 21st February 2017

My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Deech. This Bill is simple: its only purpose is to give Her Majesty’s Government the authority to begin the process of leaving the European Union, as voted for by the British public. I remind your Lordships that this House is bound by the Salisbury convention, which states that where a Government have made an election promise which was included in their manifesto, and voted on by the electorate, that promise will not be rejected by this House. How much more should this respect for voters’ wishes bind this House when the issue has been directly voted on by the electorate in a national referendum?

The proposed amendments for Committee stage are distractions designed to impede the process and avoid carrying out what the people of this country have voted for. The amendments should be rejected; this Bill is only about firing the starting gun. This House has no alternative but to agree this Bill, which directly reflects the will of the people, and give it a swift passage.

Comment has been made that the majority in favour of leaving was not large enough for such a momentous decision and therefore lacks legitimacy. That is not so. It was a clear majority and was achieved in the face of the most appalling bias, starting with more than £9 million of taxpayers’ money being spent on a leaflet containing inaccuracies. An embarrassing and truly shaming amount of pressure was then put on organisations of all types and sizes to say publicly what a disaster Brexit would be, even to the extent of the previous Prime Minister trying to get the editor of the Daily Mail sacked. Well done the proprietor for resisting this and well done Paul Dacre, the editor, for standing up for the newspaper’s integrity and not being corrupted by the antics of the fear campaigners!

The fundamental argument is this: should Great Britain be governed from Westminster by a democratically elected and accountable Government or should it be governed by unelected bureaucrats in another country? It is a simple argument. Personally, I do not want to surrender my country to another power. The sovereignty argument is overwhelming but for those who have concerns about the economics of leaving the European Union, I point out that we have a trade deficit some £70 billion a year with the EU from which they benefit. This makes the EU the supplicant and puts it in the weaker bargaining position. The European Union needs us more than we need them. This economic imperative will push towards a solution agreeable to all, in spite of some of the pessimistic noises made during this debate. With large corporations such as Google, Nissan and Apple making commitments in Great Britain, there is increasing evidence for optimism. European politicians—notably Germany’s Finance Minister—have also started commenting on how essential Great Britain is to the European economy.

The only real impediment to a satisfactory conclusion to Great Britain leaving the European Union would be to fetter the British negotiators with amendments at the Committee stage of this Bill. This would damage the negotiating position by taking away flexibility and room to manoeuvre. Frankly, some of the amendments put down show only that those proposing the amendments are doing so with ill intent or lack experience of the real world.

The British people were asked what they wanted—to stay or to leave. They chose to leave and it is not the place of this House to get in their way.