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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:08 pm on 21st February 2017.

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Photo of Lord Wigley Lord Wigley Plaid Cymru 8:08 pm, 21st February 2017

My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Watson, particularly in his reference to language because I can remember being told by a department of state in London when I was a Member of Parliament that it could of course produce a document in Welsh, but it would take two or three weeks to translate it if it was to give any attention to it. These things happen, I fear, all around the world.

I believe that the advice given by the voters in June’s referendum represents a disastrous course for the UK and one which in time people will come to bitterly regret. My party, Plaid Cymru, wants to see Wales and Britain remain in the EU, and if that is now impossible, to secure as open a settlement as is possible with our EU partners. Plaid’s three MPs voted against the Bill because of the Government’s stance in backing the hardest of hard Brexits. Had a single market or customs union linkage been accepted by the Government, we would not have opposed the Bill, but the Government rejected such amendments.

Let us never forget why European countries came together after World War 2: to make it impossible to go to war against each other ever again. Since 1945, we have enjoyed over 70 years of peace, the longest unbroken period of peace in 400 years. I trust that this House will not be rushed into taking decisions against its better judgment on the basis of an arbitrary timetable imposed by a Prime Minister who seems to be running scared of scrutiny.

Let us remember that lack of scrutiny was evident in the funding claims made by the Brexiteers. People were told downright lies about the funding consequences that would arise by leaving the EU. In Wales, we are £245 million a year net beneficiaries from the EU. The gross figure is some £650 million, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, mentioned earlier. EU structural funds have underpinned dozens of local economic projects. People in the old industrial areas of Wales voted out because they were told that every penny of EU funding would be replaced by the Treasury, but amendments to that end were rejected by the Government.

Last June, people voted out for many reasons. We were repeatedly told by Brexiteers that we could continue to co-operate with EU countries on key issues, including security and migration, and maintain close trading links with Europe. Half a dozen models were advocated by various parts of the rag, tag and bobtail amalgam which constituted the Brexit campaign. Individuals knew what they were voting against: farmers voted against Brussels bureaucracy; fishing communities against overfishing by continental vessels; small business owners voted against overregulation; and some objected to the European courts. Only a minority of such people were motivated by immigration issues and I cannot accept that 90% of those who voted out did so to block immigration.

If I am right, then the mandate to leave the EU is not a mandate to halt the free movement of people and thereby block UK citizens from working, studying or retiring in other EU countries. Nor is it a mandate to block EU citizens from coming to work or study in Britain. Yes, let us negotiate controls to prevent abuse of our health service or social security provisions, but let us remember that UK citizens also move to France to benefit from French healthcare provisions. Present uncertainties are undermining 1 million UK citizens living in other EU countries or who have bought continental property ready for their retirement. The threat felt by EU citizens working in Britain—in the NHS, university research, tourism and food processing—is an appalling by-product of the Brexit campaign which, at its worst, has stimulated odious racist campaigns. This has to stop and stop now. The Government have to flag up that absolute control over EU citizens working in Britain is not fundamental to their negotiating position.

From a Welsh perspective, two-thirds of our manufacturing exports go to EU countries. Companies such as Ford, Airbus, Siemens and Toyota will be hard hit by tariff barriers. Two hundred American and 50 Japanese companies are located in Wales in order to sell to EU markets. That strategic element of government industrial policy in Wales will be undermined by a hard Brexit. Our agricultural sector faces similar challenges. Over 90% of beef and sheep-meat exports go to EU markets. Any tariff barriers would be a kiss of death to rural Wales.

Wales needs unfettered access to the single market. That is the basis of the excellent White Paper produced by the Welsh Government and Plaid Cymru, in co-operation and with Liberal Democrat support, entitled Securing Wales’ Future, which calls for full single market participation. I know from earlier comments by the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, that the Minister is seriously considering the approach taken by Carwyn Jones and Leanne Wood, and I urge the Government to accept amendments to that end and to work closely with the devolved Administrations. This constructive approach might also offer a formula relevant to both Scotland and Ireland. The challenge we face in relation to Ireland has within it the seeds of not only destroying the Good Friday agreement but potentially dismantling the United Kingdom.

How any final negotiated agreement will be ratified is a basic question. It is the perceived will of the people which is driving us towards the cliff edge now, and so it is the people who should be allowed to ratify the Government’s negotiated outcome. Do the Government accept the recent legal opinion, of which I have a copy, by Sir David Edward QC and others that, if there is no agreement with our EU partners, then Article 50 paragraph 3 would not automatically bring to an end the UK’s membership of the EU?

I appeal to the Government to be more flexible and to step back from the mindless threats against this Chamber. As a revising Chamber, our role is to propose those changes which, in all conscience, we deem necessary. If we cannot change a dot or a comma in such a major Bill, we can justly ask what the point is of having such an impotent Chamber. Much more important than the future of this Chamber is the future of the nations of these islands and of Europe itself. It is for that reason that I cannot support this Bill in its present form.