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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:25 pm on 21st February 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Sherbourne of Didsbury Lord Sherbourne of Didsbury Conservative 9:25 pm, 21st February 2017

My Lords, here is the paradox. I happen to believe that it is the historic rapprochement between France and Germany in the 1950s that has led to the Bill before us today. The establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community and the Common Market itself could not have happened without the brilliant leadership of Jean Monnet and the founding fathers. There had been three devastating wars between France and Germany in less than a hundred years so political leadership was required to bring the two countries together, and it was brilliant leadership.

It was top-down leadership, though—it had to be. That is how the Common Market, and later the European Union, began its life, and that is how it continued. That is why there has been a growing democratic deficit. You have only to look at the reaction of European leaders when the peoples of Ireland and Denmark voted in their referendums the wrong way; they were made to vote again because the leaders thought they knew better than the people. Look at how the euro, the single currency, was steamrollered through, with its devastating effects on young people in southern Europe whose lives have been blighted by it. Once again, the European leaders claimed to know best.

Surely if Europe is about anything, it is about democracy, the coming together of democratic countries by popular consent. Top-down leadership may have been necessary in the 1950s but today people want their say, and last June the British people had it. The Bill before the House today has one purpose only: to give effect to the decision of the British people in that referendum to leave the EU. That is what was on the ballot paper—one question, remain or leave, nothing else. The ballot paper did not have on it any questions about EU nationals, the single market, the customs union or immigration. It asked one question only, so the Bill rightly confines itself to that one question. Anyone who has ever canvassed on the doorstep, as many noble Lords know, knows that people vote for this party or that party for all sorts of reasons, often unpredictable and indeed bizarre. We do not and cannot know why people voted the way they did. The only evidence we have before us is the ballot paper.

Surely one of the things in which we in this House take great pride is basing policy decisions on hard evidence, not speculation or hearsay. The ballot was a one-issue ballot so this is a one-issue Bill, and so it should remain.