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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:30 pm on 21st February 2017.

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Photo of Lord Murphy of Torfaen Lord Murphy of Torfaen Labour 9:30 pm, 21st February 2017

My Lords, in my 40-odd years in political life, I have voted six times in referenda. I was on the winning side three times and I was on the losing side, including this one, three times. On all those occasions, I had to accept that, whatever my personal views, I would accept the views of the people in that referendum, and I willingly and happily—perhaps not happily but willingly—accept the views of the British people in this one. But that does not mean that there is no role for Parliament or for the House of Lords to consider the issues affected so dramatically by the single decision of coming out of the European Union.

The political landscape of the United Kingdom in the past 20 years has changed dramatically. Despite the decision of the Supreme Court not to allow the devolved Administrations their wish in this matter, politically Parliament and this House of Lords cannot ignore the issue of the devolved Administrations and what might happen in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. I was never a Scottish Minister, but I was Secretary of State for Wales and for Northern Ireland, and I want to address a couple of issues with regard to those countries and how the Bill and subsequent legislation will affect them. In his winding-up speech, I hope that the Minister will be able to address these points. Next week, amendments will be tabled and debated with regard to the devolved Administrations.

Wales voted to leave. That does not mean that there are not issues in Wales that need to be addressed. Seventy per cent of Welsh exports are to member states of the European Union. The great Airbus factory in north Wales is heavily dependent on European business. Tens of thousands of Welsh farmers rely on European money and are wondering what will happen when it runs out. Hundreds, indeed thousands, of organisations and communities in Wales depend on European Union funding too, and they are concerned about what will happen. Our Welsh universities and colleges depend on European students, but also on a great deal of resource for research. I hope that the Government will take these matters seriously and discuss them with Carwyn Jones, the Welsh Government and the Welsh Assembly.

I turn to Northern Ireland. There, the situation is different. The people of Northern Ireland voted to remain in the European Union. The people of the Republic of Ireland are strongly in favour of their membership of the European Union. Yet that country, Ireland, will be affected more than any other European country as a result of our decision to leave the European Union. Billions of pounds every year are spent in trade between Ireland and the United Kingdom. The European Union Committee issued a great report on the issue which I hope we will be able to debate in the months to come. What about Northern Ireland? There, the issue of the border looms. There has been no border, other than at the time of the Troubles, separating North and South in Ireland. The fact that the Troubles disappeared and that the border went with them was a huge issue in bringing about peace in Northern Ireland. I hope that the Government are, with the Irish Government, looking extremely carefully at how to deal with the situation in practical terms.

There is more. I chaired many of the talks that led to the Good Friday agreement 20 years ago. It was based on the common membership of the two Governments —the two countries, Ireland and the United Kingdom—of the European Union. That common membership permeated every strand—1, 2 and 3—of those negotiations. Strand 2 concerned relations between the North and the South. Most of the bodies that have been set up between Ireland and Northern Ireland are based on Europe. Therefore, if we leave the European Union, that essential element of the Good Friday agreement is jeopardised.

Money came too, of course—not just Objective 1 money, important though it was to Northern Ireland, but peace money too. The distribution of that peace money from Europe to Northern Ireland meant that nationalists and unionists, Catholics and Protestants, worked together in distributing those funds in Northern Ireland in itself helping to bring about peace. The people of Northern Ireland in a referendum in 1998 voted for the Good Friday agreement. At the same time the public of the Republic of Ireland overwhelmingly voted for that agreement. The people of Northern Ireland voted to stay in the European Union and yet the people of the United Kingdom decided to come out. If that is not a huge dilemma for the Government, I do not know what is.

I will finish by simply quoting the preamble to the Good Friday or Belfast agreement of 1998. It says that the two Governments wish,

“to develop still further the unique relationship between their peoples and the close co-operation between their countries as friendly neighbours and as partners in the European Union”.

The European Union has been vital to the Northern Ireland peace process. It must not be jeopardised by the Brexit process.