European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill - Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:00 pm on 7th March 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws Chair, EU Justice Sub-Committee 12:00 pm, 7th March 2017

My Lords, the Government seem confident that they can get a good deal, or, that not being the case and they get a bad deal, that they can walk away and WTO trading arrangements will be good enough for us to operate effectively in the world. If that is the position held by the Government, why should they be in any doubt that a referendum would do anything other than give them an even greater majority in support of what they finally resolve?

I support the amendment for a number of reasons. The most pressing is that, like probably everyone in this House, I have some regret about our greater use of referendums. The strength of representative democracy is that it gives us the opportunity of greater, more nuanced understanding of issues, which is why we delegate to our representatives the matter of governing on our behalf. If at the end of all this the sense in Parliament was that the deal on offer was not good, that the WTO alternative was not good at all and that we wanted to look again at whether remaining might not be an option, it would be quite difficult for us to say that the people should not have their voice, given that they started the whole process. That is why I am persuaded that having a referendum is the only thing that one could do at the end. Again, it would be advisory and Parliament would say, “But we have to listen to what the people’s view is”.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, I take the view that a lot is going to happen in the next two years, not least that people will start seeing what the implications of this are. I want to remind us of the state of our National Health Service and the fact that we had people on the street, many of them working in the National Health Service, saying, “This can’t go on” and that the need for resource was essential. We have a complete crisis when it comes to the care of our elderly, which needs money, yet we will see huge tranches of money spent on trade negotiators, on seeking to reinstate immigration processes and on any number of things. I think that as people recognise that our public services will see ever greater depletion in the shadows of this great Brexit movement they will ask, “Is this really what we wanted?”

It goes back to that question: did people vote to become poorer? The other night, I sat with two very distinguished businessmen whose names will be on all of your Lordships’ lips. They said that, by 2025, the people of Great Britain—the middle classes as well as the working classes—will be 30% poorer. Let us just think about that. They will be 30% less well off. We are lying to people if we do not tell them the truth about it. But people will see and they have to be given the opportunity of seeing, and I will not have lectures from anybody whose business interests are all in South Africa and who are therefore not concerned about what happens here. I therefore press on this House—