European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill - Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:30 pm on 7th March 2017.

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Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour 12:30 pm, 7th March 2017

I do not disagree with that at all. The debate when the referendum campaign was under way was clearly on the basis that this was a once-in-a-lifetime decision, and we need to acknowledge that as well.

My main points are in respect of the validity of the decision and whether it should be replaced with a second referendum. As the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, said, at the time of the referendum it was never said that there would be a second referendum. I hate to disagree with my noble friend Lord Foulkes—particularly not on matters relating to Scotland; I have never done so in the long parliamentary careers that we have shared—but I think he said, and he will no doubt intervene and I will be happy to give way if I am wrong, that the choice in the Scottish referendum was absolutely clear. However, it did not come over like that in the way that it was reported in England. There appeared to be a great lack of clarity about things such as the currency that would be used and whether an independent Scotland could reapply, or would successfully be able to reapply, to join the European Union. There is a whole host of uncertainties around all referendums, and I have never heard of one where there were no uncertainties or difficulties to address.

That brings me to the only really substantial point that I think has not been made so far: that somehow or other—this, according to its proponents, is the whole basis of having a second referendum—circumstances will change in a very fundamental way, making it absolutely essential that we again test the opinion of the British people. I cannot avoid a trip down memory lane at this point because this is not the first referendum on whether we should be a member of the European Union; it is the second. The first one was held in 1975 and the overwhelming decision was to remain in the European Union.