European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill - Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:00 pm on 7th March 2017.

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Photo of Lord Newby Lord Newby Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords 1:00 pm, 7th March 2017

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, which boils down to a single question: is it Parliament or the people that take the final decision on our future in Europe? The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said that it should be Parliament but that if Parliament rejected the deal, there might be a confidence vote. There would then be a general election, but a general election is an extremely imperfect way to debate a single issue. I think all parties have found that, as did Mr Heath. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, says that the Liberal Democrats might have found that, but with the current leaderships of the two main political parties, does he genuinely believe that a general election would be solely or even mainly on the issue of Brexit? No, my Lords; the general election is a very imperfect tool for dealing with such a specific question.

I have the highest regard for the most reverend Primate, but I am afraid that when he says that a further referendum is not democratic, I simply cannot agree. I cannot see the logic of that and I am sorry to say that I really cannot follow that argument at all.

It has been argued that the people cannot take a decision in these circumstances because it would be a binary choice. It is quite unclear to me why it is perfectly reasonable for Parliament to take a binary choice but not the people. Finally, it has been argued by a number of noble Lords that it is all too complicated for the people to take a final decision on this matter. That is the antithesis of democracy.

I ended my Second Reading speech by quoting Gladstone and, indeed, the Brexit Secretary: “Trust the people”. That was our stance a fortnight ago and it is our stance today. I wish to test the opinion of the House.

Ayes 131, Noes 336.