Brexit: European Union-derived Rights - Motion to Resolve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 4th April 2017.

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Photo of Viscount Hailsham Viscount Hailsham Conservative 6:45 pm, 4th April 2017

My Lords, I rise in support of both Motions. I very much hope that they will prove acceptable to my noble friend on the Front Bench and if he is able to accept them, or at least not oppose them, I will be very grateful to him.

I want to make two brief points as to the first Motion. First, as drafted, the Motion before your Lordships’ House does not address the position of UK citizens in European Union countries. That clearly needs to be addressed—I am sure that it will be—and the Government need to be overt about that. Secondly, the obligation to report does not extend beyond the end of this Session. While I am not in possession of any privy information, I suspect that will come quite soon. I therefore hope that with regard to the first Motion, the Government will treat it as an obligation to report as regards UK citizens abroad as well as EU citizens here and that the obligation will extend on a continuing basis beyond the end of the Session.

I now turn to the second Motion. I agree with what the noble Baroness said, but perhaps the House will forgive me if I remind it of what I said about the referendum because it is relevant to this Motion. I never believed that the referendum was an authority to leave the EU, whatever the terms, whatever the outcome, whatever the prejudice. I think it was an instruction to the Government to negotiate the best terms that could be secured for withdrawal and then to come back. The question that then arises is: who makes the decision about the desirability of the outcome, whether there is an agreement or no agreement? In a representative democracy, the answer to that question has to be Parliament and nowhere else—not the Government, but Parliament. This matter was debated very fully in Committee and on Report. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, made a very distinguished contribution to the debate. In that debate, very proper questions were highlighted, most notably regarding the relationship between the two Houses and, perhaps more importantly, how the primacy of the House of Commons could be entrenched. A proper Joint Committee of the kind proposed by the noble Baroness is precisely the way to address these kinds of questions.

I shall identify just two questions for further reflection. What would happen if, in the opinion of Parliament, remaining in the European Union was preferable to leaving, whether because of an inadequate agreement or because of no agreement? That question has to be addressed because it may happen, and we need to ask ourselves what will happen if Parliament is of that view. The second question overlaps, but it is different. What happens if Parliament senses that there is a real shift in public opinion in favour of remaining within the European Union? That is also a possibility. I very much hope that the Select Committee will address it because if there has been a serious shift in public opinion in favour of remaining in the European Union, we must have a second referendum. That needs to be addressed by the Committee.

I support these two Motions. I very much hope that your Lordships accept them and that my noble friend does not oppose them, and I hope that the Joint Committee may consider addressing some of the questions which I have taken the liberty of identifying.