Brexit: European Union-derived Rights - Motion to Resolve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:00 pm on 4th April 2017.

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Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative 7:00 pm, 4th April 2017

My Lords, like the proverbial Irishman, I would not have started from here. We have to be careful that we do not continually refight the same battles, but that does not mean that we cannot repeatedly restate the same principles.

I remain of the same view that I did the day after the referendum, 24 June last year. I deeply regret the result, and I thought that the first and most positive thing that we could and should do would be to guarantee the rights of EU nationals in this country—I was a week ahead of Boris Johnson. We would have taken the moral high ground; we would have lost nothing; we would have made an extremely important gesture, which I believe would have been reciprocated. My noble friend Lord Bridges, who will be replying to this debate, knows very well that that has been my view throughout, and I have repeated it in this Chamber on a number of occasions.

However, as someone said a few moments ago, we are where we are. What is now crucial—my noble friend Lord Hailsham made this point—is ensure that we guarantee as soon as possible the right of EU nationals. I am confident that there would be reciprocation. We do not want to let this drag on for two years.

Uncertainty was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, in her admirable opening speech. We all know from our personal lives that nothing is more mentally debilitating than uncertainty. Whether it is concern over a loved one with illness or over a job, if we have uncertainty, we cannot plan ahead, look forward with confidence or aspire. Every human being has the human right to all those things. I very much hope that, when my noble friend comes to wind up, he will be able not only to state his personal agreement but to say that the Government will indeed report back to Parliament and that he will do all in his power—I am sure that he has great negotiating skills—to bring this uncertainty for 3 million human beings in our country to an early and a hopeful end.

I also find myself in agreement with the Motion spoken to persuasively by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. We have said these things before in innumerable debates, but the cry from those who did not think that they would win, but did, was, “We want to take back control”. Control where? In a parliamentary democracy, control can lie in only one place, and that is Parliament—particularly in the House which has supreme power, the elected House, but, to a degree, in your Lordships’ House, too.

We must never forget that the single, cardinal principle of our democracy is that government is accountable to Parliament, and Parliament is accountable to the electorate. It is crucial that we have not only discursive debates—which, in a sense, is what we are having tonight—but debates with real purpose and real votes at the end of them. That is not because I want in any way to circumscribe the freedom of those who will be negotiating on our behalf, but because I want them to be answerable to us and, particularly, to the other place.

It is a good idea that there be a Joint Committee; there are many precedents. One thing that has disappointed me in the more than six years that I have been in your Lordships’ House is that there is not more co-operation between the two Houses. I sat on one or two Joint Committees myself when I was in the other place. I felt that they were good to have but that there were not enough of them. In the most important journey that our nation has taken since the war, where we do not yet have an agreed destination, still less a route map to get us there, it is crucial that we work with our colleagues in the other place. I believe that this suggestion is both practical and sensible, and I very much hope that it will be adopted.

I conclude on another note. During recent debates and exchanges on the Floor of your Lordships’ House, there has been a degree of fractiousness that is not typical of our debates. It is understandable, because those who won have become, if I may say so, increasingly triumphalist, and those of us who lost have perhaps become increasingly disappointed. We have to try to put that disappointment behind us for the sake of our country, which has known greater perils in the past and has come through them. I think it is incumbent on each and every one of us to try to temper our language and not indulge in inflammatory rhetoric of any sort, but to know that we should have one common aim and purpose. That is to ensure that our country, when all this negotiating is over, is not in an appreciably worse and weaker position than it is at the moment.

There is a real danger of that. I do not think that many of those on the leave side— I talk to a lot of them—thought that there would be quite so much to unravel. Certainly, outside your Lordships’ House and in the country, many of those I have talked to in my native county of Lincolnshire and the county that I had the honour of representing for 40 years in the other place, Staffordshire, did not realise how much had to be undone. The unpicking of almost half a century of history while ensuring that we do not go back is incredibly difficult.

I have the honour to sit on the Home Affairs Sub-Committee of the EU Committee of your Lordships’ House. We have recently been taking evidence on the European arrest warrant. What becomes increasingly obvious from our sessions is that the whole struggle is to try to maintain a sort of status quo.

We are beginning a long journey. I hope that we can be together on this, and I congratulate the noble Baroness on introducing the Motion tonight.