Brexit: European Union-derived Rights - Motion to Resolve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:45 pm on 4th April 2017.

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Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Labour 7:45 pm, 4th April 2017

My Lords, I support both the Motions but want to address the second one, or what is behind it: in other words, the role of Parliament.

I have much in common with the Minister. I was a remainer and I accept the vote count of 23 June. Indeed, there are not really two sides anymore but the language of contest is still used. It is because I am a democrat that I accept the vote count and it is because I am a democrat that I accept the rule of law. Parliament is sovereign, not the Government, and it is Parliament’s role to protect the rule of law. As such, it has to be Parliament’s role to consider and judge the terms of fundamental changes to our way of life. Governments come and go via Parliament, or in this case through an ill-thought-out advisory referendum held for more purposes than just to remain or leave the EU.

It is in my view more important to protect Parliament than the Government. A Joint Committee would help considerably in this respect. In fact, the Supreme Court case in some ways helped in respect of protecting the rule of law, and at some point will probably need to do so again. When the people voted on 23 June, it was simple—leave or remain. They knew that the Government’s view was to remain, as set out in the booklet sent to every home in the country. They knew then that the Government had abandoned the idea of an advisory referendum and that the decision would be implemented. They also knew that there was a set of rules around the decision, to the extent, for example, that it was not the Government who drafted the question but the Electoral Commission. They knew that there were rules about the funding of the two strands of opinion. Parliament had set out those rules so there was confidence. However, in the last couple of months, any informed person has to be concerned by the extensive reporting by Carole Cadwalladr in the Observer of 26 February and 2 April, to refer to just two of the very long articles. I have never met nor had contact with Ms Cadwalladr, but I contacted the Electoral Commission in February following the first of the three-page articles and received this response on 8 March:

“I can confirm the Electoral Commission has begun an assessment in respect of Leave.EU’s spending return at the EU Referendum to determine whether or not there are potential offences under the law that require investigation. Our assessment is focused on whether any donation—including services—was made by Cambridge Analytica or Goddard Gunster to Leave.EU; whether those donations, if any, were from a permissible source and whether Leave.EU spending return was complete. Given the high public interest in the returns submitted by campaigners, the Commission will announce the outcome of its assessment in due course”.

I suspect that that response will be made public to others.

Accepting the vote count of 23 June, therefore, we need Parliament to play a key role, as via these proposed Motions. There must be concern that the major donor to Leave.EU is now quoted as saying:

“I don’t give a monkey’s what the Electoral Commission says”,

and:

“We were … cleverer than the regulators and the politicians. Of course we were”.

To me, that is an admission of “cheating”—that they were cleverer than the regulator, the Electoral Commission. The self-confessed cheat Mr Banks is planning to unseat “bad MPs”, via an unregistered organisation. Therefore, Parliament itself is now under threat from dark money, as we have not yet passed the legislation introducing unexplained wealth orders—I suspect that he will be the first candidate for one of those.

Passing these two Motions will send a signal to those who threaten democracy with secret funds and by cheating election regulators. Indeed, it is a wake-up call which, if we fail to answer it, will put Parliament, not the Government, in peril. When I hear a Brexit extremist raise these concerns, I will know the battle of the referendum is over and the battle for Parliament has begun.