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My Lords, the gracious Speech started with Brexit and ended with the estimates and other measures but, in reality, we all know that Brexit is the beginning and will most likely be the end of this Parliament, and that is a tragedy. It is a tragedy because the UK has so many pressing challenges from which we will be distracted by a process which will do us incalculable harm. It is a tragedy because already the country is poorer. The slide in sterling, the consequent rise in prices and stagnation in wages have made us all worse off. It is a tragedy because we are more divided than ever. The referendum split us almost down the middle. The election, which was supposed to deliver a decisive mandate, instead left the Prime Minister and Government weakened and served only to underline the continuing division in the country. Today, the Conservative Cabinet is unable to maintain even the semblance of a united front on Brexit. Its divisions are daily played out in public for everyone to see.
It is a tragedy because as a country we are already diminished, our integrity sacrificed to the absurd and morally bankrupt notion that you can or should carry out your negotiations on the backs of the lives of millions of fellow European citizens who, because of our failure to honour our promises, live today in uncertainty and continuing distress. We had a solemn obligation to provide those European citizens with the guarantees that the Vote Leave campaign had promised them. By doing so, we would also have helped to provide the reassurance that British citizens in the EU also so desperately need, but we did not. Instead the Government waited more than a year and then, on Monday, published a policy paper that offers no certainty at all. Instead of upholding our promises to EU citizens, we have offered a set of proposals for negotiation and nothing more. It is, therefore, worth recalling the commitment that was made by the leave campaign; on this at least they spoke clearly and unequivocally:
“There will be no change for EU citizens already lawfully resident in the UK. These EU citizens will automatically be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK and will be treated no less favourably than they are at present”.
There is no ambiguity in that, no caveat that these matters would be dependent on negotiations, no qualification at all. Every Brexiteer in the Government, every Brexiteer in the House of Commons and every Brexiteer in this House should be reminded of that statement every single day. It is their badge of shame, but they have hung it around the neck of this country.
Though I decry the failure to provide certainty, I at least give a muted welcome to the publication of the Government’s policy paper on safeguarding the rights of EU citizens and British citizens in the EU. I do so because it at least sets out some sort of framework for the rights that EU citizens will have post-Brexit and a bad deal, as we know, is better than no deal at all. The Government state in their policy paper that a fair and reasonable fee will be charged for EU citizens gaining settled status in the United Kingdom. I put it to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, that as the EU citizens concerned find their status changed and their lives disrupted as a result of a decision in which they had no part, the only fair and reasonable fee is no fee at all. If he will not accept that, will he at least agree with me that the current fee of nearly £2,000 for indefinite leave to remain would be neither fair nor reasonable but an outrage?
The gracious Speech tells us that repealing the European Communities Act will provide certainty for individuals and business, when it will do the opposite. It tells us that legislation will ensure that the United Kingdom makes a success of Brexit, when legislation alone can do no such thing. It tells us that a new national policy on immigration will help achieve that success, when it is far more likely to impoverish us all.
The people who will pay the price for Brexit in lost jobs, squeezed living standards and reduced opportunities will not be the champions of Brexit—the super-elite of proprietors and editors, offshore millionaires and former Cabinet Ministers. It will be, as it always is, those who can least afford it who will have to pay the price for the ideological zeal of others.
I hope and pray that in this Parliament some sense will return and that the majority who could ensure a sensible and pragmatic approach to Brexit will come together across party lines and prevail. I will make my contribution tonight by supporting the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, in the Division Lobby.