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Queen’s Speech - Debate (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 28th June 2017.

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Photo of Lord Bird Lord Bird Crossbench 6:15 pm, 28th June 2017

Like the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, I was a bit unhappy on the day after we had our referendum. I was unhappy because when I walked into my little Cambridgeshire village and met an incredibly educated, sophisticated and well-placed member of the community, I found that he was absolutely outraged that “these people”—who were described as “scum”, “rubbish”, “below life”—had taken him and his wife and family and other people out of something which for him was the most precious thing on earth other than the United Kingdom. I then went down the pub that evening and met people who had voted to leave. Many of them were cock-a-hoop, aggressive and rather vicious. Here was a little village in Cambridgeshire which seemed culturally divided. There were the men in the white vans who came to fix our fences and our roofs and all the friends that I have in the building trade, who seemed to be universally for leaving, while those who were at the local university and who were what you might call the “cappuccino class”—I use that in the nicest sense—seemed to be against.

So here we had a class struggle, and hiding behind it all, in my opinion, was our relationship to poverty, because Brexit is about poverty. Whether we stay or we go, it is about poverty; it is about poverty of thinking. It is also about how we come together. I am reminded of the great Jonathan Swift—a swift being a Bird—who described a confederacy of dunces. I worry about highly educated and highly thoughtful people who have lived together dividing over Brexit, dividing over stay, and not finding any conformity or unity. We are in a place which is very much like 1940. We need a kind of national, coalition-type Government. We need to break through the divisions between us. I do not know whether Parliament is the best place to sort this out because I believe—and my nose is close to the ground—that in the future there will be blood on the streets because up at the level we are, we cannot give the benefit of the doubt and go to people who we know are not doing as well as us and say to them, “Let’s work together”. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, that, whether we like it or not, we have left Europe. To the noble Lord, Lord Oates, who said earlier that the poor will pay for Brexit, I say, “Okay, how can the House of Lords and the House of Commons stop the poor paying for Brexit?” It is interesting, is it not, that many millions of people who have not done well voted to leave, not those people who did well?

I have to tell the House that I voted to stay. I got it wrong. I voted to stay for fear. I have five children and three grandchildren, and I was sensibly told that if we left the whole country was going to fall to pieces within a matter of weeks. We may have a bit longer. It may well fall to pieces in 2019, but I think it will fall to pieces if we do not find a way, an amalgam—that wonderful mixture of opposites. Unless we find a political and social amalgam, we are not going anywhere. I shall make my last point: people talk about Britain getting out of Europe; there would be no Europe if it was not for Britain. Did the people to whom we go with a begging bowl and say, “Please, give us what you can” liberate Europe? They did not. It was the Americans, the Russians and the British. I would like to be reminding them, I would love to be reminding them, “Come on, play the game. We were there for you when you capitulated; do something for us”. Thank you.