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Queen’s Speech - Debate (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:21 pm on 28th June 2017.

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Photo of Lord Cashman Lord Cashman Labour 7:21 pm, 28th June 2017

My Lords, I am pleased to speak in this debate, and especially pleased to have listened to my good friend and neighbour the noble Lord, Lord Owen. We were on different sides during the referendum, and I well remember him and Lady Owen standing on their balcony and me standing on mine as a flotilla of ships came up the Thames. He was welcoming them in with one gesture, and I was welcoming them to go the opposite way with another gesture.

It is worth repeating that, whatever else the election was, it was not an endorsement of the Prime Minister’s approach to Brexit, and it was certainly not a mandate for more of the same. It helps no one to argue otherwise. On our relationship with the European Union, more than anything else, this Government must change direction. All options must now be on the table. The issue of the European Union goes beyond, as others have said, the old party politics. It is about the future of the country—the country we pass on to the next generation and generations yet to come. It is for that reason that the Government must start to listen. They must stop facing down opposition by relentlessly and robotically referring to the “settled will of the people” in an advisory referendum. Nor should government Ministers question the patriotism of television interviewers because they dare to try to hold Ministers accountable for EU negotiations, to which the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, referred.

Even if the will of the people had been settled, and it never is, upon what is it settled—the misinformation, lies, fabrication and blatant propaganda of the referendum campaign? As I said a year ago in this House, that referendum was not a great democratic exercise. Democracy is undertaken on the basis of informing the electorate, not misinforming, and by illumination, not by deceit. The excesses were dangerous. It was a referendum campaign that pandered to people’s fears that unleashed a darkness and a narrow, nasty nationalism that I thought had long disappeared from this country. That darkness is still with us. We are a deeply divided country.

I revisit these events because we must now have the courage to take a different course. We must find again, as other noble Lords have said, consensus and wide agreement. There is too much at risk: not only jobs, the economy, inward investment, a brain drain, but rights and freedoms too—the rights of more than 16 million people who voted differently and feel ignored and excluded; the rights of those excluded from voting in the referendum in the first place; and the rights of the younger generation. Then there are the rights of more than 3 million people from other EU countries now living, working and settled here, who, with their families, face an uncertain future. Will they finish their training and their education? Will their employment continue or will they be replaced? Will their children be allowed to stay if there are complications about length of residence in the United Kingdom? They are 3.2 million ordinary women and men, children and young people. Students, teachers, nurses, cleaners, porters, waiters, doctors, academics and scientists—our neighbours and, yes, our friends in every part and walk of our daily lives are all now plunged into uncertainty, anxiety and despair.

The same plight affects more than 1 million British citizens in similar situations and circumstances in the other EU countries. Futures are now uncertain, hopes are shattering before them and careers are upturned. What happens to family unity, let alone family reunification, especially when marriages, partnerships and families occur across national citizenships?

Let me deal specifically with the Prime Minister’s proposal for EU citizens when we leave the EU. I ask the Minister directly: what will be the status of the individuals who apply? I hope the noble Lord is making notes of the questions. During the processing of applications, will those individuals be allowed to continue in employment and education and still have access to all rights and benefits, including access to the NHS? Will there be fast-track applications? Will one application suffice for one family? If not, why not? Will the cost be waived, given that the Government are changing people’s status?

Given that there will be crossover in other EU countries, will there be a supranational body to oversee appeals and judgments? Will the Government transpose into UK law unreservedly the family reunification directive? Finally, how long will it take to process potentially 3.2 million applications and the supporting documentation? I look forward to the answers.

Even at this stage it is not too late. I say this as much to my own Front Bench in another place as I do to the Government. It is not too late to reinforce our decent values and decent principles. If Parliament will not reverse what is in my opinion the national suicide of Brexit, it must deliver all these rights and end the uncertainty for all citizens by retaining access to the single market and the customs union while reinforcing the rules of conditionality on freedom of movement and residence, as so eloquently outlined in his brilliant speech by my noble friend Lord Adonis, whose amendment I support, and indeed again brilliantly outlined by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood.

Now is the time to bury political pride, and to do what is in the country’s interests. If we do not take this course, the consequences for the UK nationally and internationally, and for its citizens, will be as deep and as profound as they will be long lasting. My great fear is that this Government are not listening and will not listen.