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Queen’s Speech - Debate (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:44 pm on 28th June 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Deech Baroness Deech Crossbench 7:44 pm, 28th June 2017

Ever since the election there has been unfounded speculation about what it meant in relation to Brexit. It revealed acceptance by the large majority of the British electorate that we are to leave the EU. It featured in the manifestos of the two largest parties, and the one party that avowedly pitched for the remain vote did not do well. Brexit has retained its legitimacy as the settled will of the electorate, which may have been strengthened by the perception that the other 27 nations are not acting as our friends and show no good will.

Much has been made of offhand statements that the door to revocation of Article 50 and a return to the fold remains open, but at what price? Humiliation, maybe forced acceptance of the Schengen area and the euro, the loss of what remains of our opt-outs and our rebate, and of course the loss of any influence in the future, having made our threat and failed to secure reform, and reappearing with our collective tail between our legs. There will be no true Brexit if the deal is to stay in the single market and the customs union. Lengthy transition provisions will be deceptive, because they will be a way of extending the current situation indefinitely. It is not all about money, which the remainers focus on; it is about recognition of the EU’s failure to uphold human rights, its inability to stop the countries of eastern Europe sliding back to authoritarianism, its failures in security and its abysmal foreign policy.

Undermining the negotiators who are dealing with the complicated issues on behalf of the UK public is another way of trying to reverse the decision. Similar exits have taken place before, with the ending of colonial rule over India, Australia and Canada, which was complicated and lengthy but arrived at because the aim was clear. The reunification of Germany and the dismantling of the Soviet Union were again just as momentous, and achieved with great hardship in the latter case but regarded as worth while. I suggest that opponents of Brexit now will be as relinquished by history as opponents of those movements were in the past.

I wish to be constructive and there are some suggestions that may be offered in relation to the disentanglement of UK law and EU law during and after Brexit. They relate to the repeal Bill, which may not be great in title but certainly will be in effect. It will repeal the 1972 European Communities Act, which gave European law precedence over laws passed in the British Parliament. It will also end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, which incidentally has been much criticised in the past by British lawyers for its quality. All existing EU legislation will be copied across into domestic UK law to ensure a smooth transition on the day after Brexit. In technical language, the acquis communautaire will be incorporated into domestic law. The judiciary is anxious that it should be made plain in statute what authority is to be given to the past decisions of the European Court of Justice after Brexit in relation to matters that arose before Brexit and matters after we leave. This wish has been expressed by the Supreme Court Justice the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale, and by the Lord Chief Justice the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, in his Scarman lecture this week.

The sensitivities of this exercise are revealed in the plans set out in the gracious Speech to carve out certain areas of law for separate treatment. The Lord Chief Justice has suggested that the Law Commission, which has been an outstandingly successful vehicle for law reform for 50 years, should be used to bring its great legal and technical expertise to assist with legislating for Brexit in areas that are more technical than political. As an example, he singled out the choice of legal rules that lie ahead of us in deciding which legal system is to apply in cross-border conflicts, known as the Rome I and Rome II regulations. Lawyers and professional organisations have put forward various proposals and solutions, but a final decision by Parliament would be much assisted by assessment and proposals devised by the Law Commission in apolitical scrutiny.

Finally, let us consider the position of this House in UK democratic decision-making. It is an overwhelmingly pro-remain House, and this is a risky position to adopt. It is the role of the House to support democracy, to check the Government, and often to ensure that the needs and demands of the electorate are heard. In the aftermath of the tragic Grenfell Tower fire, we all agreed that the voices of the people should be heard. It is time to stop labelling leavers as misinformed and uneducated. That is just another way of drowning out the voices of the majority.