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Queen’s Speech - Debate (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:30 pm on 28th June 2017.

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Photo of Lord Dykes Lord Dykes Liberal Democrat 8:30 pm, 28th June 2017

My Lords, on 8 January this year in the Sunday Telegraph, there was an article by the Prime Minister, Theresa May. The first paragraph was very interesting. It said that the vote in the referendum was not really dealing with Europe, but with a disgruntled, fed-up electorate. They were fed up with their economic conditions and social policy weaknesses and they were being left behind with no wage increases and all the other things of society. That was not just affecting people of any particular age group, but was throughout the country and throughout the system—throughout all those voting in that referendum. Once again, that shows the reality that a referendum is not only a dangerous and foolish instrument—and always has been—but it is even more dangerous when it is advisory, giving only an opinion but people regard it as binding.

That is a monumental mistake, and we now see the calamity emerging in this country. There is a disaster facing us with this foolishness, mainly in the Conservative Party. I was a Conservative MP—a most left-wing one in those days—when the Conservative Party was civilised and moderate. It has now lost its way. It was a former great party of state that was pragmatic and intelligent. Now it is mired in this absurd ideology of hating Europe and hating the European Union for some strange chemical reason which is difficult. I have offered money to pay for psychiatric care for the most extreme anti-Europeans in the Conservative Party. They all turned me down, I am glad to say, so it has saved my pocket.

It is such a tragedy for this country that we have seen this mess created by a foolish previous Prime Minister, Cameron, playing Eton and Carlton Club games with this very serious matter of our membership of the EU. He was fooling around, and now we see that Theresa May is repeating it and saying “Brexit means Brexit”. What a fatal mistake to say that, notwithstanding that the referendum was an opinion only and not compulsory.

On previous treaty occasions such as Maastricht, Lisbon and so on, in some countries in Europe referendums were compulsory: there was a written constitution and they had to have them. They all voted no because the Governments were unpopular locally, but they were all turned into yes votes by the same Government and once again endorsed membership of the European Union. We do not have to do that with this referendum, which was advisory only, as Kenneth Clarke said immediately after the result of 25 June. He has slightly changed his mind now, but I hope that we will work on him later on to bring him back to the good cause of Europe. This nonsense cannot now continue. That mandate for Theresa May ended with the latest general election on 8 June. Now the mandate is equivocal and doubtful and for her to continue on the same path is ludicrous nonsense. It is a calamity for this country, which is unimaginable.

Suez was the most reckless episode of the post-war period, but what is happening now to Britain with this nonsense about Europe is much worse. Are we saying that we are different from all the other 27 countries? Are we the only ones who want real sovereignty? What is sovereignty? That kind of concept of sovereignty for old-fashioned Tories such as the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Epsom, and other colleagues—whom I admire greatly—last existed in 1905. Even after that, the British Army was under the command of a French commander-in-chief—how risky and dangerous. Why were we giving sovereignty away? Why is it that, in NATO, we can be ordered to war by the American general in charge because a small NATO country is being attacked and that is not a loss of sovereignty? Why is that alright and not the imagined, pretend sovereignty of not being on your own but being a member of the European Union? The collective sovereignty of the European Union is massive in comparison, and the individual sovereignty of every single member state goes up as a result of that possession of collective sovereignty. It does not just apply to small countries but big ones as well.

Why do the Germans and French not have doubts about this? They are proud countries. They are proud of their traditions and histories—apart from one particular episode for Germans between 1933 and 1945, which was a tragedy for them. These countries know that sovereignty such as that no longer exists anywhere in the world. People are now working together in the global village for the good of everybody.

I was cheered by the speeches that happened to be exclusively—just a coincidence, of course—from the Labour Benches in this debate. We have had 18 people saying, because of the excellent amendments of the former Cabinet Secretary and the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, that our membership remains indispensable and that these negotiations are absurd and must stop as soon as possible. I agree and I am cheered that the noble Lords, Lord Cashman and Lord Triesman, made some inspiring speeches as well, saying what is due to us if we destroy this nonsense and come back to the public through our parliamentary system. When we had NATO, we had did not have a referendum. There was no referendum when we had the Second World War. When we joined the UN, there was no referendum. None of those things needed referendums, so why do we have the poison of referendumitis in the system other than in the stomachs of the Conservative Party?

That must be driven out. We should go back to the public now because the Labour vote was also the vote of younger voters who are pro-Europe, which is something that the Labour Party has to sort out. Jeremy Corbyn will have to be made into an enthusiastic European in due course by his Labour colleagues, which will happen, I am sure. It means that, once again, this country will have a chance to go back to sanity and move away from this ridiculous disaster. It is a disaster of such magnitude that I can hardly believe it is happening. The House of Lords must give a huge lead on that in order to encourage our elected colleagues in the Commons.