European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Second Reading (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:14 pm on 30th January 2018.

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Photo of Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate Conservative 9:14 pm, 30th January 2018

My Lords, I seek to avoid being described as a remoaner so, with your forbearance, I shall instead indulge myself in a little nostalgia.

I do not understand why we seem unable to comprehend that ever since we joined the then European Economic Community, the UK has been a leading player in the reform and expansion of a free, democratic Europe. Our success in changing things has never been properly regarded in this country, or properly exploited. Far from losing influence, we have been wielding it year after year, treaty after treaty, process after process. This power has been executed by successive United Kingdom Governments, aided by our growing influence in the European institutions as they have developed. In the Commission—noble Lords have served as Commissioners—our representation has put great energy into its respective roles. In the Parliament, where I spent the past 17 years, UK MEPs, with one or two notable exceptions, have provided and still provide the democratic input to make and improve European laws for our benefit. When I went to the European Parliament in 1999, Europe was made up of 15 states, and the French language was often the default. Over the next 10 years, as new states joined, the preferred default language became English, and with that came more of the English way in procedures and methods. We failed to capitalise on that, to our enormous discredit.

The single market that now seems so terrible to some of our harder Brexit friends was driven through by Margaret Thatcher and Lord Cockfield. The enlargement of Europe to welcome the states emerging from all the years of dictatorship that they and their peoples had endured was again driven by us—driven by us, my Lords. Lately, the close working of our security services and police, including Europol, a service run by a Brit and on good, proven UK lines, has allowed us to defend British interests in a way that isolation and so-called independence would never allow.

When David Cameron asked our EU partners for some further reforms ahead of the referendum, he got promises which were substantial, not, as some said here, minimal. I know that because I was there, talking to European colleagues. The UK was again in the lead, pushing for reforms which, if they had been implemented, would have shown not only the progress in Europe that was desirable for all but, more importantly, would have endorsed and confirmed our leading role for the 21st century.

It is clear that too many colleagues, especially in the other place, are frozen in an earlier era. They demonstrated some ignorance during the referendum campaign when they presented to the populace an image of Europe that was long gone—a Europe that existed before Margaret Thatcher and David Cameron, and a Europe that ceased to exist as UK influence increased.

One further matter: we talk about the will of the people in the referendum. I have recently been reading some general election manifestos of both major parties before they entered government. Time does not permit me to list the major promises they made, but the list of promises not met when the realities of government presented themselves is numerous. Changes of direction have been common, especially when either the aims became undeliverable when the facts were known, or because, by implementing the policy, the people of the UK would have been harmed, or at least would end up worse off. The Government present a future full of challenges and opportunities, and not a single noble Lord or noble Baroness would balk at having challenges or opportunities but, for the population as a whole, that bravado may not always strike the positive note that the Government intend.

I refer briefly to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. The question of a second referendum keeps coming up. I have to state quite clearly that I do not think a second referendum is a sensible approach. That is because the elected House of Commons and its Members, whose names are well known and whose political views on the subject of EU withdrawal are or will be well known, carry the full responsibility for the decisions they take—not the Executive, who supposedly act on the decisions taken in Parliament, but those MPs, who have a grave duty to act in the interests of their constituents and to do them no harm. That must continue. We will see whether they do their duty, because if they get this wrong, they will pay the inevitable price of democracy—a heavy price in some cases.

Once the terms of our withdrawal become clear, it is the duty of the elected House to reflect on whether those terms give us the opportunities that the Government speak of or whether, in implementing them, it is consigning our citizens to long-term decline.