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European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Second Reading (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:52 am on 31st January 2018.

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Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative 10:52 am, 31st January 2018

My Lords, that was not a warm-up act; it was a very moving and powerful speech, and I echo much of what the noble Lord said. I too felt obliged to speak today for similar reasons. I have two sons who are much older than his children—they are in their late 40s—but they were passionately in favour of staying in, while my two elder grandchildren, undergraduates now, were totally bereft.

I do not like this Bill and I did not want it, but it is before us. I hope there will not be a Division on it this evening. I also hope the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, who moved his amendment yesterday with great passion and force, will not test the opinion of the House tonight. His own Front Bench have made it plain that they could not support him, and the result could be misinterpreted because he would not get the votes that he might otherwise obtain. That is not to say that I would vote for a second referendum—I find it very difficult to think of that—but I just make the point.

The Bill must pass, but the Act that it becomes and that emerges from your Lordships’ House must be an assertion of parliamentary democracy and not an abdication of it. The Bill needs significant amendment, as our own Constitution Committee so graphically and splendidly demonstrated.

I am one of those who believes that referendums are inimical to parliamentary democracy, but they are part of our system now and we have had a number of them. But we must also recognise that we are where we are, and I was on the losing side. As a loser, I must try to be gracious. But those who won should try to be magnanimous. They should recognise that their margin of victory is no cause for triumphalism. They should consider our union—the United Kingdom. They should consider that in Scotland, Northern Ireland and London significant majorities voted to remain. I hope that during the passage of this Bill we will hear from Ministers on our Front Bench a clearly articulated sense of direction and destination.

Before I was turfed off the EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee for having the temerity to vote against the Government on amendments almost a year ago, I heard witness after witness come to our committee to indicate that the success of negotiations would be judged by how close the agreement in question came to replicating what was being replaced. That is a bit odd, is it not? That is why I am one of those who feel that it was not a good negotiating ploy, before the negotiations even started, to draw red lines that outlawed certain important things, such as contemplating membership of the customs union. As a true Conservative, I was brought up to believe that one should advocate change only if one is convinced that the latter state would be better than the first.

Yesterday, I sat in this Chamber for almost the whole debate and I listened to 67 very interesting speeches. Much was made by the Leavers about the predictions of what might happen straight after a vote to leave. But as I tried to indicate to my eloquent and alliterative noble friend Lord Ridley, we are still in the European Union. Predictions that we read about today are the ones we should perhaps view a little more carefully.

It was a bad campaign. There was hyperbole on one side and mendacity on the other. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds indicated in a fine speech yesterday, there was too much emphasis on economics. There was no vision. I hope that he does not have the modern prelates’ aversion to the King James Bible, but I thought that he might have said:

“Without vision, the people perish”.

The visionary element was lacking. Of course, vision and nostalgia are very different things. Brexit is not about recreating a country that exists only in the imagination. We are at a crossroads without a compass and with squabbling back-seat drivers. It is important that the Government indicate what they see as the preferred outcome. The Prime Minister must not be cowed and prevented from making speeches by some of her squabbling Cabinet colleagues.

We can all recognise what we are, whether we come from England, Scotland, Ireland or Wales. I always say that my identity is English, my nationality is British but my civilisation is European, and I am immensely proud of that. I hope that when we come to the end of negotiations, after this Bill is long on the statute book, there will be a coming together, because I fear an implosion within my own party. I am sorry he is not here at the moment, but my oldest, longest friend in politics—and a very dear friend he is too—is my noble friend Lord Lamont of Lerwick. He has a reputation for singing in the bath. I cannot challenge him on that, but I hope that when the dust has settled, he and I can sing in unison—it will not be a pretty sound but it might be an agreeable conclusion—the song he made so famous, “Je ne regrette rien”.