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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:15 am on 31st January 2018.

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Photo of The Earl of Sandwich The Earl of Sandwich Crossbench 11:15 am, 31st January 2018

My Lords, en principe I am against repealing the 1972 Act. I have a personal reason for this. My father was the 1960s equivalent of a UKIP leader. He campaigned against Europe and it irritates me that he has somehow posthumously won by means of an advisory referendum—referenced by the noble Lord, Lord Higgins—that not did not even express the will of the majority of registered voters.

Apart from that—I will get over it—I am unashamedly European. I have lived and worked in Europe and my degree was in European languages. I have Italian in-laws. I want to preserve peace in Europe. I support enlargement of Europe. I refuse to go into choppy, uncharted waters with a salt-caked smoke stack. I do not think that the Government have got it right.

However, I am also an independent. I sympathise with the Lib Dems, but I also understand some of the fears of Brexiteers about regulation, the eurozone, closer union and immigration. Those are genuine fears. But I would prefer that these vast issues were tackled inside Europe in some form or other. As the noble Lord, Lord Patten, and others made clear, this major decision is all about one party and not about the whole country. I see Brexit as a costly and desperate scramble to retain all of the undoubted advantages of the EU without having to sit around the table talking about them. Monsieur Macron was right: we are having our cake and eating it, but we are also getting bad indigestion.

The country now divides into three: the Remainers, the Brexiteers and those, like me, who are still asking, “How do we get out of this mess?”. The human cost of Brexit is undeniable: just look at the loss of NHS staff besides all the forecast effects on education, culture and the economy. But there may yet be a way out, short of complete withdrawal and without a second referendum.

Few of us want to sabotage the Bill. It is a necessary Bill and the debate is not about the Government’s plans—since on many things they have no plans. We must, and I am sure that we will, vote to retain all of our current EU-derived legislation. But along the way a few things stand out so starkly that they have to be mentioned, and they have been. We still do not know where we are going. Worse than that, on some issues we are going into a chasm or void—words used by the noble Lord, Lord Duncan, last week. But he also quoted Burns:

“Oh let us not, like snarling curs,

In wrangling be divided”.

The darkest hole is in the sea between Ireland and the United Kingdom, something equivalent to the Corryvrechan. The Government’s position on the border issue is muddy because they are trying to reconcile the irreconcilable between the Irish and Northern Irish positions. I urge the Government to show their hand soon and to be guided, as the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, said, by the Belfast principles, since as my noble friend Lord Eames and others said last week, they cannot leave the people in such uncertainty.

The people of Gibraltar share some of the uncertainty felt in Northern Ireland. How could the Government get so close to the cliff edge as to cause anxiety and even worse, if the people of Gibraltar are not given proper guarantees? Then, there is devolution. Last week’s debate showed clearly that the devolved Administrations were not properly consulted and that amendments in the Commons were never discussed. There are still many UK issues to resolve in the UK before we go back to the EU negotiating table.

Constitutional experts are still worried about the exceptional use of delegated powers and whether the Government should assign a single status to retained EU direct legislation. My noble friend Lord Kakkar showed how much damage there will be to science from any uncertainties that continue through the transition. Children’s charities and lawyers are concerned about the exclusion of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Other people are in considerable doubt about future references to rulings of the ECJ. The Greens and many others say that environmental law is not being fully translated into UK law. We heard about that from the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone. I shall be supporting amendments on all these issues unless the Government put down their own to meet these concerns.

I feel confident that this Parliament will now have a say on the final deal although, if it rejects the deal, there will have to be further renegotiation. The EU knows this and would like us to remain in Europe. I believe it is not impossible that, in the event of rejection, we shall have the opportunity to remain as a member under Article 50, but on new terms. If not, then the Government will have to look for some intermediate status, alongside the single market. No one seems able to forecast what that might be or even whether such a status exists.

In short, we have got ourselves into a mess. I doubt if any party, or any organisation outside Brussels, can pull us out of it but I hope and am confident that this debate will have made a contribution.