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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:49 am on 31st January 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Mallalieu Baroness Mallalieu Labour 11:49 am, 31st January 2018

My Lords, in common with just under 70% of those who voted in the area from which I come, in the referendum I voted to leave the EU. It appeared to me, for many of the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Spicer, has just given, that political power had moved into the hands of an unelected, over-regulatory bureaucracy, which was out of political control and had no willingness or ability to reform. Further, it was heading in the direction of a single state for which it has no mandate and, in this country at least, very little support. I therefore support the Bill. But I am acutely aware that the referendum divided members of the same political parties, close friends and, as I know personally, family members, some of whom cannot or will not accept the result, like some Members of this House.

I have either listened to or read every speech that has been made in this debate so far, and I have heard powerful speeches from noble Lords with far greater knowledge and experience of the EU and its workings of government, law, finance and industry than I have. I have heard powerful speeches from powerful people. But, for me, louder than all of their arguments is the voice of Colonel Rainsborough, one of the Levellers, speaking for one man, one vote, in 1647. He said:

“the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest he”.

How often have I listened in this House to noble Lords speaking of the need to encourage people to register and vote. The usual response from those who do not is, “My vote doesn’t count”, and they are usually right, especially in constituencies with large majorities. In the referendum, every vote did count. People voted in all-time record numbers. They were told, among others by the Prime Minister of the day, that that vote was a binding one and that it would be acted on. So, for me, the Bill is about giving effect to democracy. Being in Berlin recently made me reflect, as other noble Lords have during the course of this debate, on the political history of the last world war. When the governing elite stop listening to the people, the people are drawn to and eventually turn to extremism. That is a lesson that we must not forget.

The Bill, passed by the elected House is, as most noble Lords have said, far from perfect. The law-making powers of Ministers need to be defined and restricted on the face of the Bill. There needs to be clarification of the status of EU legislation to create legal certainty, and there needs to be much clearer devolution of powers to Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. I will support the amendments that seek to improve the Bill, but not those designed to put a spanner in the works. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, will not press his amendment. We always knew that the negotiations for our exit would be difficult. Without our contribution to the budget, the EU is insolvent and there are other member states with at least very strong reservations about membership. The Commission was always going to make life difficult, even at its own expense, and I am afraid it is further encouraged by those who tell them, hopefully, that Brexit may not happen.

I think that we can all agree that the biggest threat to our economy is uncertainty and to be plunged once again into another divisive contest of a second referendum, with all the acrimonious campaigning again, would be bad for our economy, our national unity, and democracy. As I recall, we had a general election only a short time ago. The party that campaigned to stay in was as good as annihilated, except of course in this House. My party, which did a great deal better than expected, campaigned on a manifesto to leave both the single market and the customs union and, I am glad to say, no repeat referendum. I am particularly grateful for the restrained and reasonable way in which my noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon opened on behalf of these Benches. The prevailing message that I get from people who voted on both sides of the referendum from outside this House is, “Just get on with it”. Let us do just that.