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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:21 pm on 31st January 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws Chair, EU Justice Sub-Committee 12:21 pm, 31st January 2018

My Lords, since the referendum this nation has been on a rather incredible journey. Our learning curve has been huge; at least for most of us in Parliament, certainly for me. There are ideologues who do not want to listen to the fine detail about anything, but there cannot be many of us who have not discovered through debate, conversation or the media that the strata of connections and collaborations between the nations of Europe run very deep and to the benefit of us all.

I find myself repeating, “if only”. If only the national debate before the referendum had been as rich in information. If only people had known just how much poorer this rupture will make them and their children. If only they had seen how it would diminish us as a nation and reduce our power in the world. If only people had known about the damage to our constitution that the referendum would unleash, with all the talk of “the will of the people”, forgetting that we live in a representative democracy and that that will is expressed through having representatives in Parliament, precisely because they immerse themselves in the complexity of issues.

If only there had been a proper debate about cross-border trading always requiring an overarching international court of some kind. All the bluster about wanting our own courts to decide everything that affects us did not deal with the fact that if you trade with Poland the Poles are not going to settle for a UK court deciding the outcome of a dispute. The World Trade Organisation, out there in the great blue yonder to which Brexiteers aspire, also has its own court to deal with disputes. Norway and its little grouping in their semi-detached relationship with Europe had to invent the EFTA Court for precisely that reason.

If only people had been truly informed about the high level of medical and scientific advances—the creation of medicines and cancer remedies—that are made because of experts working closely together. There are the benefits to our universities in advancing knowledge and understanding. Defence and security collaborations prevent conflict and crime. There is consumer protection. There is the risk now to peace in Ireland. Was it ever fully explained that the customs union was key to a borderless Ireland?

If only we had not had a slanging match but instead had grown to understand the extent and benefits of the financial and trading relationships that flowed from our membership. If only we had spoken softly about how important it is to work with our closest neighbours because it stops wars and that together we can keep a check on the rise of extremism. With neighbours, there are inevitably aspects of the connection that grate on us and which we would like to change, but that should never be the reason for pulling up the drawbridge.

I am a lawyer, and because of the nature of my practice I am all too aware of the incredible advantages of Europe, Eurojust and a European arrest warrant. The underbelly of markets is black markets, and today they cross borders. We have trafficking in drugs, arms, fissile material, body parts, human eggs, babies, and women and children for sex and domestic servitude. You cannot deal with that kind of crime without close collaboration and developed mechanisms, and these require reciprocity and a level of legal harmony.

A few weeks ago, the House of Lords Committee European Union sub-committee on justice issues, which I chair, heard from a very distinguished judge on the EFTA Court. He had been its president for 12 years and had sat on it for years beforehand. I asked him whether we could be part of the Euro-warrant system—EFTA is not part of that system—without the European Court of Justice. His answer was no.

So how are we going to collaborate on all these issues of crime? Legal processes affecting families, individuals and businesses are reliant on essential regulations that have been very successful and to whose creation we have been party: Brussels 1, Brussels 2 and the maintenance regulation. A woman married to an Italian can go to her local court and get an order if he shoves off back to Italy and is not paying maintenance for his children. A company that suddenly has a default from its trading partner in Poland can go to a court in Middlesbrough and get an order that will be effective over there. That is done because of mutuality, and it is reciprocal. I fear that bringing law in here, nailing it down and saying, “We are introducing it”, does not deal with that reciprocity. We are going to have to have 27 separate relationships in order to make it happen.

The Henry VIII powers still have not been adequately constrained in the amendments that passed in the Commons, and I am very concerned about what the implications will be for the rights of individuals in this country. We have been given an account that employment rights will not be eroded. I am afraid I do not have much confidence in those promises because we know that a section of the Conservative Party is very keen to deregulate and remove employment protections around the working time directive, the agency work directive, pregnancy protections and so on. Across the whole of Europe there is a European protection order to deal with violence against women and girls. Did your Lordships know that? Of course not; most people do not.

What about the promise of meaningful debate at the end of all this? There has to be a clarification about the options that will be available, because one of the options has to be to remain. I hope the amendments will nail down some of these problems. I am most concerned about the excision of the Charter of Fundamental Rights from the Bill. That should set alarm bells ringing because it is telling us that rights are not a high priority for this Government.

It is hard for people to change their minds, but with more complete information people do so. We do it in our daily lives. I will deeply regret it if we do not put information clearly in front of people. I am not going to settle for a bad deal, and if that means a second referendum then noble Lords can count on me being behind it.