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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:41 pm on 31st January 2018.

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Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 12:41 pm, 31st January 2018

My Lords, that is a difficult speech to follow. It was powerful. I am very glad that the noble Lord concentrated on what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds said yesterday, because that was a very challenging intervention as well. He talked about the issue of who we are, what kind of Britain we want to be and what kind of world we want to try to play our part in creating. I will add only one other issue alongside those. For me, it is an absolutely inescapable truth that from the moment we are born we are locked into an interdependent global community. The way we shall be judged by history is by the success we make of finding ways to meet that reality and to build institutions and methods of intergovernmental co-operation that enable us to face it. Climate change is a great example; security is another.

We have heard a great deal about the importance of the constitution. It is quite clear from this debate, if in no other way, that referenda and representative parliamentary democracy are not easy companions. I have always held that we in Parliament are the practitioners as well as the representatives, but that the constitution belongs to the people. From my experience of what we have been through in recent years I have come to the conclusion that the rare case for constitutional change to be proposed is in the context of a general election. That is a way to bring the whole system together, but we seem to have been busy building dual systems and then telling Parliament that its function is to deliver what comes through a referendum. That makes a nonsense of the concept of dynamic representative democracy. That is why the debate, discussion and search that goes on in processing the Bill—not the Bill itself; we have heard too much about how the Bill is important—is vital to our parliamentary heritage. It really will not do for Ministers to keep lecturing us on how our job is simply to get it through. It is not. It is to make sure that what it is doing is compatible with everything that this country has stood for.

Human rights are, of course, central to that. I have the joy—I think that is the right word to use—of serving on the EU justice sub-committee, which my noble friend Lady Kennedy chairs. She spoke very powerfully about those issues today.

There are two issues that I would take above all others. The first is that the concept of citizenship matters deeply. By our referendum, we have removed European citizenship from countless numbers of people who thought they were enjoying what citizenship meant. That is a very grave thing to have happened. Therefore, one of the things that we must do in our deliberations in this House is make absolutely certain, if it can be done, that we have arrangements in place that will meet the challenge of restoring the rights that people thought they had.

The other issue is the European court. I have been horrified and dismayed in the work of the justice committee to hear and see more and more evidence of the gap between myths, rhetoric and populism on one side and reality on the other. Almost without exception, witness after witness to whom we have listened has said how indispensable the European court is. Over and over again we have been given examples of the key part played by British lawyers in developing and strengthening European law—it is a tragedy that the British people do not understand this and have not been led to understand it. We are living in an interdependent world and we wanted to be part of an interdependent Europe. That required strong law in Europe and the British have been playing a huge part in that, so what are we doing walking away from it?

Whatever happens on the Bill, and I hope we will have some very demanding and searching debates, I hope we remember—to come back to the intervention yesterday by the right reverend Prelate—that we cannot escape from being members of an interdependent world. Our children and grandchildren will ask what we did towards devising the policies and arrangements to meet the challenges of an interdependent world or whether we walked away in the opposite direction with a preoccupation with what was immediately popular.