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On the recent exchanges, I may be incorrect, but speaking from a shaky procedural memory, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, was probably correct in what he said: the procedure that the noble Baroness opposite engaged in is unusual, although I understand that she had the permission of the House to do so. It was perhaps an exceptional moment, and noble Lords may agree, particularly in Committee rather than the whole House, that it is not necessarily a transgression. However, I think a law somewhere in the procedure book says that what the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, asserted is correct. Be that as it may, I pass on to the important matters of Clause 9 and Amendment 216.
I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, very much for his splendid delivery of the arguments this morning. The amendment is considerably detailed, going into its subject with great care, and it calls on the Government to study it with great care. I hope that the Government will therefore do that justice, because it is necessary. We heard other good speeches this morning—the noble Lord, Lord Patten, has been mentioned several times; I thank him again for what he said, because he said it with great humour. At long last, what I call the “Ian McEwan phenomenon”—total outrage and depression at the nightmare of Brexit—can be replaced with feeling a bit more cheerful about things as events develop. That is now affecting me as well, and I thank the other speakers for what they said.
When we began Committee of this tedious but necessary technical Bill—as I think we described it in the early stages—following the unleashing of Article 50, we anti-Brexiteers felt that we just had to get through it, however miserable we might feel, but that has not happened. The substance is now there, and it has increased much more in material terms. Now, at long last, in Clause 9—which is disturbing in the way it has been drafted by the Government—we come to a serious examination and careful consideration of the deep implications of the abuse of parliamentary freedom and sovereignty which would be engaged if the text remained unchanged. That is therefore much more than just a technical matter; it is a matter of the true sovereignty of Parliament. That is mainly, of course, the House of Commons and the parliamentary decision it will make about approving or not the final outcome of these negotiations—although I use that word in the widest sense, because they are not proper negotiations at all. The Government have been inept, clumsy and maladroit, under an increasingly unpopular Prime Minister, who has no authority after the
I also commend very much the speech on Amendment 190 from the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, because it was the one that most clearly mentioned the magic phrase “or stay in the European Union anyway”, or however it is put. That needs to be said more and more as public opinion changes. I do not wish to deprive the public of the will of that referendum decision in any way; none the less I see the change of feeling that is now occurring in this country, with the beginnings of a clear net majority of the population—including the new, young voters who will come in next time—against the idea of leaving the European Union. That also has to be taken into account by the Government. Whatever the final text of the Bill, that must be acknowledged, and the Government might as well start saying things along those lines to get the public ready for transmission of the Bill back to the Commons and its ultimate verdict on this, the worst incident in post-war politics in Britain. I think someone said it was one of the worst decisions since the refusal to keep to the agreement on home rule for the whole of the Irish territory in the previous century. The British Government went back on that with all the trouble that ensued. This is now the worst decision we have seen, with the Government pursuing very dodgy talks and dubious negations on an increasingly weak basis. It is time for greater reality to set in when the Bill goes back to the Commons.