European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Report (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:00 pm on 2nd May 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Spicer Lord Spicer Conservative 4:00 pm, 2nd May 2018

I rise having just torn up the speech that I was going to make, as a result of the very eloquent speech that we have just heard, made by the former Hong Kong governor and present chancellor of Oxford University, and a person with whom I entered the Conservative Party on the same day. We entered the research department together on exactly the same day in the 1960s.

It was a very eloquent speech, but it had one flaw. What I agreed with, and why I have torn up my other speech, is that my noble friend is quite right in saying that we cannot mess about with this question of whether we leave or not, or whether there is a border or not. He is absolutely right in saying that we cannot have a sort of fantasy border. If you leave, what it means is that you depart one set of rules and one market to go to another market. He is quite right in saying that at that point, you acquire a border. I absolutely agree with that.

The question is whether the whole future of this country is to be dependent, as his speech seemed to imply, on one issue—our relationship with the Republic of Ireland. Is our whole future to be dependent on that? I have to say that I do not think that it should be. There are ways around it, and they do not include having a fantasy border. For instance, if we have a border between two different markets and we do not go down the path, which was one of my noble friend’s alternatives, of the Republic joining us, what we must have, in the normal way in which these things are done, is a bilateral agreement between Britain and the Republic of Ireland. We should probably do that—make the final agreement—after we have come out, because we will then be totally in charge of our destiny and be able to make whatever agreements we want and the European Union, with which the Republic of Ireland will have to make its peace, will be less inclined to obstruct such a bilateral agreement.

There is no reason why we should not have a bilateral agreement—and there is no reason why we should be particularly nice to the Irish Republic, as it has not been particularly nice to us in recent months. It is absolutely right, however, that we should try to maintain the good will and the pleasant relationship that we have had in recent times, but we can do it in the normal way in which these things are conducted. We do not have to have the whole of our policy towards the European Union obstructed by this one element. My noble friend suggested that to do this, we should turn our backs on what the British people have asked us to do and voted for us to do, which would be an enormous decision for us to have to make and quite wrong, in my view. A lot of what my noble friend said is good sense in terms of the actualities of the border and us leaving a market, but I think that his conclusion is the opposite of the right one.