Brexit: Preparations and Negotiations - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:16 pm on 23rd July 2018.

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Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Liberal Democrat 7:16 pm, 23rd July 2018

My Lords, I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Cope, said, “The recess is coming”, with all the passion and fervour of a former Chief Whip. We worked together for a number of years as the usual channels and it was great to hear him again.

At home I have a cartoon which I have mentioned in such debates since the early 1960s. Like all good cartoons, it says more than many pages of writing could. In a football changing room, well-known figures of the time—De Gaulle, Erhard and Adenauer—are putting on their football kit. Framed in the doorway is Sir Alec Douglas-Home, who was then the Government’s representative in Macmillan’s preliminary negotiations about joining the then Common Market. Sir Alec is standing there pristine in his cricket whites, with his cricket bat under his arm and his cap at a jaunty angle. The title of the cartoon is “Joining the Game”. One of the problems with Britain’s relationship with Europe over these 70 years and more has been that the British have often wanted to join a game that the Europeans did not want to play. This goes back to EFTA, free trade and all that.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds, who sadly is no longer in his place, put his finger on it when he identified a lack of understanding on the part of the British, under successive Governments, of a dimension to Europe that we have never felt. In the early 1970s I had the honour and pleasure of working with Jean Monnet. I once asked him what were the drive and the motivation behind his ideas for the Schuman plan and then for Europe. He said, “I wanted to create something that would make it impossible for Germany and France ever to go to war with each other again”.

The Brits do not really understand that passion and what it means to Europeans who have gone through all the traumas of war and defeat, the Stasi and all the rest. We have never really bought in to the idea that Europe is more than a trading relationship. It is also a social relationship, and much of the beneficial legislation, from which our trade union movement benefits, such as protection of consumers and workers, was as much part of Christian democrat Europe as it was of social democrat Europe. There was always that drive and that other dimension to Europe, which is important and needs protecting. One of the reasons I oppose the Brexiteers is that I believe that their hidden agenda is to dismantle a great deal of the gains of social Europe so that they can play the buccaneer in this mythical free-trade world in which they want to sail.

Time and again over the last few weeks, from all parts of the House, we have heard the general view that this cannot go on. I can think of no decision since the war when the Government have been in such disarray—and, believe me, I have worked for one or two Governments who might have come close. We finally got the White Paper and it may be that the Government achieve a kind of settlement—certainly the approach that the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, put forward might give them a fair chance of doing so—or we may end up with a no-deal Brexit. But what is absolutely clear is that, whatever the outcome, it is light years from the prospectus put to the British people in 2016. I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Birt, who unfortunately is not in his place, that Brexit must be honoured. This is not the Charge of the Light Brigade—we do not have to go on league after league regardless of the facts, regardless of the change in circumstances and regardless of what is put before us.

I knew we were in trouble when Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg debated this. Nick raised a whole range of problems about Brexit and all were dismissed, rather in the way that the Minister dismisses questions that we put to him on a variety of issues. Matters will always be dealt with by some great, special deal, as yet unspecified. It reminds me of that line in “Henry IV”:

“I can call spirits from the vasty deep”.

Of course, the next line is:

“Why, so can I, or so can any man;

But will they come when you do call for them?”

This is the uncertainty that still prevails, but when we get certainty we have to move to a decision that gives the British people a final say, with all the facts in line. It will demand a kind of courage that was referred to by my noble friend Lord Taverne—the courage of Burke, of each parliamentarian making his decision. I really believe that we will have to make a decision quite as important as the time when Leo Amery shouted to Arthur Greenwood, “Speak for England, Arthur”, at the 1940 Norway debate. What a tragic misunderstanding of history Jacob Rees-Mogg showed about Robert Peel, who turned to his Front Bench and said, “You must answer them, for I cannot”, in abandoning the corn laws. Each parliamentarian will have to make a key decision, which, in all justice, must be to give the British people another choice.