Brexit: Preparations and Negotiations - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:38 pm on 23rd July 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Deech Baroness Deech Crossbench 7:38 pm, 23rd July 2018

My Lords, if the people had been given a vote on the Maastricht treaty or the Lisbon treaty, we would not be where we are now. If Mrs Merkel had made some concessions to David Cameron a few years ago, the referendum might well have gone the other way. When her epitaph comes to be written, I think it may well conclude that she was the woman who started the break-up of the European Union.

The European ideal has collapsed, and that is why they cannot negotiate and why they behave so irrationally rigidly. Remainers wanted the status quo and were averse to any cost of complexity, and they cared about their personal finances. I respect that. On a higher level, they thought that they had bought into an EU of collaboration and democracy, and here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McNally. However, there have been many references to changes in the past two years: the European ideal has gone.

The extreme right prejudices and nationalism that the EU was invented to cover up and prevent have vanquished the EU structures. The extreme right has risen in France, Sweden, Finland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Germany; Italy has called for the Roma to be registered; Austria has called for the Jews to be registered; Poland has attacked the judiciary, the press and the environment, and, with Hungary, refused migrants; Russia’s leverage over energy has brought silence; Spain punishes Catalonia; Greece is reduced to penury; Cyprus bank accounts were threatened; the fences are going up and border controls have reappeared; and Schengen is crumbling like a picked cherry.

Mrs Merkel, who bears much responsibility for the collapse of belief in the EU dream, is no longer stable, and yet those who would remain are presumably committed to calling for more Europe, less national identity, a bigger budget, an army, the spread of the euro and the abolition of our seat on the Security Council. And what in the future? We do not know what the future of the EU is.

It is therefore essential to get out as cleanly as possible, for there is nothing we can do to alter the trend—and it went that way under our watch. If the EU accepts Mrs May’s latest compromise—a bad one—so be it, but already it has said it will not. The squabbling of MPs over the Trade Bill, which will no doubt be replicated here, is a waste of time. There is no rationale behind the four freedoms, no reason why there should not be picking and choosing, a luxury the eurocrats give themselves but not to the leaving state. We might reasonably require free trade, protection of citizens, mutual recognition of joint institutions, professional and commercial services, nothing less. A second referendum—a third, actually—would destroy the integrity of all referendums. It would be tainted by resentment and be no more mandatory in result than a fourth or a fifth.

The EU has failed to comply with Article 50, which requires that the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with the leaving state, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. If the UK was wholly unreasonable and unyielding, one might say that the failure was due to the UK rather than the EU, but the EU has called on the UK to make offers and then rejected them seriatim. I therefore acquit the Government of not doing their best.

The EU has made no proposals to protect UK citizens living abroad and will find itself in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights if it does not treat them the same as its own citizens, mutatis mutandis. There is no protection of the integrity of the UK in its proposals. It threatens to punish us, interferes in domestic affairs such as the registration of EU citizens living here and demands arbitrary sums with nothing in return. It has seized on the Irish border as an impediment to our leaving. The Republic of Ireland no doubt sees the prize of unification with the north on the horizon.

There is little to fear in no deal because there are underlying and older treaties to rescue flights and trade. Any visa requirements will hurt the European tourist industry. Indeed, the 27 will come off worse if there is no deal, and that is what we should be saying to them. Their financial services and their tourist industries, to take two examples, will go into meltdown if they do not allow free movement of flights and service. We can withdraw our offer of a £39 billion divorce bill.

Most of the rest of the world does not trade with us or the EU countries as a part of a customs union and it causes no problem. The EU would face tariffs on sales to us if we go along the WTO route. We must not have a transition period which enables the EU and the remain ideologues to try and draw us back into a union.

This is the land of the common law, of courts of unimpeachable integrity and impartiality, of centuries-old freedoms such as habeas corpus and innocent until proven guilty, of the rule of law and the right to vote—which, incidentally, would be breached if we were subject to EU rules but without a vote in the elections. We have successfully managed immigration; we are fiercely protective of non-discrimination. Those—our values—are threatened by the EU project’s direction, which is why we must protect our freedoms, almost regardless of cost.

We do not have our sovereignty back yet. We hope to get it restored on 29 March next. In the meantime, we are like prisoners squabbling about who is the kingpin in the jail while the warders are still outside with their keys. We must back Mrs May and hope for the best.