Brexit: Preparations and Negotiations - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:24 pm on 23rd July 2018.

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Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative 9:24 pm, 23rd July 2018

My Lords, earlier my noble friend Lord Heseltine speculated as to why the majority of people voted to leave. I am a natural European. I had happy years at school in Portugal as a child and I am married to an Italian. I certainly did not vote to leave in order to keep EU citizens out of the UK. Indeed, I believe that they have made and will continue to make a tremendous contribution. The reason I voted was that the more closely I looked at the entrails of Brussels, the less I liked them. I had the advantage of looking at them from the perspective of being fortunate enough to have served four terms on your Lordships’ European Union Committee and its sub-committees.

The EU Commission is supposed to be subordinate to the Council of Ministers, yet it is taking more and more powers away from the council and bringing them to itself. On immigration, it has been foolish enough to presume to take away, or try to take away, from individual member states of the EU their own immigration policies. Thank goodness we have never signed up to that possibility. Europe has moved further and further away from De Gaulle’s Europe des Patries. If there were to be another referendum, which I believe to be quite impractical, I would vote to leave again. However, I noted the trick of the Liberal Democrat Peer who said he would have three alternatives so that the leave alternative could not win. I can see the attraction for him but I do not believe that there could or should be another referendum.

The most recent example of Europe overstepping the mark was Herr Juncker in his September 2017 State of the Union message. He actually suggested that the presidency of the Commission should be amalgamated with the presidency of the Council of Ministers. If you follow the logic of that, it is like suggesting in British terms that the Cabinet Secretary should preside over Cabinet meetings rather than the Prime Minister. I realise that there may be Members of your Lordships’ House who think that that would be a good idea, but in general it does not totally fit with our constitution.

There has been quite a high level of incompetence in the handling of the affair. When David Cameron made his Bloomberg speech he tossed off the idea of a referendum, apparently without any proper analysis of its feasibility. He then went to Europe for so-called negotiations and got absolutely nowhere in his quest for reform, but he came back pretending that he had been successful. During the actual campaign we had the discredited Project Fear, and of course the British people felt that they were being bullied; they do not like being bullied. I thought it was very sad that, when the vote went the way it did, my noble friend Lord Hill of Oareford deserted his post because it was very important that Britain held that Commissioner seat for financial services.

Whitehall has been playing a big part in this. We all know that Whitehall does not like Brexit. David Davis spent months preparing HMG’s position for the negotiations and his proposal was based on Canada-plus. The noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, recommended that that had some advantages, and I agree. However, on 18 September last year, his Permanent Secretary, Mr Olly Robbins, was moved over to No. 10. Then, on the Monday before the crucial Cabinet meeting on the Friday at Chequers, a new version of the negotiating position was produced by No. 10, totally changing all the work that David Davis had done. It is not surprising that he quit pretty quickly. In nearly 50 years of observing how Whitehall operates, I do not think I have ever seen quite such a barefaced hijack.

As a footnote, I remind noble Lords that in the big change in the White Paper we introduced this common rulebook. Of course, we spent 160 hours in this House discussing the withdrawal Bill, which had the clever idea of putting all the EU legislation into British legislation so there is a smooth transition. We could then consider at our leisure whether to keep, repeal or amend it. At a stroke, it has now been put back into being mandatory. There is talk about Parliament having a lock on it. It is a lock with no key.

Imagine for a moment the negotiations—where Brussels has made really specious threats on absurd things such as aviation and defence and security, where we have far more to give them that they have to give us—as a game of snap, where the two sides play cards and when they get the same card they say “snap”, and then they can start negotiating. The problem is that the cards provided for Monsieur Barnier—I do not really blame him at all—have been carefully worked out by Herr Juncker and Mrs May’s cards have been carefully worked out in Whitehall. The trouble is that Herr Juncker’s cards all say “demand” and Mrs May’s cards all say “concede”. That is not a way to get a sensible solution.

I believe we have friends in Europe who really want us to stay, but, if we cannot stay, they want us to have a good deal. We should seek out those friends. We should reach out above the Commission. I have much more hope about Monsieur Barnier getting the instructions he might or might not get from the Commission changed than I have about the Commission itself.