Brexit: Preparations and Negotiations - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:32 pm on 23rd July 2018.

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Photo of Lord Wrigglesworth Lord Wrigglesworth Liberal Democrat 10:32 pm, 23rd July 2018

It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, whose views and activities in Europe I have known about for many years.

In 1975 I was a relatively new member of the other place. As Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins, I travelled with him during the referendum campaign that year to various parts of the country, along with others of the all-party remain group, such as Willie Whitelaw and my now noble friend David Steel. More than once, Roy illustrated the case for membership of the then Common Market with a quote from Gladstone. He suggested that the European Common Market was,

“an affair of men just as much as of packages”.

He was distinguishing between the economic and the political aspects of European unity.

Much of the comment on the White Paper and much of the debate that has taken place over the past two years since the last referendum has been about what Gladstone referred to as packages. But for many of us, our membership of the European movement, the European Community and the European Union is about much more than that. It is because our participation reflects a view that war and other problems facing the world are best overcome by close co-operation and by friendship. The European Union was born out of the highest motives—to keep peace in Europe, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, reminded us.

Most remainers are, in my experience, committed internationalists with less interest in the nation state and more in building a community of nations. Their philosophy is one of uniting people in their common humanity across race, religious and other boundaries. It is a pity, to my mind, that we have not heard more of that in the debate on our membership of the European Union. After all, there is much evidence to show that a major motivation for those wishing to leave the EU was the issue of immigration, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine.

Right-wing populism has risen in many parts of Europe and in the United States. It needs to be refuted because, as has been pointed out in the debate, never has there been a more precarious time in post-war years than now. We have President Trump stalking the world with his divisive actions and pronouncements, and in those circumstances we need more co-operation with the EU, not less.

There is another reason why we need more co-operation and not less. The world is becoming smaller and smaller and more and more international; it is happening almost daily. We are swamped by new technologies, which have a massive impact upon social and economic activity. It is staggering to me that Facebook is only 12 years old; Google is 19 years old; the iPhone is 11 years old; Twitter is 12 years old; Amazon is 21 years old; and YouTube is 11 years old. That companies and technologies of that scale can grow in that period is almost unprecedented in the world. They have a profound influence upon all of us and affect every aspect of our lives: retail, health, pharmaceuticals, music, films, television, taxation, sport, securities, financial services and much more—I could go on at great length. In those circumstances, and to cope with these developments, we need the force and co-operation of 27 European countries, using them and working with them as partners in the European Union. How can we control these organisations and technologies to the benefit of all unless we have the governmental means of doing it?

As I have sat in the Chamber over recent weeks and months, listening to the debates on Brexit, I have frequently thought to myself, “We must all be mad”. As the noble Lord, Lord Davies, said earlier, the contents of the White Paper rather suggest that I was right. In some respects, it should be entitled, “Fantasy meets reality”. Down the track, as the negotiations progress—or do not progress—those of us who are not supporters of the Government must all beware of the Government blaming the EU and turning it into the enemy that is trying to frustrate United Kingdom intentions and interests. It would be very easy to blame Johnny Foreigner for the predicament that this Government and that party have got us into.

I am struck by how much the Government seek continued participation in the EU in the White Paper—and I am not surprised that the Brexiteers have objected to it. I want to go through it quickly, because I do not think the public were aware that such consequences flowed from the vote on the referendum. The Government want participation in an EU free trade area; EU standards organisations; EU technical committees and compliance committees; the European Medicines Agency; the European Chemicals Agency; the European Aviation Safety Agency; the EU rule book on agri-food; the EU’s communications systems, including rapid alerts, modern surveillance and mutual recognition of qualifications; the European health insurance card; the reciprocal arrangements on travel for business and holidays; the common rulebook on state aid; the Unified Patent Court; rail, road and maritime transport organisations; European networks for transmission systems operating for gas, electricity and Euratom; and to remain part of the Lugano convention on civil judicial co-operation.

I could go on, but time is limited and I do not think I need to tell many people in this House the extent of the impact that withdrawal from the European Union will have, not only upon businesses and many other institutions and organisations but on the lives of millions of individuals. In those circumstances—and we have not even talked about the governing bodies referred to in the White Paper—people should be given the opportunity to understand the full implications of withdrawal from the European Union and to express their view on it in another vote.