Brexit: Preparations and Negotiations - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:54 pm on 23rd July 2018.

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Photo of Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Defence) 10:54 pm, 23rd July 2018

It was the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean. He is memorable for many reasons. He mentioned that he grew up in Arbroath and was affected by the statue which reflects the Declaration of Arbroath. I grew up, quite a few years before him, in a Glasgow filled with gaps—if one can fill something with gaps—where buildings had been bombed and had fallen, and where people had died. Therefore, my affinity for Europe is about the fact that, together with NATO, the European Union has managed to keep, broadly, peace in a continent previously scarred with war. It was the European Union, assisted by Marshall aid, which helped to repair the damage caused in Europe.

I am unequivocal in my belief that it is in the best interest of the United Kingdom that we should remain within the European Union. That is not to say that I am slavish about following everything that it says or does; in particular, the attitude of the Commission towards the Galileo project is, to put it mildly, not particularly helpful—on other occasions, I might put it rather more strongly. If I had any doubts about my position on this matter, what has happened since the referendum has served only to confirm me in my view: that it is much better for Britain to be in the European Union than not. When we read the White Paper and see the extent to which our future will be part of that very fabric of Europe which people seem now to wish to deny, all that serves to confirm me in my fundamental belief—it is a question of belief in my case; I respect the beliefs of others who think otherwise, but I believe that I am entitled to have respect for my views in return.

The White Paper has been universally condemned in this debate, but what did we expect? It had a long and troubled gestation period from a deeply divided Cabinet, a deeply divided party of government, a deeply divided Parliament and a deeply divided country, and a Prime Minister—if I may be forgiven the colloquialism—who is in hock to the DUP. There was never any prospect that tablets of stone would be brought down from some Swiss mountain top during the Easter Recess. The fact is that this document will not fly. It meets neither the expectations of remainers nor the anxieties of Brexiteers, added to which the Prime Minister has not had the strength to ward off the mob marauders of the ERG.

The question is what to do now. The Prime Minister has a choice. She can continue to negotiate on the White Paper. That is going to be difficult because she has already made it plain, she says, that she can make no further concessions. If it is truly a negotiation, then concessions will be expected. She cannot go into the negotiation and expect the Europeans to make all the concessions. Even if she were to get some kind of agreement, what chance is there of her being able to sell that to her own party and, indeed, to Parliament? Someone suggested a little earlier that she could withdraw this White Paper and start again. The truth is that she could not do that and remain in office. Indeed, if she were to do that, what would she propose anew? What would she propose that is in any material way different from the terms of the White Paper?

The noble Lord, Lord Liddell, made a very eloquent point about the implications of a hard Brexit for those who, by some contrast, were the people who voted most strongly that Britain should leave the European Union. If we are driven to a hard Brexit—there are those in this debate who seem not to be concerned about that possibility—the consequences will be extremely severe indeed. If we are to rely on trade deals arising out of that Brexit, ask yourself this question: if you had some money to invest, would you go into partnership with President Trump? I doubt it very much. He is “America first”, he is highly unpredictable, and we would be in the position of supplicants: we would have nowhere else to go and we would be a soft touch for President Trump.

There has not been much talk about India or Australia recently, because when these issues were first raised both countries said, “Yes, we will do a trade deal but we want much greater access for our citizens than we are presently allowed”. Against that background we have just had the announcement of the remarkable deal struck between the European Union and Japan. We have a third choice: we could stay in the European Union. We could not effect that without having another referendum, but as Justine Greening said, we are in deadlock. There has to be a way out of it. That is why the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, and of Sir John Major on Saturday, in my view make a powerful case for putting to the British people in precise terms—and on this occasion with a detailed account of their consequences—a further referendum. It would have one further benefit: it would force Mr Corbyn to declare himself.