Brexit: Negotiations - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:21 pm on 20th November 2018.

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Photo of Lord Steel of Aikwood Lord Steel of Aikwood Liberal Democrat 6:21 pm, 20th November 2018

My Lords, only a week ago one of the Prime Minister’s close aides told a journalist that he should just wait a minute until we got a deal, then everything would be all right: the pound would rise, and the momentum behind it would persuade wavering Tory MPs to support it with their votes. It has not worked out that way. The pound has fallen and more Ministers have resigned, some campaigning openly to replace the Prime Minister. I was first elected to serve in this Parliament way back in 1965. In all those years I cannot recall a time of greater chaos in Government than we see today. I do not blame the Prime Minister; I actually feel rather sorry for her, although I find her reiteration of the phrase “national interest” rather grating, as she appears to conflate it with her own.

Most sane people regard the prospect of crashing out of the European Union without a deal as devastatingly damaging, which leaves us with this defective deal where we remain substantially under European Union rules at great expense but without any say over the policies, as we shall have left. That does not seem to me an attractive proposition. Until recently, I considered a second referendum to be a forlorn hope, but it now seems to have gathered support, not just because of the march in London, nor the growing number of voices for it, but for another reason not so far mentioned. This month we have seen a remarkable number of ceremonies commemorating the centenary of the end of the First World War. People have seen the German President lay a wreath at our Cenotaph. They have watched the handshake of Macron and Merkel leading France and Germany, and they have therefore been reminded why the nations of Europe decided to form a cohesive alliance. This was never referred to during our referendum when all that seemed to matter was the duplicitous slogan on the side of a bus.

Last month, the Royal and Ancient Burgh of Selkirk —the small town where I live—celebrated 20 years of its twinning with the small German town of Plattling close to the Austrian border. I went for the first time, with about 50 others, and at the official dinner sat with the Bavarian Minister who was representing their Government. Both towns lost men fighting in both wars, but Plattling suffered something we in Selkirk did not—the loss of over 400 civilian lives in one night in an allied bombing raid on its railway station. The Minister pleaded with me that we should not pursue Brexit. Yes, the European Union is not perfect; yes, it needs to be less bureaucratic and more accountable; yes, we made a poor deal on fisheries when we joined. But these are all matters we should stay to sort out and which we cannot alter if we just walk away.

That is why I now believe that the noble Lord, Lord Reid, is right: to escape from the current shambles it is vital that we go for a people’s vote.