Brexit: Negotiations - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:30 pm on 20th November 2018.

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Photo of Lord Higgins Lord Higgins Conservative 7:30 pm, 20th November 2018

My Lords, all of those who took part in the debates which set up the 2016 referendum were absolutely clear that what we were legislating for was an advisory referendum, not a mandatory one. But the morning after the result was announced, the Government immediately took the view that we should treat it as if it were a mandatory referendum. That was despite the fact that the campaign itself was riddled with lies, fake information and deception. It is also the case that perhaps the worst lie of all was that leaving the European Union was going to be simple. No one in the Chamber this evening would take that view.

But it has presented the Prime Minister with an immensely difficult task, and we must give credit to the stamina and determination which she has shown in pursuing that objective. However, the last thing we need at this moment, I believe, is a change of Prime Minister. I have been appalled by the way in which various members of my own party have sought to undermine her position at such a difficult time.

We have been very clear that the alternatives are: this deal, no deal or no Brexit. The Prime Minister herself has put it in those terms. I am quite clear myself that, of those three alternatives, as far as the future of this country is concerned, the best thing we can do is have no Brexit. That is what we ought to aim to do, but we are stuck with the result of the referendum and therefore there is now enormous pressure for a second referendum.

On 25 October, and indeed on 19 January, I spoke at great length saying why we should not have another referendum or, indeed, any referendum. Every time we have one, we undermine the whole basis of our representative parliamentary democracy, because the referendum takes away our position as representatives and brings us here as delegates. I therefore do not believe it would be right to hold another referendum. Incidentally, what I am clear about, having spoken to many of those who joined that enormous march in favour of a people’s vote, is that 99.9% or probably even more of them were in favour of a referendum because they want us to remain. The demands for a referendum should be viewed in that light.

The question now is: if we are not to do it by referendum, what should happen? This is the time when Parliament has to look at the three alternatives and should say that, in the interests of our country, we must not go ahead with the proposal to withdraw. Here I agree with the noble Baroness who spoke from the Liberal Benches, and indeed I detect a growing feeling in the House that we ought to stand up and take that position so that we do what is right for the economy and the people of this country. It is a great regret that we did not have a vote on whether we accepted the referendum result. I think that it is high time we did.