My Lords, I declare my interests as outlined in the register, particularly that I am a nurse. It is clear to me that the Prime Minister and her team have reached an agreement in principle with the EU that may well be the best deal that could be achieved under the circumstances. On Friday
“Remainers say that it will damage Britain’s economy compared with staying in the European Union. Brexiteers say it doesn’t fulfill their promise to ‘take back control’ of immigration, regulation and trade”.
Faced with this situation, no one is able to predict whether a majority in the House of Commons will support the proposal. Crashing out or leaving the EU without a deal is now recognised to be at the very least an extremely undesirable option. The people voted to exit the EU formulated on a view of UK independence based not necessarily on lies from Brexiteer politicians but on the notion of “sunny uplands”, which now seems to be at least in part a deluded vision of the future. As any elementary student of psychology would inform us, a delusion is a firm, fixed, false belief.
It is widely reported that many people voted to leave because of the expected NHS budget dividend from savings on the UK EU contribution and an expectation that free trade agreements would increase the UK’s wealth and create new jobs. As a result of underinvestment and uncertainty, the fact is that many EU citizens no longer feel it is a good time to come and work in the UK. A recent Health Foundation, King’s Fund and Nuffield Trust report predicts a staffing shortfall of almost 250,000 in the NHS by 2030. They argue that,
“Critical and lasting shortages in the … workforce mean that the forthcoming NHS long-term plan risks becoming an unachievable ‘wish list’ of initiatives to improve the health service”,
rather than reflect reality.
In May 2018, the Royal College of Nursing, with a membership of more than 400,000, debated the implications of Brexit, resulting in a vote to campaign for a referendum on the final Brexit deal. The debate made clear the numerous implications of Brexit for the health and social care system. These are risks which, if they are not properly addressed,
“may damage population health, as well as severely impact on our members’ ability to provide safe and effective care for their patients in both the short and the long term”.
To the EU’s credit, in many quarters it has made it clear that it would still welcome the UK remaining within the EU. Recent opinion polls suggest that many people in the UK would welcome the opportunity to stay in the EU. I therefore ask the Minister, if the House of Commons fails to support the EU withdrawal agreement as outlined in the Prime Minister’s Statement, to please assure the House that the Government will not lead the country out of the EU with no deal. Instead, will the Government return to the people in a democratic fashion and give them the right through a referendum or peoples’ vote to decide whether they wish to accept the current deal as offered or, as I believe they would, decide to remain within the EU?