My Lords, this has been a rollercoaster of a week, not just from a political point of view but from a legal point of view. I say at the outset that I have some sympathy for the position of the Attorney-General. No one who has not done that job will appreciate how difficult it can be. He expressed himself robustly and with great confidence in another place; it was a stupendous performance, for those who had the privilege of watching it.
However, the point that I want to dwell on in my few comments is that, ultimately, what the Attorney-General gave was not a legal opinion. The key issue with which we—and, I suggest, all noble Lords—are concerned is: what is the prospect that, if we go into this deal, we will be able to exit from the backstop with a degree of confidence and reliability? He gave an assessment born of confidence and a strong conviction in the Government’s political stance. He is, of course, fully entitled to that view—but at the end of the day it was a political view, not a legal view.
Now, since the disclosure this morning of the Attorney-General’s advice to Cabinet on what the legal position actually is, in his opinion, we have a much clearer view. That is what I want to turn to first. The document is revealing. The key point I wanted to make, even before I saw it, was that in legal terms, entering into this deal would potentially tie us indefinitely into the backstop arrangements. There is no legal route to exit from the backstop: only a political agreement between the EU and the UK would do that.
That view is now endorsed emphatically in the Attorney-General’s advice to Cabinet, and I commend that document to the House. He says, in paragraph 30 that,
“the current drafting of the Protocol, including Article 19”— which is now Article 20—
“does not provide for a mechanism that is likely to enable the UK lawfully to exit the UK wide customs union without a subsequent agreement”.
Noble Lords will note that he goes on to say:
“This remains the case even if parties are still negotiating many years later, and even if the parties believe that talks have clearly broken down and there is no prospect of a future relationship agreement”.
In his Statement to the other place, the Attorney-General also said:
“If the protocol were to come into force, it would continue to apply in international law unless and until it was superseded by the intended subsequent agreement”.—[Official Report, Commons, 3/12/18; col. 547.]
I agree with that. There is no unilateral right to terminate this arrangement.
I want to make three points about the advice that your Lordships and the other place have now seen. First, it is now clear that certain of the makeweight legal arguments put forward to suggest another conclusion are without substance. That is what I believed and intended to put before the House, but the Attorney-General’s opinion makes it abundantly clear.
In particular, first, it had been suggested that reliance could be placed on the statements that the protocol is intended to be “temporary”. It is now clear that, as I believe, that is misplaced. As the Attorney-General says in paragraph 16 of his advice to Cabinet:
“It is difficult to conclude otherwise than that the Protocol is intended to subsist even when negotiations have clearly broken down”.
He goes on to say that,
“despite statements in the Protocol that it is not intended to be permanent, and the clear intention of the parties that it should be replaced by alternative, permanent arrangements in international law, the Protocol would endure indefinitely until a superseding agreement took its place, in whole or in part, as set out therein”.
I emphasise the words “would endure indefinitely”, because they are critical to this analysis—and they are right. The protocol makes clear—for example, in Article 1.4, and in the preamble—that only a subsequent agreement will bring it to an end.
Secondly, as the Attorney-General said, the review mechanism in Article 19, now Article 20, adds nothing. It states that by mutual consent—that is, agreement of the EU and the United Kingdom—the protocol could be brought to an end, but that is what international law already provides. The suggestion has been made, particularly in this House by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, that the arbitration and dispute resolution provisions would kick in to create a different situation. Noble Lords may recall that I was sceptical about that and challenged that proposition when it was raised in this House.
The House can now see that the view of the Attorney-General is the same as mine. I refer in particular to paragraphs 27 to 29 of his advice to the Cabinet. He makes the point, with which I respectfully agree, that,
“it is extremely difficult to see how a five member arbitral panel made up of lawyers who are independent of the parties would be prepared to make a judgment as political as whether the Protocol is no longer necessary, in the absence of the consent of the parties”.
In paragraph 28, he says that there is no other mechanism for adjudicating a dispute over the absence of an agreement and confirms that there are no “remedies” for an absence of agreement other than those specified “expressly” in the withdrawal agreement, which,
“does not include termination of all or part of the Withdrawal Agreement”.
Noble Lords may recall that, in answer to me, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, confirmed that the protocol does not contain a power in the arbitral panel to substitute an agreement that the parties have not themselves made.
Thirdly, the noble and learned Lord placed much emphasis on the duty to use best endeavours, while the Attorney-General describes the duties to act in good faith and to use best endeavours as “forceful and precise”, acknowledging that,
“that could not require the parties to a negotiation to set aside their fundamental interest”.
In other words, the parties could not be proven to have breached those obligations,
“in the absence of clear and convincing evidence of a proper motive and wilful intransigence”.
I would add that Article 184 makes it clear that, in any event, the agreement is subject to the “respective legal orders” of both parties. Reliance has been placed on a number of authorities in the commentary provided by the Attorney-General, which do not contradict what I just said.
Before I conclude on what that all means, I invite noble Lords to note that the advice also seems to confirm that there will be different regulatory regimes in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which will require customs and regulatory checks and controls. I invite attention to paragraphs 7 and 8 of the Attorney-General’s advice.
Where does this all lead? I respect the noble and learned Lord the Advocate-General—I have had the pleasure of appearing with him in court—but that does not mean that legal arguments we might be prepared to advance are a sound basis on which we should put the future of our country. If there is an agreement between the EU and this country, we will exit but, as noble Lords know, that would require unanimity. That means that any state, whether it is France because of fishing rights or Spain because of Gibraltar, could prevent such an agreement coming into effect.
One may be prepared to put reliance aside in the political hope that this will all be unnecessary. On an earlier occasion, the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, referred to the dangers of going on a “gangplank into thin air”. If any Members of the House or another place think that there is a legal gangplank made of solid legal planks to get us there, I respectfully advise them that that is not the case. The gangplank of legal planks is simply a hologram. I am not prepared to trust my or my country’s weight to it and I advise noble Lords not to do so either.
My Lords, it is a privilege to speak after the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith. Obviously, his distinguished record as a former Attorney-General is particularly relevant to the present situation, and enables him to speak with authority. Probably more than anybody in the country, he has had first-hand experience of the extraordinary pressures placed on Law Officers of the Crown in the performance of their duties at significant points in our nation’s history.
In his remarks, the noble and learned Lord expressed a degree of certainty that I am not sure my noble and learned friend Lord Keen would agree with. I am not going to get into a lawyers’ discussion, because I do not want the House to think that I have certainty on these issues. I am assailed by doubts on this matter on every side, regarding not just the legal issue but the transaction itself. Probably the only certainty that I had when we set out on the Brexit road was the belief that, at the end of the negotiations and when the transaction was revealed, both sides would say that it was a bad and inadequate deal. A lifetime in the City has taught me that at the end of fiercely fought negotiations, the pre-eminent emotion among participants is that of disappointment that negotiations could and should have been handled better. In the City, it is known as buyer’s remorse or seller’s remorse. The critical question is not “Is this a good deal?”, but “Is this a good-enough deal?” I now turn to that judgment.
First, the ending of free movement of labour is clearly an important and advantageous outcome. The House may be aware of my interest in the demographic projections of 7 million to 9 million more people in the UK 20 years from now, requiring us to build three cities the size of Manchester. I fear that that will impose strains on our society, both economic and societal, and may undermine our social cohesion. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, in his remarks this morning, urged us to look to the long term. This issue is nothing if not long-term. It is perfectly true that the Government have not done much to close down or control arrivals from outside the EU, over which they already have complete control. However, a key result of this negotiation is that we now have a tap which can regulate the flow of labour into this country from the EU, and provided we have the political will, we can turn it.
The second issue is the rolling-back, not immediate elimination, of the role of the European Court of Justice. This country, having been a member of the EU for 40 years, can reasonably be expected to have to allow a role for the ECJ in UK-EU dealings, but it is equally not unrealistic to expect them to become attenuated over time. Ab initio, our Supreme Court will have an enlarged area of competence over which it can deploy British common law principles.
My third point relates to the Irish border and the backstop, which the noble and learned Lord focused on. The Hodgsons come from County Galway in the Republic. I can recall, in the bad old days, cousins who were serving in the British Army being told by the Gardai that it was best if they did not come home on leave. I need no lessons on the significance or sensitivity of the Irish border question. In part, the Irish border question has assumed some greater short-term significance because of Irish domestic political issues—the struggle for control of Fine Gael between the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and his Foreign Minister Simon Coveney.
However, leaving that aside, it is a question of trust—a commodity which, at least at present, is in short supply. As I understand it, less than 10% of Anglo-Irish trade goes by the land border. Over 90% going by sea will be handled no differently in the future under the new arrangement from trade with France or Holland. For this relatively small volume of land trade, a combination of modern technology and trusted trader status could and should provide an answer. I say “could” because it requires an element of good will. Quite understandably, some of us fear that the UK will be stuck in a halfway house with the EU’s hand on our windpipe. However, there are not inconsiderable reasons as to why the EU should try to reach an accommodation on this issue, as my noble friend the Leader of the House mentioned in her opening remarks. After March 2019, the UK will no longer be a member of the EU, so it will not contribute to the EU budget, but it will still enjoy frictionless trade inside the customs union. Might this situation, without too much exaggeration, be described as having your cake and eating it too?
This question of trust underlies the whole next stage of our disentanglement. The EU is faced with a number of existential threats: to the euro and to itself. What does this foretell about the next stage? Clearly, we cannot be seen to be short-term winners, but while for institutional reasons of self-preservation the Commission may continue to take a hard line, once the initial withdrawal agreement is out of the way the emphasis of member states may shift. I notice in my contacts with Europe in businesses increasing use of phrases such as, “We should not be vindictive”. Those comments, of course, flow from self-interest. First, they want to continue to sell to us; secondly, they recognise what the UK could bring to Europe in security, defence and the fight against organised crime.
Is this deal good enough? Taken together, the ending of free movement of labour, the re-establishment of our Supreme Court at the apex of our judicial system and the emerging signs of self-interest among the remaining EU states lead me to believe that it is. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, rightly reminded us that, in the end, this is a matter for the House of Commons. So let me say to your Lordships’ House that, if I were a Member of the other place, I would vote for this transaction.
My Lords, it was challenging to hear the most reverend Primate’s intervention this morning. So what are the strategic issues facing the UK, Europe and the world? Overridingly, they are those of the environment and climate change: not only the need for effective control of pollution but the need to face up to the vast movement of people which will be an inevitable consequence of what is happening.
We are constantly preoccupied here in the UK with immigration, but that is part of the wider challenge of migration in the world as a whole. As we debate here today, let us remember that there are in the real world more than 20 million refugees and 39 million displaced people. How will we have any kind of stable future unless we have effective strategic policies to meet that reality? What about international terrorism? There is no way in which we can solve that and the issues that stem from it and lie behind it on an insular basis. There has to be co-operation. I had the privilege of serving on the EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee when it was taking this issue very seriously. I hardly heard a front-line practitioner working in this area who did not say that to be leaving the European Union would make the work more difficult and less effective.
There are also the issues of international crime and corruption, which similarly require collective action. Among the economic issues are non-renewables and human resources. Nearer home, in our immediate situation, we have heard a good deal in the debate so far about Ireland, where it is crucial that preserving the stability which has been won through Good Friday agreement is high in our priorities.
There are other issues which are global. We need a well-educated population, certainly in our own country but across the world, to meet these challenges. Education that is relevant in our present context requires an international dimension. That means movement of people. If we are to fulfil the creative potential of our society, freedom of movement is crucial, because we want informed and creative activity, with people from different backgrounds working closely together.
What is the European story against all this? On the European Coal and Steel Community and the story of the evolution of the European institutions since, there is a tendency in this country, and certainly in this House, to talk about the European story simply in economic terms and say, “We didn’t want to get involved in all this political stuff; we thought it was an economic arrangement”. That is simply naive. The whole European story has been political from the start. Of course, the European Economic Community and the European Coal and Steel Community were economically important, but they were a means for moving towards a stable, collaborative, strong Europe.
Under successive Administrations, we have never imaginatively embraced this. I was Minister for Europe in the early years of our confirmed membership. I can remember recognising that we had an imaginative, visionary battle to be won. We have been dominated by what is in it for us.
I find that, against this background, a general election is crucial. I am sad to find myself differing strongly from the Liberals on this point, because I so often find myself almost inspired by what they have to say on the Europe issue. This is not a separate issue. It is intimately connected to all the political issues that face us. We have to evaluate the relevance and effectiveness of the institutions against how far they help or hinder our response to all the issues I have been listing.
We have got to be very careful here in Parliament. The young, the professionals, the business community, the trade unions, much of the leadership in the services—as real players in the real world, they understand how much we are dependent upon the world and how much, therefore, our involvement with Europe is crucial to us playing our full part in serving the purposes of our own people and the people of other nations in facing up to what confronts us.
I think these are dangerous times. I think that political leadership has been badly lagging behind and that so many of the key people in our society have run far ahead in their imagination and thinking of where the political community here in Britain finds itself. Without vision, we are lost. That means being sure that what is before us faces up to the magnitude of the challenge. I do not believe that what is before us begins to suggest that these huge, overarching issues are at the centre of government thinking. We need a general election desperately. If we cannot have that, with all its flaws and inadequacies there must be renewed authority and that means another referendum.
My Lords, this decision could not be more important for the UK and our children’s future. The noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, set this decision in its massive historical context when the referendum went the way that it did. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, who is not in his place, identified remainers’ concerns as largely economic, while leavers were concerned about sovereignty. Those who marched immediately after the referendum, or more recently for the people’s vote, would challenge that.
Young people passionately feel European, as, clearly, do others: a non-British architecture student was marching with me and she noted, with delighted astonishment, the noble Lord, Lord Rogers of Riverside. Especially for young people, being European is part of who they are—part of their many-layered identities. As my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, made clear, it is part of how we share sovereignty to greatest effect—for example, in tackling climate change which, as David Attenborough has pointed out yet again, threatens the future of all of us. So we must remember, as the most reverend Primate pointed out, the child born yesterday and remember, too, the children who marched recently with signs saying “Made in EU”—unlike most of us.
I shall focus on the potential impact of Brexit and this deal on foreign affairs at a time of enormous global challenge. Whether we look at soft power for keeping values at the heart of our foreign policy or at our ability to achieve much more through the EU, Brexit undermines Britain’s place in the world. We apparently seek global reach and influence, but global Britain has been dubbed “a slogan in pursuit of a policy”. Many of our partners believe that Britain has retreated into what Edward Luce of the Financial Times has called “inglorious isolation”.
The Governor of the Bank of England’s reports make very clear the economic damage of leaving our biggest trading market, so how would we resource a newly global Britain? We have been able to punch above our weight as a member of the EU. We have very significant soft power assets, including higher education, science and the creative industries. Brexit threatens them all. We are on the UN Security Council, NATO, the G7 and in the EU. That array helps to maximise our influence.
Britain has long claimed to be the Euro-Atlantic bridge. With the threat of Brexit, that is already going. The EU has helped the UK to deliver many of our foreign policy objectives, acting as a force multiplier. Ironically, of course, the UK has held EU external action, and the Union’s common foreign and security policy, at arm’s length. But it was our British colleague the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, who was the EU’s first ever High Representative.
We have had a disproportionate effect in helping to shape the EU’s global role from within, including: the Iran nuclear deal; fielding stabilisation and other missions to Georgia, the Palestinian Territories, Somalia, Kosovo, Bosnia and elsewhere; agreeing sanctions on Syria, Russia, Zimbabwe and in relation to Ukraine, Yemen and elsewhere; and helping to tackle the conflict so recently seen on the European continent, not only in Northern Ireland but in the Balkans. Even stabilising the position of Gibraltar was assisted by the UK and Spain both being EU members.
We have helped the world’s poorest people and those in crisis. We have promoted global stability as the world’s largest development and humanitarian aid donor. We have worked together with EU allies across the globe, including in the WTO, the OECD and the UN Human Rights Council. And of course there were the amazing efforts that our Ministers put in to ensuring that the EU was ambitious and effective in helping to deliver the Paris climate change treaty in 2015.
Our EU membership has given us so much more clout than we would have alone. A small taster of what might come to be was when we failed for the first time to secure a British judge on the International Court of Justice, or a Brit to head the WHO. These failures are widely seen as an indicator of Britain’s reduced status and diminished European support.
So what are the Government seeking to do? We want a “deep and special partnership” between the UK and the EU. We issued a joint position with France and Germany on Saudi Arabia and Jamal Khashoggi. We did not want to go it alone. If we do go it alone, the FCO will need further resourcing: its core budget is already dwarfed by that of the French diplomatic service. However, our economy will not be as strong as it might have been.
In May, the Government spoke about a “deep and special partnership”. In the political declaration, the proposal is for “close and lasting” co-operation on foreign policy, with co-ordination on a case-by-case basis. It is full of “possibles”: we might support each other’s position; we might be invited to meetings, “on an exceptional basis”. There may be dialogue at various levels. I am not going to play with anyone’s name, but “may” does not mean “must”.
We know that leaving the EU will damage us economically and affect how we define ourselves. We can see that leaving the EU reduces our clout globally, which is, of course, why the Government have been arguing for a close and special relationship—it is a pity that we did not do this in earlier years. But nothing is guaranteed; we are examining a withdrawal deal that is noted as inadequate on all sides. Nothing has been set in place for what happens after that, only aspirations with no legal force. We are looking at the gangplank to nowhere, so lucidly described by the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, months ago.
This is a turning point in our history. A referendum set this train of events in motion; we should therefore return to the people. Do they accept this deal, or do they vote to remain, now that we can all see what the real choices are?
My Lords, as a career scientist I ask myself whether the Prime Minister’s deal is good or bad for UK science. Last Friday, the Science Minister, Sam Gyimah, gave his verdict when he resigned, saying that the deal would mean that the UK’s interests,
“will be repeatedly and permanently hammered by the EU 27 for many years to come”.
He recognised the gap between the warm and encouraging words of the political declaration and the harsh reality of negotiation over the years ahead.
The president of the Royal Society, commenting on the deal, put it this way:
“This is a step in the right direction but it will be a long hard road to reach a long-term agreement”.
The report that came out today from the European Union Select Committee also highlights in paragraph 199 that nothing is said in the deal about how we will reach future agreements on science and technology with the other member states.
The trigger event for the resignation of Sam Gyimah, as noble Lords will be aware, was the European Union 27 rejecting the UK’s bid to remain in Galileo. This is the European Union’s satellite navigation system that will serve as an alternative to the GPS system from the United States that we all use every day on our smartphones. Galileo, importantly, will give European Union member states access to high-resolution data that is crucially important in military security. We are now left out in the cold. Having spent £1.24 billion on Galileo, we are going to start all over again to build our own stand-alone system. This is lunacy.
Does the noble Lord not agree that this was a completely disgraceful and vindictive act, based on their claim that they cannot share sensitive intelligence with our nation, when on a daily basis we are giving sensitive intelligence to Europe and saving lives in Europe? Is this not a quite extraordinary decision?
I agree that it is an extraordinary decision but, as I am saying, it reflects the difficulty of the future negotiations. This outcome undermines the Prime Minister’s hope that the UK,
“would like the option to fully associate ourselves with the excellence-based European science and innovation programmes—including the successor to Horizon 2020 and Euratom”.
Galileo is only one example of how our science and technology could suffer in future. In a recent survey of 1,000 staff at the Francis Crick Institute, Europe’s largest biomedical research institute, scientists were overwhelmingly negative about the consequences of Brexit for UK science. On
In my own university, Oxford, roughly 12% of research funding comes from the EU, and there is no guarantee that in future we will be able to participate in the schemes that follow on from Horizon 2020. In the European Research Council funding programme, which is based on scientific excellence, the UK is far and away the most successful country in the EU, and the top three institutions in the EU for receiving funds under this scheme are Cambridge, Oxford and UCL.
My Lords, is it not in fact true that our annual contribution to the EU is merely recycled and comes back to our science and other bodies, so moneys should still be available?
I thank the noble Lord for that because it anticipates my next paragraph. The UK gets out more than 1.5 times as much as we pay in, so our return on investment is stupendous. But it is not just about money; it is the exchange of people and ideas that will be lost if we cannot remain in these European programmes.
Noble Lords might ask: why does the science base in this country matter? The reason is that it is the basis of our future prosperity. As the Prime Minister herself put it in introducing the industrial strategy:
“That is what our modern Industrial Strategy is all about. Investing in science and research to keep us at the forefront of new technologies and the benefits they bring”.
So, whether you are thinking of new medical treatments, novel sources of energy, transport or tackling climate change, all of that will depend in future on our investment in science and on the international nature of our science.
I know that the Minister will not be able to read provide us with any reassurance about the future because, as other noble Lords have said, the future is quite uncertain—but perhaps he could tell us what assessment the Government have made of the impact of the deal that is on the table on the future prospects for UK science. Some have said, “Why worry about the EU, because, after all, we can collaborate with other countries?”—but it is not either/or. In my own scientific career I have done research in German, French and Dutch laboratories as well as in the United States and Canada, so it is not as if we are constrained from international collaboration outside the European Union by our membership of EU research programmes.
I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us what evidence he has to support the notion that this deal will be good for UK science. Perhaps he could also tell us what the go-it-alone replacement for Galileo will cost and how those costs compare with working within the European Union. As things stand, I do not see enough in the deal on the table that will support the future of UK science and technology for me to think that it is a satisfactory deal—which is why I will support the Motion in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon.
My Lords, I am not a natural rebel. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times that I have rebelled against my party in the 35 years during which I have had the privilege of serving in Parliament, and all those were matters of hugely less importance than the issues before your Lordships today, so I make this speech with a heavy heart.
I was one of the 17.4 million people who voted to leave the EU, and I did so because I wanted my country and its Parliament to take back control over our nation’s future and its destiny. I am afraid that the agreement before your Lordships’ House today does the opposite of that.
As a member of the European Union, we have the right, under Article 50, to leave. It is an untrammelled right—we can exercise it, and are exercising it, unilaterally, without having to ask anyone’s permission to do so. Under the backstop—it constrains our freedom of action in a large number of areas, over which we would have no control—we would be unable to leave without the permission of the European Union or perhaps, just possibly, the panel of arbitrators. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, has just executed an extremely effective job of demolishing the role of the panel of arbitrators, but let us assume for the purpose of the argument that it has a more expanded role. Clearly, the Government thought that its role was of great significance, otherwise they would not have gone to the lengths of inserting so many provisions relating to the panel of arbitrators into the agreement.
I have never attained the pinnacles of judicial and legal expertise possessed by those Members of your Lordships’ House who are entitled to be called “learned”. However, I did practise at the Bar for 21 years, and it taught me one thing: judges and arbitrators can get things wrong. It is because judges get things wrong that we have a Court of Appeal, and it is because the Court of Appeal gets things wrong that we have a Supreme Court. Yet the wording of Article 180.2 of the agreement is stark. It says that:
“Any ruling of the arbitration panel shall be binding”.
Not only is there no provision for appeal, but the article actually prohibits the publication of any dissenting opinion.
The agreement’s supporters say that we will never get into the backstop. They may be right, but they may not be. A large number of the 585 pages of the withdrawal agreement are devoted to the backstop. It is reasonable, to put it mildly, that all that midnight oil would not have been devoted to them if both sides thought this was an entirely academic exercise. The agreement’s supporters would say that we need not worry about the backstop, because it is not in the interests of the European Union to keep us there. Indeed, we heard that argument from my noble friend Lord Hodgson a few moments ago. I ask this simple question: if it is not in the interests of the European Union to keep us there, why will they not agree to a time-limited backstop? Nothing could be easier if it is not in their interests to keep us in the backstop.
I am afraid the evidence is mounting that there are European leaders only too keen to use this as leverage to pressure us. The Prime Minister of Spain has hinted he may do it on Gibraltar. The President of France has said he wants to use it to get rights over fishing. When this was put to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment in another place, he said that the President of France was wrong. He said it in French for good measure. I am a great admirer of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, and not only because of his command of the French language, but should there be a dispute it will not be him who decides whether the President of France is wrong. It will not be our Prime Minister, our Government or our Parliament; it will be the European Union or, just possibly, a panel of arbitrators. One of the ironies of the referendum debate is that those of us who voted to leave are constantly being told what we meant or did not mean by those who voted to remain. I can say one thing without any fear of contradiction: the 17.4 million people who voted in 2016 to leave the European Union did not do so to place their future, or the future of our country, in the hands of a panel of arbitrators.
The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, described the agreement on Monday as a “humiliation”. In the debate in your Lordships’ House two weeks ago, my noble friend Lord Lamont quoted Carl Baudenbacher, the former president of the EFTA Court, who said:
“It is absolutely unbelievable that a country like the UK, which was the first country to accept independent courts, would subject itself to this”.
I cannot think of any other country—except, perhaps, in the immediate aftermath of a defeat in war, or in the face of an imminent defeat of that kind—which has been prepared to give away so much control over such a wide area of its future affairs to a panel of arbitrators.
Your Lordships may perfectly reasonably ask: what is the alternative? This is what should be done. The Government should recognise that this deal is dead. I was encouraged to be told on Monday by my noble friend the Leader of the House that conversations are taking place between the UK and the European Union on preparations for Brexit without a formal withdrawal agreement. Those conversations should be intensified and expanded. They should encompass a series of ad hoc, temporary arrangements to minimise and if possible eliminate any disruption which might otherwise take place on
Obviously, I cannot vote for either the second Motion or the amendment that will be put before your Lordships later, because they would conflict with that objective. We should never have allowed ourselves to get into these difficulties. There is a way through, but it is not the agreement before your Lordships today.
My Lords, the truth is that just about everything that could be said on this subject has been said, time and again. There is no doubt either that, in truth, today’s debate will not change many minds; if it changes five minds, it will be miraculous. If we are being absolutely honest with ourselves, the debate that really matters is happening at the other end of the building. So I should sit down, and the temptation to do so is increased by the fact that, with the noble Lord, Lord Howard, going ahead of me, and the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, coming behind me, I feel like the cavalryman at the Battle of Balaclava suddenly realising that he is charging the guns—only this time it is cannon in front and cannon behind, instead of just to the left and the right, where my friends are.
My reason for speaking is just to address a slightly different point from that which has taken up most of your Lordships’ time. The processes we have gone through have caused huge public disillusionment with our processes. Whichever side of the argument you are on, that should be recognised as an issue of the utmost seriousness. If I had three hours, I could give your Lordships a complete list of all the occasions when this public disillusionment was aggravated, so I will pick three to show that I am not taking sides.
Mr Cameron went to Europe to secure some fresh arrangements. Anybody could read that it was utterly pointless—he got nothing. But when he came back, he suggested to the public that something significant had been achieved when, in truth, nothing had been achieved. He forgot that you cannot fool all the people all the time. I think that helped turn the result of the referendum. It encouraged people to think, “If that’s what we’re really being asked to believe has been achieved, maybe we should vote leave”. What about the referendum campaign? Both sides spoke in fables. We were engulfed in those twin imposters, were we not? There was the triumph of the wilder Brexiteers and desolation and defeat of the shattered remainers. Then there were all of the rest of us somewhere in the middle. I am sorry to say this—former judges should not make political points—but at this moment, as I stand here, I still find the position of the leader of Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition on all these issues enigmatic.
We can blame Mrs May, the Prime Minister, for the inadequacy of the deal that she has negotiated, and I would not resist criticism of the way in which we have handled the negotiations. But there is, is there not—please, can we pause and remember it—a further thought? If the terms of the withdrawal agreement brought back to London by Mrs May should have been better than they are, or do not satisfy what we think they should have been, there was another party to these negotiations. These were the best terms the EU was prepared to give her. I am not being critical of the EU. It did not want us to leave; it does not want anybody to leave; it wants people to be discouraged from leaving. It had the best cards and played them. This is not a criticism of the EU, but we have to remember that whoever thinks they could have done better in these negotiations must demonstrate quite how that would have been achieved and quite what would have been achieved. That is my anxiety about the matter raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith—no doubt she will tell us, or it will be said to us.
Mrs May voted personally to remain, but it was not open to her or her Government to renege on the results of the referendum. The main foundation of our constitution is the sovereignty of Parliament. I believe referenda have emerged as a totally unwelcome and inappropriate way of dealing with issues raised in our constitution. I would love to argue the constitutional point; I would win. But, politically, Mrs May had no choice. I remind this House that the European Union Referendum Act 2015 passed the Commons at Second Reading by no fewer than 544 votes to 53. The Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats all voted in favour. There were a few dissentients, such as my old friend Kenneth Clarke, but the only significant party to vote against the referendum was the SNP.
I am very assiduous; I looked at Hansard to see which of these 544 MPs said, “But I want you to know that I still reserve the constitutional right of Parliament to overrule the result of the referendum”. I do not say there were none, but they were not a great number. Beyond that, we then come to a general election in which both major parties commit themselves unequivocally to proceeding with the referendum result. Between them, they won the overwhelming majority of the seats. Whichever party had come into power, no Government could have dared to insult the electorate by ignoring both the extraordinary parliamentary majority that voted in favour of the referendum, and the result of the election. The referendum had to be honoured and, as things stand, it is still the only lawfully binding arrangement in town: the referendum still binds us.
It is possible that Parliament may change it. I must move on, but how will we address the public disillusionment with our processes, partly caused by the chaotic negotiations, the constant meetings, the whispers and the commentators—everybody churning away, saying it is all chaotic? I suggest something utterly quixotic, something nobody who lived in the real world would ever think of: might it not be a sensible idea, although hopeless, for us to invite the other place to allow a free vote? We know that all parties are split through and through in all sorts of directions. Why should every Member of Parliament voting on this crucial issue—the most important of my lifetime—not be allowed a free vote? The public would at least then know what individual Members of Parliament thought, untrammelled by party pressure, and that they had cast their votes accordingly—exercising the wonderful idea of their own judgment and discretion and not doing what their party told them to do. It may be a quixotic idea but I think that is how, in 1971, we went into the EU. Maybe we should return to the same process.
My Lords, this debate has repeated arguments that most of us have used over many years but I do not intend to go back over any arguments that I have expressed. They remain in my mind as convincing as they have been throughout my political life.
I have to say that, of the many speeches and moments of memory in this debate, my noble friend Lord Howard proclaiming that he is not a rebel will long live in my memory. He provided the explanation that he had rebelled against his party on only three occasions. If I had risen in my place to say that I am not a rebel the place would have dissolved into hysterical laughter, but I have rebelled against my party on only three occasions.
The first was when they wanted to resist the race relations legislation of the former Prime Minister, Mr Callaghan. I revolted and the Tory party changed its mind. I revolted against the poll tax. I brought the poll tax to an end. The poll tax went and the Tory party won a subsequent general election. It is perfectly true that I defied a three-line Whip in this House over the issue of a meaningful vote. I was hauled out of my dinner with my wife in Wiltons in Jermyn Street for the poor old Chief Whip to axe me from the job that I was doing in government at the time. I say to my noble friend Lord Howard: “Be careful where you go tonight”.
I wish to come very briefly to three points. The first of them was referred to very eloquently by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith. I agree with him that the Attorney-General put up a bravura performance in another place yesterday. He made it clear that he felt that he had delivered the facts and the truth and a proper reflection of his private advice to government. I am sympathetic to the argument that Governments should not be expected to publish all their private advice. It could be seriously damaging if information in it is of help to people who do not share the national interest of this country.
I faced exactly this dilemma when I had to deal with the censure Motion from the then Opposition over the sinking of the “Belgrano”. One of the prime arguments was that the House of Commons wanted to see the papers. They were secure, classified papers and not publishable. I dealt with the issue by inviting the Select Committee for Defence to come to my office in the Ministry of Defence to read the papers. There were no problems, no questions and no leaks and the issue was successfully resolved.
I believe that the Government, in losing on three amendments over the course of yesterday, could easily have circumnavigated at least that one by saying to a committee of privy counsellors from all sides of the House, “Come and look at the advice and affirm to the House of Commons that what the Attorney-General has said to the House in public actually reflects in whole the contents of the private advice”. Although I hear what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, says, the truth is that it has proved to be a damp squib. The document itself has not supported any of the hysterical abuse that would have been justified if, in fact, it had differed significantly on the two occasions.
Secondly, I want to go back to a point made most eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. In 1973 I was faced by a classic ministerial submission: “Minister of State, would you give us £6 million in order to catch up with the cheating French and Germans on their space programmes?” It was phrased more eloquently than that but the thrust of the argument was broadly along those lines. I said to the officials, “Well, of course, I’m dead keen on catching up with anybody who is cheating on the British national interest, but before we get carried away with this £6 million, would you be kind enough to just tell me how much Europe is spending on space, and will you then tell me what the United States is spending on space?” I shall never forget the figures. The European figure—for all of Europe at that time—was £200 million a year and the American figure was £1.2 billion, and I was being asked to provide £6 million to compete with the French and the Germans.
I played a formative role in creating the European Space Agency. British industry told me that it wanted satellite leadership. I got it satellite leadership, and that fast-forwards to the Galileo project. Here, we find that we are not to be trusted on defence matters that are secret to Europe. What secrecy is there in Europe that, in defence terms, does not affect us? However, that is the argument and it is the tip of the argument that the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, was talking about.
What have we done in response? We have provided £90 million for a feasibility study on whether we can compete with the Galileo project. It will take 18 months, and at the end of that there will be a six-month consideration. So in two years’ time we will come to a view about the feasibility and the cost. The noble Lord asks whether the Minister will provide an answer about the cost but the Minister has no idea and it is likely that no one else does. However, let us assume that it is rather more than the £90 million cost of the feasibility study and let us put the figures in context.
The UK space programme at the moment costs £300 million. If you take the £90 million over 18 months, that is £60 million a year, so one-fifth of the cost of our programme is going into a feasibility study. Currently, £5 billion is spent on the European programme and £16 billion is spent on the American programme. The only moral of this story is that we cannot afford to act on our own, and that is why the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, speaks with such eloquence on the panic sweeping through research institutions, universities and academia in this country about this being the beginning of the unravelling of 40 years of recognising the indissoluble self-interest of this country in working with European people, most of whom have an identity of interest with us.
I have one last point to make, and perhaps I may apologise to many of my noble friends, because my point is really directed at my colleagues behind me. I have fought many battles with them against the elected mandates of Governments of which we disapproved. We did not deny the mandates; we simply set out to change them. I now listen to the arguments being deployed, many of them behind closed doors: “Vote for us, old boy”; “Don’t rock the boat, old boy”; “Do you want an election, old boy?”; or “Aren’t you frightened of who might be there, old boy?”. Well, I do not believe that there is going to be an election—I do not believe that the House of Commons will vote for one—but I do believe that the underlying issue behind Brexit was the frozen living standards in 2008 after the economic crash. I have heard from one noble friend after another and from the right reverend Prelate that we are voting in this legislation to make this country poorer.
Most of us in this House will not be affected—certainly I will not—but much has been made about the poorer people. While, on theology, I would not dream of locking horns with the right reverend Prelate, when it comes to the urban poor, I have some experience of the politics of urban poverty. There are no solutions that help the fortunes of the least privileged in the most stressful circumstances that are dissociable from public expenditure. If this House is going to vote solemnly and knowingly, as we have heard here today, for a slower economy, for lower tax revenues and for lower public expenditure, those who will suffer most are those least able to bear the strain.
When the election comes, it will have been a Tory who led the referendum campaign, it will have been a Tory Government who perpetuated the frozen living standards, and it will be a Tory Government who are blamed for what we are talking about today. I will have no part of it.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine. Not for the first time, I agreed with much of what he said. However, I want to raise a very different point, which was alluded to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, just now.
There has been reference to the work that this House has done since 2016 on producing its reports in great detail on the various aspects of the unravelling of the relationship between this country and the European Union. As of yesterday, and with the debate going on the House of Commons today, I can assure the House that none of that detailed work has the slightest relevance to the shenanigans in the House of Commons and the votes that are being taken this week. That underlines the fact that the politics operating here in Westminster are in a parallel universe to the expectations of the population outside.
The decisions of this House and its role in this whole period are limited. But let us be frank: the decisions that will be taken next week by the House of Commons are also very limited. To judge by the commentary in the press and the expectations of the public, they assume that the judgment on Mrs May’s deal is the key point at which we decide what our future is, and that all the questions that have arisen since Brexit will be answered one way or another by the acceptance, rejection or amendment of that deal. But that vote will do nothing of the kind. The only substantive element that we have before us is the withdrawal treaty, which is detailed and clear and has been the subject of drafting and redrafting over the past many months. But the political declaration that is determining our future was produced only about a month ago. It is very vague and grew from seven pages to 22 in about 10 days flat. Frankly, as the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, said just now, the way in which it is written is aspirational—there is hardly a “must” or a “will” in it; it all rests on the verbs “may” and “should”. This presents nothing to our people about how our future is going to develop.
The expectations among the electorate are that the vote will give such answers. But our exporters and importers will not know, on the basis of the decision on that document, on what basis they will be trading in future years, what the costs will be and what administrative and bureaucratic delays there will be in what was formerly frictionless trade. Our citizens will not know what rights they or their children will have in relation to movement within and between us and the European Union. Our workers will not know what rights they have over their jobs. As tourists, we will not know whether we will need to revert to international driving licences, change our insurance arrangements or, as tourists, rely on our health cards, as the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, said earlier.
Our farmers will not know on what terms their goods will be accepted within Europe, or Europe’s will be imported here, and therefore what their fortunes will be in the future. Our fishermen will not know whether they are still governed by quotas or have free access. Our police forces will not know what replaces the European arrest warrant. As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has just said, our scientists will not know on what basis collaboration and funding will operate for their work over the next few years. More immediately, our hauliers and travel operators by air, land and sea will not know the terms of their access once this decision has been taken. In other words, the issues that are most meaningful to our citizens and businesses will not be answered by this time next week.
The other dimension, which this dichotomy makes worse, is the fact that Brexit has already proved toxic within Britain and, to some extent, within Europe as a whole. It has divided our politicians and our major political parties. It has split families and it has divided north from south, city from countryside. It has revived secessionist tendencies within Scotland and threatens the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland—and dark forces of racism and worse have been released in and after the referendum. We are in dangerous political territory.
Meanwhile, this Parliament appears to the majority of our fellow citizens to be getting itself more and more convoluted and introverted in internal party and interparty matters. The result is growing frustration amongst Brexiteers and remainers alike that we should be getting on with it. As such, we are also seeing a move to support a no-deal exit. That is very dangerous territory indeed. The paradox, regrettably, is that actually we need more time to get this right. We need more time to get to a real deal that will substantially answer those questions and will be the basis for us going forward with our European partners.
To get a real deal that answers those real questions, we need to ask ourselves what happens next. There will be no answer to that, whether Mrs May is defeated or survives next week. We will not know what the basis of trade will be. We will not even know what the basis of our security arrangements will be. We need a few months more. It was folly of this Parliament to insert within British legislation the date of
I make a plea to Parliament—to the Government and to this House—that if we need more time and we need to reassure our population that we know where we are actually going, let us seek more time. Let us look at the possibility of other arrangements on trade, including the Norway option and others, and look at the implications of the likely judgment in Strasbourg and whether or not we need to put this back to the people. A little more time now would be well worth it, because Brexit may last forever.
My Lords, I do not support the Prime Minister’s agreement, but I agree with what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, said this morning: she has tried to deliver to a set of red lines derived from major planks of the winning side of the referendum. The problem is that something had to give, because the collective set of red lines turned out to be an impossibility, and what has given is customs. It might be called temporary or a backstop, but an arrangement based around a customs union with an accompanying fudge for Northern Ireland is the only thing left if you prioritise against freedom of movement and the direct effect of the European Court. I know because I have tried it myself. I went around and around the loop back in 2016 after the referendum: how would I negotiate it? To my chagrin then, I ended up with something remarkably similar to the backstop.
The way it happened in the real negotiation was that the backstop was agreed to unlock talks about trade. That did not really happen and it was, at best, talks about talks—or rather, constraints on talks. All we have is a declaration to use best endeavours to come to a real deal and to replace the backstop solution, under a protocol that embeds all the difficulties and red lines of each side that have prevented progress so far. The protocol is more of an obstacle course than a route map and requires more concessions than would be needed without it. We would be locked in, as eloquently described by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith.
Moreover, I do not see how we can expect to line up trade deals with other countries while relying on the protocol because they will still say, “What is the relationship with the EU?” That will go on and on. We may escape Brexit on the news and we may escape news about trade agreements that are going on in secret, but the fact is that there is still a never-ending round of negotiations.
I understand businesses backing the withdrawal treaty, especially when told that the alternative is no deal. Many do not mind who makes the rules between us and the EU. They are not hung up on sovereignty and prefer to have just one set of rules. The potential for up to four years of implementation—you can rest assured that lobbying for the two-year extension will start soon—gives stability over the immediate cycle. Indeed, UK chief executives spend an average of only 4.8 years in the top job, so an awful lot of them will be out of their jobs and their horizon is not particularly long-term—a common grievance that we have against our businesses. Their horizon is not the for ever that this treaty would put us in, and I say “treaty” to point out its permanence. Businesses want time to adjust their arrangements, maximise their use of assets in the UK for the time being, and have a bit longer to figure out where to move what. But in the political and broad economic sense, we have certainty over nothing.
I can remember when just-in-time supply lines were a political issue—on the one hand foreign firms sought to invest, and on the other there were concerns over the environmental effect of all the additional transportation. But it has boomed, and so too has all the other ease of business that followed on from the single market. Thanks to the withdrawal negotiations, everyone now knows more about the depth of our integration in the EU and how our trading relationships work. Moreover, it is not just us who know more; it has surprised many in the EU, too, including the leaders and Ministers of other member states. There is no shame or humiliation in admitting that we did not know it all; neither did they.
I recognise that some people consider the Single European Act to have been a mistake, but the reality we now see is that we cannot turn the clock back, and reversing out of 40 years of integration makes for a worse mistake than they considered that first Single European Act to be. Our young people are growing to voting age and will make it clear what they think of those who robbed them of their opportunities. Baby boomers took and enjoyed all the assets, and now they are stealing their children’s opportunities to study, work, love and marry with the freedom that they enjoyed. That is the rift already breaking down intergenerational solidarity; it cannot be fixed by agreeing a bad treaty that makes us all poorer. Being poorer through the years of austerity has not brought the country together.
We now have the facts about the consequences of withdrawal and knowledge of the deal, or non-deal, on offer. We know that it is a simple matter to reverse Article 50, so it has to be time to ask the people to choose.
My Lords, in the American state of Utah a condemned person used to have three unpalatable choices. He or she could choose between death by hanging, by firing squad or by beheading. Most chose the firing squad, a few hanging. No one chose beheading. We ourselves face three unpalatable, or difficult, choices. The first is a car-crash Brexit on WTO terms, without a seat belt. There are those who will submit to the surgeon’s knife when ill, or trust a ground engineer when they fly, but who none the less defy climate science or the expertise of the economists of the Bank of England and almost all other financial institutions, who advise that an immediate and ill-prepared Brexit would inflict a severe and destabilising blow on a UK economy not yet fully recovered from the 2008 shock, and that this blow would be followed by a long slow decline relative to our peers and neighbours. That is the beheading option, and I hope no one will choose it.
The second option is the Prime Minister’s. I think that she, supported by Olly Robbins, has done the best possible deal in all the circumstances. Hemmed in by the referendum outcome, by her party and by the power and conviction of Brussels, it is hard to believe that, plus or minus, anyone else could have done better. I strongly support what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said: the deal the Prime Minister has achieved is an unavoidable consequence of the referendum decision, the bitter pills it contains an unavoidable surprise to those who held out false and unrealisable hopes from that negotiation.
The doubts about the Prime Minister’s deal are very reasonable. We would be rule-takers, albeit in the first instance of rules that we helped to invent. The backstop is a calculated risk, potentially a trap we cannot escape, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, emphatically explained to us earlier. Most importantly, we would be buying a pig in a poke—for the challenge of translating a political declaration on a massive array of tangled issues into a working reality still lies ahead of us, and is truly monumental.
The third option—my ideal—is to remain. Like a condemned man in Utah, I would rather have a reprieve. But it is not clear that the EU would embrace the necessary reform, particularly of free movement, that would satiate the Brexit urge in the British people; nor is it thinkable that Parliament can defy the democratic vote of the British people.
For all its risks and imperfections, for all that it is a mighty gamble, at this moment the PM’s deal appears the least worst option available. It averts catastrophe and offers us a difficult but probably navigable path to a halfway house—half out of a Europe that we are currently half in. But, but, but—if, as seems likely, a divided Parliament cannot support her option, or unite behind any other, and with the clock close to midnight, a new Conservative leader or a general election is unlikely to produce consensus. At that point, the only way out for us is a three-option referendum: WTO, the PM’s deal or remain.
In other walks of life, it is a commonplace to ratify a detailed deal previously given the go-ahead in principle. Whatever the outcome of a final referendum, we should recognise that, at long last, we have had the informed debate we lamentably failed to have in 2016. In that event, we must all stand by and wholeheartedly support whatever final choice the British people make.
My Lords, the Sunday Times has published a series of letters, the first one of which was the Prime Minister’s letter to the country. We then had Mr Blair’s letter to the EU. This week, I wrote to Members of the House of Commons; they had that letter in front of them on Monday morning. I will draw on it, if I may.
Let us be under no illusion. If we reach a situation where the House of Commons cannot forge an acceptable agreement, it is deadlocked. Then, the House of Commons and all of us will have lost our basic democracy. The referendum did not enter into what we would do. The people made one judgment: that they wanted to leave. They suffered a grave blow at 7 am when the former Prime Minister walked out on the job that he had told us he would stay with—in marked contrast to Wilson and Callaghan, who made it clear in 1975 that they would carry out the will of the electorate. During the campaign, they made it clear that they would do so.
What do we face now? I suggest that Members of this House start looking at what happened yesterday in the House of Commons when, very wisely, Back-Bench MPs and others took control of this process. The Government chose not to try—it would have been very difficult—to get consensus across the political parties through their leadership. Now, if you look at the speeches of Sir Oliver Letwin and Hilary Benn, you see the basis of an attempt to find an agreement in the Commons. We must wish them well.
In my letter to the Commons, I said very clearly:
“Your votes on December 11 are your choice and yours alone. This is about what the government and the UK should do if the Commons decides not to endorse the EU withdrawal agreement”.
There is an “if” there. After reading yesterday’s debate, nobody can think of any more ifs or buts. The agreement will go down. In the remainder of our debates, I beg this House to address the question of what will be offered to the people of this country by the House of Commons. It has already offered us the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 which, unless it is blocked, will come into effect on
What can be done? If you lose a major vote in the House of Commons, you have to decide what you will do. It is no use saying, “We will come back and tell you 21 days later”. It is vital that the world financial markets know immediately how the UK Government intend to proceed. It would be damaging even to wait until early the next day. That the Government should allow speculators and currency markets to dictate a repeat vote on the withdrawal agreement in some weeks’ time is totally disreputable and extremely dangerous. The House of Commons will not live with it. Let that idea be pushed aside.
When the withdrawal agreement is rejected, Parliament must seize the initiative; it must stop being the supplicant under Article 50 and not expect the 27 other nations that have performed their part of the agreement with great difficulty to revise it straightway. They will not do so. It is essential that we provide another reputable forum for debate and discussion. It may not achieve anything. At the end of this short period, we may not be able to get an agreement in the House of Commons. They will then be faced with voting down the withdrawal Act.
So what can we do? The Cabinet will know the result beforehand, and it must meet beforehand and tell her the sort of thing that she must say. It must tell the Prime Minister bluntly: “If you have lost the vote, you must open up another option to this”. Some people say that there are no options. On the best legal advice, I suggest a Prime Minister’s Statement immediately after the withdrawal vote is lost. It has been carefully looked at by experts in the EEA and by lawyers, particularly international lawyers. It goes like this:
“As a consequence of tonight’s votes I am sending letters immediately to all the other 31 parties to the European Economic Area Agreement, the EU itself, its 27 member states, and the three EFTA states. The letters will state our intention to continue in the European Economic Area as a non-EU member from the end of March 2019. We intend to do this because we as a country signed the EEA Agreement as the UK in 1992 and we have not as the UK given the 12 months’ notice in writing required to withdraw from that agreement”.
We would withdraw from that agreement under the terms of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, but we have not done so now and it is perfectly possible for it to be continued. She would go on to say:
“If EFTA or the EU countries challenge our entitlement then we will take our case to arbitration under international law using the Permanent Court of Arbitration which was endorsed by all EU countries in the Withdrawal Agreement. I am writing to the Secretary-General of the PCA. I hope this action will unite many different viewpoints in Parliament. It has the merit of being very simple. We, like the three other non-EU members of the EEA, would not be starting out as part of the EU customs union, though we could pursue it. We could pursue our own EU-UK free trade agreement on the lines of Canada plus plus plus—President Tusk added the three pluses at one time proposed by the EU—and we will immediately start with other free trade agreement negotiations. There is no necessity for us to join EFTA. We would not be fixing any time limit as to how long we stay in EEA. Like the other three non-EU countries, we would continue to be bound, as are all parties to the EEAA, to give one year’s notice of leaving. We would not ask anything more from the EU than we are entitled to under the EEAA”.
I am under a strict time limit and cannot include the other four paragraphs. They are in the Times, and I will make them available if anyone wants to see them.
I beg this House to be constructive in helping the House of Commons do its duty. It is going to be a very difficult four months, but we need this other extra option. It is our right to stay in the EEA. Within that negotiation, we would be entitled to ask the EU to look with us at those parts of the withdrawal agreement which are very helpful to them and to us. One of them was the standstill arrangement until December 2020. We were ready to pay for it, and we would still be ready to pay for it. The derogations in the EEA agreement allow us to make it within the EEA agreement. We are due to pay £39 billion; about £17 billion of that is what we definitely owe them. The extra is for having the privilege of having another length of time. I agree so much with what the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said. We have to have more time. The EEA option offers us more time.
To the leader of the Liberal Party I say: “Don’t talk about Norway supinely accepting it”. There is nothing supine about the Norwegian people. They have fashioned a very interesting agreement, keeping their own sovereignty while not being in the EU, having an EFTA Court, and having a different arrangement. Going on disparaging it, as the Government have done over the last few months in order to have no choice, is not doing a service to democracy in our country, in the European Union or in the European Economic Area.
My Lords, there is much to study in what the noble Lord, Lord Owen, has just said—but, if he will forgive me, I shall not follow him down his line of argument. However, I would dearly like to follow the route to verdict set out by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay. I agree with their analysis of the issues, very largely for the reasons that they each explained. I was also much taken by the arguments of my noble friend Lord Tugendhat. All things being equal, I would like the House of Commons to reach the same conclusion as they did: namely, that, for all its imperfections, the Government’s proposed withdrawal agreement should be supported.
But all things are not equal. The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bew, demonstrated that the Northern Ireland backstop may lead to unintended consequences, and certainly to consequences that may not have been fully thought through. I accept that the backstop is just that and not intended to be used except in the event of certain other things not coming into being, such as a free trade agreement with the European Union. The chances of its not having to be deployed are so small as to be discountable. However, the noble Lord threw a new light on the backstop, beyond the Attorney-General’s advice of
Even if the noble Lord, Lord Bew, is wrong about the effect of the backstop and its relationship to the Belfast or Good Friday agreement, another factor makes my support for the Government’s withdrawal agreement utterly hopeless. It does not take a psephological soothsayer to anticipate the result of next Tuesday’s vote in the other place. The political reality is that the Government will be defeated—and by what I suspect will be a large majority, much of it made up by Conservative Members of Parliament, not all of whom are Brexiteers. That a former Government Chief Whip and a remainer, Mark Harper, has announced that he will not support the agreement, is significant both because he is a careful and thoughtful person and because he has, I gather, never voted against the Government before. If he is prepared to go against the Government, I suspect that many others will do so, too. I feel like someone sitting at the bedside of a terminally ill patient. I can watch and hope and regret that what is about to happen will happen—but there is nothing that I can do to stop the inevitable.
We had a foretaste yesterday of what is likely to happen if the Government persist in the face of the arithmetic to require the Commons to support their agreement. They were defeated three times in pretty short order, on the contempt question and then on the Grieve amendment. I believe that that will happen again next Tuesday and it gives me no pleasure whatever to say so.
Beyond the fact that there is no majority in the Commons for the Government’s agreement, there appears to be no majority for any other proposal to implement the result of the referendum. I fear that we are witnessing an accelerating descent into political chaos which will make what has happened so far look like a pretty well-organised affair. I also fear that, unless things take a remarkable turn for the better, the United Kingdom will, for want of an agreed policy and the political will to unify the contestants in Parliament and outside it, get to
I have tried to comfort myself over the past few weeks by thinking that, as with so many things in life, a no-deal Brexit will not be as bad as I fear but not as good as some have predicted. It is going to be a mixed picture of triumphs and disasters for some while, but we are probably looking forward to a period of instability, uncertainty and confusion, both domestically and in our relations with the EU and its constituent countries. To prevent that, we need to stir ourselves to make a huge effort to ensure that, when the Government’s agreement as presently drafted is defeated, we move forward with dispatch but with cool heads and with large doses of common sense and political realism.
Although I can offer no immediate practical solution to this mess, I will offer one or two reasons for it which may inform the way forward, even if it does lead me into analysis paralysis. We must not have another referendum on this question. It is easy to say—so I will say it—that, despite the relative narrowness of the result following a large turnout, we are politically and morally obliged to respect the result and to try our best to implement our departure from the European Union. Of course we all try to interpret the result and the unsatisfactory nature of the debate before the referendum to suit our own cause. I wish the result had been different—but it was not, and we gain nothing by complaining about that. My experience of the referendum, the campaign and its divisive consequences lead me to think that, even if it is politically possible, another referendum would be a terrible mistake that would lead to further and worse divisions in this country that would take an age to heal, without solving our current dilemma.
The second point flows from that referendum. It has been recently and more eloquently explained by the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy. I have no doubt that he will say something about this when he speaks on Monday. We have—I plead guilty to this as someone who voted for the referendum when I was in the House of Commons— created a destructive tension between two sorts of democratic process: government by representative Parliament and government by plebiscite. If Parliament or government subcontracts high-level decision-making to the population as a whole, it creates a rod for its own back if it does not make the terms and the consequences of the delegated decision superabundantly clear. We did not.
We now have, inconveniently—as been pointed out—a Conservative Party in the Commons that is becoming increasingly pro-Brexit led by a remainer, even if a quiet one, and a largely pro-remain Labour Party led by a closet Brexiteer. This state of affairs has led not to rational debate on Brexit and its terms but to a series of vicious feuds. Mistrust of politics and politicians is, I suggest, at an all-time high. The public are angry and feel ill-used and ill-served, as such discussions as we have in the country on this subject become more bad-tempered, sharp and unconstructive.
I therefore urge the Prime Minister, who deserves considerable respect for many achievements in the face of adversity, to see that her deal in its present form is not going to be accepted by the Commons, and to start looking around the corner to see what can be achieved, rather than doggedly pressing on with trying to achieve what will not succeed. Listen to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Bew: rework the Northern Ireland backstop and come back to Parliament in January when tempers are cooler. To say that there is no alternative might have worked when the Government had a large majority, as they did under Margaret Thatcher. The Conservative Government could ride out the Suez crisis when it had a majority of 50. We do not, so I urge my right honourable friend to get across to Brussels and return with a reworked backstop.
My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble Lord. I was particularly moved by his remarks about plebiscite. I will explain why. I want to say a few words about the young. I have spent the last two days interviewing candidates for admission to my college in Cambridge. These are 17 year- olds from diverse backgrounds, all hugely intelligent, sharp and well informed, who are under great pressure, because there were 36 of them in two days competing for—I will not tell you for how many places. I am not allowed to tell you that, but it was tiny. I have done this for 15 years. Each year, they are a window through which I can keep in touch with what the young are doing. Every year, there is a different topic that concerns them.
It was not very difficult, I thought, to presume that Brexit would be among such topics this year. But, for the first time ever, I thought that they were a really troubled generation. They were unhappy, and their troubles went much deeper, although Brexit was part of them. I was interviewing them for politics, and what they wanted to talk about was the inadequacy of our political institutions. I wanted to bring a group of them to talk to noble Lords—they were so sharp and disillusioned with the quality of the handling of Brexit and the debate about it. One said, “My generation is the most tested in the history of this country. Since I was at primary school, we have been under pressure to be excellent, but I don’t see any sign that people in Parliament feel any pressure at all to be excellent in the way that they handle Brexit”. Luckily, I was not being interviewed by them. It is very hard to think how to defend the deal that is before this House.
I asked myself: if I were to vote for the deal and it was passed, how would I defend it to the people I am interviewing? It is clear to me that in economic terms we will be poorer as a country. I know we can argue about how grave it is—I quite like the description of some commentators that it would be like an economic slow puncture—but on any basis we will be poorer. Who will have to pay the price? It will not be our generation, if I may generalise—it will be the young. It will not be just for a year or two; it will be for decades. How do you explain to them that that is a good thing?
We will be politically weaker in the world. One of the main reasons we applied to go into the Common Market was to increase our political influence in the world and not just stand on our own on the edge of Europe. I was privileged to be present when Macmillan was discussing whether Ted, then in opposition, should make a second application to join. Macmillan said two things: someone had remarked that the main challenge would be the French but Macmillan said “No, the big problem will be my party; there will always be a group who will be unhappy with our membership of Europe”. He obviously knew his party. When someone said that there would be great economic advantage in joining, he said, “Yes, but the real argument is that for our security, our defence and our weight in the world, we must be part of Europe”.
Now we are reversing that—we are going backwards. That is the wish of the people. But it is hard to explain that to the young, who see themselves as part of Europe. They see themselves as Europeans. When the Prime Minister talks about migration, they hear her stopping them exploring the world and having adventures in Europe—that is what turns them on. This is nailing down the coffin of their ambitions. How do we defend the Government’s attitude?
We will leave our strongest negotiating weapons at the door on
The future will not be one of peace and settlement of this argument. We have arguably been having this argument over Europe for 500 years. The first Brexit was when we left the Church of Rome. It will go on bitterly: what we have done has been to make it more and more bitter. The need for reconciliation is one that I sympathise with hugely. The point about the young is that they have no vision of what Britain will be like in the future. One of them said, “I know why we want to leave; I don’t know where we want to go to. Why are we doing this? It is the young who will have to pay the price”. Therefore, I say to the Front Bench: I will be interested to know how they will persuade young people that this is a good thing to do, because I would be ashamed to offer and recommend it to my children and grandchildren.
My Lords, three years and two months ago, at the Second Reading of the EU Referendum Bill, I said that it was “absolutely vital” that the referendum was,
“seen to be robust and fair. We want to settle this question for a generation. I will possibly vote to leave unless the negotiations come up with good results but, if I do so and I lose, I will not
The negotiations did not get good results, so I voted to leave, but how wrong I was about that last point, that others would respect the results.
I have had to watch the losers of that referendum explaining why people voted to leave, like pith-helmeted explorers talking about a tribe of hunter-gatherers whose language they do not understand. They briefed the Brusselscrats on how best to beat Britain in the negotiations; they said that they would respect the results but then did not do so; they urged a second referendum without bothering to specify the question, and talked down the country. How proud I was of our Prime Minister, however, for her ringing words of courage and determination at Lancaster House, in Florence and at the Mansion House; for her insistence that no deal was better than a bad deal; for her assertion that nothing was agreed until everything was agreed; and for her assurance that we would leave the customs union—that system of imperial preference—whatever happened, and be free to pursue trade deals with the rest of the world. She said that £39 billion would get us a comprehensive free-trade agreement before exit day so that the next 20 months would be an implementation period, not a transition period, and that we would prepare properly for no deal in case it proved necessary.
Throughout the long debates in this Chamber, therefore—on the referendum Bill, the Article 50 Bill and the withdrawal Bill—for three years I have voted with the Government every time, even as I had to watch some of my colleagues speaking, voting, scheming and even whipping against their own party and their own manifesto. Then, quite suddenly, there came a bit of a sinking feeling earlier this year when I realised that my side had apparently been pursuing a somewhat different deal: a pessimistic, damage-limitation Brexit. It seemed—this is how people in the north-east of England seemed to react to it when I talked to them—to be based on appeasing, conceding and retreating, like Brave Sir Robin in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and that the future relationship is still just a list of airy aspirations, dependent on best endeavours and against the deadline of a backstop.
When I said three years ago that I hoped the losers would accept the result of the referendum, it never occurred to me that I needed to worry that the winners might not accept the result. Imagine—those of your Lordships who voted to remain, which is most of those in this Chamber—you had won by 52% to 48% but, two years later, finding that your Government were negotiating a half-out deal with a permanent backstop trapdoor with no exit, which prevented our fully rejoining the EU. Would that have felt fair?
I know it has been very difficult to negotiate a deal, and I have tried very hard to persuade myself that this is the right deal, but I cannot, especially after reading the Attorney-General’s advice this morning and listening to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith. If it seems to some on my side that that is being disloyal, then I ask: where is the loyalty of my party to its own manifesto?
Next week, the other place will probably reject this deal, as we have heard. What then? I genuinely do not know and nobody does. The paradox of this situation is that every possibility that we consider seems highly implausible, and yet one of them will happen. We must surely have one last try at getting the backstop softened or taken out of the agreement and put into the future relationship paper so that it cannot be a trap without an exit. At the same time we must prepare, as fast and as best we can, for a bare-bones arrangement to cover the essentials that we will need, and not because that is what we want. Of course I want free trade with the EU but not on these dangerous terms, which could deliver eternal half-membership and bitterness in the long run and, in the short run, a Corbyn premiership, an outcome I know many on the Back Benches opposite do not want either. We must get ready to tackle the bottlenecks at the ports, prevent the imposition of tariffs and do whatever it takes to keep things flowing. Of course it would be painful but it would be the EU’s fault at least as much as our own for trying to impose a Carthaginian peace on this proud country.
Why can it not be modelled? Because what happens is in the hands of people. We can make it a disaster or a success, depending on what we do. I have no doubt that the vast majority of British people will want to ensure that the country gets through this crisis and takes off afterwards. However, equally, I have no doubt that some people—in, let us say, the BBC, the CBI, the FT, the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, the intelligentsia and much of the chattering classes—will be longing, hoping and perhaps even plotting to ensure that it is a disaster. That gives me pause. It makes me worry that, because of insufficient preparation and the determination to fail, we might indeed face real problems.
What is more, it takes two to prepare, and the EU also needs to be preparing. I have it on quite good authority that the EU is refusing co-operation with us on some of the preparation that we need to do in the event that this deal fails. I would like the Minister to address whether that is the case and what can be done to improve that situation.
My Lords, this is not the first time that I have followed the noble Viscount in this House in a debate on Europe. It is always a pleasure to debate with him—he is always interesting and original—but I have to say there is often a strand that leads to paranoia in what he says, and that was true today. Something that worries me is that over the last few years there has appeared on the right wing of politics, and I think the noble Viscount represents the right wing of politics very well, a rejection of the values of rationality, evidence-based decisions, expertise and experience, principles on which our civilisation has been based since the Enlightenment and on which the advance of science has been based for a very long time. That worries me very much.
I do not suppose that many of us or indeed any of us had ever thought or heard of a Government who knowingly pursue a policy that is likely to reduce the wealth of the country that they govern. I suppose the reason why we had not heard about that until the last few days is that, as I am told, there has never been such an occasion in history before. Even reaching through the darkness of the past into the ancient world, no one can come up with an example even in Herodotus of a Greek tyrant who did such an irrational thing. The phenomenon is quite extraordinary.
More extraordinary, surprising and depressing still to a lot of us is that if that phenomenon was going to arise somewhere in the human race one day, of all the 193 countries in this world it would be in our country that it happened. I think that is very frightening. The situation is grotesque. Where there is a breakdown in the governance of the country, and when the Government of the day have obviously lost their bearings, a great responsibility falls upon Members of the House of Commons, and I am sure that they will discharge that responsibility on Tuesday. It is not for me to tell them what to do and I certainly will not—it is not any intention of mine to give them advice—but the purpose of arranging this debate in advance of their decision is, I suppose, that at least we can express some opinions, and if anyone in the Commons wants to take any notice of them then they are free to do so.
If I had half an hour, I could set out my own view on what should happen over the next six months, but I do not. There are, however, three things that I think should not happen. First, no one should be allowed to get away with saying, “Vote for me; support me; follow me, and I will renegotiate with the European Union and get a better deal”. That is rubbish. There is no possibility of renegotiating with the European Union and getting a better deal, nor should there be. No self-respecting person in its shoes, having come to an arrangement like that, would reopen matters and start renegotiating. It would be a fatal thing to do. In the EU’s case, it would be very conscious that the Prime Minister and the Minister of Europe they are dealing with now might change and, in a few weeks or a month or two, their successors would come back and say: “Now I’m in charge so I would like to start renegotiating”. It would be absolute chaos. It is not possible and, in my view, it is dishonest to suggest it. It would be a siren call to disaster. It would be an abdication, preventing us from taking the necessary decisions, and wasting valuable time. I very much hope that that does not happen and that no one is tempted to go down that particular road.
The other thing that we need to bear in mind is that no referendum can be altered. A referendum can be altered constitutionally—I accept that entirely—but politically and psychologically, it would be a great mistake to try to alter one except by another referendum. If we wish to collectively change our mind as a country, the only vehicle for doing that must be another referendum.
All of us find ourselves in a difficult situation, not knowing exactly what to do in these difficult circumstances. It is clear to me that if a Government do not have the confidence of the House of Commons, there must be changes. We cannot have a situation in which a Prime Minister who has been rejected in a project with which he or she has been identified for a very long time, remains in power. It would mean that the Prime Minister has no credibility, either domestically or abroad, and that is undesirable for the country as a whole.
I want to add something on freedom of movement, which has not been mentioned at all in these debates, although it should have been. I accept what I think is the majority view of commentators and experts that it was freedom of movement and not the economy—as the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, said in a brilliant speech a few moments ago—that moved most people to vote for Brexit in the referendum. One understands the emotions that sometimes arise in such contexts. I am sorry to say that, since the beginning of time, all human beings have had a slightly tribal instinct and a suspicion of foreigners. It is not always the most attractive aspects of human personality that come to the fore in contexts like that.
Nevertheless, those who voted for the end of freedom of movement and the great reduction in immigration that they were hoping for at that time have already been betrayed by the Government. The Government have now realised that you cannot run the British economy without foreigners, and they have explicitly rejected their previous policy of reducing net immigration to less than 100,000 people a year. In that situation, interesting choices arise, but the Government have made it clear that they want to replace immigration from the rest of the EU under the freedom of movement principle with immigration from the third world. I think we should probe the reasons for doing that and the merits or demerits of doing so. This is a sensitive subject, but that is not a reason for not touching it. I think it is a great abdication not to talk about difficult subjects when they have a great importance for public policy.
Most of us will have met many thousands of people from the rest of the European continent, not just from countries in eastern Europe such as Romania, Lithuania and Poland but also from France, Spain and Portugal, and so forth, who have been working in this country—very many of them in the NHS and the catering and entertainment industry, in bars and restaurants and in shops. Mostly, they seem to be doing a very good job. I have no doubt at all that there are people from any part of the world who could do a very good job. But if we replace immigrants from the rest of the European Union with people from the third world, they will presumably mostly come from those parts of the third world where there is the greatest degree of emigration and the greatest numbers of people wanting to leave. The countries where there is the greatest emigration at the moment are well known; if I am not mistaken, they are Syria, Somaliland, Eritrea, South Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq. All those countries have had a difficult history in recent years and the tradition of political violence and extremism. Cultural integration issues would arise in a context that we all ought to think about very carefully. It would be quite irresponsible just to brush those matters under the carpet.
There are other reasons why there is a good case to be made for freedom of movement within the European Union rather than immigration from outside. First, freedom of movement, from a purely selfish point of view, is a valuable instrument of economic stabilisation. If the economy is overheating and there is a shortage of labour, you can introduce people from the rest of the EU; and when the economy turns down, the experience is that a lot of them tend to go home. That is splendid, and you can carry on with the higher growth rate of the economy for longer, avoid recessions and so forth and stabilise the economy. People do not normally go home to Eritrea or South Sudan. For very obvious reasons, it is the last place they would want to go.
Secondly, freedom of movement is a reciprocal principle. We have benefits in that we can go and work in those countries, and indeed, I made use of those myself as a young man. I do not know why the Government do not recognise the merits of freedom of movement. I do not think that this matter has been properly explored or properly explained. I think we should hear from the Government a rationale for their recent perverse policy in this area.
My Lords, I respectfully remind noble Lords that the advisory speaking time is seven minutes so that everybody gets the opportunity to speak.
My Lords, I recently listened to the debate in this Chamber on the Kindertransport, and heard the experiences of so many families in this country who suffered the destruction of war and the sadness of separation in the ensuing years after the division of Germany. In fact, my own family suffered not only from the effects of the two world wars but from the division of Europe through the Warsaw Pact. Cousins whom we discovered after the fall of the Berlin Wall have told us about their sufferings and hopes for peace in Europe, their sorrow at the loss of the UK from Europe, and their children and grandchildren, who see themselves very much as part of Europe and its future. The debate restated to me how many have benefited from the years of peace brought about as a result of the formation of the European Union.
Recently, I read about some of the events in Germany during the 1930s, and I asked people I knew why nobody did anything about them as they gained momentum. I believe there was a feeling that people knew what the direction of the events was, but they felt powerless as to how to stop them. Many of us have that feeling. We cannot ignore the rise of the far right, not only in our own country but across Europe and the world. It has produced politics based on hatred and division, and it seems unthinkable that we propose to leave our closest allies at a moment when we should be working together to fight for liberal values, principles and beliefs.
Yet we are proposing to leave the EU, with very little agreed other than intentions and hopes. As many noble Lords have said already, the agreement and the political statement are vague and lacking in specifics. Indeed, they give us little more than a flimsy tissue of assertion, ambitions and aspirations. Let us look at a little of the language. The parties are committed to a “high level” of co-operation. They are,
“endeavouring to adopt decisions by the end of 2020 if the applicable conditions are met”.
“Appropriate arrangements” and “best endeavours” are the language of these documents. As others have said, there is huge danger in the fact that we are contemplating leaving the EU after 40 years of close co-operation with little more than a vague statement of intent on which to base our future.
Members of the EU Select Committee, including myself, have been struck by the views of many witnesses who describe the real vulnerability of the UK in leaving the EU not on a basis of certainty or clarity but with all the substantive issues still to be negotiated. Whether it is security, the European arrest warrant, shared information systems, reciprocal healthcare, medicines, sport and culture—the arrangements for sportsmen and sportswomen, musicians, actors and entertainers to be able to cross frontiers simply to go about their daily business—if things go ahead as planned, we will be outside the EU when all these substantive issues are negotiated.
These matters and many more will have to be agreed between ourselves and the other 27 Parliaments when we are outside the EU as a rule-taker, with little influence and no leverage. It is a common view that at least 10 years of negotiations lie ahead, whatever the aspirations of the Government. Somebody said to me recently that, as it took us 14 years to get into the European Union, we should not be surprised if it takes us quite a while to get out. That must be the case, but how would we have felt a few years ago if someone had told us that we would leave and then settle the arrangements afterwards? We would not have believed it. To those who have said we need more time, I support that. Had people been aware, when they thought of the amount of time ahead for negotiations, that at this stage they would still not know how they would travel abroad, whether they could get their medicines, whether their pets could have passports or whether they could go on holiday without worrying, many would have been shocked. They were never led to believe this.
As the most reverend Primate said, we have a moral choice: we should never be afraid to speak from our hearts. If this Brexit will harm our country’s future, make people poorer and threaten our position in the world—our ability to construct a future for the benefit of our people—then it is our duty not just to say so, but to fight it. If we do not, there will be even more scope for division and resentment. Referenda are not an ideal form of government; I agree about that. But the problem is that the referendum genie is out of the bottle. I do not believe any change of direction will be possible without a vote on the current deal. To the people who say that this would be divisive, my response is that the situation is extremely divisive now; it is getting more so as people realise that they are losing out and have been lied to on many issues. What hope for reconciliation—if that is what we want to achieve, as I certainly do—if there are more constraints, more costs, fewer benefits, and the people who lose out are the poor and the dispossessed?
Now that the reality of the problems is clear, the only way we have a chance of stopping this march to massive self-harm is by giving people the right to vote to approve the deal or say that they prefer to remain. This must be a decision taken for the long term; even if it is fraught with the utmost difficulties, we must get it right or our children and grandchildren will not forgive us.
My Lords, the Leader of the House started this debate by saying that we are implementing the express will of the people. According to her, this is a deal that will protect jobs. On the other hand, the former Governor of the Bank of England, the noble Lord, Lord King of Lothbury, has just said that this deal is the “worst of all worlds”. This is a lose-lose. Although the withdrawal agreement is 875 pages long, the political declaration, which is the basis of our future relationship, started at six pages, got to 26 and is not legally binding. It is full of waffle—platitudes and best endeavours—and takes our country into a completely blindfold Brexit, with an inability unilaterally to withdraw from the backstop, and with a transition period to the end of 2020, which has already been talked about being increased to 2022. We are being presented with uncertainty to infinity and beyond.
As for being in control of our fishing, even before negotiations have started the French are demanding to fish in our waters. Ironically, 75% of our home-caught fish is exported—mostly to the European Union. To me the most important aspect of our 45 years of membership is that the EU has helped to bring peace to Europe. I would pay the £8 billion a year, which is 1% of government expenditure, for the peace and the security arrangements that EU membership brings us.
Now we are told we will not have access to Galileo. What about the European arrest warrant? What about European police forces physically working in each other’s countries including here in the UK? Brexit also threatens the very security of our union, including the 20 year-old Good Friday agreement, which has brought peace to Northern Ireland.
What about frictionless trade, a term not seen at all in these documents? What about the shocking revelation from Dominic Raab when he was Brexit Secretary that he had not realised the importance of the Dover-Calais freight corridor to our trade? Here is an individual who is advocating a hard Brexit, crashing out over the white cliffs of Dover.
All this talk from Brexiteers, and from the Leader of the House today, about Brexit allowing us to forge a new path around the world and the Brexiteer mantra of “global Britain”—what a lot of nonsense! We have already been global Britain. We are one of the most global economies in the world. Almost 50% of our trade is with the EU—45% of our exports and 55% of our imports. On top of that, through the FTAs with 50 countries, we have 17% of our exports through the EU. Two-thirds of our trade is with and through the EU. Will we go global by going after the other one-third that includes America, China and the whole of the Commonwealth, including India, which makes up just 9% of our trade? India has only nine free trade deals with any countries in the world, and not one with a western country. For countries such as India an EU-India free trade agreement is far more important than a UK-India one. We are talking about 500 million people and 28 countries versus one country and 66 million people. The British public have been sold a pup.
What about immigration? EU net migration has now fallen to 74,000, whereas non-EU migration is at a record level of 248,000. The Government have the ability to control non-EU migration and a target to reduce net migration to under 100,000. This is sheer hypocrisy. The Conservative Government keep boasting about creating 3 million jobs, but we have 3.5 million people from the European Union over here with 4% unemployment. Without them, we would have an acute labour shortage. Then there is that fact that EU migrants contribute billions to the economy, far more than they take out in benefits. We already have the ability to control EU migration through an EU regulation that allows us to repatriate EU nationals after three months. We never use that. Can the Minister tell us why the public do not know about this?
The migration crisis from Syria and the Mediterranean was at its peak in 2015. There is no question that it influenced the Brexit vote. Today it is far lower and nowhere near as alarming to the public as it was three years ago, sad though it still is. What is so bad is the awful way the Government have handled the Brexit process, trying to bypass Parliament at every stage. They tried to implement Article 50 without Parliament’s approval. They tried to avoid giving Parliament a meaningful vote, which is what we are having now. They tried to avoid disclosing the legal advice and ended up being in contempt of Parliament. Now the Attorney-General has released the advice and there it is in bold type:
“In conclusion, the current drafting of the Protocol, including Article 19, does not provide for a mechanism that is likely to enable the UK lawfully to exit the UK wide customs union without a subsequent agreement. This remains the case even if parties are still negotiating many years later, and even if the parties believe that talks have clearly broken down and there is no prospect of a future relationship agreement. The resolution of such a stalemate would have to be political”.
Far from Brexit taking back control, we are losing control. As a Parliament and as a country our sovereignty is being threatened. As the Attorney-General said earlier this week, the Government are doing this by taking a “calculated risk”. How dare the Government take a calculated risk with our citizens’ livelihoods and our children’s future? This is irresponsible to the extreme. How dare the Government continually vandalise parliamentary sovereignty? We are losing our seats in the EU Parliament. We are losing our EU Commissioner. We are losing our seat on the European Council. We are losing our say. Our global standing has been diminished day by day. London has lost its position as the world’s number one financial centre to New York. The whole world does not want us to leave the EU, including the EU countries themselves.
With Northern Ireland, the Achilles heel of Brexit, we are threatening the union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Scotland is rebelling and might break away. Wales, which voted to leave, is now rebelling too. Northern Ireland voted to remain, Scotland voted to remain, business voted to remain, London voted to remain and the youth voted to remain. By March 2019, two of my children who were not old enough to vote in June 2016 will be old enough to vote, and they have had no say in their future. Approaching 2 million youngsters who were not legally allowed to vote two and a half years ago can now vote, and over 85% of the youth want to remain. They did not turn out in 2016 and they regret it. If there is another referendum, they will turn out in droves. The Government are giving us Hobson’s choice between their awful deal and no deal. There is a much better choice and that is no Brexit via a people’s vote.
We have heard just this week from the Advocate-General of the Court of Justice of the European Union that the UK can unilaterally withdraw Article 50. Democracy should be dynamic. This country is being held to ransom to respect the will of the people in an outdated vote that took place two and a half years ago. The demographics and facts have changed. In a normal democracy, you can change your mind every five years, so we should respect the will of the people today, not as it was two and a half years ago. Today, the polls show that 54% would vote to remain and that 55% want a people’s vote. Just a few hours ago, a YouGov poll reported that 38% of people believe that the UK was right to vote for Brexit, whereas 49% think that Brexit was a wrong decision. That is the biggest gap to date. The number believing that Brexit was a mistake is at its highest since the referendum and will only get higher. I cannot understand why people worry about a second referendum further dividing the country. How much more divided can we get than 52% against 48%? The polls show that if we have another referendum, many more people will vote to remain.
In conclusion, my favourite saying is that good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment. It was bad judgment to have a referendum on such a complex issue covering 45 years; it was bad judgment to give the people just four months in which to make a decision; it was bad judgment not to have had a two-thirds majority threshold, which would have prevented a decision being made on a margin of 52:48; and it was bad judgement to rush into implementing Article 50 on an advisory referendum.
The EU has been accused of bullying us. The EU has not been bullying us; we have chosen to leave. We opted in to Europe and have had a lot of opt-outs—we are not part of the eurozone and not part of Schengen. Now, we want to opt out of Europe but have all the opt-ins. It is time to get back on to the top table of the world. We should stop wasting precious time, energy and money and, instead, focus on the major issues, such as child poverty and rising violent crime. The people have seen that the Brexit emperor has no clothes. The truly democratic decision now would be to go back to the people and let them have a say. That is the choice, not a hopeless deal or no deal. That would be respecting the will of the people.
Churchill talked about the “sunlit uplands”, as did the most reverend Primate. We will get the sunlit uplands if we have a people’s vote. If they get a choice, they will choose to remain.
My Lords, I wish that I could pack as much into a single speech as the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, but I defy the challenge.
It is perhaps not a bad idea at this stage in the debate just to take a step back and to remember what the point of all this is. I was doing “Thought for the Day” on Radio 4 this morning and picked up on three words from the title of a Theos think-tank report on resilience in the north-east of England—people, place and purpose. They are three words that offer us a lens through which to see what all this is about. I endorse what the most reverend Primate said this morning in his speech.
Whatever the ultimate outcome, one of the legacies of the Brexit process thus far is, as I have said before, a corruption of public discourse, polarisation between people and communities, and a too frequent reduction of the polity to the merely economic. People are now too often categorised as either Punch or Judy; argument and nuance are dismissed in favour of emotive ad hominem judgment.
I understand that the withdrawal agreement is necessarily a technical means of achieving a political end, but the political declaration is aspirational in its language without offering a big vision for a society that is more than an economic market. Aspiration is good, but it needs to be accompanied by some articulated obligations and accountabilities. Therefore, I repeat the question that has come out in this debate: what is the big vision for British society, not just trade relationships, into which the technical agreement fits as a mechanism? What is the vision, and what is the future that we are asking our young people to build?
To be biblical for a moment, when Moses led the people of Israel out of captivity after 400 years in Egypt, they did not go straight to the promised land; they spent 40 years in the desert. There, a whole generation of romanticisers about the past died out. That is the point. You have to let a generation go in order to have a new generation that can envision and build a new society fired by their own imagination and not something that they were simply required to inherit from their forebears. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, that today we are talking about process and not event. I, along with my right reverend colleagues in this place, see deep divisions and significant challenges every day in our communities, and they will not be resolved immediately. In fact, they might define the next generation while we go through a sort of desert and all this gets sorted out. However, I do not believe that all this will evaporate merely by coming to a conclusion. This is not a zero-sum game and it must not become that.
The deal before us has the virtue of being a compromise. Compromise is often spoken of pejoratively, but it is a good thing because it assumes that people have listened to opposing arguments. They have weighed things up in the balance. They know that there might not be a perfect answer but they weigh things up and come to a judgment, and then together try to work out what is best for the common good. I may be naive but I do not believe that anyone could have got a better deal because, frankly, the people they were negotiating with would have been the same and the maths would have been the same, and we would have ended up with the same narrow criteria having to be worked through. It is a fantasy to say that someone else could have come up with a better compromise. That does not address the question of whether this compromise is acceptable but the options were never vast, even if some of the fantasies about Brexit were ridiculous. It was clear from the beginning that some circles were never capable of being squared, and the Government should have been honest about that from the word go.
I confess to being bewildered. I have heard some very powerful speeches today and in one sense I could go either way. I want to vote against an agreement that leaves the country poorer and possibly more isolated. I want to vote against a deal that commands so little support across the country or even in this building but is being pushed as a binary choice. Yet I also want to vote for it, mainly because a compromise was always going to be costly and this one gives both sides something, if not everything, that they wished for. However, I also want to abstain, as I think that the choice before us compels a short-term decision that might have medium to longer-term negative consequences. “No deal” is a failure to deal. This deal reduces the sovereignty—or control—that Brexit was supposed to recover and simply loses us the rather good deal that we already have within the EU. Another referendum is a risk, but it cannot be said to diminish parliamentary democracy any more than the first referendum did—that pass was sold in 2016.
I am in a difficult place, so I will carry on listening to the debate and then make my mind up on Monday. However, assuming, as I do, that there is no ideal outcome—that whatever outcome we come to will have us poorer than we are at the moment—in conclusion I would like to address two or three principles that might be getting lost but which might be worth bearing in mind as we go forward.
First, whatever the outcome of this process, how are we to take responsibility for what we have done and for shaping the United Kingdom and the Europe of the future? We do not just sail off into the sunset and say, “Now that’s all up to them”. I have no doubt that the United Kingdom, if it remains intact, will grow a younger generation who will create a prosperous and creative future for our islands, even if we suffer short-term loss. But the generation that has led us into this mess—my generation—might have to make way for those who can shape a new narrative for our collective future, and they will not be helped by self-exonerating blame games by those of us who can see ourselves only as victims. A new sort of leadership will be needed in future that can rise above the divisions and seeks to reconcile and unite people around a common vision for more than trade and economics.
Secondly, when we speak of “we” and “us”, that must include the EU 27. The demonisation of those remaining in the EU is infantile, counterproductive and unhelpful. If our language reflects who we are, then we are going to have a problem encouraging the next generation to speak, relate and behave like adults.
Finally, very briefly, whatever Brexit looks like in the end, we will still be left with the massive challenges of poverty, homelessness, debt, food banks, poor health among too many people, challenges in education when children come to school hungry, and so on—I could go on and on. We must move on to face the challenges of the NHS, castrated local authorities, transport failures, infrastructure and other consequences of a decade of austerity. The EU cannot be blamed for that lot.
If a divided people are once again to know that they belong—whichever way they voted in the referendum—they will need to hear from this place an articulation of vision, hope and reconciliation: that people in all places have a common purpose that is worth adopting.
My Lords, we all have to be highly selective in this debate but, before I address the central question of where we go from here, as the right reverend Prelate is on his way out, I would like to express my accord with the remarks he made and how many nails he knocked on the head, referring to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Back in April, a cross-party group of us submitted an amendment to the then European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, calling on Parliament to take back control, in effect—not to negotiate internationally itself, but to provide the Government with a mandate for the negotiations with the EU. It is a great pity that the other place did not adopt it because, however difficult it would have been for the Government then, it could well have helped them now. Parliament was excluded, but if the Government lose the meaningful vote next week, we in Parliament will need to step in with alternatives of our own.
We hear now the return of the dictum associated with Baroness Thatcher: “There is no alternative”. Some of us set out our alternative. I have been involved in producing a pamphlet, which I have here, on how we would return to the EEA through moving from Pillar 1, the EU, to Pillar 2, EFTA. I am afraid that I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Owen, in a speech with which I otherwise had much sympathy, is right about the technical point here, which is that the EEA is in fact a twin-pillar organisation—the pillar of the EU and the pillar of EFTA. One can be in the EEA only if one belongs to one or the other of them. There would be scope for exploring further with the EU and EFTA about what we have proposed in this pamphlet, an alternative to the EU, which would be an evolving role of the European Economic Area. All Members of both Houses should have received one of these pamphlets, and I have further copies if anyone is keen to get this instead of a Christmas card.
We have a better alternative to the Government’s deal, and we must push ahead inter alia, otherwise the working people of this country would not only not be in the single market, with all its industrial aspects, but would be only in what is called a protected position on existing rights under the Social Chapter—that is, rights at work. Given all the evidence of disquiet in the country about where we are with jobs and our industrial future, I hope that this will not be left just for people with a trade union hat on to, as it were, push up the agenda of concern.
It has often been said that the objection to the EEA is that we would be a rule taker rather than a rule maker. But, apart from anything else, we would be in a position in the EEA to address what some of the EU people in Brussels now know has to be a decade of evolution in many of the protocols and workings of the EU/EFTA arrangement. Of course, it was Jacques Delors who, in 1990, established the EEA with a view to an evolution in the medium term. That is very important and would certainly include, de minimis, a strengthening of the consultative arrangements before legislation.
On the attitude of the Norwegian and Icelandic Governments, I will read out two quotes from the past few days to put them on the record. Mrs Solberg, the Norwegian Prime Minister, on the question of whether she would support Britain coming back, said:
“If that is what they really want, we will find solutions in the future. To find a good agreement is important for all European countries and I hope that we will see an orderly deal that doesn’t disrupt economic affairs in Europe”.
I say that because Norway’s biggest trading partner is, of course, ourselves. Norway sells natural gas, fish, and services in particular. The Icelandic Foreign Minister, Mr Thórdarson, said:
“We would be very positive towards the idea of the UK joining EFTA/EEA—you are the ones that started the organisation”.
The proposal that we are making should not in any sense be associated with the terminology used by Nick Boles MP, “Norway for now”—I think he may have rescinded that now. We are talking about a long-term relationship and an evolutionary one, and I think that phrase is not a very polite way to greet potential colleagues in Norway; nor, with great respect, is it a good idea to refer to us having entitlements in that regard. But I think the negotiations would be very constructive.
I was rather disappointed, for once, by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Newby, on the EU/EFTA option. It would make a great difference to the weight of EFTA. I have some knowledge of the background to this, and I think his word “supine” referred to the lack of weight in the EFTA pillar of the EEA. But we are a big elephant relative to the size of EFTA, and that itself would change things. I repeat: there is an appetite in Brussels to see some evolution in these arrangements.
Finally, I believe that in the next few weeks we cannot crash out; we have to find an alternative. We would have to do that in any event if we wish to make progress both with the extension of Article 50 and on the important political declaration to which our attention was drawn by my noble friend Lord Whitty.
My Lords, leaving the European Union is a political decision, not a business or a commercial one. In spite of the dishonest fear campaign, the people of this great country of ours voted to return the rule of their country to within these shores—a return to democracy, where the people of Great Britain govern themselves through their Members of Parliament: their elected representatives. The people voted this way in spite of the deliberately inaccurate forecasts promoted by various organisations anxious to continue being ruled by unelected bureaucrats in another country.
This seemed to be understood by the Prime Minister when she said that,
“no deal is better than a bad deal”.
Since then, she has stated a number of red lines. Each new red line was a signal of firm principle. Firm principles were abandoned as fast as deckchairs in a summer squall. She said that we would leave the customs union, that the integrity of the United Kingdom would be maintained and that we would no longer be under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice—all abandoned, with the Prime Minister claiming that no principle had been abandoned.
It is possible that the Government believed the stream of negative stories put about by the same people who urged us to go into the ERM and then that it would be a disaster if we left the ERM, and who said that we could not survive outside the single currency and must join the euro—the Treasury was a notable exception to this foolishness. Then there were the forecasts made during the referendum that proved to be so spectacularly wrong. Now the same hobgoblins are at it again. The Bank of England is making irresponsible forecasts, the most recent described by the distinguished remainer economist Andrew Sentance as “highly speculative and extreme”. Any GCSE economics candidate submitting such duff answers would be invited to resit the examination or contemplate a different career choice.
On supply chain interruption, I know that this Government have their limitations, but will they ban the importation of essentials? It is our decision whether or not to limit imports. The CBI has simply never got anything right—indeed, it is an achievement to have got everything quite so wrong over such a long period. The Treasury’s referendum economic forecasts created a whole new dimension of getting things wrong. These elite organisations, cocooned in their metropolitan fortress, out of touch with the country, as well as being unable to accurately forecast seem unable to grasp the basic, fundamental point that the British people want to leave, and said so in the largest plebiscite ever. The people do not wish to stay attached to the EU in any fashion dreamed up by people quite out of touch with reality.
Did those negotiating either wish to sabotage what people had voted for, or have they never been near a negotiating table? They started discussions by giving away £39 billion and followed that up by accepting that the Irish border is our problem when, as no southern Irish Government would contemplate a hard border, it is the EU’s weakness and problem.
There have been comments during this debate about the horrors of no deal. There is no such thing as no deal. If nothing is agreed with the European Union, we will have a world trade deal. I remind noble Lords that, since the 1990s, UK exports to countries with which we trade under world trade terms have grown three times as fast as our exports to the EU single market. Can noble Lords imagine how that figure would multiply if the UK were free of the shackles and the ball and chain of the single market and the customs union?
With world trade there is no crashing out; there is only cashing in as we save £39 billion. Think what that could do for the people of this country. I urge the Prime Minister to abandon a plan the only achievement of which would be to befoul democracy’s name for a generation and plunge the Conservatives not just into outer darkness but so far into darkest space that they may never find their way back.
My Lords, it is frequently said that these days are exciting political times—and indeed of course they are. But I do not think that they are the most exciting. For me, that was the time of the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet empire. That is because we won. Sadly, the same cannot be said of the present. The atmosphere that surrounds this debate is melancholy. But this is probably the most febrile time that I can remember.
For me, two certainties frame our discussions this afternoon. The first is that a rejection of this deal now does not mean no deal and crashing out. There is time. Secondly, whatever may happen in the future, the present direction of travel will mean that we will end up in circumstances of permanent revolution for many years to come. The public do not like that and are not impressed by it—but, realistically, we are looking towards political turmoil for years and years. The problem we face in this regard is that the negotiations of the past two years are the template for the future mechanisms for doing the deals that will have to be done—unless of course we simply acquiesce and become a rule taker. This approach is an inherent consequence of the doctrine of taking back control, as it has been interpreted and has evolved in thinking in this country.
As we all know, not least because it was said by the Spanish Advocate General yesterday, EU membership does not mean that we have lost our sovereignty, otherwise we could not have served Article 50. Of course, as many noble Lords know, there are more sophisticated ways of getting what you want than traditional intergovernmentalism in certain circumstances—and getting what you want is what control is all about. In an interdependent world, you can do better by working through different mechanisms on various occasions.
Before the withdrawal negotiations began, we were promised that we would be in Berlin by Christmas. Where in fact are we? We are mired, battered and bruised and on the back foot in the Flanders mud, after the best part of three years, with a fair chance of not getting out for a number of years to come. This, by any measure, is a gloomy, unconstructive and nihilistic prospect.
Of course, it is true that in years gone by our own political institutions were good at criticising others and rather less good at evolving methods of decision-making and scrutiny in a changing world. In particular, we have been very slack as regards scrutinising the progress of European Union legislation and Governments of all persuasions have smuggled legislation onto the statute book via the EU system. But as an individual I am surprised that as a trading nation involved in all kinds of complicated trading relationships which have to be different from those in an introverted, subsistence economy, we have not fully recognised the need for a different kind of system of governance in an interdependent world of regulated economies.
The kind of political and administrative turmoil we are now in is not good, not least for business certainty. As I have said, it looks as if it is going to stretch out in front of us for some time to come. What we need is more stability and certainty, not less, but the deal we are looking at presents myriad loose ends that do not seem to be encouraging. On top of this but also part of it, the vast majority of economic commentators are saying that it is going to reduce national prosperity. Of course, without that we cannot have the healthcare systems we want and the defence capabilities that people want and expect.
Those who support the deal will say, “Ah well, in the long run it will work out in our favour”. All I can say is that I have always thought that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. As a financial analyst explained to me the other day, an unrealised gain is not a gain at all. Furthermore, we live in a world of regulated markets, which I personally believe is a good thing. I and many of my fellow citizens do not want to live in a kind of ersatz Singapore.
Of course, the heart of the Brexit project is the referendum, whose authority, it is true, has been tarnished and whose prospectuses were in general pretty bogus. As far as I can see, the case for Brexit goes back to the referendum, and I do not think that I have ever heard any Government suggest that on its own terms Brexit does the best for Britain. If the referendum had been constitutionally binding, that would probably have been the end of the matter. But, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger, then President of the Supreme Court, pointed out in the Miller judgment, it is Parliament that is sovereign and so it is for Parliament to take the decisions; we cannot simply duck them. Being a Member of either House of Parliament is not simply a matter of resting one’s backside on green or red Benches in SW1. In the last analysis, our role is to guide the nation’s direction of travel, and in different ways we are Burkean representatives, not delegates. It is our perception of the national interest and our fiduciary duties which must guide us.
For my own part, I envy those who actually believe that these proposals are in the nation’s best interests; it is easy for them. But I do not. I also have a nightmare about basing our decision on the outcome of a referendum held nearly three years ago to justify doing the wrong thing now when that view may no longer command the support it enjoyed then. There has rightly been discussion both in this debate and more widely about the divisions that this has exposed in our country. I agree with that and I hate it, but these things cut in several directions. I consider leaving Europe on the basis of a vote taken nearly three years ago, if now three years later public sentiment has changed, would be the most divisive outcome that could possibly be imagined. It is one that should at all costs be avoided.
In my view, the Prime Minister’s deal—I concur with those who have said that it is a remarkable achievement in the circumstances—is not good enough. It diminishes us all in a variety of ways and so I cannot endorse it. As parliamentarians, we now collectively take a decision on whether or not the nation goes to war and soldiers put their lives on the line for their country. Against that background, I believe that it is craven not to say no to this deal if we believe that it is not good enough. If as a consequence I leave politics in a tumbrel, so be it—but that is an easy thing to say at the end of one’s career. But that is not the only part of the story, because there is another bit—what next? Quite simply, we all have to stop and think carefully and quickly. In reality, we have some time before rushing into anything. We must find an acceptable way of extricating ourselves from the fine mess which unfortunately we find ourselves in.
My Lords, I hesitated before putting my name down to speak in this debate as I did not think I would have anything to say about Brexit that would not be said more convincingly by a large number of other noble Lords with far more experience of matters European than I. However, two events last week moved me to participate in the debate.
The first was a dinner I attended last weekend with a very successful British businessman who spent much of the evening trying to persuade me of the advantages of a no-deal Brexit. As he put it, with passion and conviction, “The economic welfare of our country depends mainly on our entrepreneurs, and the most successful entrepreneurs are those who know how to create or take advantage of disruption; that is, shattering old ways of doing things, old relationships and old ways of looking at the world. A no-deal Brexit”, he argued, “by causing disruption to established ways of doing things, would make it easier for our entrepreneurs to exploit new opportunities, and this in turn would make us all much richer”. I must have looked a bit sceptical when he made that claim because he went on to say, not in so many words, that our political leaders and especially our civil servants, even retired ones like me, were fundamentally risk averse and therefore constitutionally unable to recognise new opportunities even when they were staring them in the face. I have to admit that his passion for a no-deal Brexit, particularly as he is someone who has clearly been very successful, left me wondering whether perhaps my 27 years as a civil servant really have left me incapable of seeing the advantages of freeing ourselves from the EU at the end of next March and leaving our people to fend for themselves and make the best of it.
However, on the way home from that dinner, I thought about a debate in your Lordships’ House in which I had spoken the previous day. It was a debate on violent crime, introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey. In that moving debate, one speaker after another for two and a half hours referred to the large numbers of young people who have been killed or seriously maimed on our streets in recent months, and how this tragic state of affairs was likely to continue for the foreseeable future. This, it was argued, was because the underlying causes of this violence are not amenable to a so-called quick fix and the resources which are devoted to tackling these problems are in short supply, whether in our police forces, our prisons or other parts of the criminal justice system. The same can be said for our schools, hospitals, social services and the provision made for youth unemployment.
We must not forget that while we in this House and those in another place are debating which form of Brexit would be best from the economic, constitutional or political point of view, there are young people out there on the streets of London along with other cities, towns and even villages who are daily becoming the victims of violent crime. Each day almost two women are the victims of fatal domestic abuse, while each year well over 1,000 people die on our roads. I believe that these two issues, Brexit and the safety of our communities, cannot be considered in isolation. Indeed, the Brexit options we are debating today must also, or perhaps even first, be considered in terms of their effect on the security and safety of our communities, which after all is meant to be the first responsibility of government. It is for this reason that I believe that, given the present state of violent crime in our society and the shortage of resources to tackle it, it would be wrong—immoral might be a better word—for us to choose a Brexit option which means abandoning the agencies and institutions that our law enforcement organisations have developed over the past decade in collaboration with their European counterparts.
I do not have time to discuss the agencies and institutions in any detail this evening. I simply want to say that the agencies and systems such as Europol, Eurojust, the European arrest warrant, the information systems we all know about and the passenger name record have all been developed largely with our help and our leadership. Without them, our police forces would be far less effective and our communities would be far less safe. As a country, we cannot afford to choose a Brexit scenario that makes us less safe.
There has been much debate about the economic costs of the various forms of Brexit, the constitutional aspects and the political case for one or other option. However, I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds. Like him, I am concerned primarily about the cost in human lives, and here I do not think that there is room for argument. It is only the Prime Minister’s deal which specifies that the operational co-operation between our local law enforcement agencies and those of our European neighbours will continue largely as it does now for the whole of the implementation period. Further, it is only the Prime Minister’s political declaration which provides for:
“Comprehensive, close, balanced and reciprocal law enforcement and judicial co-operation in criminal matters with a view to delivering strong operational capabilities for the purposes of prevention, investigation, detection and prosecution of criminal offences”.
Our law enforcement and other criminal justice agencies are very hard-pressed at the moment trying to keep up with the growth of violence and crime in our communities. This is not the time to deprive them of the tools which they have developed over the past decade in collaboration with their European colleagues. The families of those who will inevitably be the victims of violent crime over the next decade will never forgive that. We must not let them down.
My Lords, the lights may not be going out all over Europe—not quite—but the doors are closing, and we must be realistic when we look at what is going on. It makes it more bitter if one believes, as I do, that the doors are closing partly because we are pushing them closed, and that we may trap our own fingers in them—and, what is worse, our children’s fingers. That is the background.
Another way in which doors are closing is that the option of a second referendum does not look like a great solution. That is partly because we have moved into a new digital age in which democracy is under severe pressure owing to the corruption of the democratic process by digital technologies. We must be realistic about this. A number of recent books have educated me—and, I am sure, many others—about these realities. For example, there is Martin Moore’s Democracy Hacked, and the book by Jonathan Taplin with the marvellous title drawn from Mr Zuckerberg’s thought, Move Fast and Break Things, whose subtitle is How Google, Facebook and Amazon Have Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy. That is where we are, and anybody who thinks a second referendum can provide a remedy needs to address the corruption of electoral politics by digital technologies that we have so far failed to address.
I shall say no more about that, on which I am not expert, but I want to say a little about—as noble Lords will guess—the Irish border. There, again, we are not looking at the realities of the change going on. We have heard some notable speeches both today and on earlier occasions, including one from my noble friend Lord Bew, about customs and the movement of beasts, which I take to be a serious issue. Questions have been raised not just about which rules, but about who is enforcing the rules. That requires careful thought.
I want to say something about the movement of persons. There is plenty to be found in various documents, including the 24th report of your Lordships’ European Union Committee, which was published this morning, and government documents. There is plenty about the rights of EU citizens, but rather too little is said about the rights of British and Irish citizens, which are not just the generic rights of EU citizens, because they reflect the common travel area settlement of the 1920s. They are much more extensive rights, important to all of us. We have rights in one another’s countries more extensive than the Schengen rights that certain EU countries have agreed for their citizens in other countries—rights not merely to movement but to abode, to work and to vote. Irish citizens vote when they live here and British citizens vote when living in the Republic of Ireland.
It is unclear how well the Government’s proposals would protect those rights. I have repeatedly asked Ministers how those bundles of rights will be protected, and the answer I have typically received is, “People will have to show their passports”. That is all very well if someone possesses a passport, which not everybody does. It is probably a good answer if all we are concerned about is EU citizens who are not UK or Republic of Ireland citizens. They must have passports—that is how they get here. But we must think about people who may lack passports—and, what is more concerning, lack the means to acquire a passport, which will require, for example, knowledge of one’s place of birth, or some prior documentary evidence.
Not every family has the wherewithal to provide that information. People grow up in various circumstances. We do not have a system of ID cards. People live their lives without ID; they have not needed it, because they know they are British, or they know they are Irish, and they know they have the right to go to and fro across the Irish Sea by boat without passports, although planes are a different matter. When people suffer from a lack of clarity about their place of birth or their parentage—I think of the home for unwed mothers in Newry, County Down, where children were, let us say, distributed quite lavishly into various jurisdictions—or are not sure where they were registered, their access to passports is not automatic.
This morning on the BBC, many of your Lordships will have heard the story of a person born in Nigeria of British parents, whose father worked in the oil industry and who was registered as having been born there, but that registration was not accessible. That person spent nine years serving in the Armed Forces, but was denied a passport. This predicament should be familiar to us, because it is the Windrush predicament —the predicament of fellow citizens who are entitled but cannot demonstrate their entitlement.
Of course, this is not general: lots of people have a passport or know where their birth certificate can be found. But there are enough in the other case for that to need to be taken seriously. Denial of rights for lack of documentation is something the Government need to address. The complex family situations in which some people grow up mean that they cannot obtain the documentation, but they are citizens of these islands and they deserve to be protected by the common travel area arrangement, which is referenced but not, I think, thought through in the Government’s current documentation.
Here we go again, seeking, despite the presence of so many right reverend Prelates this afternoon, to struggle across the Jordan to Canaan’s side. Well, we are not there yet. I suspect that one thing on which we could develop a consensus pretty rapidly in this House, and also down the Corridor, is the proposition that we are in one awful political mess, which is in danger of turning into a constitutional mess, or shambles—all in pursuit of a deal that the Chancellor of the Exchequer tells us will make the country poorer. This is not normally an objective in political life.
I have been reading Michael Palin’s excellent book on the “Erebus”, and I am struck by the similarity with a voyage taken by explorers in the middle of the 19th century in the Antarctic. One ship went from Cape Longing to Cape Disappointment, then on to Delusion Point, and finished up in Exasperation Bay. I have a certain sympathy with those Victorian travellers.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, in an admirable speech, said that he did not think that many new points would be made in this debate. He then made one: he gets this year’s Christmas hamper for what he said about a free vote down the Corridor, which I think would be an extremely good idea. Even if not many new points have been made, we have come back again and again to some of the points we have made in this Chamber before, which actually made a lot of sense. Many of the best points we made were rejected with contumely by Brexit Ministers at the time. I cannot remember who they were—they come and go with some regularity—but if they had accepted the points, we would all be in a rather better position today.
The question of sovereignty and how you define it ran through a lot of those discussions and is of course still relevant. I have always thought of sovereignty as an extremely slippery concept. We got into some of the difficulties we are in now because of an ideological fixation with it, as though it were something written in Mosaic law. It encourages what psychiatrists call “cognitive dissonance”, in which people seek to see the relationship between facts or evidence and reality. In The March of Folly—a book on mistakes in American history, particularly the Vietnam War—Barbara Tuchman makes that exact point about mistakes in American domestic and foreign policy. We can see that such folly is possible on both sides of the Atlantic; there have been real errors in this country as well.
I want to pick up on what I thought were the two best speeches—certainly the two best metaphors—of the summer. The first was in a speech by my noble friend Lord Bridges, who always makes great sense. He used the metaphor of a “gangplank” again the other day when he spoke. We have not built a bridge to a place where we want to land, whether it is Delusion Bay or Exasperation Whatever, partly because we put the cart before the horse. We dealt with withdrawing from the European Union before we decided what we wanted to withdraw to—which seems to have led to some obvious consequences, which were referred to by the excellent Higher Education Minister in his resignation the other day. I suppose that the answer is contained in the political declaration. It is quite well written—as gangplanks go—but I have written this stuff in the past and put my name to it. Whenever I see the words “best endeavours”, I reach for a shotgun. It is full of strong nouns, strong adjectives and weak verbs—and we have all seen this sort of thing before.
Let us think about sovereignty in that context. Today I found myself agreeing once again with my noble friend Lord Howard—as I used to fairly regularly. He pointed out that you can withdraw from the European Union without anybody else’s agreement—that is sovereignty—but you cannot get out of the withdrawal agreement or the backstop without other people’s sovereignty, and that is called “taking back control”. It puzzles me very greatly. So this document, which promises us a future in which the landing point is determined largely by others, with 27 European Union countries having a veto over what we do, is one of several reasons for not supporting the deal.
The other speech I wanted to refer to was by the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, which has gone viral. I am not sure that either he or I would have known until a few months ago what “going viral” means; I used to think that it was something to do with flu; I challenged him on this point and he rather agreed with me. He made a wonderful speech about taking his aunts to the cinema and them having to choose between seeing “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” and “Reservoir Dogs”. That is what we are offered here—only it is a double bill of “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” that we are threatened with. The mantra used to be, “No deal is better than a bad deal”. Today’s mantra is, “A bad deal is better than no deal”. To a considerable extent I suppose I can agree with that—but we should be able to achieve a better deal.
I realise that some of my noble friends will go through the Division Lobbies next week in support of the deal because they think that it is terrific. Some will probably go through the Lobbies out of loyalty to their party, which I understand, and because they are sympathetic to the Prime Minister, who has shown great determination even though I think that she has made the job more difficult for herself. They will go through the Lobbies comforting themselves, perhaps, that it could be a lot worse and that if we do not do a deal, the country will remain divided. I do not think that this deal will bring the country together and that if the deal goes through, my honourable and noble friends in the Brexit camp will, after all these years, come down the pavilion steps, slap us on the back and say, “May the best man win. It’s been a terrific fight. We’ll go along with whatever you’re doing”. We will argue about this for years. It will not bring us together, despite what St Matthew, St Paul and the most reverend Primate said—though not necessarily in that order.
We should not delude ourselves that this is the only deal in town and that the European Union will not do another one. It has made it clear that it will not do another deal if we do not change our red lines. It will do another deal if we change our red lines on leaving the single market and the customs union. It would be nice if the Minister underlines that point when he eventually responds to the debate.
Unfortunately, I find myself in a position where I will not be able to join my noble friends in the Division Lobby next week. I sympathise with the amendments in the House of Commons in the names of Hilary Benn and Dominic Grieve. I therefore sympathise very much with the Motion in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon. This is a bad deal. It is bad for the future of this country and bad for our kids, as the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, said earlier—and because of that I will be in the Lobby with the noble Baroness next week.
My Lords, I voted no on
I could quote several articles in the withdrawal agreement where the UK is at a disadvantage, but I will not do so. I will cite just one. In fact, following the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, it fits. Article 62.2, regarding “Ongoing judicial cooperation proceedings in criminal matters”, sets out clearly that access to SIENA, the Secure Information Exchange Network Application, will be very limited and costly for the UK. On environmental issues alone, the ECJ has taken the UK to court 34 times, and won 30 times, to give us a safer environment from air to water. In this deal, leaving means no independent external monitoring or enforcement.
There are still those who want to leave the EU without any arrangement and trade under so-called WTO rules. Although we are a WTO member, we do not currently trade on WTO terms. In Lords Select Committees on which I have served, the Government have talked about the UK taking imports from the EU without checks because we can trust the EU. If we did this under WTO terms, it would mean that imports from WTO members would have to be treated in exactly the same way. That would mean doing away with inspections and paperwork. We would lose control of imports, including dangerous products such as contaminated food, animal and plant products, dangerous electrical goods, unsafe cars and so on. The EU would treat the UK as any other WTO member. That would mean that UK exports of products of animal origin would have to enter the EU via a veterinary border inspection post. It just so happens that two of the UK’s main agricultural routes into the EU market are Calais and the Eurotunnel, neither of which has veterinary border inspection posts.
The Prime Minister is always going on about leaving being good for our money, our borders and our laws. Let us look at those points in reverse order, beginning with our laws. Between 1997 and 2013, I served in six government departments, including four years in MAFF and Defra and the Food Standards Agency. I was often at the end of complaints about EU food laws. However, not once in those 16 years did anyone suggest a specific law to abolish. When the coalition Government went through the balance of competences exercise—that is, UK versus EU—they buried over 30 reports because they all came down in favour of the status quo.
The second point is our borders. Within the current EU rules, UK Governments, Labour and Tory, have had the power to restrict access by people from the EU to the UK under article 7 of the EU citizens’ rights directive. It is used by more than one EU member state. Why has our Home Office never used these restrictions? Instead, it just prattles on about freedom of movement. There are opportunities to take that action within the existing rules.
The third point is our money. I went to a Hacked Off lecture last week by the broadcaster James O’Brien. It was brilliant. He had an interesting tabloid-esque approach to this—that is not meant as an insult. The cost of the EU is 39p per person per day in the UK. That is taking a net contribution of £9.4 billion from a population of 66 million over the days in the year. It is exactly 39p per person per day. It is not massive in the way that the Prime Minister puts it across.
Finally, the Government’s finance papers on Brexit assume trade deals all over the world, including the food-poisoning capital of the western world, the United States of America, where food poisoning rates are 10 times the rate per head of population compared with the UK. I have often cautioned in this House and in committees that the attack on chlorine-washed chicken is an animal welfare issue rather than a food safety issue. “Why the need to wash?” is the question. The answer is easy—it is because of the high level of disease in production plants and chicken-killing plants.
“chlorinated water does not effectively disinfect even salad leaves and can even render harmful bacteria as undetectable in routine testing methods”.
That must be part of the explanation for the food health problems in the United States, which has major salmonella outbreaks. It has just recalled 6.5 million pounds of raw beef due to salmonella. Hundreds of people die each year from salmonella in the United States—450 in 2016. Over the 10 years from 2005 to 2015, nobody in England and Wales died from salmonella. The EU has protected us from this. That is what it is all about. It has protected our people and made them safer. The draft agreement does not do that. For that reason, it should be rejected. I rest my case.
My Lords, as so many of your Lordships have pointed out, the UK’s future success depends not so much on the withdrawal agreement, but on the outcomes of the negotiations still to come—negotiations based on a political declaration that is not legally binding. The future viability of key businesses and the livelihoods of the people they employ are left hanging on the series of “best endeavours”, “should” and “aims to” that punctuate this short document.
Among those sectors is the creative industries. In my short time in this House I have often stressed the importance of the creative industries to the UK’s success—a sector growing at twice the rate of the wider UK economy and singled out in the industrial strategy, with ambitious targets for jobs and growth. Yet this sector, like so many others, is at risk because its success depends on the ability to recruit and retain key talent from the EU. In the most economically productive areas, domestic skills gaps mean that 30% of staff are recruited from the EU, with 17 creative occupations on the tier 2 shortage occupation list. Even if we started today, we would not be able to train up a domestic workforce to fill those roles by 2021.
Nothing is agreed, as we have been told, until everything is agreed. For many parts of the economy, nothing is yet agreed. The withdrawal agreement covers only the terms of separation, the political declaration is no more than its title claims, and we now know that the all-important White Paper on immigration will not be published any time soon.
To the creative and many other sectors, the future position on immigration is of as much significance in this debate as the documents named in the Motions before us today. The Migration Observatory at Oxford University reports that the UK economy is dependent on between 3.6 million and 3.8 million workers from the EU—roles that we will still require in April and 21 months later. Yet over two-fifths of these workers are employed in lower-paid but vital occupations, for instance, in health and social care—roles that will not meet an anticipated £30,000 salary threshold. Government-commissioned forecasts predict that every year, a further 1.5 million jobs will open up for workers new to the labour market—around 725,000 of them medium and low-skilled jobs.
Where exactly will these workers come from? The Office for National Statistics projects that between 700,000 and 900,000 young people will turn 18 every year between now and 2030. Is our aspiration that every one of them will occupy medium and low-skilled roles? This is hardly the “race to the top” that was promised in the Government’s 2017 plan to improve social mobility through education.
The current tier 1 and tier 2 system has been effective in supplying high-skilled workers from non-EEA countries, but it has worked as part of a migration landscape that provides access to a steady supply of medium and low-skilled workers through our EU membership. A salary-based immigration system will block access to the workforce the UK economy needs and will be severely damaging to our creative industries, which rely not just on established talent but the bright talents of the future, for whom an annual income of £30,000 is the stuff of dreams. Salary levels are not a proxy for skills.
The political declaration says nothing about freelance workers, who make up 15% of the overall workforce and 35% of the creative sector. A freelance visa, as proposed by the Creative Industries Federation, would ensure continued access to skilled, short of exceptional, freelancers who are required on an occasional basis, often at short notice, and provide vital flexibility, especially to small businesses.
Even in the event of an orderly Brexit, there is a real risk that UK employers will not have access to the workforce they need, in either the short or medium term. No deal would “bring down the shutters overnight”, to quote the chief executive of London First. Without assurances that our future immigration system will reflect the economy’s need for a broader range of skills and salaries, the UK’s future prosperity is at risk.
Over the last two years, we have seen an unswerving determination to end freedom of movement on the basis that this is the will of the people. This continues to baffle many of us, not least the Migration Advisory Committee, which has noted that migration flows are now falling sharply and the UK may find itself in the position of ending free movement just as public concern falls about the migration flows that result from it.
The rhetoric is getting in the way of the facts, and it is obscuring an obvious truth: freedom of movement is not just about attracting talent to the UK, important as that is. It is about the rights of future generations to enjoy the freedoms we have all taken for granted—to experience other cultures, to learn and work in diverse communities and places, and to enjoy, as we have, the enriching opportunities of a life lived without borders.
With so much uncertainty, Members in the elected Chamber face not so much a meaningful vote as a terrifying hand of pontoon, gambling, as the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, pointed out, on our futures. Stick with the deal on the table, despite it suiting no one, or twist and see what the next deal brings, but, in doing so, take the risk of leaving without a deal—an option no one believes is in the best interests of the UK.
On the advice of the ECJ’s advocate-general, there is a third choice. I have listened hard to other noble Lords who argue that a further referendum would be a betrayal of democracy. However, it seems to me that the betrayal happened over two years ago, when dubious, if not illegal, practices undermined a democratic process, and the false claims that underpinned the referendum meant that a bright future outside the EU was, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, pointed out, grossly mis-sold. All the evidence shows that pressing on, with or without a deal, will leave us in a worse position than we currently enjoy.
The decision rightly belongs to Members of the other place. Given all this, I believe that they would be justified in choosing that third option. Noble Lords have put forward possible ways in which this might play out, including taking the question back to the public and particularly to the next generation, on whom this decision will have the most impact. It is clear that Parliament now needs to take back control and press pause on the basis that pushing on cannot be the best way to ensure the future success of the UK, or to bring together our divided nation.
My Lords, what distresses me most about the Brexit debate is the defeatism and pessimism that run through it. It is for me a very un-British thing—the very opposite of what I have always admired about this country. We have behaved as if we were defeated from the start. If I have heard it once, I have heard it 100 times: “The people did not know what they were talking about or voting for”. “We are bound to be overwhelmed by a union of 27 nations”. “After over 40 years of membership, it is all too difficult to disentangle”. These are the beliefs of those who refuse to accept the referendum result in defiance of our duty to implement it, as David Cameron and the leader of the Opposition pledged at the time. These are the beliefs that propel the demand for a second referendum—a referendum of unknown outcome that would prolong uncertainty and deepen still further the rift in our society. I know that some of your Lordships say that it is unfair that young people did not vote, but there will always be young people. Of the next referendum, we could say that the next generation two years down the line also did not vote. It would be a national catastrophe.
I regret to say that such defeatism and lack of self-confidence have contaminated the agreement itself. They have been the worm in the apple of negotiation. It is no wonder that it is so difficult for some people to support the withdrawal agreement and political declaration. They fall far short of the mandate given to the Government and Parliament by the referendum result. As many here have pointed out, the worst thing about the agreement is the open-ended backstop; the Attorney-General has confirmed it. No self-respecting nation, independent for a thousand years, can or should accept indefinite subordination to a foreign authority.
The Government and the EU tell us to take the deal because it is the only one on offer, but there is always another one on offer if we are more self-confident, recognise the EU’s manifest weaknesses and deploy the sticks and carrots of skilful negotiation. To say that it is impossible before even trying is sheer defeatism. We are told that no one has come up with an alternative, but the landscape is littered with alternatives—they have just not been entertained by the Government. Do you know what worries me most? It is that, if we approve this deal, the 17.4 million people who voted to leave will feel that they have been cheated. I dread to think what their reaction will be. We have only to look across the channel at the violent demonstrations all over France to see what happens when the political class and its leadership lose touch with the people. Do not think that it cannot happen in this country. We must obtain an end date for our release from the backstop or we must pursue another course. With political will there is still time.
Incidentally, there is no such thing as “no deal”; there is a spectrum of potential deals. Even a bare-bones agreement, under WTO rules, does not deserve to be called “crashing out”. Of course, there will be a period of adjustment, but it is worth paying the price if we safeguard our sovereignty. The British are the most adaptable people. You need only to go to Germany, where I lived for seven years, or to France, of which I hold a passport, to realise how flexible and adaptable this country is by contrast. This is the moment for our country to rise up from its defensive crouch and to dig deep into its history. It is time to stiffen the sinews in defence of our nation’s sovereignty.
We can look forward to a new era of sovereignty and alliance with our many friends around the globe, including in Europe. Leaving the European Union does not make us any less European. I am a European; I am the symbol of one. I firmly believe that we can do better for our country. The noble Lord, Lord Newby, spoke about a French person living in his constituency who has decided to leave the UK because of Brexit. Well, I say to her, “Good luck!” I wager that she will soon be back when she has seen that in France unemployment is high and the country is in a complete mess. I know of French people who have been and are already back in the UK.
We should stop re-running the referendum; we should stop the negativity. People and businesses in this country want closure. We should not be afraid. We should believe in ourselves. Even if it comes to what people call a “no deal”, we can handle it.
My Lords, I shall talk about free movement. I want to do so in part because the ending of free movement “once and for all”, as the Prime Minister puts it, is arguably the most emphatic and oft-repeated point that she has made in trying to sell her deal to the country. Yet in doing so the Prime Minister commits a sin of omission. Her line about ending free movement once and for all is intended to play not to the whole country but to a specific and, up to now, less quiet audience. What she omits to draw attention to is the movement of people in the other direction, into the rest of Europe, because any curbs to movement that we place on those coming into this country will have to be reciprocated, and the stronger her rhetoric on curbing immigration, the stronger it should be for any British person moving the other way. Of course, that cannot be part of her selling pitch, yet the effect will be severe limitations placed on such movement, in particular in our service industries, including the creative sector which the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, has already referred to, as well as severe limitations on opportunities for young people to travel, work and study in Europe.
Many service industries—often ignored in favour of conventional goods despite being 80% of our economy, with 46% of service exports going to Europe—depend inherently on movement of workers within Europe, not just to one country but across multiple borders. That will affect Brits, both freelance and employees, living not just in the UK but abroad. Whatever rights and security are afforded to them in their country of residence—and Europeans living within the UK are far from being reassured—those freelancers and employees may find themselves effectively landlocked and in danger of losing their livelihoods.
Both short and longer-term jobs are threatened. I want to give some examples. The Incorporated Society of Musicians states bluntly that the Government’s deal represents a serious threat to the British music industry, which is worth £4.5 billion a year to the British economy, and that the end of free movement would mean significant new barriers for musicians seeking touring work in the EU.
Jayne Hamilton, a British software developer based in the UK, said in a letter to the New European earlier this year that:
“I will lose two-thirds of my livelihood at the very least because of Brexit. While companies export products, we freelancers export ourselves. The freedom of movement and work in the single market is vital for us … It has taken me over 12 years to build up my network and clients. Many of them are in Germany and the Netherlands. My languages in addition to technical skills often secure me a contract and allow me to fend off tough competition … agencies usually need freelance candidates fast, sometimes within days … The great irony is that British freelancers often gain niche skills on projects in the EU which they can deploy on projects back home”.
We are to understand that the Government favour what they term a “mobility partnership”. Yet, outside the single market, even when movement will be possible, the inevitable lack of flexibility, the red tape and the costs will always mean that EU workers will have an edge in competition which should not be underestimated. Anything less than what EU citizens have will be, in comparison, an immobility partnership. The only mobility partnership worth considering is the partnership we now have, not just for competition but for co-operation.
The effects of an anticipated loss of free movement have already been felt. Where they can, many creatives are moving abroad. We heard yesterday that, remarkably, over 3,000 British tech jobs have relocated to Brussels. We heard last year that 40% of the British video gaming industry is thinking of relocating. I have heard no change to that estimate. The pressures being placed on our British and European creative talent by the threat of Brexit is already a scandal.
It has been instructive to listen to the Prime Minister’s response to the recent questioning by Pete Wishart and others on the loss of opportunities for young people of all classes to travel, work and study in Europe if this deal is accepted. The response is, once again, as always, a selective line: free movement is ending. The Prime Minister’s refusal to engage with these concerns is deeply insulting to the young people of this country. For many young Europeans, including British people, free movement is a principle in itself. More than that, it is the right to explore at will your continent, a right that will be lost if we accept this deal. Will the UK be involved in the new iteration of Erasmus+ and Horizon Europe? We get no inkling from the political declaration. We know that Switzerland lost full access to Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020 when it voted to restrict EU migration, since partly reversed. It is entirely logical that the same thing will happen to the UK if this deal is accepted. The resignation of Universities and Science Minister Sam Gyimah, even though he was not a Cabinet Minister, was both significant and heartfelt.
Free movement is a two-way street. What is most heartbreaking is the willingness of Brexiteers, for whatever reason, to betray the opportunities of their fellow citizens. Some who have spoken today are remainers who have accepted the 2016 referendum. I am a remainer who in the last two years has become even more convinced by the arguments to remain than I was then. Either Parliament stops Brexit or we have a people’s vote. If the latter is the case, I hope that the country takes a decision to reverse the first referendum and remain within the EU.
My Lords, I would also like to pay tribute to the Prime Minister as someone whom I have known for more than 20 years and whom I admire for her stamina, her resilience and her self-belief. No one can claim greater ownership of the process, the detail or, indeed, the outcome of the Brexit negotiations than the Prime Minister. No one deserves greater credit for this deal.
That is why there is nothing that I would rather be able to do than stand here today and say that I support this withdrawal agreement. How much easier it would be to say that I was convinced by the arguments, persuaded by the appeals to loyalty and resolved to ignore the overwhelming evidence that this is such a bad deal that it is worse than the deal on World Trade Organization terms. I would love to be able to reject the advice of successful British entrepreneurs, like the inventor Sir James Dyson; Tim Martin, founder of the Wetherspoon pub chain; and the hotelier Sir Rocco Forte. All have the deal-clinching confidence to believe that a clean, global Brexit on the WTO terms on which most of the world trades would be a better deal than this deal.
When I worked for various charities over a period of almost 20 years, I fought hard to protect their independence from government, in the sure knowledge that it underpinned their credibility in the media, in your Lordships’ House and in the other place. That the Governor of the Bank of England should have so compromised its independence totally undermines the credibility of his predictions of Brexit Armageddon, based on factors which its former Governor, the noble Lord, Lord King, has argued are not plausible. I agree with him when he says:
“It saddens me to see the Bank of England unnecessarily drawn into this project”.
The former Governor is surely right because that is, ultimately, what this is all about: the project that is ever closer political union with the EU. It is exactly what the British people voted to leave in the 2016 referendum. Yet this deal would see us trapped and with less control than if the country had actually voted to remain.
It reminds me of a cross-party trip to Berlin which I went on last year, when a British parliamentarian—who shall remain nameless and, I should add, is not from your Lordships’ House—told our counterparts from the Bundestag, “I hope you give us a good hiding so that we realise the mistake that we have made”. I think the EU Commission might have been listening, because it has done exactly that.
Just consider the £39 billion from us to them—for what? It was for a backstop, the so-called insurance policy which not only insures them against our having a competitive advantage but, for good measure, treats a part of the UK differently from the rest and, incredibly, would be indefinite. As the Attorney-General has advised, there is no unilateral right of termination. Yet we understand that the backstop was “a risk worth taking” because both sides have agreed in the deal to use their “best endeavours” to find a way out of the arrangement as soon as possible. With all due respect, a quick glance at the Attorney-General’s legal advice to the Prime Minister shows that this deal is fraught with risk.
As my noble friend Lord Patten of Barnes, who is not in his place, intimated earlier, much has been made of the term “best endeavours”, as if somehow the EU and UK can resolve their differences by having a group hug—without my noble friend’s shotgun, I imagine. If that does not work, we can always tell teacher at the independent arbitration panel, in the hope that they side with us eventually and that the ECJ will look on benignly and with complete neutrality. All I can say is: “Good luck with that. I am sure it will go really well!”.
As a Member of the other place explained a few hours ago, “best endeavours” is not a legal obligation. The EU is not obliged to compromise its own interests, so why should we trust the EU to stop endeavouring to do its best to do us down—not because it hates us but because it is acting, as it has always done, in the national interest of the political project that is the European Union? Even if we choose to indulge in such wilful delusion, the people out there know that not only is that not the same thing as our national interest but in some areas it runs wholly contrary to it. Yet this deal presupposes that, after two years of interminable negotiations, we should suddenly trust the EU to respect our national interest after we have handed it £39 billion. Why?
I will close on this point. My noble friend Lady Meyer, in her superb speech, referred to defeatism. This defeatist deal is not about a compromise; it is about being totally compromised. Of course I share the Prime Minister’s desire to bring the country back together. Who does not? But for us to mouth meaningless mantras which conceal the truth, foment distrust and dishonour the majority result of the 2016 referendum is a recipe not for healing but for prolonged uncertainty and deeper division.
My Lords, to coin a phrase, a week in politics is a long time. Let us project our thoughts to Wednesday of next week. Who knows what the political landscape will be? Will the Prime Minister still be there, or will she sink with her flagship deal? Will rival factions be putting forward alternatives at that time?
Clearly, there has been a great problem in trying to bring together two conflicting considerations. First, almost all economic forecasts suggest that we will be less prosperous outside the EU than if we stayed as full members. Indeed, we already see a weak sterling, business closures, lack of investment in the UK and, since the referendum, an outflow from UK equity funds of $20.6 billion. The bright new deals promised by Brexiteers appear increasingly to be but a mirage. Why should new trading partners give us a better deal than the EU, with its much greater clout? It is also likely that our weight in world affairs will be reduced as we are largely on our own. On this basis, the deal and the accompanying political declaration are essentially essays in damage limitation.
However, the second consideration is also cogent. These considerations have to be balanced by the fact of the referendum result—a small but decisive majority in favour of Brexit—even if there appears within that group no majority for a hard or soft Brexit, when by contrast the remain vote is clear. However, that referendum was only a snapshot in time. The latest YouGov poll published in today’s Times shows that 49%, as against 38%, of our people believe that to leave was a mistake.
The deal, I concede, was an honest attempt by the Prime Minister to square the circle, to recognise the importance of a close relationship with our major trading partner while satisfying a referendum majority. But the result is that the context in our country today is of almost total political disarray on the issue, reflected in the votes in Parliament last night and in the Cabinet. Last week, the Daily Mail trumpeted the astonishing front-page exclusive—the revelation that a Cabinet Minister, Mrs Leadsom, was intending to support the Prime Minister. That is surely an interesting vignette on the depth of our political crisis. Our system is traditionally meant to provide stability, but historians will be hard-pressed to find any precedent for the turmoil. Shelley’s “England in 1819” comes to mind.
Clearly, the referendum showed great fissures in our body politic; that deep malaise is not the fault of the Prime Minister, but she has contributed to it by her actions and lack of actions. I see her as a decent and principled patriot who inherited from her predecessor a poisoned chalice and leads an impossible party with less support than that enjoyed by John Major at the time of the Maastricht treaty. She called a general election prematurely and became dependent on Northern Irish unionists for her majority. Who would have thought that there was in Northern Ireland a majority for remain? It is not what we hear from our Ulster colleagues in this Parliament. She was forced to give a massive sum to the DUP; now that it is a major threat to her, will she be asking for our money back? She has blown equally hot and cold on the European Union to different audiences. She has largely ignored the Cabinet in negotiations and excited the expectations of the Brexiteers, who now feel betrayed. She attempted to divide the EU, but it remained remarkably united.
A key mistake in the negotiations was to start by announcing thick red lines which she has been forced, over the negotiations, to dilute. An example, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, mentioned, was to demonise the CJEU; as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, pointed out, its judgments have been much to our advantage. This entailed a rejection of the customs union, the single market and the adoption of policies on aviation, chemicals and dispute resolution, which the Government now seek to soften. Paragraph 26 of the Explainer for the Political Declaration states:
“The UK and the EU will explore the possibility of cooperation between UK authorities and EU agencies”.
Paragraph 27 states:
“The UK will also consider aligning with EU rules in relevant areas”.
So that is clear.
Thus, on the red lines, the Prime Minister was bound by fetters of her own making. She allowed internal party opponents to make the running without forcing them to produce their alternatives. She is now trying to sell the only deal in town; it is as if with one leap we are free, but we will be bound by equivalence frameworks and level playing fields. The deal is, of course, a compromise, an orphan which neither side wishes to adopt. She now faces a parliamentary gridlock; there is no majority in Parliament for this deal or indeed for any other, and the likelihood is that next Tuesday the deal will be rejected.
The Prime Minister can read the economic forecasts; she can see that in the international field we risk being relegated to a lower division. She was wrong-footed in a recent Q&A phone-in when asked whether her deal was better than staying in the EU. The response of the Brexiteers and their cheerleaders is analogous to that of President Trump to the forecasts of climate change: “We know better than those so-called experts whose Project Hysteria now succeeds Project Fear”.
Faced with parliamentary gridlock and a possible attempt to restart negotiations, the EU could, of course, marginally tweak the deal, but would that produce agreement? Leaving aside the disaster of no deal, the only serious alternative is a people’s vote. Yes, it would be full of uncertainties and the electorate might feel cheated, but they did not vote for a lower standard of living and may indeed feel cheated because of that. People did not vote to be decision-takers. The option is the status quo or this deal. There is a chance of escaping from the massive misjudgment against our national interest three years ago, and we should take it.
My Lords, as some noble Lords may know, I supported the campaign to leave the European Union with my vote and also with my finances—and I have the inheritance tax bill from HMRC to prove it. Despite the political and economic turmoil we are in, and the irritation of having to pay twice to help level the playing field, given that the remain-supporting Government pumped more than £9 million into their cause, I am an unrepentant leaver, with no regrets.
Along with many other Brexiteers, I do not say that capriciously or for cavalier reasons but because I am a democrat who is primarily and viscerally driven by the desire to regain our sovereignty. This prime motivation means that I cannot support the deal on offer, however naive, ideological or downright inflexible that makes me appear.
Flexibility, as it is currently understood, is not an unlimited good. Professor Richard Sennett describes how the meaning of flexibility has fundamentally changed. Originally it was derived from the observation that, though a tree may bend in the wind, its branches spring back to their original position. Flexibility denoted,
“the tree’s capacity both to yield and to recover, both the testing and the restoration of its form”.
The shape of the tree, its identity and identifiability as a tree are unchanged.
Today, he says, flexibility means the ability to move rapidly from one shape to another—to be always in flux and to have no essential shape at all. The tree to which I am referring is the structure of the United Kingdom and the sovereignty of our Parliament. The deal on offer, which we are strenuously told is a reasonable compromise requiring a flexible approach, requires us to morph into something that we are not. Its shape shifts the union of nations and makes a mockery of our sovereignty.
Under the proposed withdrawal agreement Bill, the United Kingdom will have no representation in the European Council, the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice. We will have no representation in the bodies which make laws that will continue directly to affect us. No one who actually makes or implements these laws will be accountable to us, and the names of those making and implementing those decisions will be unknown. It will mean government without the consent of those to be governed—yet as Abraham Lincoln said in his Nebraska speech in 1854:
“No man is good enough to govern another man, without that other’s consent”.
Paraphrasing the Declaration of Independence, to secure every human being’s inalienable rights, which include liberty, Governments are instituted, and they derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. This has always been the problem with the European Union. It is why so many in this country chose to leave and why others across the land mass it controls are not enamoured with it. Who in this country, or in any of the other 27 countries, voted for Juncker, Tusk —or, of course, Selmayr or Barnier? Yet they wield disproportionate power over our everyday lives and will continue to do so under this draft agreement, despite the 2016 referendum result.
I fear that too many view this in the short term, just wanting a fix so that we can move on. In reality, it is a straitjacket that will ferment Europhobic division over the long term. It would be far better to adopt the spirit of adventure and freedom that has enabled us to walk a narrow path in the past and take the short-term pain that leaving on World Trade Organization terms might entail. For this reason, the Labour Motion, which emphatically rejects a WTO outcome regardless of the actual final deal, should itself be emphatically rejected.
Finally, the argument that we are not ready for what is otherwise called a no-deal exit is indefensible. A Government who have not prepared for a no-deal scenario have not acted responsibly, given the oft-repeated mantra that no deal is better than a bad deal. Somewhere along the line, this script was rewritten, and now we are being told that a bad deal is better than no deal. We must hold our nerve, as my noble friend Lady Meyer encouraged us to do just now, and we must push back, not just against this rewrite but against the flexible revision of democracy—otherwise it will shapeshift into something no longer identifiable as democracy. That is a divisive and unresolved inheritance that we do not want to pass on to future generations.
My Lords, it was interesting to listen to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Farmer. His speech confirmed to me why I was right to vote remain.
We have been reminded many times in this debate that the country voted for Brexit in 2016. It certainly voted to leave the European Union, but it did not at the time establish a clear sense of what that actually meant. The Norway option, a Norway-plus option, a Norway-plus-plus option, a Canada-style free-trade agreement, a relationship such as that which Switzerland has with the EU: all of these were said to be options, as were claims by some supporters of Brexit that we might get special access to the single market and stay in a customs union if we left.
We were promised that our trading with the EU would be settled quickly: it has not been. We were told that trade deals with the rest of the world would be easy: they have not been. I have never understood why such trade deals are thought to be in our interest, when much of the evidence suggests that it is the other country that will gain more from them, sometimes disrupting British production. Anyway, we have large numbers of trade deals already from our membership of the EU. Would it not be better just to keep those as a member of the EU and benefit as a member when other trade deals are negotiated by the EU?
The Government’s own analysis admits that trade deals outside the EU will add little to GDP, yet a no deal could mean a 9% hit to our GDP. No deal would be a disaster. The question we need to address is: can we rely on the result of a referendum held two and a half years ago when the outcome two and a half years later is very different from what was claimed it would be by leave campaigners? I submit that another referendum would not be a betrayal, as the Prime Minister has described it, now that the destination has become clearer. People surely must have the right to assess the evidence and to make a final decision, so I will be supporting the Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon. No deal would damage our currency, cause rising unemployment and push up interest rates. This is not Project Fear: both the Government and the Bank of England have confirmed that any Brexit outcome will make us poorer. People did not vote to become poorer and were never told they would be poorer by the leave campaign.
The Prime Minister describes her deal as promising a brighter future. Her letter to the nation adds a claim that it is a deal,
“that works for our whole country and all of our people”.
It does not. It is a serious blunder that will impact on millions of low-income families. The Prime Minister’s letter to the nation also said that she has worked to,
“deliver a Brexit deal that works for every part of our country—for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland”.
Crucially, the English regions are simply forgotten in this, yet more than £400 million has been injected into the north-east of England, where I live, through the current round of European structural funds. This funding is due to end in 2020, yet we already know that transition could be extended beyond 2020. Without clear decisions well in advance, regional growth and development will be harmed. Why have the Government failed so comprehensively to ensure that the money we would expect from the EU in structural funding if we stayed in will be available for the poorer English regions after 2020?
With regard to the risks for the north-east economy in this withdrawal agreement, I remind the House that 4,540 north-east businesses traded with the EU in 2017, totalling 57% of north-east regional trade, compared with 40% nationally. The EU is a vital export market for the north-east of England, and the single market is a crucial part of that.
I am advised now that there are cases of businesses already putting their no-deal plans into place, either relocating or reducing staff. In addition, some smaller companies cannot deal with some of the pressures needed for Brexit. For example, it is often cited that business may need to stockpile 25% more to cope with transition—but, with limited warehousing and pressured profit margins, some businesses do not have the resources to raise their capacity. There are examples of some north-east companies being handed supply contracts saying that if the deal is unfavourable, they may have to move to the EU or else have their contracts terminated. Many companies are concerned about their role in a supply chain: if a large manufacturer pulls out, it could cause a domino effect right down the chain, impacting on many businesses.
Uncertainty has also deterred certain businesses in the north-east from bidding for continental contracts. Currency risk is one reason I give as an example. Some businesses have bid for European contracts but have been told that it was too much of a risk to take them on, and that has been attributed to uncertainty. I contend that the north-east of England will be poorer outside the EU. The north-east will be outside the single market, making it harder for our exporters to the EU to do business. We will see more capital investment that we might have attracted to the north-east going to other parts of the EU that are inside the single market, because we are outside it. No deal would also impact hard on university research and disrupt EU exchange programmes.
I repeat that all versions of Brexit will make us poorer. I have concluded that we need to ask the British people whether they still want to leave the EU now that they know the cost of Brexit or whether they prefer to stay in, with all the advantages of the customs union, the single market and membership of European programmes. I accept that this would require a people’s vote, and I will support that.
My Lords, it appears that we will have one voting opportunity to express the House’s opinion on the draft agreement and the political declaration, and that is on the Motion expressing regret by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. I will therefore address my remarks to that Motion. I regard it as a curate’s egg. I agree with the first two parts of the Motion. The first says,
“it is for the House of Commons to determine the matter”.
I agree with that. The second says,
I agree with that also, and I believe that a great majority in both Houses, although not everyone, agrees with both of those propositions. The third part of the Motion regrets that the withdrawal agreement and political declaration negotiated by the Government,
“would do grave damage to the future economic prosperity, internal security and global influence of the United Kingdom”.
I agree that the consequences of the UK leaving the EU will be to damage our future prosperity, security and global influence, but I do not agree that these damaging consequences are due to the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration. They are due to the UK’s decision to leave the EU.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, and others have said, there is of course still much to play for. Many of the points that have been made—for example, in favour of a Norway arrangement—fall within the negotiations on the future relationship. So there is still much to negotiate about, but it is the withdrawal agreement on which we have to make an immediate decision.
The agreement is neither better nor worse than I expected from the outset of the negotiations, and I note that none of those in favour of our leaving the EU has proposed an alternative departure agreement that would have had any chance of acceptance by the EU, nor are they doing so now. If the UK is to leave the EU, a departure agreement along the lines proposed by the Government and agreed with the EU is, in my view, the inevitable consequence. It is much better than no deal. It is worse than the alternative of staying within the EU, but that is not the choice before us in this debate. Given the choice between this departure agreement and no deal, I cannot in good conscience put my name to regretting the agreement and political declaration.
So in the last few days I have felt that I am in a dilemma, and I know that some other Members of the House have shared it. I want to express my support for the first two legs of the Opposition’s Motion, but I could not do so except by also voting for the third leg, with which I do not agree. So I have tabled an amendment, which will be on the Order Paper tomorrow, to delete the third leg of the Opposition’s Motion so that I and others in the House have the chance to support the first two legs of the Motion without supporting the third.
I should explain briefly why I do not want to vote for the third leg of the Opposition’s Motion. First, for reasons that I explained in our debate on the departure agreement a week or so ago, I think the objections to this departure agreement have been greatly overstated. Secondly, I doubt whether the Government, or for that matter the Opposition, could have done better. Thirdly, I see no realistic prospect of a substantially better departure agreement now being negotiated, so I think it pointless to condemn this one unless the purpose is simply to increase the Government’s difficulties, and I do not regard that as being in the national interest.
Having irritated the Leader of the Opposition today, I will end by irritating the Liberal Democrats. If they had been drafting this Motion, I feel confident that what they would have regretted would have been the Government’s decision to press ahead with Brexit without giving the British people the opportunity to express an informed opinion. I would have supported such a Motion, but of course they could not get the Labour Party’s support for a Motion on those terms. So they have compromised in the interests of opposition solidarity, but in compromising they have lost me on this occasion.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on an excellent speech that will provide a lot of food for thought for many of our colleagues and beyond. Speaking in this Chamber after the Brexit referendum vote, I urged the Government not to let down the people who earn their livelihoods in our fishing industry and not to allow their interests to be bargained away in future negotiations with the EU. Having watched developments since then, I am sure that the Prime Minister has no intention of doing so, but it is clear that the way ahead in this area will be complex and difficult, and a great deal of tough deal-making lies in front of us.
Fishing may be a small industry—it contributes 0.5% to our GDP, and in 2016 the UK fishing fleet was estimated to employ 11,757 people—but big promises were made and continue to be made by the Government about the benefits that will accrue to our fishing communities when, as part of Brexit, we leave the common fisheries policy and are able to negotiate catch quotas and access to our waters as an independent coastal state. Despite its relatively small economic clout, I believe that the fishing industry and the coastal communities where it is embedded hold a very special place in British hearts. Their fate has become totemic, as the fraught negotiating process in Brussels has continued. It is certainly true in Scotland, where 65% of the British catch is landed. It has now become painfully clear that the Government will have to remain both resolute and vigilant to withstand EU attempts to muddy the waters when talks on a future trade deal get under way. Indeed, it now seems quite possible that fishing may provide the first trial of strength.
To make matters more complicated, we must also remember that our fishing industry is not homogenous with uniform requirements. While those who own and crew trawlers on the east coast of Scotland want access to EU markets for much of their catch, they also want new arrangements which will increase their quotas, and keep foreign fleets further at bay. Meanwhile, the major priority for those who take their lucrative catch of shellfish mainly off the west coast is swift and untrammelled entry to EU markets.
The potential stumbling block is linkage. The Government are well aware of this, and the Prime Minister—who has been pressed hard by her Scottish Tory colleagues—has said she is determined to keep future negotiations on fishing catch quotas in our waters from the bargaining over a future trade deal. However, the French President has insisted that the two issues should be linked, and without UK concessions, a trade deal will become slow to achieve. In a robust response, the Prime Minister has rightly made it clear that if a fair deal on fishing rights cannot be agreed by the end of 2020, the default position would be that French and other EU boats would be banned from British waters.
The withdrawal agreement, and the political declaration, give no guarantees to the fishing industry about its future. The declaration only states that the UK and the EU should establish a “new fisheries agreement”, preferably by July 2020. The Government insist that they have managed to resist any written reference to a link between access to our waters and the terms of a future trade deal. Ominously, a separate statement by EU leaders states that one of their priorities is a fisheries agreement which builds on,
“existing reciprocal access and quota shares”.
I must stress how severely trust and confidence in the UK Government will be damaged in Scotland if the fishing industry is not clearly seen to benefit from the UK leaving the common fisheries policy. Predictably, the Scottish nationalists are already chanting, almost like a doom-laden Greek chorus, that there will be a sell-out of fishing interests by the United Kingdom Government. The SNP, which wants to use Brexit to further its plan to break up the United Kingdom, must believe that an endless mantra of “sell-out” will divert attention from its own weak and untenable position on this matter. I repeat the words in Hansard of
“We will be leaving the common fisheries policy and taking back control of our waters. But it is a bit rich for him to make those comments, given that he belongs to a party that wants to stay in the CFP in perpetuity”.—[Official Report, Commons, 26/3/18; col. 529.]
The only sell-out of our fishing industry which could take place would be as a result of the SNP’s obsession with independence, which has been accompanied by its plan to take Scotland back into the common fisheries policy. That is not what the British fishing industry wants. Theirs is an extremely good and deserving cause, and I sincerely hope and believe that it will be given priority by our Government in due course.
My Lords, my first reaction when news of the Government’s deal seeped out three weeks ago was one of relief. The Prime Minister had pulled off what had seemed impossible—an agreement broadly consistent with her so-called red lines, which provided for a backstop on the border between the Republic and the north of Ireland, and which was acceptable to the EU. On top of that, it appeared to reflect public opinion, providing more control over our borders while keeping us economically close to our main trading partner. For a brief moment, I thought the tedious debate about Brexit and its associated negotiations would come to an end, and at last the Government could turn their attention to more pressing priorities around improving the UK’s economic performance.
However, as with all legal contracts, it is important to study the fine print. In this case, the six hundred pages of legal text, supplemented by a 26-page declaration, make somewhat disappointing reading. The more I have read the document, the clearer it is that the EU 27 have achieved all their objectives, while for the UK success is again deferred, kicked down the road into the next phase of endless negotiations.
The political declaration, long on adjectives but short on substance, is all things to all people. It could lead to any destination, which may be no bad thing. Most importantly, the EU 27 have no incentive to reach a speedy trade agreement. The EU has Britain over a barrel. Yes, it will use its best endeavours to reach a deal by the end of the transition period, but it will be a negotiation in which the UK has few cards left to play. We will face a number of cliff edges, starting with fisheries in mid-2020, as the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk, has just referred to. The balance of probability is that we will be salami-sliced into making one concession after another.
The EU has every incentive to play it long, bearing in mind that most trade deals take years to agree, and this one will run to several thousand pages. My old friend and colleague Sir Ivan Rogers was right to advise the Prime Minister in 2016 that agreeing such a deal could take up to a decade. I would be happy to place a large bet that no deal will be ready by the time the transition period expires at the end of December 2020, so either the transition period will be extended or the UK will enter the backstop arrangement. The former will require the EU’s agreement. Exit from the latter also requires EU agreement.
With hindsight, it is not very surprising that we have ended up in this position. The Government have made a number of strategic errors. First, they have never prepared the country for a no-deal scenario, so the threat of a hard Brexit has never been credible. Secondly, the Government triggered the Article 50 process without a clear plan for the way forward. Thirdly, at no point did the Government seek to create a cross-party consensus.
To this day, I am not sure the Prime Minister fully understood what she had signed up to when she agreed the Irish backstop last year. If she did, she never explained it to her then Foreign Secretary and DExEU Secretary, judging by their resignations some six months later. I think it is therefore perfectly reasonable for Parliament to ask the Government to think again. I am not under any illusions—the balance of probability is that they will not be able to wring substantive concessions from the EU, but it may be possible to tweak the declaration. Parliament may choose to give a clearer steer in favour of a Norway-plus arrangement. It may even instruct the Government to seek to negotiate an extension of the Article 50 process, as part of a bridge either to another general election or to a referendum. I am agnostic as to which of these options is preferable.
At this stage, a chaotic no deal is not a credible threat, since this Government still have the option of bringing the agreement back to Parliament in February or early March. For myself, at five minutes to midnight on
Whatever happens in the coming weeks, we are going to have to get used to negotiating with the EU, and we are going to have to get used to negotiating trade deals with third countries. These will be particularly difficult, since I cannot see the United States Congress agreeing any deal without the UK lowering food standards. I also wonder whether the British people are yet ready for chlorinated chicken and hormone-infused beef—as much as they enthuse me. Interestingly, the Government’s analysis suggests that they do not expect these deals to add much to national income any time soon, as the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, pointed out. But whatever else happens, the Government will have to learn to multitask. Over the last two years, Brexit has created a policy exclusion zone across Whitehall.
At a time of uncertainty around our trading relations, promoting economic growth is now more important than ever. It is essential if the younger generation is finally to see an increase in living standards. Growth will not come from running a large budget deficit, but it will come from improving the supply side. I hope that at some point the Government will come forward with a serious and comprehensive plan for infrastructure, skills, competition and innovation. In addition, as my noble friend Lord Wilson suggested, they should develop a prospectus which will engage and enthuse the younger generation.
My Lords, to the extent that, during my six years in this House, I have been able to make any impression at all—which may be questionable —I hope that I have been able to convey my uncompromising attachment to the European ideal, and my belief that the future of the four nations of these islands is best served within an European context.
As a democrat, I respect the outcome of the referendum. I respect the 52% who voted to leave— but also the 48% who voted to remain. I am acutely conscious that the English approach to politics is one of “winner takes all”, as reflected in the electoral system. Our values in Wales are perhaps a little different, based on our sharing within the community—perhaps a reflection of being rooted in gavelkind rather than primogeniture. In the referendum, the leave side knew what it was voting against, without coherence as to what it was voting for, so in trying to implement the wishes of leavers there were no clear benchmarks. The leavers never had one clear-cut manifesto as to what would follow the UK leaving the EU.
Over the past two years, a whole phalanx of leave-voting Ministers have represented the UK in negotiations in Brussels and with the international world. They have made an appalling botch of it, which is partly why we are in such a mess today. We had the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson insisting that he could have his cake and eat it; David Davis, who led the Brexit negotiations, managed to negotiate with Michel Barnier for just four hours in two years; and, most recently, we had Dominic Raab, who negotiated this withdrawal agreement then resigned from the Cabinet in protest against what he had done. It beggars belief.
The Brexit camp has had its chance; today’s withdrawal agreement is the best that can be mustered—and, frankly, it just is not good enough. It just shifts the uncertainty facing manufacturing industry and agriculture a couple of years down the road to the end of the transition period, which may well turn out to be a bridge to nowhere. It leaves the Irish border issue largely unresolved, and unresolvable, given that both the EU and the UK have a veto on the backstop issue. It leaves uncertainty in the minds of EU citizens in the UK regarding their future, with the massive implications that has for the health service, our universities and our tourist sector.
The Government promised to carry the devolved regimes with them, but from both Edinburgh and Cardiff and their two very different Governments we have had the same retort: that they were not part of developing strategy, nor was agreement sought from them on the final terms. The concerns of the National Assembly remain: the long-term future of our manufacturing and agricultural exports; the failure to make adequate preparations in our ports; whether EU structural funding will be replaced, which the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, emphasised in the equally valid English context; that there will not be a power grab, reversing aspects of the devolution settlement; the fair management of state aid and procurement policy issues; and that the UK will be a partnership of equals, not a Westminster-dominated, neo-unitary state.
As a result of these misgivings, yesterday’s debate on the withdrawal agreement in the National Assembly in Cardiff had the dramatic outcome of the governing Labour Party supporting the Plaid Cymru amendment to reject the UK Government’s proposals; I am glad to see that trend among Labour colleagues in Cardiff. It is interesting to note that today in the Scottish Parliament there was a vote of 92 to 29, also rejecting the proposals. On Tuesday, Welsh MPs will no doubt vote over- whelmingly against this inadequate agreement and it will be buried without trace.
It could have been so very different. There was a workable compromise available, as I have repeatedly stressed in this House, since it was published two years ago. It is contained in the Welsh White Paper Securing Wales’ Future, which accepts leaving the EU but seeks a new settlement involving membership of the customs union and a single market arrangement. That would essentially be a form of common market, which many Brexiters hankered for during the referendum. If the Government had sought a constructive compromise along these lines, it was there for them. They know that there was support for that within Labour ranks, Plaid Cymru and the SNP. Mrs May refused to consider such a step. I was so sorry that last month, when there was so much to play for, the Leader of this House—whom I am pleased to see in her seat—was unwilling to discuss this with me. So be it.
We are now faced with the real possibility of a no-deal Brexit, which would be an absolute disaster. It must be stopped at all costs. While I accept that the final word on these issues must rightly rest with the elected Chamber, I will support the Motion in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. If the only alternatives are this withdrawal agreement or no deal, there must be a provision to return the matter to the people. They asked Parliament to seek a new arrangement with Europe, and it is only proper that they be asked whether they really want to go down this disastrous road.
Perhaps it should now be a matter for Parliament, having taken over control of these processes from the Government—as we have seen with the votes last night, and as the noble Lord, Lord Owen, mentioned earlier—to refine and adopt the preferred model of Brexit, and for that proposal then to be run off against the status quo in a people’s vote. As the European court is being advised that the UK can unilaterally withdraw the Article 50 application, the Government should now give notice of their intention to do so, or at least seek a postponement long enough to arrange a people’s vote, which must have the option of remaining in the EU on present terms. If the people then vote to leave, so be it. But if they wake up to the realities facing us, let us withdraw our notice to leave the EU and then start the important work of trying to rebuild our relationships with the continent of which we are a part, and in partnership with which our future most assuredly lies.
My Lords, it is interesting to follow the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, because he epitomises those in this House who stubbornly refuse to accept what the people voted for, who constantly use the word “if”, not “when”, and who still hope that we will stay in. We are where we are because of two and a half wasted years: it has been trench warfare, with people trying to prevent us making headway. History will not be kind to those who have been so destructive in pushing through a vote of the people. Even the noble Lord, Lord Butler, who is not in his place, said “if” we come out. It is not “if” but “when” we come out—and how we come out. Many noble Lords have done a disservice to the nation in the way they have approached this.
The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, talked about leaving, and said that people, in voting to leave, did not know this or that. What is it about the word “leave” that people do not understand? If you leave something, such as an organisation, a family or a company, you know what you are doing. You know that there will be consequences—of course you do; you think them through—but you still vote to leave. How patronising to say that people did not know what they were doing when they voted to leave. In 2016, they voted to leave the EU without any conditions whatever, yet an unholy alliance of recalcitrant remainers, remain-leaning civil servants, artful EU negotiators and an unhelpful Ireland has left us, after two years, being asked to accept a deal that completely betrays the decision we took and is totally unacceptable. It must, and I feel sure it will, be voted down by the House of Commons.
Monsieur Barnier’s brief on behalf of the EU was to try to stop us leaving: to drag things out for as long as possible in the hope that we would give up and, in the end, to give us the worst possible deal so that no other member state would dare to try to leave. How well he has met his brief. It is a mess. There are understandable calls to just get on with it, but we must not fall into the trap of signing something we will regret for ever just because we are tired of discussing it. There are other sensible ways ahead: either Canada-plus-plus or the WTO—the no-deal option, which sounds more negative than it really is, which would allow us to trade on World Trade Organization terms, as most nations do. He is not in his place now, but how well this was explained by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, on the other side of the Chamber, in his excellent speech earlier.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly said, “Brexit means Brexit”, “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” and “No deal is better than a bad deal”. If these words are to mean anything and if any trust is to be left in our political system, Parliament must vote down the dreadful deal presented to it and set out in a new direction which, even if it brings us short-term problems to overcome, truly respects the decision the country took in 2016.
The saddest and most worrying aspect of this whole process has been, since the very day of the referendum, the deep and frightening divisions it has created between strangers, between friends and even within families. It is so important that the healing process starts as soon as possible, for the sake of the fabric of our society and to enable normal government to resume. As so often, the healing process cannot begin until decisions have been made, which requires leadership. To deal with some of the suggestions currently flying about, staying in would be a total betrayal of trust and would, I fear, have the direst of consequences, perhaps even civil unrest. A second referendum would open up old wounds, solve nothing and take too long; it should be dismissed out of hand. A people’s vote on any deal would be complex, difficult to understand, divisive and, in truth, an abdication of governmental responsibility.
If the withdrawal agreement is voted down in the Commons, the only course of action is to set a new proposal before the EU. I know the EU has said that it will not countenance that but, faced with this situation, it will have to. It should in my view be a Canada-plus-plus or similar deal, which has already been offered and which, with genuine co-operation to solve the overblown Irish border issue, could work quite satisfactorily. Then, perhaps, the healing process can begin.
In his speech today, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury mentioned the need for vision. As a nation with all that we have to offer the world, we should show self-belief without arrogance, conviction without pomposity, determination without aggression, competition without rancour and leadership without conceit. We must champion our deep-rooted belief in the value and integrity of the nation state and our distrust of blocs that attempt to harmonise and formalise unnatural groupings. Europe should be a flexible jigsaw of independent nation states working closely together, but each able to flex separately in response to its individual needs. Cementing nations together in blocs or unions produces a stultifying rigidity, tension, friction and, ultimately, cracking and break-up, which is now starting to happen in the EU. We are not tearing ourselves out of the heart of a thriving organisation, but sensibly detaching ourselves from an ailing bloc that has within it the increasingly obvious seeds of self-destruction. We will be of much more use to the EU in the long term as a strong and independent ally than as a disgruntled partner.
I finish by praising in her absence my noble friend Lady Meyer for her words this evening; let us be more confident in our own nation and drive this matter forward with a sensible deal that everybody wants to see.
My Lords, this is not just about confidence in our nation; it is about our obligation to future generations. Leave means my seven grandchildren and how they will be affected in future years. Brexit means my seven grandchildren, all your Lordships’ grandchildren and all the children in our country. Will it be better for them to have fewer benefits than we have had, or should we think first of them when we vote on this deal?
Just after the Second World War, the community of Llangollen in north Wales established the international musical festival, which has brought people from many countries together. It still goes on; I spoke only this morning to its press office. This past year it brought applications from 3,919 competitors from 64 locations; it brought together people who had been at enmity with one another. As people who have been fighting each other, we suddenly find ourselves in a situation where we either stretch out to one another in friendship or say we want to carry on building a wall.
When the first eisteddfod was held, one choir hitchhiked from Hungary to reach Llangollen—I find it difficult to think of a choir hitchhiking. The following time, a German choir from Lübeck came over to Llangollen. Members of the choir were not sure what sort of reception they would get because we had been at war. They were going to sing to those who had been their enemies and they were very uncertain. But the compère at the eisteddfod on that day was Hywel Roberts, who greeted them by saying, “We are now going to hear from our German friends”. It has taken a long time to build this: to build relationships and get over the enmity of the past. But it has been done, in many different ways. Will we continue with these feelings of friendship? Will we continue building bridges and not walls?
A decade after the Llangollen eisteddfod started, we had the embryonic European movement. This also brought together countries which had been at enmity. When I was in Berlin at a conference some time ago, I said, “The last time one of my family was here he was in a bomber plane over the city, but now we are talking together”. One of the major competitions in Llangollen is the Pavarotti choral competition. So why are we taking a step back? What reason have we for becoming more distant from those who once were distant from us but with whom we are now comrades?
Union takes a long time; of course it does. In Wales we united in a way with England in 1534. We still have our problems; it is an evolving thing. We have our Assembly and certain powers. Our union will always evolve. It is not ready-made or a finished product, and neither is the European Union, or our place in the European Union, because we are in an evolving situation. Without Llangollen and without the European Union, the world would be far more threatening and far more unstable. Every move towards co-operation and understanding is in the right direction. The weakening of our ties with Europe is a backward move. We halt the free movement of people; we withdraw the status of our own people as citizens of Europe. What are we doing? Do we know what we are doing? Are we to be known as those who built walls and not bridges—the Canutes of history? Or are we people who will build this relationship and this understanding? Our children will benefit from what we do in this debate or they will look back on us and say, “Ah, things were different in my grandfather’s time”.
I appeal to all Members of the House—the details, of course, will be worked out over many years—to let us build a world fit for children to live in. We can either do it or be a barrier to it. It is our decision.
My Lords, I will explain briefly why I shall support the deal negotiated by the Prime Minister, albeit with great reluctance and very considerable reservations. I shall also support the amendment to the regret Motion proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell, for the reasons that he so eloquently expressed.
I start from the proposition that I am wholly opposed to the policy of Brexit. I believe that Brexit will damage Britain in many important respects. The dire economic consequences were highlighted in the recent Treasury and Bank of England assessments. If this were the moment to do so, I would vote to stop Brexit, either through a decision of Parliament or a further referendum—or more probably both. If that were not possible, I would support the softest version of Brexit available.
But now is not the moment for that. Those questions are not now before the House, although they may very soon be. What we are presently discussing is the deal negotiated by the Prime Minister. That is the subject of this debate. I acknowledge that many criticisms can properly be made of the deal—from both sides of the argument. Some of those defects were very clearly identified in the hitherto private advice from the Attorney-General to the Cabinet, and have also been developed by noble Lords in this House. However, despite the fact that many of those criticisms are wholly valid, I shall support the deal for fear of worse: namely, crashing out of the EU without a deal.
I know that many of my remainer friends will oppose the deal on the basis that out of rejection comes chaos, out of chaos comes opportunity and out of opportunity will come salvation. Their optimism has been much encouraged by the advice given by the Advocate General to the European Court and by the procedural amendment tabled by Mr Dominic Grieve and passed by the House of Commons yesterday. Both of these developments are much to be welcomed, but I am not yet sufficiently persuaded to take the risk of rejecting the Prime Minister’s deal.
I acknowledge that out of rejection chaos will ensue, and that out of chaos opportunities will emerge—but of salvation I am not confident. A disaster seems equally probable. I fear that, by inadvertence, error, misjudgments, lack of leadership, or an inability to assemble a cross-party consensus, we could crash out of the EU without a deal. That would be a calamity and it is a risk that I am not willing to run. It is on that narrow—and I admit very fragile—basis that I support the deal.
However, if the deal fails, as seems very probable, I shall support whatever measures seem most likely to keep us in the European Union on existing terms—most especially through a further referendum, following the early withdrawal of the Article 50 notification which, as a result of the Grieve amendment, the House of Commons could and should direct. If such a referendum is not available I shall support the softest possible version of Brexit.
I shall make common cause with whoever supports these views. That is what many Conservatives did in the 1930s when they rallied behind the national Government. My grandfather was among them. That is what the Conservatives did in May 1940 when they replaced Chamberlain with Churchill. My father was among them. That is what many Labour MPs did when they voted to join the Common Market. On all of these occasions the national interest was deemed paramount. If this deal fails to command support in the House of Commons, we must unite, across parties, if necessary under a Government of national unity, to prevent the disaster of no deal.
Sorry, we seem to have missed somebody.
My Lords, exiting or extricating ourselves from over 40 years’ membership of the European Union was clearly never going to be as simple or as easy as was suggested by some ardent Brexiteers during the referendum campaign. As a remainer, I am sad that even during our early years of membership we tended to take a negative stance, waiting for another country to suggest a policy and then criticising it. The big exception to this was, of course, the single market, pioneered when I was a member of the first directly-elected European Parliament, ably carried through by my late noble friend Lord Cockfield and strongly supported by the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.
We have also been reminded today by my noble friend Lord Heseltine of the creation of the European Space Agency, which was another British initiative—and indeed there are others, but not enough. Taking control of our future, which so many people have advocated in the course of this debate, could have been done just as easily within the European Union as by going it alone, had we taken all the opportunities that Ted Heath envisaged when he led us into membership at our third attempt—let us not forget—way back in 1973.
I am also saddened by some of the language that has been used in these debates and in the press, giving the impression that our European partners and neighbours are now our adversaries, when they have been very forbearing about our rash decision to leave and made clear their feelings only last week at the conclusion of the withdrawal agreement talks, expressing that this was a sad moment and saying how sorry they would be to see us leave. There were no corresponding expressions of sadness on our part, I am sad to say.
Even today, in my noble friend’s otherwise excellent introduction to this debate, she stated that the agreement meant that we would no longer be sending billions of pounds to Brussels every year—implying that we had been giving it away when, in fact, it has all gone towards paying our dues for overseas development and overseas trade negotiation, among other things. All of these payments will have to be replicated on a national basis now and we have only to look at the brand new Department for International Trade which has been created with—as I understand it—over 600 civil servants to know where all these billions will be going in the future.
On the subject of trade and trade deals—this is where I see at least a glimmer of hope and possible excitement in the future—I would like to point out that there has been nothing to prevent our trading with third countries throughout our membership of the European Union. Trade deals and trade agreements by themselves achieve nothing. What is needed for increased trade is getting businesses and potential investors on the ground overseas, seeking possibilities and negotiating contracts. So what we need is more trade promotion, and I hope that, in winding up, my noble friend will be able to reassure us that this is all part of the Government’s planning—although I realise that we shall have plenty of time to discuss such things if and when we overcome the present hurdle of the withdrawal agreement.
The other area of concern for me is the fate of the overseas territories. It is not just Gibraltar that has border issues; Anguilla also has an EU border in the Caribbean. In fact, all the overseas territories will be adversely affected as a result of our withdrawal from the European Union. So in welcoming the protocols on Gibraltar and the sovereign base areas, and the Prime Minister’s continuing assurances that Gibraltar will not be forgotten, I express the hope that all the overseas territories will be taken into consideration and their specific needs safeguarded.
My preferred option at the conclusion of all these discussions would be to remain as a member of the European Union—that would certainly suit Gibraltar—and I would support anyone who had the temerity to put forward a Motion to rescind Article 50. Whoever considers doing that will have my support. I certainly do not want another referendum—ever—although I understand those who feel that, with clearer information now, people might vote in a different way. However, like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, who put it so well at the outset, I too have come to the conclusion that the best way forward is to support the Prime Minister’s hard-fought agreement.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, and I agree with many, although not all, of the points that she made. I declare my role as a former MEP.
It is not overdramatic to say that this country is facing the worst crisis since the Suez crisis of 1956, and arguably the worst crisis since the Second World War. At least in the case of Suez, the run on the pound was mercifully short, and the change of Prime Minister was smoothly executed as Macmillan succeeded Eden. Yesterday, for the first time in British history, a Government were found in contempt of Parliament, which I think shows how the body politic in the UK is in collective meltdown at the moment.
It is also clear that the UK’s exit from the EU on the basis of the withdrawal agreement before us will have severe ramifications for many years, perhaps generations, to come. To take another historical analogy, and following on from the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, who gave some historical examples, the withdrawal agreement resembles a set of terms foisted on a defeated nation, rather like the Treaty of Versailles. As the Government’s published legal advice shows, the UK will have no unilateral right to end the backstop or exit the single customs territory. As a crumb of comfort, we have been told that the withdrawal agreement says it is intended to apply “only temporarily”. However, the reality is that Brussels will have no incentive to release the UK from the Irish backstop.
The political declaration is in my view meaningless, containing 26 pages of vague aspirations which have no legal force, unlike the withdrawal agreement itself. It will take very many years to negotiate a proper future relationship with the EU, and the declaration is full of vague, non-committal phrases, as has been said many times in your Lordships’ House today.
The Brexit negotiations have been a shambles, not helped by the disarray in the Government. They have, frankly, been a national humiliation. Anyone competent on the negotiating team has either resigned or been sacked. Meanwhile, Brussels appointed a capable Frenchman to run rings round the British negotiators and poach financial services from the City of London, with Paris blatantly wooing our companies to relocate.
The question for your Lordships’ House and Her Majesty’s Government is: what do we do now? The EU has made it clear that the deal cannot be renegotiated, and even if the political declaration is tinkered with, that will not do the trick. As oft repeated by noble Lords, the British people voted for Brexit but they did not vote to be worse off. The Prime Minister says that the options are her deal, leaving without a deal, no Brexit or going back to square 1. We have to hold our hands up to the British people and say that after over two years we are just not ready to leave the EU on
We need time as a Parliament and as a country to sort ourselves out. We need to extend or revoke Article 50—a point that, again, has been raised a number of times in your Lordships’ House—and use the time to negotiate a different deal, scrapping the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration in their entirety. The EU says that it will not renegotiate the agreement: fair enough; let us look at an entirely different model. This could, for example, be a customs union, allowing for real frictionless trade in goods and services, restrictions on freedom of movement and the ability to sign our own free trade agreements. That would also solve the Irish backstop issue and there would be no need for a hard border. Such a deal can be negotiated; they just did not try.
The EU also understands that attitudes on the continent towards untrammelled freedom of movement have changed since the UK’s referendum, especially in Italy and central and eastern Europe. Before the referendum, when David Cameron came back from Brussels with no meaningful agreement on curtailing freedom of movement, both he and the agreement were doomed. That was the EU’s big mistake, in my view. It reminded me of when Mikhail Gorbachev was refused vital loans from the West in 1991, and he and the USSR were overthrown in a matter of weeks, with tanks rumbling on the streets of Moscow; and Gorbachev knew it was coming.
The British people voted leave in the referendum for two main reasons: to end uncontrolled immigration and to restore our sovereignty. The proposed withdrawal agreement deals with the former to a limited extent but fails on the latter. Theresa May should not make the same mistake with this half-baked deal as Cameron did in 2016. It will damage the economy and trap the UK in a form of single customs territory, where we will have no say over our future. We need to restart this process with the EU from the beginning, if necessary, and if that requires fresh legislation from Parliament so be it. There is no point in holding a second referendum unless freedom of movement is addressed; the result would likely be the same. All this may not be ideal, but any idea of the UK exiting the EU on time and in an ideal way is long past.
My Lords, listening to today’s debate, I am reminded what a privilege it is to be a Member of your Lordships’ House. From time to time, struck by fear, I wonder what I can possibly contribute to such a debate. Then I say to myself that I have my own experience, which may be helpful to one or two of your Lordships.
My father became politically engaged at the age of 17. Fairly early, he became a London county councillor, and he served in your Lordships’ House for many years. He was a very reliable father, and I think your Lordships found him a very reliable Member of this House. He had two pieces of life advice to give me, which also apply to politics and which he probably drew from politics. The first was: if you make a mistake, do not worry about it too much; just learn from it and do not repeat it. The second was: do not raise expectations in people and then disappoint them. In thinking about that mistake, my sense is that there is something rotten, if you like, in the state of our constitution and our polity. We are so proud—we are the mother of parliaments. We have been so successful as a nation, defending Europe against the tyrant Napoleon and the tyrant Hitler, that it may be hard for us to think that we need to change.
I recently visited Germany, which, of course, had the opposite experience. It was crushed and had to change. In fact, we played a large hand in rewriting its constitution of basic law. In all the pain that we are currently experiencing, I hope there may also be an opportunity for us to look at the processes, the system and the constitution that we have and think: are they fit for purpose in the 21st century, in the complex society we now live in?
My noble friend Lord Wilson, speaking about the 17 year-olds he was interviewing for university, said how tested they were. Indeed, some time ago the Chief Inspector of Schools described our children as the most tested in the world. This points out a wider anxiety. Yes, we are a very polarised society—very rich and very poor. For such a wealthy country, there is a terrible disparity in wealth. But, more widely, we are a country that experiences deep insecurity. Many people work long hours for low pay, with job insecurity, and many have insecure housing.
Going to Germany, what struck me most was that it is a prosperous country that also achieves a great deal of social security and comfort. Its shops still do not open on Sundays. If one works past 6 pm, one is seen as inefficient. No businesses are allowed to email their workers after 8 pm, yet it is a most productive, economically successful country. Last year, in preparing to visit the Bundestag with an all-party parliamentary group, I looked at the history of Germany’s political system from 1945 onwards. What struck me was the continuity—not only of leadership but of parties and different coalitions, and their ability to collaborate rather than always be in opposition. Collaboration and continuity are such important qualities, which I do not think we have been able to deliver in this country. I hope we can look to the best-performing nations and see whether we can learn from them and perhaps reform ourselves. That is one good thing that might come from the current crisis that we are experiencing.
The second thing my father said was: do not raise expectations in people that you cannot deliver. My heart jumps for joy in some senses to think that there might be another referendum—that this was all a bad dream and we can all go back to where we were a few years ago. But I think of my father’s advice and I wonder how those people who voted in the referendum for us to remove ourselves from the European Union, who have been led to believe that we have been working solidly towards that over the past two years, will react when they are told, “Sorry, we’re going to rerun it”, and, “We’re going in a different direction now”. I do not have any easy answer to that. If that is the way we go, we have a piece of work to do. Look at France at the moment—at Macron and the yellow vests. When he was elected, Le Monde commented that it was an interesting development and exciting to have Macron and La République En Marche!, but Marine Le Pen is waiting. If Macron falls flat on his face, she is well positioned to take over. In America, we see in Donald Trump a leader who has worked on those people who felt disenfranchised in the rust belt. In Italy, we see the Five Star Movement taking control. Noble Lords might say that it could never happen here, but there are nationalist parties and nationalists who might have influence and even control, so we cannot discount that. I am concerned about that.
I want to express my admiration for Theresa May. In the way that she sticks with her job, she reminds me of the mothers of my acquaintance who live in very difficult circumstances and still struggle to do their best for their children. I am generalising wildly, but generally women have to stick with their children while men can walk away. I know that many men are looking after children and women sometimes walk away, but one of the important differences between men and women is that generally women have to stick with the child whereas men can choose to walk away. I sense that Mrs May has stuck with the child while many of the men and women involved have walked away. I am heartened. She has challenged her party in the past, saying that it is perceived as the nasty party. She dared to talk at a party conference about the value of social housing. She put aside £2 billion for affordable housing and removed the cap on borrowing for local authorities so that they can borrow to build more social housing. I respect the way that she has pursued that agenda, even when she has had to carry forward Brexit.
Whatever happens, I hope we can continue in that direction. As the most reverend Primate said, it should not be the poor who carry the burden of this impoverishment that is Brexit, but those with the broadest shoulders. The Liberal Democrats have often talked about a land tax. We should look at whether we can take some money from those who can afford it and roll back the welfare cuts on the poorest.
My Lords, however people view Brexit and the controversy surrounding it, we have now certainly reached a critical phase in the Brexit undertaking. We have moved a long way since the referendum, in what has proved to be a tortuous and highly charged process. But let us just remember a few things. We were threatened with huge increases in unemployment, a major recession and a flight of capital. Conversely, we were told that because we import considerable numbers of cars from Germany, businesses in the rest of Europe would push their Governments into responding to our demands unhesitatingly. The simple reality, for those of us who sit on EU committees, is the sheer complexity of what this process has involved, the way that we have integrated so much of our activity with the European Union in bringing businesses, investment and employment into this country, and how complicated the divorce process is. Many businesses that located here simply as an entry point to the single market have put further investment on hold.
I should like to examine some of the elements of the withdrawal agreement that need to be further refined and clarified. The checks and balances of this agreement, under Article 164, are in effect to be controlled by a Joint Committee. Its main function is to keep, with qualification, the withdrawal agreement under review, but its decisions equate to the same legal effect as the agreement itself. It will oversee some specialised committees, which may be added to, during transition and for a period of four years thereafter, so it has the potential for real power and influence. For those of us who fear opacity, some clarity about oversight is certainly needed and we should not overlook this.
We have a proud and long-standing network of relationships forged in our history but also, more latterly, through our membership of the EU. In areas such as security and defence, sanctions and overseas aid, our relationships with the EU have enhanced the reputation and capability of the EU and indeed ourselves.
The political declaration expresses the intention to co-operate closely at a bilateral level and within international organisations when and where the interests of the United Kingdom and the European Union are shared. The political declaration talks of consultation and dialogue in respect of foreign, security and defence policy. But the actual process is unclear and appears to preclude the United Kingdom even requesting attendance at members’ meetings when clearly appropriate. So perhaps I may express the hope that as our relationship post Brexit evolves, the unqualified offer made by our Prime Minister on these matters achieves a more clearly definable form. Frankly, the attitude of European members as regards the Galileo project has made no sense in this context.
I happen to chair the British Ukrainian Society. The appalling aggression recently of Russia in the Sea of Azov, and spilling over into the Black Sea, simply reinforces the need for us to co-operate intensely with our European neighbours and, for example, to undertake sanctions together in our mutual interest wherever that is appropriate.
The question of the backstop is one that has understandably greatly exercised your Lordships. It is certainly a matter of the most profound regret that the question of the border on the island of Ireland has in my view been so mishandled. Of course, at the last minute there was a hiccup but essentially the issue of Gibraltar’s relationship with Spain was quietly and efficiently resolved. By contrast, the loud running commentary surrounding the Norther Ireland border question has led to considerable tension and mistrust within the United Kingdom, and of course particularly in Northern Ireland. There are those who believe, however, that the European Union may not wish to see the backstop operating for any length of time, if at all.
It is worth noting that in the backstop part of the withdrawal agreement, level playing field rules cover various sectors, but in only one are we are required to maintain future EU rules—namely, state aid, which on the face of it seems perfectly legitimate. There are, additionally, those who believe that while we have tariff-free access to European markets without paying money, there may be a considered view among some European countries that the United Kingdom would have a competitive advantage over their own country and their own economy. But it is very unclear at this time and the politics of the situation—I say this as a unionist—are very difficult indeed. I hope that this matter can be somehow revisited and changed if we are to move on successfully. Certainly, the parliamentary arithmetic dictates that.
I conclude with an expression of hope for our future. Almost all industrialised countries are riven by division, much aggravated by anonymous social networks. Whatever one’s view of Brexit, it is wrong that individual civil servants and judges, and even the Governor of the Bank of England, have been criticised so personally. I hope we can move beyond the current stage quickly, so that we can get on to trade negotiations. I should just add, as one of the Prime Minister’s trade envoys, that there is now nothing to prevent us pursuing commercial activity abroad. I see for myself the ferocious competition between us and other members of the European Union but, all being well, the next stage will be trade negotiations. They are one of the two key elements of our departure from the European Union; namely, to be able to secure direct and comprehensive trade deal arrangements abroad to ensure our future.
I can only hope that we will move on to the next stage, in whatever form it takes, free of the rancour that is certainly alien to our traditional standards of debate. But as I have seen in my export promotion role, there is enormous affection for this country, considerable admiration for the resilience of our Prime Minister and high regard for our parliamentary processes. The deal we have struck is certainly imperfect, but in essence it is probably, in my view, what we could have expected and we should now move on accordingly. That is my great hope for what will happen in the weeks and months to come.
My Lords, this morning my noble friend Lady Smith recalled that during the debates on the EU withdrawal Bill in April, a cross-party group of us moved an amendment calling on the Government to seek a parliamentary mandate to guide their negotiating stance with the EU, with the object of promoting some kind of common purpose in this country while there was still some time to try to work that out. I am pleased to say that this House supported that amendment while the other place narrowly did not—at least until last night when Parliament claimed a measure of control over a stumbling, fumbling Cabinet which, it should be remembered, could not produce a plan until the ill-fated Chequers arrangements were unveiled to a sceptical world. I now look forward to the view of the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, on last night’s developments, and inquire whether the Cabinet will now accept the fact that Parliament should do its job and sort out a mandate if, as is widely expected, the deal is voted down next Tuesday.
The Prime Minister has spent two miserable years trying to make sense of the decision to leave the EU. She has been trapped by her own red lines and the politics of her own party. We can now see the result: a deal with no clear position for the UK after the end of the transitional period; a deal wreathed in uncertainty about the medium-term future; a deal with humiliating supplicatory features. The Prime Minister’s determination has been admirable, her political skills—I am afraid—less so. As my noble friend Lady Smith put it, we are heading for a blindfold Brexit that offers no certainty after the implementation period for the working people and businesses of our country.
The best that can be said about the deal is that it is better than no deal—that disruptive act of self-harm, which still, rather surprisingly to me, has its adherents in this Parliament. On its own merits, however, the deal does not pass the awkward exam the nation posed to the Government in June 2016. What we need now is greater clarity about the future. The political declaration, in effect, just sets out a long difficult agenda of complex issues for further work and negotiations, all to be tackled in the transitional period. Much weight would rest on the phrases “best endeavours” and “good faith”, which are in the agreement.
I do not doubt the initial good intentions and good faith on both sides, but they are not certain to win through, and after a row on, say, fishing rights or Gibraltar—or it could be one of many other things that we cannot yet see—the whole negotiation could be blown way off course. The Swiss arrangements with the EU mean that the Swiss are involved in complex continuing negotiations as they chafe at the agreement they originally made. That is some kind of vision of hell for the future of this country—tied into perpetual negotiations trying to sort out problems with 27 countries from the position of an outsider. The only certainty is that this deal will leave the nation poorer than we are now, as the Bank of England tells us on a regular basis.
I want to touch on concerns about workers’ rights, which the TUC has expressed to Members of this House. There is a risk that during the transition period, rights in the UK would start to fall behind, despite the welcome assurances about UK employment rights mirroring those in the EU. This is because EU rights develop rather slowly, time is taken to secure an agreement, and then time is added on for national parliaments to implement them. Measures on the work/life balance, the gig economy and handling migration better are in the pipeline, but may not be ready until the transitional period ends, so British workers could well miss out—unless the Government commit themselves to mirror those rights in the longer term in UK law.
There are also problems with rights during the period of any Irish backstop, and with not being able to secure enforcement of rights once access to the ECJ ends. That, taken together, does not look like the basis for a level playing field for British workers to me. A temporary customs arrangement would help to avoid an immediate resurrection of a harder Irish border—although not necessarily for the medium or longer term; that is why the Irish backstop is there, after all—but how would a temporary customs arrangement help the UK to handle the movement of labour from the EU coming through Ireland to the UK? How would we combat the people traffickers who would stop unfettered access for all EU citizens to the UK via Irish airports and ports? The customs union alone does not tackle this major problem.
I agree with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, which said recently that,
“there is no such thing as ‘a good Brexit for working people’ in Northern Ireland or in the Republic of Ireland”.
I cannot see a good outcome for working people in the UK. I therefore live in hope that we can find a way to reconsider our approach to Brexit. The road to another popular vote, with a remain recommendation, is difficult to see. As a precursor, it would need determined leadership from Parliament and the Government and a degree of common will, which is not evident at present. If we cannot get there, we should look again at remaining in the European Economic Area and rejoining EFTA, not as a temporary arrangement but on a long-term basis. We should look to a revived and strengthened EFTA, exerting greater influence than it can at present.
I do not accept the characterisation of Norway as supine to the EU, as was made by the noble Lord, Lord Newby, and others. We could make that option work if my preferred option—to remain—proves elusive. In the meantime, I ask the House to back the Motion in the name of my noble friend Lady Smith of Basildon. Let us start again and go down a different path.
My Lords, I declare my interests as outlined in the register. I will focus my remarks on my area of expertise. The questions before us are of great importance; I am aware that the vote in the other House will inform the future of the UK’s relationship with the EU.
A no-deal Brexit could result in the possibility of an immediate risk to both the provision of safe and effective healthcare and collective efforts to improve public health. Following the UK’s vote to leave the EU, nurses and midwives from Europe are leaving the UK register at a faster rate than those joining because of the uncertainty about their right to remain.
Healthcare leaders have consistently argued that there needs to be a transition period following our withdrawal from the EU, particularly in relation to free movement of workers. A no-deal Brexit without a transition period would likely cause significant challenges for the health and social care sector. Indeed, my noble friend Lady Campbell told me yesterday that four of her five personal assistants are from the European Union.
In the NHS in England, there are 41,000 registered nurse vacancies despite the fact that 30,000 European registered nurses work here. In addition to filling vital gaps in our workforce, nurses from Europe and all our international nursing staff add to the cultural richness of the NHS.
A no-deal Brexit also poses significant risks to our public health efforts. The EU plays a vital role in maintaining public health across all its member states. There are sector-wide concerns that Brexit and the withdrawal of EU funding for public health measures could negatively impact on the health of the UK population, especially if the UK were to crash out of the EU without a deal. The UK could even lose its membership of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, which would mean our exclusion from important reporting mechanisms about emerging public health threats, comparing important surveillance data on communicable diseases and other health threats.
Other risks of a no-deal Brexit may include our loss of access to immediate medications and a lack of protection for workforce regulations. There is a possibility that the UK will find it more difficult to access medicines and medical devices, which may cause delays in new drugs and repeat drugs being made available for patients. I know that there is considerable stockpiling, but there would still be a significant risk with a no-deal Brexit.
Making any changes to the EU regulatory framework for clinical trials would also significantly increase the burden on UK researchers and pharmaceutical companies. In fact, this could make the UK a much less attractive place to conduct clinical trials, with knock-on effects for access to new medicines and international participation in multi-centred trials.
A no-deal Brexit and its potential economic impact could have significant implications for EU-derived worker protections. Were there to be a significant economic hit from a no-deal Brexit scenario, the UK Government may be tempted to reduce worker protections in order to cut costs. This could negatively impact on patient care, further undermining nursing as a career of choice if nurses find themselves left exhausted and unprotected in their employment terms.
In May 2018, Royal College of Nursing members debated the implications of Brexit, resulting in a vote to campaign for a referendum on any final deal. As the debate made clear, the implications of Brexit for the health and social care system are numerous. The UK’s nursing shortage risks being further worsened because of uncertainty surrounding the status of EU nursing staff. Settled status has been guaranteed by the Home Office irrespective of whether there is a deal or no deal with the EU before March 2019. I welcome the introduction of the settled status pilot scheme for invited EU staff working at selected trusts in the north of England. However, its rollout appears to be very slow.
The Prime Minister has made a convincing argument for recommending that Parliament accepts the withdrawal deal that has been negotiated and that no better terms are available. It is difficult to find a more realistic solution, although several noble Lords have suggested some today. In reality, it is the Government’s responsibility to keep the people they represent safe in terms not only of security but also in terms of the nation’s health and wealth.
Many people who voted to leave the EU believed it would result in a more prosperous United Kingdom. While this may be so in the long term, current forecasts suggest that in the short term we will be significantly worse off. Poverty is detrimental to people’s health. Major investment in the NHS has been announced and yet we know that it will be almost impossible to achieve the NHS five-year plan without sufficient staff to meet the needs of the service.
Many nurses from the EU wish to remain in the UK but not at the expense of being unable to retain their full rights to return home. In the absence of the paper on immigration which we have been promised, it is not surprising that some NHS staff from Europe are considering returning to their homelands earlier than planned.
Therefore, I believe that if the other House supports the deal on offer, we should accept this decision and move towards the next phase of our negotiations secure in the knowledge that we have at least two years to reach long-term solutions to the UK’s future relationship with the EU. However, under no circumstances would a no-deal Brexit guarantee protecting the health of our nations. I will therefore support the Leader of the Opposition’s Motion to ensure that we do not have a hard Brexit.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to take part in this debate. We have had a long day and I have been given a very short straw. I want to make three points but before I do so I should declare an interest. I voted for Brexit with terrific enthusiasm. As I thought back, the first time I ever debated publicly in favour of Brexit was with Sir Christopher Soames when he was a European Commissioner back in the 1970s. At least I have a track record of some consistency.
In a debate such as this, we can easily become bogged down in the technicalities of economic forecasts or legal protocols. If I had been asked to a make a speech such as this pre the referendum, it would have been a very different kind of speech. It would have been very gung-ho in putting a strong case for Brexit.
However, I have been profoundly impressed by the referendum. It gave a voice to people. They spoke loudly and clearly, and it exposed the deep divisions in our society—on which the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke eloquently this morning. These divisions will not be solved by the technicalities of customs unions, tariffs and so on; they go much deeper. When the Prime Minister says of Brexit that we are taking back our borders, our laws and our money, that is a vision of the kind of society we want to be; it is not just about the technicalities of trade and economics.
It would be a terrible mistake if we did not realise that, in this move, we are handing something on to our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Therefore, the debate must have breadth. It is about society, culture and our values—about being at one with ourselves as a society as well as where we go economically. It needs a long time horizon. We are doing something which has at least a 50-year time horizon.
One thing that I have missed in the debate, not least from people who would be pro Brexit, is a sense of hope. What we do must give hope for the average person in Britain that their future can be better than the past.
The worst option that we now have—I hate to say it because it seems as if I am attacking political opponents when I am not; I say it because I really believe it—is a second referendum or a people’s vote. The vote was constitutional; it was approved by both Houses. It was a simple question. The rules regarding the result were known in advance. There was a clear majority. No election or referendum that I have taken part in ever exposed all the potential questions connected with it, and this was no different. A new referendum would undermine trust. Already the political class of which we are part is discredited. As the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York was reported in the press as saying—he was after all a High Court judge in the country of his birth—such a lack of trust leads to a permanent loss of confidence in political institutions and the road to civil unrest and violence.
I make my third point with a slightly heavy heart. I have been very critical of the Prime Minister. Yet, as I look at the alternatives, I see that all of them involve risk. Frankly, even if there was a second referendum and we went back into the EU, that would involve risk as well. I have come to feel that the deal is the best we can do at present. It is on the table and it has taken two years to get here. I agree with former civil servants who have said in this House that the civil servants who have been negotiating have integrity. Against that background, I am now strongly in favour of supporting the Prime Minister, even though there are many qualifications that one would want to make. The main advantage as I see it is that we leave the EU. There are risks going forward that we have to face then.
Finally, I would like to give a personal note; I do not often make these. This is the end of the day, but I will go back to the beginning of the day. I do not often make Prayers in this House. During the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle’s Prayers this morning—the two psalms that we read, and the prayers, which were followed by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury—I was particularly struck by them saying that our prayers are real. I was struck by our praying, first, to lay aside prejudices—that really hit me between me between the eyes—secondly, for wisdom greater than our own; and thirdly, that we should have above all, as we approach the subject, humility.
Debate adjourned until tomorrow.
House adjourned at 9.16 pm.