Brexit: Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration - Motion to Take Note (1st Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:44 pm on 5th December 2018.

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Photo of Lord Bilimoria Lord Bilimoria Crossbench 5:44 pm, 5th December 2018

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.